Tradition Weds the Past and Present to Form an Unbroken Chain of Human Experience
There was something true when Tevye in The Fiddler on the Roof sang the song “Tradition.” His character was lamenting that the people of his time were disregarding their traditions, making them unable to discern how God wanted them to live.
When forces are inclined to change society and culture substantially, they pick on dismantling and destroying former generations’ traditions bequeathed to them. Much like the Chinese Cultural Revolution, which deemed anything to do with capitalism or anyone accused of representing the bourgeoisie had to be destroyed. The fervor surrounding the Communist Chinese Revolution was bent on obliterating what was known as the ‘Old Fours’: old ideas, old customs, old culture, and old habits. The desecration of the Old Fours brought with it unmentionable violence, death, and the banning of faith, the arts, literature, and music.
What happened on a grand scale in China is now happening to a lesser degree in American culture. Although the methods are different, the objection is the same. Eliminate all history as deleterious to a new society and take steps to minimize tradition and its essential role in stabilizing society.
There is a big difference between the evolution of culture and the need to destroy it and build it up entirely anew. Typically, cultures organically evolve in response to the advancements of human achievements in the sciences, intellectual pursuits, the arts, and technology. This is why a culture looks different today than five hundred years ago. Even though the culture differs from the past, one thing remained constant—traditions were valued, observed, and practiced. Through traditions, the connection between all that was good in the past is wedded with the present forming an unbroken chain of human experience and wisdom.
The present cultural revolution in America is warring against the traditions its citizens once held dear. Younger Americans are being inundated with ideas belittling American traditions at a feverish pace. Educators are filling young and impressionable minds with the nonsense that Thanksgiving is a holiday of the white colonization of the Indians, which any morally superior person should scoff at. It’s no wonder people may think missing the holiday with friends and family is no big deal. Christmas also is attacked by claiming the traditions are nothing more than an annual opportunity to exhibit racist behavior because Jesus was black, either through his skin color or, at the least, ethnically.
Even patriotic traditions are questioned as evil practices. Although the national anthem is still played at the beginning of sporting events, the Colin Kaepernick fiasco harmed public perception of the tradition of national pride. Along with instilling pride, the anthem reminds the citizen of the great sacrifices of the many men and women who gave their lives throughout history, so Kaepernick has the right to kneel in defiance. Memorial Day, a holiday we will celebrate as a nation in just a few days, has lost meaning. Too many Americans have yet to learn why the day was created. Initially, it was meant to take the time to decorate the graves of the fallen soldiers. It seems the only ones decorating graves these days are non-native-born. Memorial Day is no longer a tradition; it has devolved into a three-day weekend and the unofficial start of summer.
The loss of the sense of tradition in modern society is most profoundly felt when it comes to a belief and worship of God. The dynamic of faith and practice depends on a sense of tradition that links past generations making available the revelations of God in the present. With the loss of the importance of tradition, the logic of religion becomes imperceptible. Perhaps, this is why so many have left institutional religions because it makes no sense for them to sit in a big building on Saturday and Sunday and hear words that previous wisdom told us were directly from God. Without the thread of tradition, the apostolic witness of Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection can be, and is, relegated to a fabled status. Without the unbroken chain of religious practice, prayer and sacraments lose meaning. They no longer can connect the present generation with the saving act of Jesus on Calvary nearly two thousand years ago.
American culture is now at risk due to the loss of the communal traditions once held as necessary. If the trend continues unabated, it will surely end up in another dark age where knowledge and experience will be in short supply. We already see signs of it when society calls a man a woman and a woman a man. But there is hope. There are still those who honor and protect traditions, and they will be the ones who, when all seems lost, will reintroduce tradition and God back into civilization.