Monday, July 5, 2010

Thoughts on Tradition

Thinking a bit about tradition outside the realm of religion. I went camping with my family this weekend. Camping has a lot of traditions for me. But when it came to taking down the tent my son started doing it in a way that seemed wrong to me. I didn't know why it seemed wrong. I didn't want to seem like an oppressive father provoking his children to anger so I just let him do it. It became apparent why it was not such a good idea. The point is I knew based on tradition how to do it right. There was a rational explanation for the tradition but I had forgotten that part. I just knew it seemed wrong. That was enough for me but not enough for my son.

The other area where I have been thinking of tradition a lot is soccer. Europeans, the same ones despise religious tradition, are very traditional when it comes to soccer. Why do you need an off-side rule? Because if an offensive player could just run past all the defenders and receive a pass that would ruin the game. But that is allowed in football, hockey, basketball, etc. It does not seem to ruin the game. In fact, they are some of the most exciting plays. We call it the long bomb in football or a break away pass in hockey or basketball. Nobody wants those out of the game. But traditional soccer fans can't see it.

So tradition can be right and it can be wrong. One key is to remember the reasons for the tradition rather than just the tradition. The off-side rule was designed to prevent from waiting for long passes near the opposing goal. Hockey does that with lines on the ice. That is a lot better than making the attacking player worry about where the defender is. The attacker should worry about the ball and the goal. A slow or out of position defender should not be his problem. It should be his opportunity. The point is if you understand the real reason for the rule you can be open to better ways of achieving that end. If you don't then you have two options. You either ignore the tradition assuming there is no good reason for it or you can respect the tradition assuming it cannot be improved upon. Both are irrational. Traditions have reasons. Assuming they are not good reasons is irrational. Almost everything in life can be improved upon. Assuming this is one of the rare exceptions is irrational as well.

This becomes all the more important when it comes to faith. Matters of faith involve very subtle errors that sometimes take generations to become obvious. Look at Sola Scriptura. So many people operate under it and have not seen the problem with it. We are talking about smart people who sincerely want to serve Jesus. It is not like taking down a tent wrong when the error becomes obvious after a few minutes. The disease takes a long time to kill its victims and when it does nobody connects it back to its true cause. When some people figure it out the solution is so radical it gets dismissed quickly.

Thinking about this you can start to understand how much we need God to sort out good tradition from bad tradition. That we would have no chance without the Holy Spirit leading the magisterium into all truth. It is one thing to get soccer wrong. It makes for boring games but it really is only a game. It would be hard to believe that if you were in Holland right now but it is true. We can get sport wrong. We can even get politics or science wrong. We cannot get God wrong.

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