Thursday, December 01, 2005


Argument without and within religion is bedevilled by the imprecision and confusion surrounding many of its basic terms of reference – not least the idea that what they describe is fixed and imposed. Examples would be popular uses of ‘traditionalist’, ‘radical’ and ‘orthodox’. From time-to-time I use this space to try out clarificatory experiments with these and other terms. But time moves on, and you’d be a genius to find them in the primitive date archiving system which this particular weblog uses. (Yup, I know, I should change it or move to Typepad. Meanwhile, the search function at the top will be as good as it gets.) Anyway…

Let’s take ‘traditionalism’. Mostly it is assumed (both by those who use this term as a badge of honour, and by those who deploy it as a term of dismissal) that ‘tradition’ is about the past and that traditionalism is therefore about the preservation of something already completed as a means of constraining the present and the future. But what is ‘given’ in the Christian story is not closed or complete, but open and developmental. The Word becomes flesh, not stone.

In fact tradition is about giving transmittable shape to our understanding about how the narrative we are in changes its form without changing its character. For example, ‘the God of the Bible’ is a not a God captured by ‘the biblical’ [as fundamentalists mistakenly think], but a God disclosed through the biblical as contemporary-and-more, so that what we call revelation is always, in a sense, now or never – the litmus test being that it discloses the same love-embracing-suffering that characterises the core of the rest of the story. This was the message of the prophets with their call to social justice as the realisation of covenantal living.

To put it another way: because ‘the tradition’ talks of a future given by God out of the conditions of a limited present, it requires continual change to stay with the surprising constancy of what is being fulfilled beyond our expectations. (tbc)

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