I had occasion yesterday to propound on a point of belief that I’ve often expounded on in other discussions when viner friend Wake Up People asked why people vote GOP. How I responded is emblematic of what is at the core of my belief system and I see things a bit differently than some folks in that I view our innate belief structure is at the heart of our family traditions. To that end, I thought I would extrapolate on my particular POV where tradition enhances or (possibly) disrupts our lives. Since I want to give my soliloquy a chance to sink in before I rearrange your thinking, I’ll start with obvious and pleasant traditions.
Like most Americans and people in general, I love holiday festivities. Thanksgiving is a tradition that at once inspires nostalgia and pleasant meanderings over life’s adventures in family gatherings and winter social events with extended family and friends. Thanksgiving is my personal favorite because I like to cook and I enjoy the idea of being able to do so for my family. It’s the enjoyment of a reflective time loving one another and acknowledging the missing loved ones not there to share with us. At the heart of every American family experience, this traditional feast is the beginning of a holiday season deeply embedded in family tradition and annual expectation.
Thanksgiving is a distinctly American tradition that is unlikely to be even remotely close to the original feast we all learned about in kindergarten and grade school. While I’m sure that wild turkeys were plentiful and good eating for Pilgrims, I doubt that all of the other side dishes or stuffing were available and neither was that green Jello dish that Aunt Ella brings every year; but the point is, that one event in October of 1621 has culminated in an astonishing level of annual overeating that begins in November and ends sometime in January. Celebrated as an American Federal holiday since 1863, there is no one in our family alive today that remembers when it wasn’t done the last Thursday in November every year, hence a holiday that is approximately 150 years old is now part of America’s lexicon and tradition.
Take a moment to dwell on this. The world over, there are harvest celebrations and festivals, some that even resemble our Thanksgiving - Canada comes to mind; but this one Thursday in November is distinctly our own. It’s our tradition. Now, think about your own family and this one tradition. How is it enjoyed and celebrated? Do you attend a church service in the morning? Do you light candles on the mantle near the pictures of departed loved ones? Do you cook or prepare dishes to take to someone else’s home? Do you start your actual preparation and shopping the weekend before and take those three days off to prepare the feast you will serve your family and friends? Does the familiarity of the ritual involved bring you comfort and peace? Is there reverence for the continuity of your family’s annual devolution into napping couch spuds, programming their binging around endless football games and parades? Can you imagine your life without this one tradition? Any answer is the correct answer here. It’s not about anyone else’s family tradition, it’s about yours.
On the heels of Thanksgiving come The Holidays. I call them such as it’s not just Christian observances that take place. Beginning with Saint Nicholas day on December 6th and Hanukkah on the 7th, American families will sweep through the month and enjoy or observe an array of traditional Abrahamic holidays; but did you know that Buddhist, Wiccan and Zoroastrian holidays also take place as well? December 23rd sees the Islamic observation of the birth of the Prophet Muhammad. For the irreverent there is Festivus attracting a number of revelers to the Aluminum Pole. Yes, traditions are born of serious observations of religious merit, while others are just what they appear to be, popular culture hatching another day to martyr humanity’s dependence on the culture of pomp and circumstance.
At the nexus of all the revelry, there is one common thread – family. Family that goes back generations and millennia to people and places with no real context to today’s existence, but still anchors the beliefs of your family in the present. If you were raised by a family steeped in the teachings of Martin Luther and the Reformation, your family’s religious beliefs originated in the teachings of a man born in Germany on November 10th 1483. Over five hundred years ago, your ancestor or ancestors, rejected the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and followed this professor of theology into a Protestant Reformation that had repercussions the world over. Do you ever feel the weight of your ancestor’s decision to follow this monk? Do you realize that this schism in the church was remarkable at the time and the effects were staggering across Europe? If you were raised Roman Catholic, it’s possible that you learned about the Reformation, but the True Believers never wavered in their faith and your family has steadfastly stood in support of the Church and the Pope. Conversely, if you were raised Hebrew, it is unlikely any of this had any effect on your family’s faith, but did inure your family to much degradation and oppression for generations. What am I getting at?
Faith is a family tradition. Like genetic code passed from one generation to the next, the religion of the family is imprinted and carried on by rote to each successive generation. Is this a bad thing? I don’t believe that it is in the wider context, it’s served most families well enough; but is it really enough of a reason to eschew knowledge about other religions and their beliefs? Does educating oneself about the various faiths of humanity preclude one from enjoying their own faith? I don’t believe that it does, but I do believe that it can have an effect on how you view the world around you. It gives you a basis from which to compare and contrast a world at odds with humanity itself.
While I come from a predominantly German ancestry, I’m like most Americans in that I’m not just German. No, I have a family history that flows through generations of history and all over not only Europe but the Baltic region and even the Middle East and North Africa. To be sure, while I haven’t done the DNA mapping yet, I intend to if only to tie it all together with my research and for my grandchildren to know where we all come from. I mention it here because it’s part of my overall history with tradition and my family. We were the typical German Lutheran family and it was my indoctrination into not only the holidays we celebrated, but how we celebrated, just like every other kid I went to school with. What we did at home was probably not the same, but we all participated in the annual Christmas Pageant. The reasons my ancestors immigrated were just as varied as their own family’s histories were. Some because of famine and some because of work, but all came here because it was a place to grow their family and their family’s future generations in the freedom of expression and faith that they dreamed possible. That’s at the base of every single family that arrives on our shores to this day. People come here to be free and have a family.
What changes after successive generations have passed through the system, is the politics of the family. Our family tradition is voting as a Republican because my family hails from Kentucky and Lincoln. The family was staunchly Republican and supported Republican politics – the caveat, it was the politics of Lincoln, not the politics of Reagan. Here again is the genesis of a family’s political belief. Once you strip away the candidate from the actual platform, you have to make your peace with whether or not you’re voting for something you can believe in. Tradition impedes that discussion. It interjects the staid observation that the family has always voted (enter party name here) and therefore you will vote the same. No matter how convoluted the new message is to Republican voters of old, they will maintain their tradition of supporting the party. It’s why the party consistently gerrymanders and manipulates precincts to maintain rigid control over the voters. Democrats surged in popularity in the 60s because they spoke to an underserved and under-represented majority of voters that were largely ignored. Their message appealed to Americans that were disenfranchised from the White Protestant party of the GOP. Am I generalizing? Of course I am. It’s intentional. The Republican party of my family was and always has been a party for wealthy white Christians like them. Pay close attention to what I just said - I said “The Republican party of MY family”. Not yours and not your family’s party, but my own. Tradition demanded that I vote in accordance with our family’s history of supporting the GOP. I went to college and I found that once I peeled away all of the tradition and the ingrained bigotry for other religions, people and politics, that none of that appealed to me. I became an Independent.
Fast forward forty years. I have raised a family and provided them with a firm footing on the teachings of Christ, because I believed that would give them a basis to form their own faith for comparative reasons. I openly discussed current events and voting with my children because I wanted them to view their humanity from the prism of reality, not what I hoped I could create for them by sheltering their eyes from the greed and capricious nature of forces they have no control over. Finally, I entreated them to educate and study those things they don’t understand and to decide for themselves their own truth. I am always available to discuss my truth with them, but I never interject or demand that they agree with me, it’s not what my job is as a parent. Also, they’re both in their 30s (one almost 40) and if they can’t think critically by now, nothing I can say will help. This is my family’s tradition. This is how I’ve grown the successive generation and they’ve chosen their own route as well. One is a Christian through and though and the other an atheist. One is a Republican voter and the other a Democrat. Our family is a typical American Family.
How does tradition affect your conception of faith and politics? Does it influence and define you? Has it imprinted your religion and faith on your politics to a point that you do not question its presence in your ability to discern alternative points of view? Is the presence of tradition a Time Warp that you worked past to become who you are today? Just how does a tradition of being from a family of (enter your family faith here) affect your vote? Why do I ask? Simply because I believe that tradition is a Time Warp and that it is at the heart of our id the way rings circle a tree and most of us are unaware of its influence over our ability to think critically.
Now… what do you think?