Some people are comfortable with the traditions of our elders, and like doing things as they have always been done. They often distrust change, and are commonly cynical about the utopias that young and idealistic prophets promise will arrive if we make certain changes to our world.
“Careful! If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” You can hear them drawl.
This tribe of pessimistic cynics we call conservatives.
Others are completely different. They are disgusted with the wrongs they see firmly established in the status quo, and they are sworn to changing it. They often scorn tradition as antiquated and out-dated, and very probably the ideas that are responsible for the mess that we are in now. They want change, they want reform, and they want progress!
These fiery-eyed idealists are known as progressives.
There is a saying that if you’re not a progressive by the time you’re twenty, you haven’t got a heart, and if you’re not a conservative by the time you’re forty, you haven’t got a brain.
If you wanted to be extra pithy, you could say this is because you’d be heartless to not want change and stupid not to see that change didn’t work!
This sums up the paradox of conservatism and progressivism. Neither approach is really right.
Both theories start off with an idea of the Fall of Man. They don’t have to be Christian ideas, they just have to have this notion that man is not all good.
The conservative says that since man is fallen, we cannot assume that change will be for the best.
The progressive says that man is fallen, and therefore the status quo is fallen too.
They are both right, as far as they go. But neither one is the whole truth.
The conservative says that tradition is good because it is tradition, but this sets tradition up as a false god judging right and wrong. Just being traditional doesn’t make something good or bad. That’s impossible. After all, all traditions started off as a dashing innovation, so what is good (tradition) started off by being bad (untraditional) until it became normal, and now it’s our moral standard. This makes no sense.
The progressive knows this, and scorns it, but he is no better. He establishes change as his false god, because he believes that progress can set things right. If we can just change or “catch up with the times” then society’s wrongs would be righted. This is just as illogical. Change is a process it’s not a moral state. We could change into a Nazi country, but this change would not be good.
This is the problem with so many social conflicts, both in the political arena but also in our towns, churches and social groups.
Some people like traditions, and some people like change. Traditionalists find change uncomfortable, and pro-change activists find tradition boring or repellent. The problem is that they have set up their tendency as a moral code.
We have turned “I like traditional services” into “traditional services are more godly” and “We need to change” into “Old is bad!”
This is not true. Good is good, bad is bad, whether it is old or new.
There is a place for tradition, and it is good to have a voice of caution warning that change might not be the utopia we dream it to be.
And there is a place for radical change, uprooting what is wrong and building a better world.
As churches, towns and countries, we need both perspectives working together. It’s just foolish to think that one is morally superior to the other.