Neo-Traditionalism

Consilience

Modernity is based on the supremacy of science and reason but this faith is misplaced. Both those means of determining truth are limited and incomplete, moreover the rejection of the human experience as a guide for humanity is irrational. Given the problems with modernity, how should individuals and society respond? The temptation is to throw away any notion of objective truth as many postmodernist philosophers and writers do. This is an overreaction, reason and science have produced many benefits to humanity and the standard of perfection is unrealistic for any method of determining truth. Instead, a more robust approach is to combine multiple lines of inquiry to arrive at a more complete understanding.

Consilience is the concept of multiple, independent lines of inquiry converging on a single conclusion. Agreement between independent investigations of a subject increases the confidence of the conclusion. Independent examinations can help compensate for bias and flaws in a single trial. Tradition can be viewed as a type of consilience since it aggregates and refines human experience over time. Each life that participates with a tradition is in some sense an independent test from a unique perspective and context. The fact that each life is different with its own subjective experiences makes tradition more robust. The vast differences in human experience along with the inherent subjectivity appears to be a problem, however greater variation and variety ensures that the tradition is a more complete view of reality. If a tradition is a successful guide for people in different places, times, and contexts, the more confidence individuals can have in the tradition.

Though there is still no guarantee that a tradition is without flaws, erroneous beliefs, or practices. However, the principle of consilience can also be applied to means of determining truth as well. Utilizing science, reason, and tradition together form a more complete and reliable worldview. Science, reason, and tradition all have limitations, however by intentionally using the one or two methods to check another can help alleviate the limitations and biases of any single method. In general, what is true should find agreement with more than one, if not all methods.

Naturally, different methods of investigation are better suited for different contexts. Tradition as a means of determining truth, is suited for the aspects of reality that humans can naturally perceive and especially to questions of how to live as an individual and as a society. In other areas, such as investigating the existence and behavior of subatomic particles, it is not relevant. Fields that are a combination of human behavior and quantifiable systems, such as economics and the study of markets, would benefit from a blend of both modern and traditional methods of examination.

A worldview based in tradition can benefit both logical reasoning and scientific empiricism directly. Logical reasoning does not exist in isolation, it needs a starting point, a premise to begin upon. This premise is some set of facts or assumptions; remember even mathematics has assumptions. A worldview that is logical, needs a starting point. Since tradition acts as a means of consilience, an aggregation of diverse viewpoints and experiences, the lessons and values of a tradition make for the most robust and rational starting point. Tradition is a form of empiricism and likewise is naturally combined with scientific thinking. To combine traditional views with scientific reasoning, Bayesian Statistics can be used as a model or analogy. Bayesian Statistics was designed to combine two sources of information, “prior belief” and empirical data. A prior belief is simply what is believed to be true before any new evidence is gathered. Prior beliefs provide insight when evidence is scarce and strong prior beliefs need more evidence to overturn them. Tradition is almost definitionally prior belief, and should be used as a “common sense” filter on scientific thought, especially on the topic of human behavior and decision making. If a scientific conclusion is contrary to tradition it should be supported by a massive amount of evidence to be accepted. Also, tradition is a guide when direct evidence is scarce or perhaps impossible to gather, which is the case with the big questions of life i.e. why are we here and what should we be doing? These metaphysical questions are either impossible or extremely difficult to answer scientifically. It is rational to use tradition, which combines many lifetimes of experience, as a basis for answering these difficult questions.

A worldview acts as a guide to life and is how a person understands their experiences and place in this universe. A worldview should be considered rational if it best aligns with reality and thus promotes human flourishing. A tradition that has stood the test of time, thrived in many different places, and survived many catastrophic events is the most rational basis for a worldview. Any tradition that has these qualities must contain truth and be aligned with reality. Rejecting the knowledge summarized and preserved in such a tradition is deeply irrational.

How to Live

This essay is an exhortation of the Neo-traditionalism worldview, which uses tradition as the foundation for both understanding reality and guiding life. Combining the long-standing truths of tradition with a rational, scientific viewpoint creates a more robust means of determining truth and a strong guide for flourishing human life.

Life imitates life. Children mimic their parents, when they become adolescence they copy their peers and role models, and finally when they are adults they follow their ideal. Failure to find an appropriate figure to copy at any stage of development results in a failure to thrive. To live rationally means to follow a successful path, one that is in accordance with human nature and reality. Tradition and religion is the path followed by most people throughout time. The only worldview that is certainly worthless is atheistic materialism, because if that worldview is true then it is apparently worthwhile to follow any other worldview or religion. Most people throughout history have been religious which means even if atheistic materialism is true, making up any other belief structure is more useful. It is the only worldview that is worthless if it is true and according to it, the truth has no utility for life.

The natural question is which tradition or religion should be chosen? Which one best represents the truth and best leads to a flourishing life? First it needs to be stated that traditions and religions do not usually exist in isolation but are a part of a greater family or “tree.” For example, Sufism is a type of Sunnism which is a sect of Islam and Islam is part of the Abrahamic family of religions. The same holds for Christian traditions as well.

In general, the tree or family of traditions is the best segment to consider rather than an individual religion or tradition. The “trunk” of the tree will be a set of values and ideas validated by the individual “branches.” The question each person should ask is in what kind of society do you want to live in? Traditions form the cultural basis for societies, so judge a tradition or a religion by its results, the health and thriving of its individuals and societies.

The best way to truly judge a tradition or religion is to put it into practice and live it. Since life is complex and chaotic, any tradition that successfully guides people through life will have aspects that are difficult to intellectually understand at least at first. Besides, true belief and understanding comes after experience not before. This is an essential, though often forgotten part of Pascal’s Wager. Pascal argued that believing in God is good if God exists but does not hurt if God does not. And on the other hand, not believing in God has dire consequences if God does in fact exist. Hence the safer “bet” is to believe in God. The objection often raised is that kind of belief is insincere. Pascal addresses this by arguing that by living as though God exists and putting those beliefs into practice, truth faith will be developed. Faith, like every other virtue, must be a habit. This idea is central to the Neo-Traditionalist worldview, that some truths must be lived and experienced to be understood.

As far as traditional religious practices, the Judeo-Christian tradition, at least for people in the Western world, is the rational choice. This tradition has flourished on every continent and has lasted for thousands of years, surviving countless persecutions and disasters. It has produced a civilization that invented computers, explored the entire world, and put men on the moon. It has promoted human flourishing on an unprecedented scale and popularized the concepts of individual freedoms and human rights. It is rational to live in accordance with the best, time-tested values of the past and that path is Christianity.

Christianity is often criticized that it is too judgemental, too limiting, or even oppressive and in some sense these criticisms have a point. Judgmentalism can go too far and even Christ warned against this when he said in Matthew 7:5, “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.” Moral standards are primarily for those who hold them, they should direct life as a form of self discipline. The heart of faith, at least in practice, is self discipline. Though discipline appears to be restrictive and oppressive, it enables true human freedom. A runner must prepare for months with consistent rigorous training to be able to run a marathon. It is their discipline, getting up early and putting in mile after mile of running every day, which develops their ability, giving them the freedom to do more than they could previously. Now if that discipline was externally imposed, that is, if someone forced the runner through the same training regiment, it would be oppressive. It is not the discipline that is limiting or oppressive, it is whether that discipline is internal or externally imposed. To those who choose the path of discipline, there is struggle, freedom, and true satisfaction with life. Aristotle proclaimed that human flourishing was for an individual to realise their own potential and act upon it. This is, at least in part, of what Christ means when he says in Matthew 16:24-25, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Christ is calling for a life of discipline and self-denial for a higher purpose. The concept of “his cross” is an individual’s purpose and mission given to them by God that is accomplished by living a faithful, disciplined life. The real problem with modern Christianity is that it places too much emphasis on heaven. The idea of eternity in paradise is wonderful, but there is more to faith that this. The discipline and freedom that comes from faith is a guide to a flourishing life here and now, there is no need to wait for heaven to enjoy a better life. This is not a promise for a life of prosperity but instead for a life of meaning.

Though it is worth stating judgmentalism is a result of having a moral standard, modernity promotes the acceptance of every lifestyle which is in effect the same as having no morality at all. Many of the problems of the modern world stem from the idea that people can live however they desire and expect for their lives to thrive and flourish, this is simply impossible. The commonalities and similarities between major religions is evidence to the contrary, it points to the fact that there are ways of living that promote flourishing better than others. The existence of tradition at all is evidence against the idea that people can thrive with any kind of lifestyle.

Modernity pushes a lifestyle of sedentary, hyperspecialization, that leaves people sick and unsatisfied with their work. The human body is meant to move and physically work, find a job that requires some physical labor or take up a physical hobby. Exercise vigorously at the very least. Learn a skill and create something. Return to nature and appreciate the outdoors. People are meant to be in forests, not office spaces. Appreciate art, appreciate beauty, they provide a window to transcendence. Get married and have children, you have not experienced true love until you have been hugged by your own child. This will take a great effort on your part, but everything of value requires struggle to obtain. You may not achieve all of this but you can become a better version of you.

Reject modernity and its systematic, mechanical view of human life and reality. Embrace the grand traditions of the past and live a fuller, healthier life. Take up the faith and join a church, the discipline of faith and a community of like-minded people is essential to thrive. Whether the Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist, Penecostal, ... etc is not as important as finding a strong community of faith. Remember, tradition forms a tree of life, find your place in it.