It's all about tradition
April 2, 2013
I was skimming through this editorial discussing how the family of a dead priest didn’t agree to have his organs donated to others in need. The author accused the priest’s family of not following the church doctrine of praising life and trying to save others.
It dawned on me that this dissonance between the stated doctrine and the actual deeds is not a new thing, and has a very simple explanation:
Most entities with a life span long enough to be deemed “old” and “with history” - be they “secular” churches, bureaucracies, political parties (republicans in the US or socialists in Romania) become entrapped by this exact history. Their reason to be proud is exactly the fact that they’ve survived for years. And with every year that passes, they become even more proud of their history.
Now, being proud of one’s history is not a problem per se. However, this triggers a side effect - conservationism: If our church/pope/party has lasted for so many hundreds of years, then we must strive to keep it exactly as such and fight change as much as we can possibly can.
Anything with history becomes a conservationist - not being a conservationist means change, and change means disrupting the history, which means that you won’t be able to be proud of your history anymore.
In the case of church and organ transplants: churches might have been ok with this practice, if only it had been in place for the past hundreds of years. Heck, they might have even been ok with abortion, gay marriage or human cloning - if only they had been old enough practices to actually be written on their “ancient accepted things” list. Not the ethics of those things matters to the church, and not even whether they are deemed ok in the eyes of God. What matters is if they have been practiced by the church in the past or not. After all, in the past churches have been ok with burning people alive, cutting off their hands, killing them with stones or even crucifying them alive, only because “that’s how we always did it”.
So, you see, it’s never about the stated doctrine, nor about good or evil. In the case of old enough institutions, it’s always about old versus new. In their eyes, old things and customs are almost always fine, even if more trouble and less effective, with no reason other than “that’s how it’s been done for the past 20 years”.
This ill-understood sense of tradition is also why french workers work fewer hours than most other europeans, even if it costs them their jobs, why the most powerful economies are either those of new-born countries(Singapore) or those who, via major efforts, managed to erase their perceived history and create a new one(past be damned), while the countries with lots of tradition and ancient customs have now struggling economies and rigid bureaucracies. And also why countries such as Romania, unbound by a feeling of history but unwilling to embrace the new, have been struggling with reforming everything while not really changing anything for the past 150 years. And just one of the many reasons why in some parts of the public Romanian administration you are still required to deposit your data on a 3.5 inch floppy disk, and why most official online forms must be printed, signed and deposited in person to a dedicated office reserved for the “online” requests.
And what better time to think of tradition versus progress than around Easter, in spring?