Aged Like a Fine Wine or Spoiled Like Old Milk?

Sean, an agnostic friend of mine asked me to post the following multi-part question.

"How old does something have to be to be considered traditional/conservative?"

"Abraham Lincoln is considered a conservative because he wanted to preserve the Union as it had been for the first 75 years of our country. To me 75 years (which also is about 1 lifetime) makes a good rule of thumb. When something has been around 75 years, virtually no one alive has ever experienced life without it, whatever it is."

"More food for thought:
Watching football on thanksgiving is considered a tradition, but television has only been around for 50 or so years. Christianity is generally thought of as conservative, but 2000 years ago it was a radical idea. So again I ask, how old does something have to be to be considered conservative?"

It’s an interesting question and one worth answering well. My only quibble would be the equation of "traditional" to "conservative". Within the context of Christianity, particularly Catholicism, tradition often correlates poorly with the political spectrum. A better choice would be orthodox versus progressive. However, even those are dificult to apply broadly because different groups define each differently and will not always consider them mutually exclusive. That, in my opinion, is one of the greatest strengths of the Catholic Church. Right or wrong, for better or for worse, whatever the Church deems official teaching is ground truth for orthodoxy, like it or not.

So what do you folks think?

Comments 11

  1. Sean wrote:

    >So I think we’d have to ask about tradition in terms of particular objects before we decide what makes something traditional.

    I agree with that somewhat, hmm… looking at it that way something can be characterized as new or traditional based on what it is compared to. A 500 year old religion is still relativly new compared to a 2000 year old one. That probably is very close to what makes a tradition.

    I’ve been wondering about this topic for a while, but what got me actively trying to answer it is the upcomming Senate debate over the proposed “nucular option” rule change. Both parties are claiming to have tradition on their side.

    Posted 18 Apr 2005 at 5:29 am
  2. Tom Smith wrote:

    an aside: I’m rather tired of having religious beliefs pigeonholed as either “liberal” or “conservative”. The religions typically in question are often far older than the modern terms themselves. Thus it seems to be an imperfect fit, as the terms are meant for something entirely different than religion. For instance, political liberals or conservatives would probably tend to favor the religious movements which receive a label which corresponds to their own political orientation, regardless of the actual ideas behind the religous movement. Religious liberals/conservatives are falsely equated with political liberals/conservatives. “I vote Republican, and the media calls those Catholics ‘conservative’; I must agree with the Catholics!” Another example is the Anglo-Catholic movement. Anglo-Catholicism has always been the most traditional current within the Anglican Communion, but has often been the most politically liberal group of the whole bunch.

    I think a more appropriate nomenclature for religious orientation requires two categorizations: tradition and orthodoxy. One can be totally orthodox, but not traditional: look at the charismatic movement, particularly at places like the Franciscan University of Steubenville. Also, one can be heterodox, but utilize traditional forms: the neo-Platonic scholastics, the schismatic Catholic rad-trad groups, and the Anglo-Catholics in particular.

    Posted 20 Apr 2005 at 4:53 am
  3. gbm3 wrote:


    (1) The state of being connected to honored beliefs.

    (2) Time is often necessary to determine if the thing in question fits (1).

    (Dictionary definition:
    1 : an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (as a religious practice or a social custom)
    2 : the handing down of information, beliefs, and customs by word of mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction
    3 : cultural continuity in social attitudes, customs, and institutions
    4 : characteristic manner, method, or style )

    Liberal, the opposite of conservative:

    (1) The state of being connected to an original idea or a reformulation of honored beliefs.

    ( for def.)

    Traditional is totally different than conservative. A tradition can be started at any time when decided upon.

    Regarding Congress: both sides can claim tradition. So what; what’s right? Conservatives would say keep it as it is. Liberals change it. (By my def.; confusing since it’s “traditionally” the other way around)

    Posted 20 Apr 2005 at 2:01 am
  4. Jerry Nora wrote:

    I think it depends on the thing itself: with pop culture, ten years is long. The Simpsons is not 20 years old, and it’s an elder statesman of TV shows, and a cultural icon. However in Italy, the Chiesa Nuova (“New Church”) is 500 years old. So I think we’d have to ask about tradition in terms of particular objects before we decide what makes something traditional.

    And Theo is right about Lincoln–and it brings up the point that in politics, and elsewhere, there may be warring traditions, such as the North-South culture clash that marked much of American history, including our bloodiest war yet.

    Posted 16 Apr 2005 at 7:06 pm
  5. Kevin wrote:

    I think the whole definition of what is liberal versus conservative has been entirely messed up. If on a simple level liberal means to change and conservative means to remain the same, than once something is changed dosen’t that then become a conservative position. For example, you would think Democrats trying to prevent changes to Social Security would be considered Conservative, and Bush trying to change it would be liberal, but there not. The whole question of what is liberal and conervative is fluid.

    Posted 19 Apr 2005 at 3:30 pm
  6. Sean wrote:

    In response to funkdung’s comment:
    ‘My only quibble would be the equation of “traditional” to “conservative”.’

    I was suprised to hear to you say that. Growing up Catholic I tended to think of things as right or wrong, and had a lot of trouble making sense of liberal v. conservative ideology since the right and wrong sides of the issues seemed to be split up between them.

    Honestly now I still have some trouble makeing sense of them, but the working definitions I have come up with that make sense to me are:

    Liberal: Open minded, inclined toward new or experimentation.

    Conservative: Strongly prefers traditional and tested, can be either open or closed minded.

    How would you define conservative?

    (I know not everyone claiming to be a liberal is open minded, they just are not ture liberals IMO)

    Posted 18 Apr 2005 at 5:41 am
  7. theomorph wrote:

    My quibble would be with the statement that Lincoln wanted to preserve the Union as it had existed for the first 75 years of the country. Lincoln did more than any other president to change our nation from the way it began to the way it is now.

    The other stuff, about tradition and time, is pointless or even nonsensical, in my opinion. If you do something annually for 100 years, with no lapses, why should the 75th year be the first one that it is a “tradition” while the 74th year is not? Move back down the sequence and you’re asking the same question about the 2nd year and the 1st one.

    Posted 16 Apr 2005 at 8:34 am
  8. Steve N wrote:

    Orthodox vs. Progressive ?!?!??!!

    Since when is orthodoxy (at least the real one) not progressive? When it interfereres with heresy?

    How ’bout: Orthodox vs. Not Orthodox?
    How ’bout: Orthodox vs. I’d Rather My Ears Be Tickled?

    My $0.02

    Posted 16 Apr 2005 at 8:29 pm
  9. Jerry Nora wrote:

    Sean, in the Senate, I’m not sure how one person can claim tradition, necessarily, since as I mentioned, there have been warring traditions in the USA since the Federalists and the first Republican Party locked horns.

    ( BTW, despite my frustration with Democrats’ threatening to hold up everything with judicial candidates, I think the nuclear option is nuts–does Frist think the GOP will always be in control of the Senate?!)

    Posted 18 Apr 2005 at 12:49 pm
  10. Funky Dung wrote:

    Steve, read G.K. Chesterton’s “Orthodoxy” and you’ll understand what I mean by orthodox vs progressive..

    Posted 17 Apr 2005 at 3:39 am
  11. Sean wrote:

    Well, yes, thats exactly the question I’m trying to get at. If you don’t think 75 years makes a good rule of thumb, then at what point do you think something stops being new and becomes traditional?

    Posted 16 Apr 2005 at 6:09 pm

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