Real Tradition Must Be Sacred Tradition

We can jaw till the cows come home about how to reform the social order so that it works better, and in so doing improve our own understandings, and those of our fellows, so that we jointly decide matters in such a way as to restore a more humane, realistic and successful social order. Such discourse is not only edifying, but can nerve us to action. We could even implement a lot of quite sensible reforms – indeed, it is within the realm of possibility that all the outward forms of an ideal traditional society could be implemented, sometime after the Collapse of the Liberal Order, when men are casting about for a better way. That would be good!

Political acts can truly make the world a bit better, at the margin, than it would otherwise be.

But in the absence of a fairly widespread metanoia, a spiritual awakening and change of heart, all the clever and salutary reforms in the world will not secure for us a robust and durable traditional society, that reliably supports true human flourishing. They might slow the rot, but cannot heal it; cannot procure for us a healthy body politic.

A merely secular order, that does not consciously refer its ends, forms, and significations to the ultimate source of all order and meaning, has severed itself from the root of all things, and must therefore soon err, and stray, and perish.

Policy then, and politics, are all well and good, but only insofar as they are informed by sacred tradition. Traditions likewise can be good, and so can work and perdure, but only insofar as they are fitted to reality; i.e., to Reality. A profane tradition is in the end a fake tradition, mere handwaving in the right general direction.

The only truly efficacious thing that we can do then is promote sacred tradition by actually implementing it. A hale and sturdy society, a just  and flourishing society, can come about only if more and more lives are ordered according to the Good – starting with our own. And this proper ordination of souls and lives to the Good is not something that can be brought about by policy reforms that make it easier or more rewarding to be virtuous, or harder or more painful to be vicious. Such rerforms will do no good at all if men are inveterately wicked, and like to be that way. If the 20th century has made anything clear, it is that state intervention to make men better is a losing bet.

Policy won’t do the trick. To think it can is to fall prey to the modernist utopian fantasy. No; if things are to get really better, we must each of us buckle down and get on with working out our own salvation in fear and trembling. Nothing less can quite do. Whatever else we are doing to promote a hale and goodly social order, it behooves us each to get started toward our own spiritual rebirth. We must implement orthodoxy as orthopraxy. A virtuous life is after all the strongest, sweetest, most alluring argument we can make.

Fortunately, there are still living sacred traditions out there, to whose adepts we may turn for instruction and support, and which we can in turn succor and magnify by our participation.

… unless we reverse the premises of the type of thought and action whose ascendancy in our consciousness has led us to produce the techno-scientific inferno in which we find ourselves, we will not escape the disaster towards which it is ineluctably propelling us. For it is quite clear that no amount of taking thought, no amount of scheming and deliberation, discussion and conference, is of the slightest use while the fundamental categories within which the mind itself operates remain unchanged.

It has to be recognized that the real question before us is not, as we often like to think, this, that, or the other thing, but only whether we choose submission to the best of what we are, to the divine in us, or whether we do not. The issue is one of freedom, but of freedom to choose between obedience to what is superior or domination by what is inferior. If we cut ourselves off from what is superior we automatically fall under the sway of what is inferior. That is the punishment.

— Philip Sherrard, Christianity: Lineaments of a Sacred Tradition


5 thoughts on “Real Tradition Must Be Sacred Tradition

  1. Pingback: Real Tradition Must Be Sacred Tradition | Reaction Times

  2. Secular ceremony is inherently hollow. There is nothing that is a bigger waste of time than secular ceremony. I attended a friend’s daughter’s high school graduation and was ready to tear my chair up from the arena floor and throw it at the stage. What a colossal waste of time. Pure emotional dreck, not to mention all the exposed flesh, tattoos and stiletto heels–and I’m just talking about the parents.

    Sacred rites are mankind’s touch with the metaphysical. When the sacraments go, then all that’s left is live fast and die before you get decrepit. I don’t really get ‘secular conservatism.’

    Having said that, I am not aware of a single Christian sect–not the Catholics, nobody–that I would consider a defender of traditional, organic society. They all need money, and they are all concerned with making a bigger tent and lapping up billions from Uncle Sugar so they can subsidize bastardy, displace the native-born and reduce worker wages.

    The Orthodox maybe? (I am one). Except they’re vanishing in their own homelands and insignificant in America.

    The Amish? But they aren’t the Church. OTOH, they may end up being the only Christian sect left standing.

    • >I don’t really get ‘secular conservatism.’

      It is basically focusing on unconscious, traditional habits instead of conscious goals. It is hard to get today when they are almost all destroyed, but it was easier to get in e.g. Britain in 1950 where there was still a lot of this unconscious habits and traditions without any outspoken purpose going on – so in the period where Michael Oakeshott wrote his major works, Rationalism in Politics etc. I mention him because I think Oakeshott is considered one of the most famous secular-conservative philosophers. E.g. If you imagine a 300 years old high school, with the paintings of rectors and famous students decorating the walls that go back to 300 years, such a tradition and such a ceremony has an entirely different feeling – because with many generations of human greatness layered upon each other, the whole thing demands awe, the whole thing is just more rooted, because it offers something to great to live up to, to grow up to, to follow, to emulate. You can find something similar in the Catholic Church as well – if you go and look around in the Vatican, you cannot possible chalk it all up to pure divine will, you will also have a feeling of being surrounded by the product of centuries and centuries of human striving, and them all added up do elicit a feeling of awe.

    • Re secular ceremonies: amen. The apotheosis of the secular ceremony is the half-time show at the Superbowl, or the opening of the Olympic Games, or any of the award shows. Torture.

      Re sacred ceremonies: they can be found. Not easily, perhaps. But they are out there. And there are honest to goodness monasteries and abbeys, where cloistered religious spend their days in contemplation and service. There are wise priests, and laymen, in many places you’d least expect to find them. Often they keep themselves hidden, albeit in plain sight. But they are known of, by those who know them. Ask around.

  3. I often think that instead of focusing on debates between theism and atheism, it would be better to ask the question “Suppose God does not exist. Should we invent him?” so basically on the social role of theism and religion.

    I do agree that for some reason human societies don’t seem to function well enough without the concept of “something higher”. A textbook example is property. Because of the human propensity to lawsuits and similar debates, we need private property, yet a society where people think everything they own is their own exclusive plaything is not going to function well. People need to feel that their property was “entrusted” to them by “something higher” to be used for the good of all, so not entirely theirs, that ownership is not entirely without responsibility. Or for example education and the authority of teachers. Education does not work when children don’t respect the teachers authority. Neither does it work when the teacher needs to earn the respect of children. Nor does it work when that authority is merely in his person and merits. What works is when the teacher is a representative of “something higher”, that it is not his person and abilities, but the office entrusted to him by “something higher” is what demands respect. So when the children must respect his office, but not his person, and when he himself needs to respect his office and live up to the expectatiosn of it, that is pretty much the only way you can run a really good education. Basically when teacher and students feel they are co-servants of “something higher” goal than themselves, the teacher merely being the senior, guiding servant, now that works well.

    Here in Europe, when faith in God declined, we still felt that society must be based on “something higher”. We chose nationalism. Well, that did not end well, and even in the 21st century the debate is largely about liberalism (the vast majority) vs. nationalism (Le Pens and suchlikes).

    Anyway. Instead of debating whether God really exists, there is a much more fruitful – because more empirical – possible sociological debate: whether the human soul needs the concept of “something higher” to function well, regardless of whether it is real or an illusion?

    It seems that without that there is just too much ego-clashing going on for human societies to function well. Taking my education example, it seems without teachers having an authority, the ego of the children becomes unmanagable, and if the authority of teachers is rooted in their own person, then the classroom becomes their own personal egotrip and the children forced to participate, which is unjust and not educational. Therefore, our only solution is authority entrusted from without, from “something higher”. Or is there another solution that I may have ignored?


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