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?

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About Funky Dung

Who is Funky Dung? 29-year-old grad student in Intelligent Systems (A.I.) at the University of Pittsburgh. I consider myself to be politically moderate and independent and somewhere between a traditional and neo-traditional Catholic. I was raised Lutheran, spent a number of years as an agnostic, and joined the Catholic Church at the 2000 Easter Vigil. Why Funky Dung? I haven't been asked this question nearly as many times as you or I might expect. Funky Dung is a reference to an obscure Pink Floyd song. On the album Atom Heart Mother, there is a track called Atom Heart Mother Suite. It's broken up into movements, like a symphony, and one of the movements is called Funky Dung. I picked that nickname a long time ago (while I was still in high school I think), shortly after getting an internet connection for the first time. To me it means "cool/neat/groovy/spiffy stuff/crap/shiznit", as in "That's some cool stuff, dude!" Whence Ales Rarus? I used to enjoy making people guess what this means, but I've decided to relent and make it known to all. Ales Rarus is a Latin play on words. "Avis rarus" means "a rare bird" and carries similar meaning to "an odd fellow". "Ales" is another Latin word for bird that carries connotations of omens, signs of the times, and/or augery. If you want to get technical, both "avis" and "ales" are feminine (requiring "rara", but they can be made masculine in poetry (which tends to breaks lots of rules). I decided I'd rather have a masculine name in Latin. ;) Yeah, I'm a nerd. So what? :-P Wherefore blog? It is my intention to "teach in order to lead others to faith" by being always "on the lookout for occasions of announcing Christ by word, either to unbelievers . . . or to the faithful" through the "use of the communications media". I also act knowing that I "have the right and even at times a duty to manifest to the sacred pastors [my] opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church, and [I] have a right to make [my] opinion known to the other Christian faithful, with due regard to the integrity of faith and morals and reverence toward [my and their] pastors, and with consideration for the common good and the dignity of persons." (adapted from CCC 904-907) Statement of Faith I have been baptized and confirmed in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I, therefore, renounce Satan; I renounce all his works; I renounce all his allurements. I hold and profess all that is contained in the Apostles' Creed, the Niceno- Constantinopolitan Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. Having been buried with Christ unto death and raised up with him unto a new life, I promise to live no longer for myself or for that world which is the enemy of God but for him who died for me and rose again, serving God, my heavenly Father, faithfully and unto death in the holy Catholic Church. I am obedient to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. That is, I promote and defend authentic Catholic Teaching and Faith in union with Christ and His Church and in union with the Holy Father, the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of St. Peter. Thanks be unto Thee, O my God, for all Thy infinite goodness, and, especially, for the love Thou hast shown unto me at my Confirmation. I Give Thee thanks that Thou didst then send down Thy Holy Spirit unto my soul with all His gifts and graces. May He take full possession of me for ever. May His divine unction cause my face to shine. May His heavenly wisdom reign in my heart. May His understanding enlighten my darkness. May His counsel guide me. May His knowledge instruct me. May His piety make me fervent. May His divine fear keep me from all evil. Drive from my soul, O Lord, all that may defile it. Give me grace to be Thy faithful soldier, that having fought the good fight of faith, I may be brought to the crown of everlasting life, through the merits of Thy dearly beloved Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Behind the Curtain: an Interview With Funky Dung (Thursday, March 03, 2005) I try to avoid most memes that make their way 'round the blogosphere (We really do need a better name, don't we?), but some are worth participating in. Take for instance the "interview game" that's the talk o' the 'sphere. I think it's a great way to get to know the people in neighborhood. Who are the people in your neighborhood? In your neighborhod? In your neigh-bor-hoo-ood...*smack* Sorry, Sesame Street flashback. Anyhow, I saw Jeff "Curt Jester" Miller's answers and figured since he's a regular reader of mine he'd be a good interviewer. Without further ado, here are my answers to his questions. 1. Being that your pseudonym Funky Dung was chosen from a Pink Floyd track on Atom Heart Mother, what is you favorite Pink Floyd song and why? Wow. That's a tuffy. It's hard to pick out a single favorite. Pink Floyd isn't really a band known for singles. They mostly did album rock and my appreciation of them is mostly of a gestalt nature. If I had to pick one, though, it'd be "Comfortably Numb". I get chills up my spine every time I hear it and if it's been long enough since the last time, I get midty-eyed. I really don't know why. That's a rather unsatisfying answer for an interview, so here are the lyrics to a Rush song. It's not their best piece of music, but the lyrics describe me pretty well.

New World Man He's a rebel and a runner He's a signal turning green He's a restless young romantic Wants to run the big machine He's got a problem with his poisons But you know he'll find a cure He's cleaning up his systems To keep his nature pure Learning to match the beat of the old world man Learning to catch the heat of the third world man He's got to make his own mistakes And learn to mend the mess he makes He's old enough to know what's right But young enough not to choose it He's noble enough to win the world But weak enough to lose it --- He's a new world man... He's a radio receiver Tuned to factories and farms He's a writer and arranger And a young boy bearing arms He's got a problem with his power With weapons on patrol He's got to walk a fine line And keep his self-control Trying to save the day for the old world man Trying to pave the way for the third world man He's not concerned with yesterday He knows constant change is here today He's noble enough to know what's right But weak enough not to choose it He's wise enough to win the world But fool enough to lose it --- He's a new world man...
2. What do you consider your most important turning point from agnosticism to the Catholic Church. At some point in '99, I started attending RCIA at the Pittsburgh Oratory. I mostly went to ask a lot of obnoxious Protestant questions. Or at least that's what I told myself. I think deep down I wanted desperately to have faith again. At that point I think I'd decided that if any variety of Christianity had the Truth, the Catholic Church did. Protestantism's wholesale rejection of 1500 years of tradition didn't sit well with me, even as a former Lutheran. During class one week, Sister Bernadette Young (who runs the program) passed out thin booklet called "Handbook for Today's Catholic". One paragraph in that book spoke to me and I nearly cried as I read it.
"A person who is seeking deeper insight into reality may sometimes have doubts, even about God himself. Such doubts do not necessarily indicate lack of faith. They may be just the opposite - a sign of growing faith. Faith is alive and dynamic. It seeks, through grace, to penetrate into the very mystery of God. If a particular doctrine of faith no longer 'makes sense' to a person, the person should go right on seeking. To know what a doctrine says is one thing. To gain insight into its meaning through the gift of understanding is something else. When in doubt, 'Seek and you will find.' The person who seeks y reading, discussing, thinking, or praying eventually sees the light. The person who talks to God even when God is 'not there' is alive with faith."
At the end of class I told Sr. Bernadette that I wanted to enter the Church at the next Easter vigil. 3. If you were a tree what kind of, oh sorry about that .. what is the PODest thing you have ever done? I set up WikiIndex, a clearinghouse for reviews of theological books, good, bad, and ugly. It has a long way to go, but it'll be cool when it's finished. :) 4. What is your favorite quote from Venerable John Henry Newman? "Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt." 5. If you could ban one hymn from existence, what would it be? That's a tough one. As a member of the Society for a Moratorium on the Music of Marty Haugen and David Haas, there are obviously a lot of songs that grate on my nerves. If I had to pick one, though, I'd probably pick "Sing of the Lord's Goodness" by Ernie Sands.

11 thoughts on “Aged Like a Fine Wine or Spoiled Like Old Milk?

  1. Sean

    >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.

  2. Tom Smith

    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.

  3. gbm3


    (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)

  4. Jerry Nora

    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.

  5. Kevin

    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.

  6. Sean

    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)

  7. theomorph

    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.

  8. Steve N

    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

  9. Jerry Nora

    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?!)

  10. Sean

    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?

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