The Myth of Tradition 4

The Myth of Tradition 4

Yesterday we discussed to what extent Tradition should be respected, and we saw that the limit of respecting Tradition is the line where it is harmful to society.

Today we will look at the combination of Religion and Tradition, and show that society must disregard both Religion and Tradition when they try to maintain old customs that have become harmful through the passage of time and the progress of thought.


Relation between Religion and Tradition

Most religious people are devoted to the traditions of their religion. There is good reason for this devotion. Most religions embody some traditions that are both life-affirming and beneficent. And people who find their religions to be a source of strength and comfort in their lives also find those traditions to be important.

But believers in the Myth of Tradition tend to have the same myopia about Tradition that they have about Religion. They are so close to the religious beliefs that are meaningful and comforting to them that they either cannot see, or choose not to see, that their religion also contains beliefs that are unjust. Most religions have such beliefs, as well as traditions based on those beliefs.

So religious people connect their implicit faith in the rightness of their religion with an implicit faith in Tradition, because they see their religion as a very large part of Tradition. Unfortunately, this connection locks together two very bad traits: unexamined faith and status-quo thinking.

And they tend to justify these bad habits, as we saw yesterday, on the idea that Religion and Tradition promote stability in society.

How much stability society needs

Society does use Tradition as a useful means of promoting stability. By leaving everyday aspects of life to Tradition, people are freed up from having to think through every little choice. They know what their parents did, and so they can just copy them. It would be a continual torment if we had to think up a new way to do things every time we set about a task—and especially if that task involves other people. By relying on Tradition, we know what is expected of us, and what other people will think of our actions. This predictability and ease is the principal benefit we derive from Tradition. Practices aren’t always changing around us, and we can count on certain things staying the same tomorrow.

But this comfortable stability engendered by Tradition should not be overvalued. Stability is not the chief aim of society—justice is. So stability needs to be weighed against other factors when deciding whether traditions need to change.

One of those other factors is the need to adapt to change. The world is full of change, and if we tried never to alter our traditions, reality would soon intrude upon our obstinacy. Change would eventually destroy us, because our old customs, suited to a vanished reality, would simply stop working.

Stability, therefore, can only justify a certain amount of Tradition. Beyond that amount, other factors may well demand that we alter our traditions.


Tomorrow we will examine the dangers of too much reliance on Tradition, and we will see that relying excessively on Tradition is a bad strategy in a world in which change is far more prevalent than stasis.

Until tomorrow, then.

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