Sometimes people will choose ceremonies, rituals, and practices from many different world religions and blend them together into their own thing. Sometimes people will consider themselves a particular religion, like Christian, but only practice the parts of the religion that they agree with and ignore other aspects that are part of the Church (or other religious entities). These approaches are both considered cherry-picking.
When I was a kid and a teenager I was extremely rules-driven and everything was black and white to me. I think that's true for a lot of kids, it takes maturity to develop the sense of gray area and that sometimes people do the best they can and it isn't ideal. I was taught that religion is about hard work, discipline, sacrifice, and not always getting what you want. Rigorous discipline was valued over every other quality.
So, at that time in my life, the idea of cafeteria-style religion was abhorrent to me. You can't just take the parts you like, I thought. If we did the easy way and just did the parts of religion that were enjoyable, we would not get far on the difficult path to enlightenment. Maybe we don't know the reasons for things, but we have to do them anyway, because that's the path. Who am I to decide what is right in a religion and what is misguided?
But, later in my life I began to think that I am the authority on what religion does for me. Why continue to punish myself and hang on to harsh disciplines if I was not finding any benefit from it in my life?
And then, strangest of all, my home organization relaxed its rules. Ankle-length skirts no longer required, eating Breakfast allowed, cooked food at meals allowed, a more relaxed pace, sometimes waking up as late as 5:30, even. These changes were really hard for me to swallow. What about the hard work, discipline, and personal sacrifice that I had been told were the most important things in life? The people in authority in my life were changing their minds.
I began to realize that they are human too. They don't really know more than I do about God and truth and the right path. We are all just feeling our way through this life and using whatever tests we have available to find what's right for us. Tests like Am I more serene? Do I feel more joyful doing this?
In Elizabeth Gilbert's new book Commitment, about the history of marriage, she has a passage very relevant to the change in my mindset and clearly illustrating why I have such a confusion in my spirit about things:
"It has long been understood by philosophers that the entire bedrock of Western culture is based on two rival worldviews--the Greek and the Hebrew-- and whichever side you embrace more strongly determines to a large extent how you see life.
From the Greeks--specifically from the glory days of ancient Athens--we have inherited our ideas about secular humanism and the sanctity of the individual. The Greeks gave us all our notions about democracy and equality and personal liberty and scientific reason and intellectual freedom and open-mindedness and what we might call today "multiculturalism."...
On the other hand, there is the Hebrew way of seeing the world. When I say "Hebrew" here, I'm not specifically referring to the tenets of Judaism. (In fact, most of the contemporary American Jews I know are very Greek in their thinking, while it's the American fundamentalist Christians these days who are profoundly Hebrew.) "Hebrew," in the sense that philosophers use it here, is shorthand for an ancient worldview that is all abut tribalism, faith, obedience, and respect...Hebrew thinkers see the world as a clear play between good and evil, with God always firmly on "our" side. Human actions are either right or wrong. There is no gray area. The collective is more imporant than the individual, morality is more important than happiness...
The problem is that modern Western culture has somehow inherited both these ancient worldviews--though we have never entirely reconciled them because they aren't reconcilable."
Even though here she is talking about ideas of marriage vows, this passage really caught my attention because this is the very struggle I have been going through. There are parts of my personality that are Greek and parts that are Hebrew and I'm struggling to figure out which one will dominate my thinking. Actually, as a child and teenager I was almost entirely Hebrew and now I am almost entirely Greek, but I still feel pangs of guilt and nostalgia for the Hebrew way of thinking.
What Elizabeth Gilbert has to say on the actual subject of cherry-picking religion is as follows:
"My friend was a Catholic by upbringing, but couldn't stomach returning to the church as an adult. ("I can't buy it anymore," he said, "knwoing what I know.") Of course he'd be embarassed to become a Hindu or a Buddhist or something wacky like that. So what could he do? As he told me, "You don't want to go cherry-picking a religion." Which is a sentiment I completely respect except for the fact that I totally disagree.Eat Pray Love, page 207.
I think you have every right to cherry-pick when it comes to moving your spirit and finding peace in God. I think you are free to search for any metaphor whatsoever which will take you across the worldly divide whenever you need to be transported or comforted. It's nothing to be embarrased about. It's the hisotry of mankind's search for holiness...
Even in the most unlikely...of places, you can find sometimes this glimeering idea that God might be bigger than our limited religious doctrines have taught us... Doesn't that make sense? That the infinite would be, indeed infinite? That even the most holy amonst us would only be able to see scattered pieces of the eternal picture at any given time? And that maybe if we could collect those pieces and compare them, a story about God would begin to emerge that resembles and includes everyone?...
Don't we each have the right to not stop seeking until we get as close to the source of wonder as possible?"
I really like this woman! My thoughts on cherry-picking religion have changed immensely in the last couple of years. It now seems like a very reasonable thing to do. We have to find what works for us and only we ourselves can know that. No one else is privy to our inner heart.