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Tradition

By Yvonne Aburrow

Tradition is something that grows and evolves. It is not set in stone, but is more like a discourse; if you start with a particular set of premises, ideas and values, you will get further ideas and practices that are consistent with the initial set of ideas. Religious traditions evolve according to social, cultural, and political circumstances. For example, a Catholic community in India had the tradition of having a procession in honour of the Virgin Mary. It was a particular honour to carry a special flag in the procession, and to raise and lower the flag on the special flagpole. This meant that more people wanted to have the honour than could be accommodated by a single flag and a single raising of the flag. So more flags were added to the procession, and more occasions of raising and lowering the flag were added, till over the years, the original custom was elaborated by considerable additional flags and flag-raising. There’s an example of a tradition evolving.

[Snip] Some people think that tradition is rigid and unchanging (or that it ought to be so), but this is not the case. Some people also think that saying “because it’s traditional” is sufficient reason for doing a thing. But because tradition evolves in response to circumstances, and because customs can sometimes be harmful, saying “because we’ve always done it that way” is not a sufficient reason for doing something. First we need to consider why it was done that way in the first place. If the reason for doing it that way is still valid, then that’s not a problem. But if there is a new group of people to be taken into consideration (who weren’t considered when the custom was first devised), then we may need to adapt or drop the custom in order to accommodate them.

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