Saturday, December 1, 2007

On faith and "tradition"

Former girlfriend and close friend Casandra called today, and a post came up. She objected to my lumping together of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. In a post about death, I wrote:

I'm speaking in general about the Islamic/Christian/Jewish tradition that
dominates Western culture. I'm not an expert in any of the three, but I know a
thing or two. (Please comment when I incorrectly generalize across the
traditions, or otherwise make a muck of things.)

As I mentioned I'm not an expert, but Casandra can claim some specific knowledge - her major is in religious studies (and she is now a graduate, I'm not - yet) and she's working on getting into grad school to go even further.

We didn't go into a long discussion about her objection: I invited her here. I'm very interested in hearing what she has to say - I hope she makes a comment. And, I'd like to hear yours. But now, it being a Saturday evening, and the weather being horrendous, I'm going to my local tavern. I'll see you tomorrow.


Casandra said...

Sorry it has taken me so long to finally post this response, but as you know, various circumstances have prevented me from doing so earlier.

So, here goes:

My main objection to what you wrote is specifically your generalization. You lumped Judaism, Christianity, and Islam into one tradition. I would argue they are not one tradition and do not share one tradition.

According to, tradition means:
"1.the handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs, information, etc., from generation to generation, esp. by word of mouth or by practice: a story that has come down to us by popular tradition.
2.something that is handed down: the traditions of the Eskimos.
3.a long-established or inherited way of thinking or acting: The rebellious students wanted to break with tradition.
4.a continuing pattern of culture beliefs or practices.
5.a customary or characteristic method or manner: The winner took a victory lap in the usual track tradition.
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.
7.Law. an act of handing over something to another, esp. in a formal legal manner; delivery; transfer."

Alright, let's start with a brief overview of the three religions in question - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Judaism - the "Jewish Tradition"
The Jewish Faith can be traced back to the man known as Moses. Some believe it can be traced back further, but it should be enough to say that Jewish history is based on the stories of the Old Testament of the Bible. It doesn't matter if much of the history cannot be proven. What matters is that Jews consider it their history, their tradition. For the purposes of this conversation, there are two things that should be remembered: Abraham is an important prophet in the Jewish tradition and Jewish tradition is largely based on Mosaic law (the laws set forth in the first five books of the Old Testament, known in Judaism as the Torah).

The Christian tradition obviously has roots in Jewish history. Christians adopted Jewish history as their own. However, it is not the basis or the emphasis of the Christian faith. Christianity is largely based on the New Testament and the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Since Christians claim Jewish roots, Abraham is also a recognized prophet in the Christian faith.

Islam is based entirely on the teachings of Muhammad, both in the form of the Qur’an and the Hadiths (stories about Muhammad). One of the things Muhammad taught was that the origins of their religion were centered in the story of the Jewish prophet Abraham. However, Muslims tell a different version of the Jewish story of Abraham and even emphasize the other of Abraham’s two sons.

You see, the common link between these three religions is the prophet Abraham, but the three religions cannot even agree on the story of this man let alone his importance. You could say that Judaism and Christianity have much more in common with each other than either does with Islam, and that would be correct. However, it would still be incorrect to lump them into one tradition.

Like I said, Judaism is largely based on Mosaic Law. Well, many Christians believe that when Jesus came, he created a new covenant in place of the Mosaic covenant. With this belief, there is no reason to follow the Mosaic covenant and therefore, Mosaic Law.

My point here is that each of these religions have distinct beliefs with distinct traditions based on these beliefs. defines tradition as “the handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs, information, etc., from generation to generation, esp. by word of mouth or by practice: a story that has come down to us by popular tradition.” If you have different statements, beliefs, legends, customs, information, etc. that is being passed down, then you obviously end up with different traditions. Hell, in the definition of “tradition,” these three religions are divided. I think this signifies that the differences in the three traditions is important enough to note in the dictionary.

I would agree if you said that these three religions had a common ancestor, a common root, or even common history, but they definitely do not have a common tradition.

Anonymous said...

I think you're all arguing over semantics, in all honesty the 3 religions claim belief in the same 'God'. Perhaps the word tradition was innapropriate but on the whole there's a larger thought being transmitted article (language is a rather touchy and flawed form of communication)

From a different perspective, ponder that in afew thousand years, providing society still has any religion, the lines between the uhh, 'Big 3' we'll call them, will probably seem more like sects of the same religion than their own. Hell right now their are probably protestants arguing against the fact their being lumped in with catholics.

The point being, there is an indeterminable amount of ways to divide religion, and on the whole most religious leaders point out that their are more things in common between the big 3 than their are different.

The point is the origin and and tradition of these 3 religions are largely trivial, how many jews still follow all the billion (i know there aren't quite that many) laws or moses, how many muslims still support stoning adultresses and cutting of thiefs hands (sorry i can't cite the article, take my word for it.)And how many christians sell all their clothes and possesion like Jesus said? Not many...

The general rules and teaching of jesus, moses, and muhammed... the ones followed by the masses anyway aren't that different. While the origins and specific rules vary, the ones we follow..and i use the term follow loosely...are really very similar.

I suppose that in some ways tradition was a bad choice, but as far as tradition being a way of thinking passed down and implemented, there's really not a lot of difference.

Casandra said...

I think you are generalizing these three religions a little too much... yes, they have much more in common than many other religions, but I'm sure practitioners of these faiths would strongly disagree with your over-simplification of them.