Tuesday, October 25, 2016
Tradition is difficult to pin down. The tension between tradition and reason that Michael and Marc have probed a bit in their recent posts is just one of many tensions between tradition and something else. Consider, for example, the tension between tradition and text; or tradition and innovation.
Also, tradition might be thought to be valuable for different purposes. For instance, we might value tradition because it provides access to an original source of revelation, say, or something else that is to be handed down unchanged. Or we might value tradition, instead, because what has survived to be passed along has features that have enabled it to stand the test of time. We might not know just what those features are while still attributing a tradition's endurance to beneficial features iwe don't fully appreciate (like the practice of leaving rocks in fields that Marc mentioned).
During the first meeting of the Tradition Project, one of the contributions to the conversation over these various features of tradition that I found most helpful was the identification of tradition as part of what it means to be human. We are all born into a world we don't and can't fully understand. We are all going to die. And we are all trying to live a meaningful life in between our birth and our death. Tradition helps us to do that. And it does so in ways that reason alone cannot.
This organizing idea of tradition as an aspect of the human condition raises the question of what it means to be human. One of my takeaways from the Tradition Project is that to be human is to be both more and less than we think we are when we reason. Yes, we have reason. But we are also animals, on the one hand, and open to transcendence, on the other. As sensual, rational, and spiritual beings, participation in traditions is part of what it means to live a fully human life.