A guest submission by B. Bowen, a good friend of BCC.
Should traditions be followed? What fidelity do we owe, if any, to our forebears to pass on the heritage(s) they have bestowed upon us?
It is no great insight to note that depending on one’s perspective, traditions can be either good or bad. The Book of Mormon, for instance, discusses traditions in at least forty different verses I can identify (or, more properly, different verses the search function at lds.org can identify): some verses extol the virtues of fidelity to the (correct) traditions of the righteous fathers, while others bemoan the blind fidelity of the “wicked” to the (incorrect) traditions of their fathers. The repeated use of the term seems to bespeak some importance, but as for me, I can’t discern a guiding principle anywhere in the text, apart from an obligation to follow good traditions and reject bad ones, which, so far as I can tell, doesn’t answer the question.
Faithfulness is a much-praised virtue, particularly in Mormon circles. I just can’t figure out, though, to what I should be faithful. The heritage I’ve received (unless I’m a “Lamanite,” in which case I should be humble and reject the incorrect traditions of my fathers)? The Church (unless the Church is wrong, which of course it can’t be . . . can it?)? Or to some quieter tradition of searching and scrutiny?
Jesus’ ministry was in large measure aimed at the rejection of damnable traditions. Mormonism is marked by a similarly radical mission. And yet, so much of the institutional religiosity that has emerged from Christianity and Mormonism’s early incarnations bears little of the radical spirit from which it derives. Much of this institutionalization is likely praiseworthy; much of it is not. Certainly, collective wisdom has its place. But unchallenged and unscrutinized, it becomes oppressive and dogmatic.
Given that not all traditions are created equal, is there any inherent value in following a tradition, simply because it exists? What does Mormonism have to say about the value of traditions? And if something can be said about traditions, what, then, can be said about radicalism?