Why Tradition Should Give Us Pause

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Traditions come in many forms. Some traditions are minor, such as opening Christmas presents one at a time, from youngest to oldest. Other traditions, like orthodox Christianity, have much more to them. And on the one hand, it is a good idea to pause and consider why we do certain things in certain ways. Doing or believing something merely for the sake of tradition may prove destructive.

But my best friend made an excellent point over Christmas: "Questioning is fine as long as the purpose is to get to truth. But you must also realize that there are reasons certain ideas have been around for so long." The trick, then, is to recognize truth while being humble enough to follow where it leads.

What my best friend said came to mind as I read a post about Christopher Hitchens and another about the contradictions of the Christmas story. I'm also reminded of my post on prayer from a few years ago that included a link to 10 questions that every intelligent Christian must answer. These kinds of questions can be troubling, but I find them exciting.


Because most--if not all--have been answered more-or-less satisfactorily by people far smarter than me. These questions just remind me of when my professor stated that, "Scholars claim that no other passage shows the errors of Scripture more than Luke 2:1-4."* Yes, it can be disorienting at first. But the exploration of these traditions and thoughts reveals truth. And the answers to accusations that we have been "mindless" prove the hubris of the speaker. Perhaps, until we knew the question, we hadn't thought of the issue. But as we dig into these topics, tradition may demonstrate that humility is the proper response.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

*Looking for answers to the Luke 2 problem?

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  1. Warren Baldwin

    While it is commendable to not be slaves to our tradition, it is also important to realize that traditions shape us and give us our sense of identity. They play a very valuable role is orienting us and giving us direction for life. That is certainly true regarding the Bible, church, and the various traditions that surround them.

    Your post is a good discussion of tradition. Sometime when it is not so late I want to run the links you provide here.


  2. Thanks, Warren. You said it beautifully!


  3. NFQ

    Thanks for the link. I'm curious, since you write that "most--if not all--[questions] have been answered more-or-less satisfactorily by people far smarter than me" -- what do you make of the existence of intelligent scholars of religions and traditions other than your own? Why are their conclusions not worth trusting, while the smart people who defend your view are trustworthy? ... Or do you think that there are no Muslims, no Hindus, no Jews, no atheists smarter than you are?

  4. NFQ, I assume you are smarter than me [smile]. This has nothing to do with smarts or intelligence. This has to do with really old objections surfacing yet again. Objections which have been addressed many times before. So how smart someone is matters not if they are simply uniformed of the answers. If they are informed of the answers by don't accept them, then we get into the next part...

    ...your question of conclusions. This is far more thorny (and something that came to mind while I read your post this morning). It's a question of epistemology: How do we know what we know/why do we accept what we accept? Erm... I like their answers and feel it fits more with reality than the other explanations. ...which is, it sounds, the same for you, just on the opposite side. I accept the presuppositions on this side. You, the presuppositions on the other. Why? What can be said base on this fact? ...I'm not exactly sure where to go with that at this point.


  5. NFQ

    Fair enough, Luke -- I guess I've heard a lot of Christians defend their faith specifically in that way ("there are lots of smart Christians, and I trust them to have figured out the right answers") and I'm glad to hear you intended to focus on the answers, not the elusive set of smart people who have it all figured out. ;)

    I have to ask, what presuppositions do you think each of us are making? I am not beginning from the premise that there must not exist any gods, and then interpreting evidence I find in light of that assumption. I examined the available evidence and concluded that none of the gods I've ever heard of are likely to exist, so at this point I don't believe in or worship any of them. Moving forward, I don't need to reevaluate everything I know about the universe from first principles every time I make a decision, but I still think my atheism is more of a conclusion than a presupposition. (Maybe my presupposition is that, lacking sufficient evidence for a claim, we ought to refrain from believing that claim. Is this one you disagree with me on?)

  6. As a young man, I absolutely fell prey to the appeal to authority fallacy. But--as I've grown up and learned more--it's clear that there is no set of smart people with it all figured out. That's partly why I love studying Scripture and reading posts from people of all different perspectives: There's still more to learn! Unlike Truman in the "Truman Show," the world hasn't all been explored and there are reasons to be an explorer if we want [smile].

    I don't know you well enough to speak to your presuppositions. Honestly, I may not know myself well enough to do the same [laughing]. More than that, there are a myriad of preconceptions behind things, so singling them out and untangling them is going to be tricky are outside my ability. But you make a good point I missed in my sloppy writing: Where we are now is more of a conclusion than a presupposition. Agreed! But these conclusions are based on presuppositions which is how we can look at many of the same facts and points of data and come to different conclusions. My favorite example of this is the question of "if a trees fall in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" The answer to this question boils down to, "How do you define 'sound'?" If it's vibrations through the air, then yes. If it's the interpretation of these vibrations by our brains, then... no. So what're the questions behind the question... and I'm definitely not clever enough to come up with that.

    But the one you present sounds like a good one: Lacking sufficient evident for God, let's not accept His existence. I'd be interested in your take on William Lane Craig's point that there are good reasons to believe in God and not nearly as many solid reasons not to believe in God. Craig has, I believe, presented this idea many times and I have yet to hear a rebuttal to this point. I think the presupposition I would point to, then, is that there is a lack of sufficient evidence... which pushes back to the question of what is "sufficient evidence" and how do we know/why do we accept that measure? There's something there that, I believe, we would disagree on... and there's some presupposition behind that reason that's more core than all this.

    At least, that's my thought.

    I really appreciate you taking the time to dialog here!