This post from the Touchstone blog gets it right by stressing the need for intellectual humility when seeking change in government, the church, and society. Responding to David Brooks article, which responds to the YouTube “Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus” video, Margarita Mooney emphasizes that new ideas of value are hardly ever born in isolation. Rather, the greatest reformers were indebted to traditions that formed the intellectual paradigm for their ideas. Martin Luther is an example of one who drew from early church tradition to form his ideas on the primacy of Scripture. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. drew his ideas from church history as well as the examples of Henry David Thoreau and Mahatma Gandhi.
Here is a taste:
Tradition is hardly a word we hear anymore. When it is evoked, it is often used negatively. Many people distrust institutions that symbolize traditions, such as the government and religion. The free market—which can be considered a tradition in that it refers to a set of principles on which our economy is based—has also come under fire. Change Washington, Occupy Wall Street, and give me Jesus without the church may be catchy phrases, but Brooks’s column leads us to ask: with what will you replace those traditions?
Although many critiques of government, markets, and religion may be right on, Brooks poses a challenge, which I paraphrase as: If you don’t like the tradition you see, look around for another tradition to which you would give authority. If you try to reform what you don’t like without knowing much about alternatives, you probably won’t persuade anyone to join you.
Brooks and Mooney offer solid advice to anyone seeking to transform institutions. When it comes to transforming American Christian culture, we already have a vast store of wealth within the church’s tradition, both Catholic and Protestant. We who live in the twenty-first century eschew that tradition at our peril. We are more in danger of falling into heresy when we throw off tradition than we are of saving what we think is the essence of true Christianity. After all, who cares what I think in isolation anyway?