Thursday, January 11, 2007

Anti-Authoritarianism and Aversion to Tradition

My generation was raised hating tradition. I'm not sure exactly who decided that tradition was a horrible thing, but suffice it to say that we got the memo. We think tradition of most any kind is awful and to be cast off.

This is an unfortunate viewpoint. Tradition is not holy, in and of itself. It's not above questioning or revising. Not at all. But neither is tradition ontologically our sworn enemy. In fact, I would argue that we should adopt a generally friendly stance to tradition. This is very far from what my generation thinks. We think that the only reason tradition exists at all is to be torn down. With the generation before us, we've done our best to accomplish this end. We've made our own music, created our own dress codes, fashioned our own vocabulary, and done pretty much whatever we can think of to sever our links to older and thus outmoded generations. This is an unfortunate practice. There is no need to lionize tradition. To do so is to place oneself on shaky ground, because mere traditions in and of themselves are not holy or perfect. Perhaps we can be balanced and say that some past generations have, in the interest of exalting tradition, suppressed originality and creativity. That was a mistake (a big one) and we should avoid it. However, one does not have to idolize tradition to appreciate it.

Now, you might push me by asking me what concretely I'm talking about. I would answer by saying that I'm actually not talking about any certain style or preference. I'm talking about a general aversion to tradition, the presupposition inherent in many of my peers that any sniff of an established practice is foul. If you are a Christian, and you are reading this, you should know that you have been taught by the culture at large to despise and scoff at tradition. You have been taught that tradition is a form of suppression and domination and that in order to be truly authentic and a person of integrity, you should "fight the man" and stick it to him wherever you can. This is a horrible attitude, one rooted in anti-authoritarianism and an over-reaction to a society that did in some ways stifle creativity and originality. Note that carefully: over-reaction. Past generations were repressed, life was overly formal, creative and original thinkers were largely shunned. Okay, there is some truth to those ideas. Most of us, if we think hard, can agree on that. But instead of siding with our culture, and reacting to these facts with derision, we can seek to calmly and respectfully correct them, and avoid the kind of anti-authority attitude that so dominates today.

This attitude has caused much harm to the church. We throw out old music because it's old, ignore the richness of history because it's ancient, and battle against church customs that are cherished. In none of these areas should we necessarily embrace all forms of tradition. But in none of them should we categorically reject all traditions. If we act in this way, we are not acting neutrally. We are following the anti-authority patterns of our generation. Those patterns in many ways are sinful. As a generation of Christians, we need to re-examine our approach to tradition, and see where we have sinfully despised it, where we may appreciate it, and how we may rebel against the rebellion of our age. Tomorrow, we'll look specifically at what we can do to rebel.


Blogger Jed said...

"But neither is tradition ontologically our sworn enemy."

What does this sentence mean?

on=being, what is
ontology=an account of what is

meaningful uses of the word: (a) "In the Sophist, Plato attempts to fashion an ontology in response to Parmenides' assertion that 'what is' cannot not be.'" (b) "Anselm's ontological argument proves the existence of God by arguing that the most perfect being capable of being conceived must necessarily exist, for existence is greater than non-existence."

I really don't understand what the adverbial form 'ontologically' means (or can mean) or contributes to any sentence other than imprecision. But for some reason historians continually use this word. Let's uphold tradition and oppose these newfangled, imprecise words like "lifestyle, hegemonical, and ontologically."

Other than that, I think the post is good. Have you read G.K. Chesterton on this? 'Orthodoxy' especially provides a thoughtful defense of tradition.

8:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How is Albert Mohler doing?

2:19 AM  

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