What should we, as conservatives, be trying to preserve and trying to pass down to our children? Many things, obviously. One thing that gets, to my mind, to the heart of what we should be trying to teach is a love of the genuine as opposed to the fake. Our culture wallows in the fake. Everything has to be new, everything has to have been thought of yesterday. This makes it difficult for young people to appreciate anything like a genuine and valuable cultural oeuvre with a history or a tradition behind it. Many of them have never been exposed to such a thing in their lives.
A "liturgy" that you made up last year because you think you're good at writing isn't a real liturgy. The 1662 Book of Common Prayer and the Tridentine Mass are examples of real liturgy. Imperfect they may be in various ways, but they are human artifacts that represent real human history. Pastor Joe's Worship Ideas for Advent don't.
Here, however, we run into a difficulty: If you love what is real in human history and culture, you are going to come smack up against the fact that the ideas that made various undeniably real (in the sense I'm discussing here) and also worthwhile and beautiful (this may be more controversial) cultures and artifacts possible are in conflict with one another. How, then, can you give the proper appreciation to two or more traditions founded on incompatible ideas? And, if we acknowledge that all good things come from God and return to God, what does this say about God? How does God view incompatible traditions and their artifacts? And how will what is valuable in them be preserved in eternity?
Let's face it: A Catholic Mass that tries to be Protestant is a mish-mash. A Baptist church service that tries to be liturgical is likely to be anemic and pathetic. Not that I've ever seen any Baptist churches seriously try to be liturgical, but I'd prefer not to. It's like good coffee and great red wine. Each is good by itself, but mixing them produces sludge. Things should be what they are and not try to be something else.
In The Personal Heresy, C.S. Lewis relates a dream: Falstaff had died, and Lewis found himself mourning over him. The people standing about consoled him by saying that Falstaff's eternal soul was in heaven. Lewis responded, "But we've lost his fatness!" Indeed.
Let's try to make this just a little more concrete. In no way am I claiming that all these examples are of equal aesthetic and cultural value, much less equal religious value. I'm just claiming that they do have aesthetic, cultural, and human value, and that the world would be poorer without them. Consider...
--Notre Dame cathedral
--A plain, white country chapel
--An old-fashioned Quaker "silent meeting."
--The Tridentine Mass
--The Book of Common Prayer
--The hymns of Charles Wesley
--An orthodox rabbi
--A faithful Catholic priest
--A sincere Baptist preacher
Mozart's "Ave Verum Corpus"
Hymns and choruses sung by a Gospel quartet
Let's not beat around the bush: If it hadn't been for the Protestant Reformation, a number of these things wouldn't exist at all. By the same token, if the Catholic Church had never existed, a number of these things wouldn't exist at all. And so on and so forth. The people who are producing works of genius or just works of joy, who are living their faith in ways that enrich the human experience, often don't agree with each other, and the things they write, do, and produce often arise out of their disagreements in ways that cannot be simply disentangled.
No doubt there are people who would be just as happy to be without some of them. I recall one commentator (and he is entirely entitled to his opinion, though I disagree with him strongly) who would write off the Book of Common Prayer as do-without-able. Apparently what I call the liturgical genius of Thomas Cranmer just doesn't impress everybody.
A few years ago I wrote to a friend about Fr. Michael Rodriguez and introduced this very subject--that things should be what they are. I said, "I wouldn't want him to be different, even where he and I would disagree about theology." My friend pointed out, astutely, that if I thought Fr. Rodriguez were going to go to hell as a result of our theological disagreements, I would want him to change.
You are free to make up your own examples. The exercise is not really a hard one if you have a moderate degree of cultural education in a variety of traditions: Come up with a work of art or architecture, a person, or an organization whose value and contribution you appreciate. Now notice the religious (say) presumptions on which that person's life or that work of art is based. Now come up with a different work of art, person, etc., whom you also greatly appreciate but whose work or meaning is bound up with or even explicitly expresses an incompatible set of religious presumptions. Now remind yourself how easy it is to multiply such examples. Now remind yourself that, insofar as the questions at issue can be clearly stated, someone is right and someone is wrong. Now contemplate how sad it would be (in a strange and somewhat heretical sense of "sad") if everyone got it right and agreed and if we lost the variety of traditions based on incompatible assumptions.
I have to admit that I don't know what this means.
Fortunately, not all things that "should be what they are" have as clear a connection to specific theology as the examples already given. We also have bluegrass music and French cooking.
I do know one thing: To the extent that it can be squared with your conscience, teach your children and other people to appreciate the beauty of a variety of traditions and of things that "are what they are." Teach them by example to love the strong flavor of real things and to reject the fake.
It won't answer all questions. In fact, it may raise some new questions. But it's an important thing to do.