A Moderate and a Cafeteria Catholic walk into a Bar …

A Moderate and a Cafeteria Catholic walk into a Bar … The bartender walks towards them, asking “What will it be …?”

They look around apprehensively as if searching for unfriendly faces; point to each other; and say in unison, “I’ll have what he’s having.”

A cafeteria Catholic is typically defined as one who picks and chooses what Catholic teaching he wants to believe. Catholics are not free to choose which teachings (on faith and morals) to obey.  Even when the Church has not spoken on a matter of faith or morals definitively (infallibly), the faithful must give “a religious submission of the intellect and will” to its teachings (CIC 752).  – Taken from catholic.com

diners-at-a-buffetThe term “cafeteria Catholics” is one feared by those who love the Roman Catholic Church yet hold more liberal – or progressive – views of social issues vs. the expectations of their religious devotions.  Such Catholics are viewed by Church conservatives as weak in their faith for not being able to toe-the-line on every dogma-driven social proclamation made by Church leadership.  The term “cafeteria Catholic” is almost as harsh as “heretic”.

There are some parallels between the disdain of Catholic Traditionalists for the Cafeteria Catholic and that displayed by the Right and Left express towards Political Moderates.

If you think this is just “a Republican issue”, consider the reactions of many Bernie Sanders supporters when the DNC Establishment prevailed in the guise of dear Hillary!  Of course that reaction had a few layers to it, partly involving the DNC’s politics and Hillary’s less-than-transparent and outright dishonest representations.


This may well worsen for the Democrat Party with the radicalism Liberals are exhibiting in their efforts to resist the new political order in the U.S.  We may yet see a purging of Moderates from the ranks of Democrats in the interests of anti-Trump demagoguery.  To compromise on any approach to the Trump Administration may be fraught with political peril!

political litmus testing

As a Republican, I saw the purge of the Moderates in the GOP crystallizing with the introduction of the dreaded political litmus test a decade or so ago during early stages of the GOP’s primary season.  Many a well-qualified candidate were eliminated from the field after failing conservative litmus tests on social issues like abortion, gay rights, etc.

In my previous blog existence, I decried the lack of or underground nature of Moderates in the GOP.  Republicans have a unique method for outing and attempting to run off those with less-than-total-Conservative blood lines.  It’s the derogatory RINO label!

One’s Republican bona fides may well be properly aligned in areas of government size, national security, and economic policy; yet to support – or an open mind – on women’s choice, gays in the military, a softer approach to immigration, or any other touchstone issues could determine the difference between Insider and Outsider.  The same goes for Democrats when it comes to immigration, gender and women’s rights, and the classic example of climate change!

There is a significant difference however in the character of criticisms leveled at political Moderate vs. that used to criticize those cafeteria Catholics.  One the religious side Roman Catholic dogma, dictated at the highest levels of the Church define what makes a Catholic in good standing.

That’s just not the case when one speaks to political beliefs.

Neither political party in the U.S. defines a set of beliefs or positions required for membership or good standing.  Many constituents may believe there is such a standard, which is how their party ends up with a high proportion of extremists (Far Left or Far Right).

unknown-3This is not good politics.  Used to be you could have Conservatives in the Democratic Party and Liberals in the Republican Party.  Not so much anymore … Not so much for a long time now.

In my humble opinion, both parties suffer from the intransigence that takes root when you have little in the way of membership to balance out the extremes on balance board.  It also makes nearly impossible any attempts to “broaden the tent”; expand the voter base; and deny the other party diversity in positions and appeal.  This is how we arrived in time where obstructionism is considered a viable political tactic.

The result is NOTHING gets done.

Dogma, whether it be explicit and well-defined or implied through behavior, is not a suitable tool for maximizing an organization’s outreach.  It’s also a killer of compromise and progress (i.e. not progress as in “Progressive”, progress as in movement towards the collective benefit).  The anchor points of dogma – both Liberal and Conservative – contribute mightily to political polarization.


We see this obstructionism played out directly with the behavior of the U.S. Congress.  The inevitable change in political leadership now leads immediately to the mindset that EVERYTHING opposing leadership wants to pursue must be bad – in the political sense – as opposed to simply disagreeable with standards of governance.  Both American political parties have displayed this behavior by allowing the extremes to push a political goal instead of working within a loose cooperation to mitigate the disagreeable and gain political weight through prudent compromise.

The solution is both simple and daunting.

Simple in that the promotion of moderate political positions is as easy as giving greater voice publicly, particularly at the ballot box.  Daunting in that the extremes are more highly motivated; enjoy the attention of the Media that gravitates toward loud and controversial; and can be politically ruthless towards those lukewarm to their passions.

This may well be the most positive development from the Trump victory in November.  Trump is no Conservative.  He’s barely even a Republican.  But his election proves that more moderate political stances do have an attraction for voters, even if one can argue that it was Trump’s political-outsider status that was a much bigger influence.

Trump’s victory aside simplest – and most politically sensible – solution is for the major parties to embrace rather than shunning moderate views.  Yes, more extreme politics drives excitement (Remember the ends of the political spectrum are more motivated.) and fund-raising.  But when it comes to vote totals, the Middle is a much more fertile patch to cultivate.

The more difficult solution is getting the Moderate Middle to become more vocal.  More than voicing its preferences at the ballot box … They need to push for moderate political candidates.  Get involved in their local and state-wide political parties .  Make their views more pointedly and publicly at town halls, candidate forums, pushing a message that Cooperation, Pragmatism, and Compromise are more productive and not signs of weakness.

Yes … This prescription is anathema to the nature and political philosophy of the Moderate.  We tend to be complacent, too busy, or put off by the demands of politics and its dirty underbelly.  But without moderating influences, we will continue to suffer the dogma of political extremes.




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