Tradition is Good for You

For years, physicists have been on an Arthurian quest for what they call the “grand unified theory.” Far be it from me to bore readers with an explanation of this theory that they can find elsewhere, but the gist of it is an attempt at quantifying the three fundamental interactions of physics — strong, electromagnetic, and weak — with a single principle when they operate at some very high energy. Add to this blend the force of gravity, and the attempted explanation is called a “theory of everything.”

I will propose my own “grand unified theory,” or “theory of everything,” not one that has anything to do with physics, but one pertaining to the art and science of living well. This is my grand unified theory of life — embracing Faith, morals, politics, health and diet, family life, and labor: “Tradition is good for you.”

Here is a summary of a few of the several applications of this theory, beginning with the one that is clearly the most important, as it pertains not just to living, but to eternal life:

Religion — In this area, there is a special application of the theory, for religious matters are not a human domain, but a divine one. There are many religious “traditions” that are false, so we need to go by the one tradition handed over (tradere, whence comes “tradition”) by God himself to man, and then passed down (again, tradere) through successive generations. The One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church is the repository of that sacred deposit, which encompasses the written tradition of Scripture and the oral tradition also taught by Jesus to the Apostles, and by them, to successive generations. It is a tradition she alone, as God’s chosen and infallible teacher, has the authority to guard, keep, and proclaim. It is also a tradition necessary for salvation.

Within Catholicism, of course, the word “tradition” has various applications or shades of meaning. Christian doctrine is the meaning I gave it in the preceding paragraph. This is that tradition which binds all the baptized because it is revealed by God. Aside from that meaning, Polish Catholics have their own unique traditions pertaining to Christmas, as do Mexicans Catholics, etc. There are “traditions” relating to the life of the Blessed Virgin that are not dogmatic. In liturgy, there are traditional rites and newer ones, most notably the traditional Roman Mass (“extraordinary form”) and the Novus Ordo (“ordinary form”). The latter rite was once called, by the currently reigning Roman Pontiff “a banal, on-the-spot product.” The traditional rite has the advantages of organic development over the centuries (as opposed to being invented by a committee), a greater clarity of doctrinal content, and rituals more firmly rooted in the practice of the faith when the Church’s life was more robust. Here, while we are not dealing with the essential tradition of dogma, we are dealing with the gravely important question of liturgical traditions that more adequately express that dogma, and (even more importantly when considered in itself), which give greater glory to God by way of a better expressed adoration, thanksgiving, reparation, and petition.

So, in the matter of religion, “Tradition is good for you.” Even the local traditions which safeguard the Catholic identity of a nation or region are beneficial; for example, the Lithuanian matrimonial customs involving the newlyweds reverencing a Crucifix and pledging to carry the cross of their marriage together. To slight or diminish these little hedges that safeguard our Catholicity, and to replace them with novelty will ultimately have a corrosive effect. Eventually, as the saying goes, “nothing is sacred.”

Politics — Believe it or not, politics, like economics, is part of the philosophical discipline of ethics. The natural law, the study of good philosophy, principles of Catholic moral theology, and experience have given us certain political traditions that are salubrious, traditions that are “good for you” in the sense that they establish sound modalities by which to govern a society. And would you believe that pagan philosophers taught that men came together in a society so as to “live virtuously”? “Modern progress” has helped us transcend that old idea, for how many politicians today care about virtue — not only personally, but politically as well?

In this nation’s foundation, we have remnants of the Christian social order given us by English Common Law, which itself is a product, be it noted, of Catholic social thought. Mind you, those traditions, even in the early foundation of the nation, were admixed with Lockean and Masonic principles born of the Enlightenment, but they were not completely eradicated, nor was the light of the natural law extinguished altogether. Great American political thinkers sought to preserve them. Indeed, any American “conservatism” worthy of the name is  founded precisely on this principle.

As Catholics, of course, we should respect that very traditional form of polity: monarchy, the form of government most fitted to man’s nature, and one that, with rare exception, was the way Catholic nations were governed in the ages of the Faith. Let us recall how many saints were kings and queens. To think that modernity has upstaged Christendom in the ages of Faith is madness.

Health and Diet — You don’t read this column to get advice on health, I know. Yet, let me point out that the novelties of processed food, the bogus “food pyramid,” sodas and soft drinks with this strange thing we call high-fructose corn syrup, industrialized farming, McDonalds, chemical additives, GMO’s and other such modern culinary evils have contributed to our obesity as a society, as well as to our moral and intellectual torpor. Besides, all this has destroyed the traditional lifestyle of small farmers, who have been savaged by mercenary capitalists whose bottom line is more important than whether the fodder you imbibe is food or not. This would also introduce the subject of pharmaceuticals versus natural health curatives. Without getting into details, let me speak from my limited experience as a caretaker for two very old men — and myself — which shows that traditional medicine can work wonders where pharmaceuticals fail. I watched our 92-year-old chaplain virtually come back to life with a better diet, a few enzymes, and probiotics. The brothers have a regular supplier of herbal cold and flu remedies that work, and this same wonderful lady makes an ointment out of plants in her backyard that cures skin afflictions and eye infections very quickly. I know; I’ve used it with great success. She’s even sold it to nurses who use it on the sly because none of their drugs can do what it does.

Regarding diet and health, I recommend to readers Christine Bryan’s few articles on this subject, which give valuable references for those desiring to know more.

I also recommend God’s endorsement of herbal medicine:

The most High hath created medicines out of the earth, and a wise man will not abhor them. … The virtue of these things is come to the knowledge of men, and the most High hath given knowledge to men, that he may be honoured in his wonders. By these he shall cure and shall allay their pains, and of these the apothecary shall make sweet confections, and shall make up ointments of health, and of his works there shall be no end. (Ecclus 38:5-7).

One last note on this subject: GMO’s are apparently being used to force birth control on unsuspecting consumers in the poorer (mostly Catholic) nations. The kindly philanthropist, Bill Gates, is said to be behind this effort to turn corn into a prophylactic.

Family Life — The natural law and God’s revelations teach us that marriage is an institution bonding one man to one woman for the primary purpose of rearing and educating children. For the purposes of this section, I set aside the theory of some Catholic moralists that polygamy is not contrary to the natural law while polyandry is. Suffice it to say that there are obvious differences between the two, and that the supreme lawgiver — Christ himself — made sure this practice of certain of the Old Testament patriarchs was clearly abrogated, based, be it noted, on tradition: “But from the beginning of the creation, God made them male and female. For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother; and shall cleave to his wife. And they two shall be in one flesh” (Mark 10:6-8).

The unnatural, immoral practices of divorce and remarriage, homosexuality, pornography, and other such ills have riven families and impaired people’s mental, physical, and moral health. Even before AIDS was a reality, homosexuals were subject to terrible diseases resulting from their disgusting practices. Why should this fact be hidden or dimmed down? And in consuming birth control drugs and utilizing devices for that purpose, some women put chemicals and contraptions in their bodies they wouldn’t want cast into a swamp lest it pollute the environment and endanger an innocent bullfrog. Yet, in their mania to divorce sex from procreation, they are willing to pollute their own environments, spiritually as well as physically. From the beginning, it was not so.

Traditionally, humans produced offspring. But ours is a demographically dying culture precisely for the reason listed above. Sex is “recreation, not procreation.” Economists are even declaring plainly that Europe (whose birth rate is lower than ours) will have great difficulty recovering from its economic woes due to its demographic atrophy.

There is so much more to family life than what I’ve touched upon here. The family is the very repository of tradition. Even in religious matters, parents are the primary educators of their offspring and have the happy duty to rear Christians and populate Heaven. For that to happen, communication between parents and children is essential so that what is good, holy, and virtuous can be handed down. That very communication is halted by televisions, “smart phones,” video games, and other recreational technologies that have the family members listening and talking to microchips instead of each other. The family’s dysfunctional communion is adversely affecting the “communion of saints” that is God’s Church. We need to recover the idea of the family home as “the domestic Church.”

Labor — Mothers should be in the home and fathers should be able to provide for their families on a single income. Traditionally, they could. Now, it is all but impossible. This has a long history. When the industrial revolution took men out of traditional crafts, sending them to work for long hours in mines, factories, and the like, men became viewed as means of production for salable goods, while big banking looked at such goods as means of making money. The human being ended up at the bottom of the economic totem pole, whereas Christian societies traditionally saw him at the top. Raw, unbridled capitalism denied the humanity of the worker, the quality of the product, and the necessity of a man to provide a living wage for his family. (The evil of Communism also betrayed the worker, turning him into a cog in the statist machine, but mercenary capitalism did something nearly the same. Blind “market forces” are not the way to run an economy and treat people’s lives. Remember, economics, too, is part of the discipline of ethics.) Later, the industrial revolution also invented “agribusiness” and destroyed the family farm, thus producing the terrible, cheaply mass-produced food mentioned above; the loss of one of the stablest elements of society, the farmer; and a flight into the cities, where people whose forebears were robust outdoor laborers have become flabby salesman of cheap cellphones made by factory slaves in communist China.

By way of a quick apologetic, I proffer the fact that the great papal encyclicals on marriage, family, social order, and economics came out after the industrial revolution, when these things were tampered with disastrously.

The different lifestyles adopted in modern times have made us pale images of our ancestors. And the trade-off? Big industry, big government, and big banking make sure to maintain their bottom line, while the little guy is robbed of his health, his dignity, and, eventually, his liberties. Yes, I know that his salvation is paramount. And there’s the real issue. As that great apostle of social justice and Christian order, Father Denis Fahey points out, most men need the help of society to aid them in their salvation. The anti-traditional society I accuse here is a hindrance to one’s salvation.

Here ends my brief catalog of a few areas where “Tradition is good for you” rings true. I could add others, like warfare (where traditionally, combatants and non-combatants were distinguished, and the just war doctrine was at least nominally respected), the arts, and literature. As it stands, I anticipate that many questions will arise from the points I’ve made. I will answer two:

Are not some of the positions you’ve taken “liberal”? No. While we find ourselves in agreement with many modern liberals on such subjects as real food versus industrialized food, just wages for workers, and the evils of mercenary capitalism, our objections and assertions are based upon tradition, not novelty. As such, they are inherently “conservative,” for they conserve something good from the past. That this question can be asked by a reasonable reader is further proof that the labels “conservative” and “liberal” have been all but drained of any proper meaning.

Do you reject all development and progress? No. We’re Catholic, not Amish. As I wrote above, even the Church’s traditional liturgy undergoes “organic development.” This truth is a fact of history and is accepted by all traditionalists. But when organic development gives way to radical replacement, things are amiss. While the application of this principle to every facet of life I’ve touched upon might be tricky, still the principle holds true. Prudent uses of new technologies can be beneficial (such as the laptop I’m presently using). But the intellectual error of neglecting ends (purpose) and attending exclusively to means (methods, technologies) must be strictly resisted. So, too, must greed, which leads to so many of the destructive novelties I’ve highlighted above, from birth-control, to unjust wages, to political chicanery, to cheap unhealthy food, to the destruction of Catholic morals.

There it is, my “grand unified theory.” It will do nothing to advance the cause of quantum physics, but I hope it helps you to live well, and to pass on a salutary love of tradition to your loved ones.