The Value of the Western Tradition

Warning! This is a very long and philosophical piece, so if it’s not your thing, I will understand (though might resent you) if you quietly hit the return arrow on your device.

The reader of today has a natural aversion to books that are categorized under “classics.” It seems that when that word comes to mind, terms such as “thee” and “thine,” long boring details of history, or an old dead man’s dry musings accompany the thought.

It seems as if people hear “written in the 16th century” and automatically lose interest. It seems that books which are a part of the Western Tradition have been tossed to the side as if what they say is no longer valid in the modern world–even in Christian circles this method of thinking has been adopted.

Since, however, the majority of the culture believes that the Western Tradition is void, that should be all the proof us Christians need to understand that the Western Tradition should be a crucial part of their education.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:2

Christians should come to appreciate books such as The Great Tradition. At first, this syntopical book may be put for last on your book list, for the unconscious lie that reading old dead guys and their dry dead language is of no use to growth in today’s world may still linger in the back of the mind. Once you look past the date of publication and the uncommon names, however, a goldmine will be unearthed within the pages.

Before approaching the Western Tradition, we should know what it is. Author and thinker Albert Nock explains that the

Western Tradition comprises the longest and fullest and continuous record of what the human mind has been contemplating about in almost every department of spiritual and social activity there is to be found.

The Western Tradition is the history of the human mind. So now that we know what it is, we can now approach it. When approaching, however, we should bear in mind two things. One, that it is the history of human thought, and thus invaluable to read. There is no reason to read only modern books—which have not yet stood the test of time—when there is a whole wealth of solid, tested material that has been passed down through the generations and is waiting to be put to use once more.

The second point is as C.S. Lewis says,

If you join at eleven o’clock a conversation which began at eight you will often not see the real bearing of what is said.

C.S. Lewis

Christians should remember that the Western Tradition is the beginning of a conversation that continues in today’s books, and, as Lewis explains:

…sentences in a modern book which look quite ordinary may be directed ‘at’ some other (older) book; in this way you may be led to accept what you would have indignantly rejected if you knew its real significance.

Knowing the entire conversation enhances your ability to succeed better in your calling in life, for in knowing the whole of the story by reading books of the Western Tradition, not only can you understand the modern conversation, you have also greatly improved your reading skill by challenging your mind with the ideas and language of the old books.

You also have the opportunity of coming up with your own opinion of authors–such as Plato or Aristotle–firsthand, instead of through a modern-day “philosopher’s” commentary which, as Lewis points out, is

ten times as long, all about “isms” and influences and only once in twelve pages telling (you) what Plato actually said.

When you consider the richness of benefits the Western Tradition offers and compare it to the failing modern education system, it is hard to understand how our culture has chosen the method of universal education over the individuality-encouraging, think-for-yourself heritage that worked so well for our forefathers.

Universal education, according to historian and Christian humanist Christopher Dawson,

involves the creation of an immense machinery of organization and control which must go on growing…until it covers the whole field of culture and embraces every form of educational institution from the nursery school to the university.

As Christians, we should be alarmed and against universal education, for it is, in Dawson’s words, “the rival or the alternative to the Church.” The Church is also a universal establishment which seeks to educate and enlighten, just like universal education, yet the messages of the two institutions are as polar opposites as you can find:

Where the Church preaches freedom in the service of Jesus Christ, the education system “exists simply to serve democracy, and democracy is not a form of government, it is a spiritual community in its own right.

Dawson/Dewey

As a result of the poor education they received, today’s culture can barely think for themselves; the majority of them rarely have an original idea. This is a unique field of opportunity for the Christian, newly equipped with the knowledge of the whole conversation, to get to work, bringing forth the ideas of the Western Tradition in new and appealing ways that may stir the yearning of knowledge in their listeners’ souls and prompt them to go and discover their lost heritage of “old dead philosophers” for themselves.

Others may attack and challenge your views in ways you may not be aware existed. In the words of Jesus, the greatest philosopher who set foot on the earth,

I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

Matthew 10:16

As you delve into the wealth of knowledge that is the Western tradition, remember that the Bible is the richest and most important book you will ever read.

It is a treasure chest of wisdom that is fully God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17

Just like the Bible, the books of the Western Tradition are a goldmine waiting only to be opened; opened with a learner’s heart to bestow upon you all the knowledge and glory of men and women who have run the gambit of life before you.

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