Don’t conflate “tradition” and Ultimate Truth.

One of the perils of NeoTraditional Christianity is that in its understandable backlash against modernity and its wretched spawn, post-modernism, it tends to elevate “traditions” to the level of Ultimate Truth. By that, I mean to say that NeoTraditional Christianity starts by prescribing a standard of living which intuitively sates our appetite for anything other than the cultural garbage most of us have been fed since birth. Once the prescription has been devised, then there are post hoc rationalizations added to explain why this way is God’s way for anyone who dares say they seek Him to live their lives.

Additionally, a lot of what is offered as the “traditional” right and true way to be a good Christian… whatever, is not only untraditional when viewed through a lens of history which looks back farther than 1950, it also exacerbates some of the worst problems of post-modern life, driving wedges between believers based on issues which are not indicators of Ultimate Truth.

I had occasion to consider this today as I met with two lovely Christian women who founded a Classical education program in which we are considering enrolling our children this fall. It is something that we feel is an imperative next step on our children’s homeschooling journey.

This necessarily means that the system I have in place to make sure that certain things get done in a certain way and time schedule will be upended. It means that the already daunting task of being the perfect homemaker while trying to home educate two kids (go ahead, chuckle) is going to be even more daunting. However, it’s only a problem if I subscribe to the notion that God intended for “keepers at home” to literally stay in place and keep the home neat and tidy to the exclusion of almost everything else.

When our older children were younger, I bought into this myself. Of course, they were in school all day which made it easy to fall into the superwife delusion. It was easier to do “it all” when someone else was doing the heavy lifting for 6 hours a day. There is still a bit of occasional anxiety on my part about my inability to do it “right” and perfectly. That’s not my husband’s top priority, and he’s made that clear.

The NeoTraditionalism of today heavily promotes this model, and ironically, it is promoted by people who mostly themselves live cushy, prosperous lives, and did almost none of what they prescribe to others as the way to live a good Christian life. The larger problem, however, is that the writers of these prescriptions tie heavy, hard to bear loads onto men’s and women’s  shoulders when they won’t lift a finger to help make them lighter.

Real tradition, in almost every era and for what it’s worth, has usually been identified by a family model where everyone contributed to the family’s bottom line in a tangible way. The post-modern way of life certainly leaves most families with a conundrum on how to make that happen while keeping the home and family at the center of things. As a homemaker, one who has experience as a producer of supplemental income (albeit minimal), and a strict steward of income (the majority of my time as a homemaker), I know that our current social and economic model make both options more of a challenge than they were even 20+ years ago, when I married.

Real tradition, again for what it’s worth, was never built on the idea of the nuclear family as the be all, end all of a person’s social, religious, and educational life.  As much as I adore my Benevolent Dictator and as much as he seems to adore me, there are things about manhood which I will never be able to grasp any more than he would be able to understand what it means to be a woman. Separate sex spheres was a normal way of living.

NeoTradition of the Christian variety, however, prescribes a way of living which allows little opportunity for a life that involves meaningful connections with other people. The spheres I mentioned have been discarded in favor of the soul mate myth which forces both husband and wife to try and provide all their spouses emotional and social support. Additionally, it demands that we set ourselves up as judges of others based on arbitrary metrics not found anywhere in the Bible, and isolate ourselves accordingly. This, even though the New Testament clearly lays out a way of living for believers which presumed deep connections between fellow believers and prioritized unity over uniformity. The kinds of connections which cannot be cultivated within the context of 90 minutes on Sundays.

Tradition, for what it’s worth, promoted the idea that young women were expected to situate themselves in the best position they could to be considered a suitable wife. This, of course, was always done in ways which helped preserve the woman’s virtue and her family’s reputation, but depending on the time and place, you can find a wide swath of things that traditional-minded Christians did to help their daughters (and sons) not only prepare for family life but to garner the attention of a worthy mate in the first place. This included, for certain sectors of society, knowledge other than just the domestic arts.

NeoTradition of the Christian variety, rather than offer ways to achieve the good end of marriage and family in ways which preserve a young woman’s virtue and her family’s reputation, declare any such preparation that includes venturing outside of the domestic arts “worldly”, “feminist” and even sinful. This, while implying that the primary purpose of the young woman, rather than to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, is specifically to be a wife. There seems to be a disconnect between the woman’s declared purpose and how she is supposed to get there without putting herself in a position to be chosen. And again, as is so often the case with traditionalists who have been so for all of five minutes, there is no evidence to indicate that they themselves took the medicine which they declare will heal the crisis of family formation so prevalent in the Western church.

After flirting with the notion that I might be a traditionalist, I finally understood the importance of following the lead of my not particularly traditional head.  By that, I mean not only following in action (which was never at issue) but really embracing and taking to heart his vision of the best way to steer the family and prepare our children for life. As I have done so, it is becoming glaringly obvious that this path, despite the promise of success offered by the systems of the NeoTradionalists, is actually the most traditional route of all. Oh, and that his walk is probably more traditional than the most strident NeoTraditionalist’s talk.

Why is it so hard for us to just stick to the basics?

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6 thoughts on “Don’t conflate “tradition” and Ultimate Truth.

  1. I hear you. I’ve done any number of traditional women’s duties through my years as a SAHM – but I can’t do ALL of them simultaneously.

    Which is ticking me off, and will shortly produce some re-structuring of my life, which I will no doubt cry about. I *like* women’s work. I like to sew, I like gardening (except weeding), I like putting up food, I like cooking, I don’t *hate* cleaning as long as no one expects the place to be spotless, I like a well-organized life and planned menus and … all of that.

    But fitting those tasks in with chauffeuring kids around, being available for Titus 2 stuff, getting to the gym, doing charter school stuff… it’s not possible to make it all fit.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Another thought (this is starting to feel like a monolog). But I am contemplating all this talk about doing things the “traditional” way while living with a man who would cringe at having the label “traditionalist” slapped on him while his family (minus labels and lots of *talk* about it, lives this way as a matter of course.

    His three young adult daughters (soon to be three college graduates with jobs and at least one car so far):

    1. Live at home and aren’t in any rush to go anywhere anytime soon
    2. Have jobs in which they both contribute to the family as a whole and save faithfully. They have a degree of financial autonomy but not to the degree that every penny they make is theirs to do with as they wish.
    3. they are open to marriage right. now. And are saving themselves for marriage.
    4. They are faithful Christians with evidence that it is more than piggybacking on their parents’ faith.

    Now, to see them on the street, in their jeans, going to a blockbuster film, or out in a trendy restaurant, a NeoTraditionalist Christian might see them and assume they are just another trio of post-modern secular women. Books and covers and all that.

    But the labels aren’t necessary when you see the right way and decide to walk in it.

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  3. Yes Hearth. We have to set priorities and the best way to do that is in line with our husband’s priorities as they set them.

    It’s just a much more peaceable way to live.

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  4. Traditions are important as a cultures expression of the good, true, and beautiful. When properly and popularly understood, they are a glue for society. The pitfall of traditionalism is in holding onto traditions that are not in keeping with the good, true, and beautiful, as then the traditions are working to destroy society.

    Tradition is important to society as it connects the generations; it is how wisdom is passed from one generation to the next. The problem with our culture is that it has no traditions; we are an anti-social culture. So, like you said, people are starving for any sort of tradition. However, right now I think we are in the process of making traditions, as we currently have none. It is good that people are looking back to get ideas for the traditions we would like to make, but it’s important that we make them well and not just latch onto the nearest tradition we can find, which is what most people who label themselves as traditional seem to be doing.

    As a young Catholic man learning how to live his life in this society, and with an eye towards post-college life, I really appreciate the advice in this blog Elspeth. Keep up the good work, and I’ll keep you and your family in my prayers.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. So, like you said, people are starving for any sort of tradition. However, right now I think we are in the process of making traditions, as we currently have none. It is good that people are looking back to get ideas for the traditions we would like to make, but it’s important that we make them well and not just latch onto the nearest tradition we can find, which is what most people who label themselves as traditional seem to be doing.

    Yes, halt94 I agree. And welcome.

    I am in favor of looking to to timeless truths and traditions built on the same to inform and order the way we live our lives.

    But when the traditions grasped are more indicative of a nostalgia for what is perceived as an idyllic age of American culture, I am turned off entirely.

    It’s even more ironic because the 1950s was the most pivotal decade in recent history where pulling back the layers reveals the type of culture which paved the way for the consumerist economy which has compelled so many people to make choices which leave them stuck on the treadmill of post-modern values.

    Looking back farther, you get a much different picture of family life and traditions, and it’s a pretty common thread -with a few ethnic differences of course- for just about everyone except the nobility and the upper classes.

    The most valuable of those traditions is that for the not rich, extended family connection and interdependence (not to mention geographical community and religious community connections) are necessary for every need to be supplied among the members of that community.

    Of course, it was assumed to be understood that people need more than just their basic material and sustenance needs met to have a rich and full life.

    A lot of what is being heralded as “tradition” today specifically undermines those kinds of connections.

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  6. 100% agree. People don’t live near their families anymore and neighborhoods are full of singles or couples who never had any children; there is no connectedness. It’s why parents feel so stretched nowadays: they just don’t have as much help from other people as they used to.

    If there’s a tradition I think needs to be revived, its the inclusion of grandparents in the home of a young family.. 3 and 4 generation homes were the norm for most of human history and I think it would be very helpful to bring that back.

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