A thoughtful post over at The New Beginning struck a chord with me yesterday. Papa Bear writes:
Do we "pick and choose" our tradition? Or do we have to adopt what is lived by a community, with ties to the past, some history, and kept alive by the succession of generations? Or do we just have to accept what we have received from our family and from others? It would seem that tradition only exists where it is shared and lived and passed on to one's children ...
What can be done about the "ugly duckling syndrome"? What if one is born into one community but is converted to the values and ideals of another? The obvious example is of a religious conversion, but there are "secular" analogues ... Or how about Californians who reject the life of the Uhmerican megapolis and yearn for something more agrarian?
Traditionalists often make the mistake of assuming that most everyone lacks community these days. That's true in certain respects, especially when compared to earlier generations, but I think most Americans still live among others who share their values and interests and cultural assumptions. They aren't really lonely. The average person has no shortage of relatives, friends, and neighbors with whom they share a fundamental worldview.
Rather, it's we traditionalists who lack community. Or many of us do, at any rate. Apart from the members of our own households, we live and work among cultural aliens, people with whom there is no possibility of forming anything but the most superficial relationships. Some of us are fortunate enough to worship with like-minded Christians on Sundays, but we often must travel long distances to get there. Generally speaking our relatives, neighbors, co-workers, customers, employers, fellow students, teachers, fellow members of civic organizations, political allies, and even our co-religionists are dissimilar in so many important ways that we feel ourselves to be complete strangers among them. Such is the price of refusing to "go with the flow". Such is the price of holding fast to unpopular truths and daring to actually live by them. Such is the price of embracing a tradition without a community.
We have explored this question before: to what extent is tradition even possible without community? I don't know. We are in uncharted waters here. The nature of tradition is that it is lived in community. If tradition without community is possible at all, it certainly isn't possible for very long. Paradoxically, the actual communities into which most of us are born are not interested in tradition, and in many ways are hostile to it. Such communities are in the process of shedding their unwanted Christian heritage and embracing the incoherent "values" of modernity. We do owe them something, because they are ours according to the flesh, and we should maintain our ties as best we can - but we can't breathe the toxic air of these communities any longer.
What, then, are traditionalists to do?
I have always maintained that the most rational thing to do is to form new communities. But that solution is much more difficult than it sounds. Tradition-minded Christians have a healthy attachment to place, for one thing, which is good and natural and something to be cultivated. It's right to love one's place, to labor for its betterment, to contribute to its personality, and to assimilate its memories into one's own character. Furthermore, serious Christians do not break off established relationships lightly, especially those which involve familial obligations. It's important for traditionalists to be present for relatives who need them, or who may need them in the future when facing illness and death; it's important for their children to know their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins; it's important not to disrupt their children's friendships without necessity. Finally there is the matter of economics: few are prepared to risk leaving secure employment for something untried and untested. Leaving one's familiar place, no matter how culturally or religiously hostile, goes against the grain of traditionalist sensibilities.
But Our Lord did say, "And every one that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall possess life everlasting."(Matt 19:29) This should challenge us: are we making idols of places and people? Are not God's people our people? And besides, the point of forming new communities is to give our progeny a more permanent home in which to practice the faith of their fathers. Despite my front porch sympathies, a Christian must leave room for the kind of radical conversion that once set the world on fire. There are indeed new Christian communities forming here and there, and some people are called to "leave house and brethren" behind for the sake of building these communities.
In the short run, however, what I see happening is the emergence of non-traditional "communities" for traditionalists. To give just one example, our children are home educated by means of a classical distance-learning program with students located all over the English-speaking world. The students have classes via telephone conference and the internet, and they keep in touch with each other in various ways online. They have already made great friends in similarly isolated circumstances. Many - perhaps most - of these students will attend one of a handful of conservative Catholic colleges, where they will continue these friendships and, in some cases, meet their future spouses. Although the graduates of these colleges live all over the world, they nevertheless form a tight-knit "community" of sorts. It's not the best arrangement, and it may not be sustainable in the long run, but for the time being it is making due.
For Catholics, a final point: this crisis is upon us because of the catastrophic failure of our clergy to teach the faith, pass on the traditions of the Church, and lead with authority. Every parish should be the center of a thriving, faithful, traditional community of Catholics. But the parishes are a shambles, and almost every diocese in this country is a spiritual wasteland. Prayer and fasting may be the only remedy.