The Tradition Dodge

One of the fundamental differences between progressives and conservatives is the way we view tradition and heritage. For progressives, tradition is not sacred. I won't go so far as to say that tradition is automatically dismissed, but in general, our way of looking at the world involves examining the past so that we can make the future better, and part of that requires breaking with tradition, since so much of it is steeped in patriarchy and racism.

When I've written about what it's like to be a progressive southerner, I've dealt with the idea that it's important to be honest about our regional heritage and tradition, especially as regards symbols like the Confederate flag. There's plenty to be proud of--we have a strong culinary tradition and a unique regional literature just to name two. And there's no question that those two things wouldn't have turned out the way they did without the racist and patriarchal landscape they sprang from. But we celebrate those responses to that landscape, not the landscape itself. When people claim pride in their heritage and use the flag as a symbol, they're celebrating the landscape, the tradition of subjugating women and people of color.

The same is true in religion. The Anglican communion is facing a potential schism, and has been for a while now, because the progressive and conservative wings are at odds over the role of women in the church. And now even the Catholic Church is weighing in--guess which side they're on?

"Such a decision is a break with apostolic tradition maintained in all of the Churches in the first millennium, and is therefore a further obstacle for reconciliation between the Catholic Church and the Church of England."
The progressive wing of the Anglican communion looked at the patriarchal tradition and decided that it was faulty, that women should be able to take part in the leadership of the church. Even though I'm an atheist, I celebrate this move, because it is more inclusive and because it not only points out the fundamental unfairness of traditional Christianity, but is trying to change it as well.

And did you notice what the Catholic Church appealed to? Tradition. The problem with conservatism in general is that it overvalues tradition, and what's more, uses it as a fallacious authority to hide behind when challenged on the probity of its positions. "Because we've always done it this way" is nothing more than a dodge, a way to evade responsibility for your actions.

Which is not to say that a new way of doing something is necessarily better. Take beer, for example. Amy and I went to a family reunion over the Fourth of July weekend--wonderful get-together, lots of family, big fireworks, good food, Nintendo Wii, all the necessities. But the beer options were, well, not beer. They were Bud Light with Lime, Michelob Ultra and Mich Ultra with grapefruit/tangerine/ass-funk. That's not progress. Give me an Anchor Steam made by brewers who are pitching yeast by hand and throw in whole-flower hops any day. But even they keep the tradition only to a point--they don't depend on wild yeast carried on the breeze, and they do use stainless steel and modern sanitation methods. And they make a hell of a beer as a result.

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