Thursday, February 3, 2011

Erosion of Tradition

I've been reading a number of interesting articles from the Cato Institute about the role and evolution of tradition in our society. "Tradition is under assault," it is stated, whether by commercialism, globalization, the media, or liberalism. But true to form, the argument from the postmodern viewpoint is that traditions never were what we thought they were. Our traditions are merely our own personal preferences as we've thrust them upon the world around us. They never were what we thought they were.

A number of commentators chime in on this debate with articles of their own, but it seems that it all comes down to one thought: that the authority of tradition has eroded until it is at last denied to have ever been at all.

And for me, in my little slice of the world, that's been the rub. It isn't that the world around me has conspired to disagree with those views I've carried all my life, it's more to the point that they deny the legitimacy of the authority of those views. Coming at the world as I do from a Christian perspective has, heretofore, always been relatively easy to do. As a very young man, if I was in a debate with others, my position of standing behind the bulwark of scripture or Judeo-Christian ethics may have been disagreeable to my opponent, but it was never assailable. The viewpoint always stood on its own merits because of the innate authority it carried within our society.

This isn't true anymore. So often I feel that when dealing with many people today, you'd get just as far (or further) defending your opinions with a glib, "because I saw it on the Internet" as you will with a dictum from a source such as the Bible.

Let me give you a real life example. About five years ago, I became friendly with a friend of a friend. I and this person, whom we'll call Cheryl (because that's her name), fell into a conversation regarding religion. I explained to her my personal beliefs on God, Jesus Christ, and various matters of history and religion. In turn, Cheryl told me about her beliefs. She believes that there are two cosmic sides of gods who are eternally warring one against the other. These gods meet on a field of battle in another plane of existence. Human beings, it follows, choose which side to be on and, in a normative sense, should be fighting one another. To the death.

As she was staying in my home for a time, and as I was deemed to not be on the same side as she, I inquired as to whether I need be concerned for my safety or that of my family. "No," she assured me. As one who had taken her in and was giving her shelter, it would be dishonorable to slay me.

I kid you not.

I asked her where she ever got this notion; how, after some 5,000 years or so of recorded history she came to this conclusion in spite of there being zero evidence for it.

"I decided it was so."

Where I could point to two thousand years of scholarship, sacred texts that are revered the world over, literally millions of witnesses who could testify of the working of God's power in their lives, she rested her eternal soul (which she admitted to having) on what she thought up herself. Why? Because none of that authority carried any value for her. To her postmodern thinking, one thing is as good as another. Who are you -- who is anyone -- to say what is better? There is no truth. There is only opinion.

Acceptance of the authority of tradition has eroded. I've got more to say on this subject in upcoming posts, but for now, I just wanted to lay a bit of groundwork.


Anonymous said...

Having had many many many many .. I could go on... arguments with you on religion.. I have to go back to what it always comes down to for any of these conversations... Faith. You have faith that what you beleive (which yes, happens to come with a long pedigree) is valid and that her faith in what she believes (WTF?) is not valid because she just made it up. (WTF?) But what she's got faith in, or says she does (WTF?) is perhaps just as valid to her and also may have lots of pagan ideals and themes, hell even Christian ones, to base it on. Good vs. Evil. Light and Dark, God and Satan.. the list goes on. You are either on the right side or the wrong side. The rest is filler. So while the idea of someone just 'inventing' their own religion seems a bit pretentious, I think in a way everyone invents their own religion. They seek and seek, even among their own groups, until they find what they feel is right. I guess that's what she did. She just didn't settle for anything anyone else did.
My next question would be, who has she or is she planning to kill if she really believes that? (WTF?)
As a side not, I guess the first Atheists must have been looked at that same way. For their absence of belief.

Gleno said...

But having faith in a thing does not make it so. Blind faith without any basis in reality is not efficacious. It may provide them a sense of peace and purpose, but to conjure up what one believes to be an eternal reality from one's own imagination is self-deluding.

One can disagree and even disparage my faith. But my faith still remains firmly founded upon the lives, testimony, and works of real people who lived and saw real things. I can look around myself in the natural world and find an abundance of evidence that the dictums of the Bible stand true. In other words, there is evidence that what I have concluded to be true is indeed true.

Shouldn't faith, all faith, be based upon something?

Anonymous said...

You have faith that the people saw and did the things you think they did. You don't really know they did. You weren't there. You have faith that what you see in nature is the product of the god you believe in (which coincidentally people of totally different faiths attribute to their god or gods).
Having faith in a thing does not make it "true". I've been telling you that for years. But having faith in something CAN make it so. I put to you the plethora of religions in the world, animism, shamanism, Voodoo, the list is really endless. If faith has to be based on something that is so, then all these things must be 'so' and if they are, well, they all contradict each other cause they can't all be right, right?
They are all based on things.. things that that religion has come to accept. But they started somewhere.. with someone having faith that what they believed is was true. Was the first person to believe that the world was carried on the back of a turtle as deluded as the woman you know? Or did they really have faith that some giant turtle was carrying them through the universe? I don't know, but hey, it's now a religion. These things start somewhere... and with faith, they persist. (which doesn't explain how your friend came up with this 'reality' but hey, who am I to question her faith. I can only question reality. lol)

Anonymous said...

And after re-reading the original post, I have to again say that her oddball belief (if she really does believe it) does have some basic merit in that it is a classic good vs. evil or my side vs your side struggle, which is the underlying theme of many beliefs. That she's tweeked it a bit is no big deal, people in established religions tweak them all the time to fit their needs. There are millions of Catholics that don't believe in purgatory, or maybe even Hell. Lots of Christians believe the Bible to be gods word, lots believe it to be 'good teaching stories'. You can run the gamut of what people choose to actually buy from their particular religion, and no one really thinks twice about it, as long as they get the basics right. Hell, most people don't even talk about what they actually believe. So her pagan ideas really aren't that off base, or out of the 'pagan' norm. And I'm using pagan as a really broad term here.
Ever yours, CC

Gleno said...

I understand everything you've said and I agree with a great deal of it. And of course, people are free to believe whatever they wish. But, as you say, believing a thing does not make it so. However, the inverse is much more important and critical to my point: Things that are so, things that are facts compel us to believe them. Those are the things we ought put our faith in. To make up something -- anything -- and to immediately declare faith in it is self-deluding. You are knowingly putting faith in a false-hood. Moreover, doing so short-circuits the scientific process. You start with a hypothesis and then, after testing, you come to the point of factuality. Now I know you're immediately thinking that religious belief has no basis being subject to scientific processes, but God never calls us to be mindless idiots. "Prove me now herewith" He says. I don't believe the Bible because it sounds good or because it happens to fit nicely with my personality or psychology, I believe it because it's been shown to work; that it can be verified to a very large extent; and because it does not go against the natural world we can readily observe.

Anonymous said...

Well, again, I think her basic idea is based on sound observation that many religions use, that of good vs. evil, or two opposing forces in the universe. Why she chose the decorations around that primal idea, I don't know, but if she has faith that this is the way it is.... well, that's her faith. I really don't see it as all that much different from say Hindu belief. And she may change it, if she looses faith that that is indeed the truth, and perhaps will move on to another faith, but that faith might just retain some of the core ideas of what she believes now. Or she may lose faith altogether...