Monday, March 8, 2010

Traditions Preserve…the Good and the Bad

Tradition, tradition! Tradition!
     [The Fiddler on the Roof]
A pleasing story in the New York Times this morning (“Wartime Pope Has a Huge Fan: A Jewish Knight”) reminded me that tradition is a two-edged sword. It preserves both the good and the bad. The story concerns the activities of a Gary L. Krupp, a New Yorker, who once received a distinction from Pope John Paul II for fundraising activities on behalf of an Italian hospital. He was named—
A Knight Commander of the
Pontifical Equestrian
Order of St. Gregory
The Great
—the mere citation of which justifies the effort required to write this post, hence my elevation of the title to the status of verse.

In later years Krupp, a medical equipment dealer but now retired, engaged in research regarding the long-standing assertion by Jewish groups that Pope Pius XII failed during World War II to exert himself energetically to save Jews from the holocaust. Krupp’s conclusion was that Pius is innocent of the charges levied against him. The Times quotes him as saying: “Listen to me: Pius XII was the greatest hero of World War II. He saved more Jews than Roosevelt, Churchill and all the rest of them combined. We should not let him be an issues between Catholics and Jews.”

I applaud this sort of effort to lean a single shoulder against a “tradition” that, I don’t for a minute doubt, will linger on and on in time for centuries to come. It is difficult to live in human community. One is invariably lonely. My roots rise from very conservative soil, a royalist past, and I’m very comfortable in reading books like Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind in which the concept of tradition takes on a multi-dimensional aspect and even a word like prejudice undergoes an interesting transformation. But while the company may be congenial, I must preserve a certain reserve. Traditions preserve, and if the balance of the past has been positive, its preservation is laudable. But tradition also carries forward all manner of other detritus that ought to be examined, sifted, and, occasionally left behind as information rather than serving as a carrier of resentments that pass from individual to individual for generations unexamined.

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