a. (among Jews) body of laws and doctrines, or any one of them, held to have been received from Moses and originally handed down orally from generation to generation.
b. (among Christians) a body of teachings, or any one of them, held to have been delivered by Christ and His apostles but not originally committed to writing.
c. (among Muslims) a hadith — a traditional account of things said or done by Muhammad or his companions.
I’ve said before, and I’ll say again, that I feel that the word “tradition” protects a lot of really archaic and barbaric things.
Religion is one of those institutions that uses the word "tradition" like the U.S. uses oil: Too much, too often, and at too much cost to human rights and natural life.
Tradition in these three major religions protects ideas like woman are lesser beings, homosexuality is an abomination, and people who don’t believe what you believe are wrong and will suffer either now or in the afterlife.
Islam, in extreme cases, goes far enough to think that people who aren’t like you should be killed. We’ve seen at least one female victim of gang rape punished by Islamic law. She was sentenced to lashings and prison time by Saudi Arabian law which is based on Islamic law.
In Judaism, tradition says that a woman’s menstrual cycle is so dirty that a man may not even share a bed with his menstruating wife. And after her cycle she’s still must wait seven days and have a ritual bath before she can share a bed with him again. In Jewish tradition, homosexuality is punishable by death. This tradition may have influenced both Christianity and Islam to adopt similar stands during various eras.
In most sects of Christianity, sex is strictly for procreation. And then there's the power of Christian prayer. Now, I’m no fan of the pharmaceutical companies, but to go as far as the belief that only prayer and the understanding of God’s greatness can save you from illness is one of many traditions you’ll never get my vote on.
Rarely does popular entertainment take on religion and tradition. However, in Season Two of The West Wing there is an episode about the aftermath of a gunman’s racist attack on one President Jed Bartlet’s men. Bartlet (played by the presidential Martin Sheen) goes after a very Christian, uber-conservative AM radio talk show host:
“I’m interested in selling my youngest daughter into slavery as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. She’s a Georgetown sophomore, speaks fluent Italian, always cleared the table when it was her turn. What would a good price for her be?...My Chief of Staff Leo McGarry insists on working on the Sabbath, Exodus 35:2 clearly says he should be put to death… Here’s one that’s really important ‘cause we’ve got a lot of sports fans in this town: Touching the skin of a dead pig makes one unclean, Leviticus 11:7. If they promise to wear gloves can the Washington Redskins still play football?”
He goes on in this manner and these archaic ideas are eloquently chewed up and spit out.
Now, to be fair, most of these religions also protect the idea of charity and being kind and good. But it seems that the crazier this world gets and the faster it gets in that hand basket to hell, the more people cling to the negative traditions. They seem to especially like the ones that exclude people of different faiths from a good life or afterlife.
It seems to me that if this God/Allah/Yaweh that everyone’s so fond of is so great he/she/it’d be a little more accepting of people. You know, after he/she/it theoretically gave people the gift of free will seems pretty stupid that people would be punished for its use.
(For another commentary in this vein, please see: "God is Good; Religion, Not So Much.")
(Cartoon by Hugh MacLeod of Alpine, TX from gapingvoid and used through a Creative Commons license.)
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