From Lite to Empty
Mary Eberstadt offers a good introduction to the observational thought that pick-and-choose religion — specifically within Christianity — is not sustainable:
Even so, it is the still longer run of Christian history whose outlines may now be most interesting and unexpected of all. Looking even further out to the horizon from our present moment—at a vista of centuries, rather than mere decades, ahead of us—we may well begin to wonder something else. That is, whether what we are witnessing now is not only the beginning of the end of the Anglican Communion but indeed the end of something even larger: the phenomenon of Christianity Lite itself.
By this I mean the multifaceted institutional experiment, beginning but not ending with the Anglican Communion, of attempting to preserve Christianity while simultaneously jettisoning certain of its traditional teachings—specifically, those regarding sexual morality. Surveying the record to date of what has happened to the churches dedicated to this long-running modern religious experiment, a large historical question now appears: whether the various exercises in this specific kind of dissent from traditional teaching turn out to contain the seeds of their own destruction. The evidence—preliminary but already abundant—suggests that the answer is yes.
As I illustrated some time ago by tracing the cultural ratchet from contraception to cloning, initial compromises can undermine much broader swaths of belief than initially appears likely, even beyond the immediate genus of sin. Writes Eberstadt:
These examples are among many that could be cited to illustrate an important point: Even in the hands of its ablest defenders, Christianity Lite has proven time and again to be incapable of limiting itself to the rules about sex alone. Once traditional sexual morality is dispensed with in whole or in part, it is hard, apparently, to keep the rest of Church teaching off the chopping block. To switch metaphors, which came first, the egg of dissent over sex—or the chicken of dissent over other doctrinal issues? We do not need to know the answer to grasp the point: History shows that Christianity Lite cannot seem to have one without the other.
Unless religious thinking evolves over long periods of time, with changes of doctrine growing from tradition, it isn’t possible to reshape discrete principles without deforming more fundamental considerations, such as authority. This, I’d suggest, is part of what gives the Catholic Church an especial fortitude against cultural tides: Radical change requires the Church to undermine so much of what makes it distinct among religions — the blend of scripture, tradition, and revelation; the authority of the hierarchy; the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist — that it faces natural controls, and eras of overreach may recede.