Friday, April 10, 2009

The glue that holds religion together.

"While I do believe Gibson's account makes sense, I also know that when it comes to faith, tradition is a powerful glue that holds religion together." Ben Wedeman, in a CNN article found here:

This comment struck me.

I think it's generally true. Tradition seems to be the moving force and motivating factor behind most religion. The ceremony or lack thereof, the beliefs and actions, the study traditions, preaching traditions...even the rebellions are all tied up in tradition.

Except for the Mormons.

I hadn't thought about this before, but we seem to have very little actual religious "tradition". We completely encourage family traditions as a way to promote family well-being. But overall religious tradition? Not encouraged.

In fact, have you noticed how welcoming the church is to change? Oh, we're not open to change in doctrine, since we believe that is absolutely NOT based on tradition, but based on truth revealed by God. But all things not revealed? We're constantly looking for better, more efficient, and more effective ways to run our programs, help families, extend aid to those in need, and generally function as a religion. Interesting, isn't it? For a church accused of being mired in tradition, we are, in fact, one of the least tradition-based religions in the world.

There are rituals, but we don't consider them traditional. We repeat them by rote year after year, and sometimes week after week (like the sacrament), but we by no means consider them traditional because traditions are the ways MEN run their lives and are open to shifting and changing, if subtly, year after year. Our rituals are repeated, but they are not traditional. They are revealed. We follow these rituals not because of traditions, but because it's how God told us to do it, and you don't mess with his instructions.

I suppose you could say that the major difference between our religion and others is that the glue that holds them together is tradition, and the glue that holds us together is revelation. It is, at it's heart, the issue of dead versus live religion. If the glue is tradition, or rebellion against the tradition, the religion is driven by the past. It is not dynamic and changing, but dead. The only way for a religion to be living is to be founded not on tradition, but on revealed truths (the same revealed truths that were the foundation of the traditions years ago, but minus the "gossip game/telephone game" phenomenon).

I'm not completely negating the value of tradition here. In fact, the central concept in one of the novels I'm working on is that if we dispense with religious traditions because we don't understand them or have forgotten the source, we risk dire consequences. If you change a tradition you don't understand without the knowledge of the truth behind it, you run the very real risk of destroying yourself and your world.

But tradition is, at best, a weak and imperfect stand-in for revelation and understanding of truth. Yes it can protect us (like accepting the views of traditional marriage and traditional family can keep us moving in the right direction even if we don't understand the impact of those things--which we still don't). But when it becomes more important or more comfortable than truth, in a very real sense it becomes a tool that Satan uses to keep people from finding the truth. Even the rebellion against tradition is completely tied up in the tradition and impossible to use as a method to pure truth. (Standing in the shadow of a wall, or pushing against it, or even working to knock it down--your focus is still on the wall, rather than on what it might be holding up, holding back, or otherwise functioning as.)

Tradition may be the glue that has held religion together, but glue eventually breaks down, cracks, becomes brittle, and loses its sticking power, sometimes all at once, and sometimes just a piece at a time until the entire structure is a fragile, unidentifiable mess. For religion to really stick together, it requires something stronger than glue.

That something is Truth. Not 'truth' we ferret out using our own minds (especially since those are so often structured around dealing with the traditions in one way or another). Not 'truth' we create and label as 'from god.' Truth Revealed. Truth directly from God.

It's the sealing power that binds us to God, and isn't that what religion is really about?


Friple said...

Now I want to know what novel that was!

Becca Jones said...

The one where the people stop keeping the dragon eggs cold and the dragons hatch....