The Erosion of Tradition

Tradition is very much under attack today throughout the West, often being characterized as “the dead hand of the past.” This misguided view ignores centuries of learning. In his famous book, Orthodoxy, for example, G.K. Chesterton called tradition “the democracy of the dead,” contending that it was obvious that “tradition is only democracy extended through time.” Similarly, in his poem, “A Prayer for My Daughter,” the Pulitzer Prize winning Irish poet, William Butler Yeats asked “How but in custom and in ceremony/Are innocence and beauty born?”

Christianity has been an important part of the Western tradition, with Hilaire Belloc memorably observing that “Europe is the Faith, and the Faith is Europe.” Today in Europe, however, the Christian Faith is progressively being marginalized. The European Union has repeatedly declined to acknowledge the Christian herritage underlying European civilization, and it has increasingly called for the removal of Christian images from the public square. In one recent example, Slovenia was ordered to remove halos and crosses from a commemorative coin featuring the images of Saints Cyril and Methodius, the Apostles to the Slavs. One archbishop commenting on this order complained that “There is a movement in the European Union that wants total religious neutrality and can’t accept our Christian traditions.”

Even in the United States, Christianity is under heavy pressure, particularly as it relates to recognition of same-sex marriage and transgenderism. Christian believers who have refused to accommodate the dictates of same-sex customers where they conflict with the believers’ faith have been sued, fined, and have even suffered a revocation of their business licenses or privileges, sometimes even being required to undergo retraining aimed at changing their religious beliefs or practices.

These American efforts to marginalize Christianity have been assisted in many ways by corporations and sports teams which boycott states which oppose accommodations inconsistent with religious beliefs to same-sex marriage or transgender individuals. The print and electronic media have supported these and other efforts to penalize religious believers who do not adhere to the media’s editorial beliefs and agendas.

On yet another front, American universities have increasingly dropped their introductory American history courses altogether, as well as often limiting courses which are being offered on the American Revolution or the Constitution to history majors or to graduate students. Whether or not they are designed to do so, such efforts leave their students generally ignorant of American customs and traditions, particularly as they relate to the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment.

The strong protections afforded to free exercise of religion by that amendment have also been questioned by many academics and law professors, as well as by media editorial writers. They argue, contrary to the plain language of the Constitution, that free exercise is limited to what takes place within a designated religious structure as worship, and must be prohibited outside those four walls.

Conservatives and others who believe in the value of tradition must speak up, as the hour is already growing very late, and perhaps too late for Europe. Adherents to tradition must take to social media, publish books, write articles, and pressure corporations, sports teams, and universities to preserve and teach tradition and to protect religious believers in the practice of their religions. Silence here is suicidal and, as the law teaches, implies consent to the present, unhappy situation.


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