Saturday, May 21, 2011

Thoughts on "traditions"

Whenever I talk about my ideal Catholic, feminist wedding, I'll often hear things like, "But those are traditions!" and, "No one DOES that!"

My response? A) Not all traditions are good and meaningful and B) If everyone decides to jump off a bridge, should I jump too?

I'm not against all traditions. I'm Catholic. I like tradition (big T and small t, yes, there's a difference). I like going to Mass every Sunday and reciting ancient biblical prayers. I like saying the rosary. I like that my dad reads the Declaration of Independence every Fourth. I think some of the cultural and culinary traditions of my mixed ethnic background are awesome. Traditions mark our heritage, whether our religious or ethnic heritage or our heritage as a nation. However, I would not deny that some traditions are destructive.

For example, most of us in the West would agree that circumcising girls, a traditional practice in many countries, is a destructive tradition. Most of us Westerners would agree that paying a bride price for women is wrong. In my faith, some religious orders have bucked the tradition of the habit (the garb of religious Sisters and Brothers, as well as some priests) because they found it prevented them from reaching more people (whether through intimidation or anger at negative past experiences in the Church). Parades in Northern Ireland (Orange Order and Apprentice Boys of Derry, for example), while defended as cultural traditions, are often seen as extremely divisive and a potential catalyst for violence.

Yes, these are a bit extreme. No, not everyone is going to come to a consensus on what constitutes a good tradition or a bad one and there are some we will be indifferent about. At the same time, I disagree with doing something simply because we've always done it. Traditions should be meaningful, should be seen as a source of unity, and should be positive. Otherwise, they seem superficial and carry the possibility of sending a negative message, if not destruction of others.

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