October 22, 2014

Obscure Traditionalism

The tiny Island Nation of Balane had a conquering tradition. Their warriors would sail to the nearby islands and attack them at the dead of night. If the leaders joined their empire, then they were allowed to live in peace so long as each year they sent a tribute to the Balane capitol. The believed that their gods were quite superior as they had never fallen in battle to their foes, so they were not threatened by the gods of the conquered islands and let the other nations worship freely as long as they fulfilled the requirements of being a Balane citizen-priest by wearing an anklet around their right ankles.

One day, at the furthest conquered island, a man arrived from a far-away place called Mainland. He described a new religion that proclaimed freedom. His teachings seemed to make sense and over time, it traveled all the way to the Balane capitol. Quite a few Balane natives became believers in this new religion. Soon they had all sorts of questions - what are our rituals? what are our teachings? What about our anklets? The new believers got into noisy debates - 'that's a practice of our old religion!' 'But I was punished for not wearing mine last week!' 'But none of the members of our old religion will trade with me unless I wear mine!' They brought all their concerns to the Mainlander who wrote a letter to his Teacher asking for advice.

"We are not instituting a revolution against the authorities - tell them to continue to wear these anklets as a function of the state so that they can do business - tell them that the religious power they had were destroyed and replaced with this new symbolism: they are a gift meant to honor the new believers for their faith. They are not bound to the old meaning, but are made new." Was the reply they received many months later. For centuries, believers continued to wear these anklets, but eventually the Balane Empire collapsed, was conquered, suffered many natural disasters, and was eventually freed.

But one day, a New Mainlander (New Mainland was a whole new continent discovered about 1500 years after Balane was conquered.) was feeling down because he felt that his faith was lacking something important. Instead of fasting or praying or doing any of the other rituals, he happened to open the Book of Wisdom (a copy of a copy of a copy of a translation of a letter) to Balaniums 3:3, "... tell them to continue to wear these anklets ..." He was troubled because nobody had preached about anklets that he could recall. He thought about it, realized that if it was in the Book of Wisdom it must be important, and proceeded to make an anklet to wear.

The first time he wore an anklet to the weekly believer's feast, he felt a little self-conscious. Nobody else was wearing them. Eventually, people began to ask about the anklet and he explained where in the Book of Wisdom the instruction was found. Soon more and more people began to wear them - all kinds, all colors, both masculine and feminine in style. It wasn't long before the leaders began to preach about the anklets. After that, some believers began making anklets to sell to those who had none. Eventually all believers everywhere wore anklets.

But one day, a kid - something of a history buff - was looking at the tradition and wondered: "Why isn't the anklet talked about in the verses that talk about the feasts, the rituals, the prayers, and the other teachings? Surely if it was so very important, the Founder himself would have initiated their use. If it didn't come from The Founder, what is it's origin?"

The kid stopped wearing the anklet and gave some pretty sound reasoning why it didn't make any sense, but nobody would listen. They were too enamored with keeping the anklet tradition to think critically about it's historical context, which sadly, was lost a very long time ago. Every time the kid would go to the feasts, a big debate would break out questioning the validity of the kid's beliefs if the kid didn't obey all the instructions in the Book of Wisdom.

Over many weeks, a few people began to switch their perspective and they sided with the kid, choosing not to wear their anklets. The feasts became divided, anklet-wearers on the Right side, at the head of the table. The anklet-unwearers on the Left side, at the foot of the table. Things got bad, one feast day, all the anklet-unwearers met together at a different location because they were tired of their mistreatment. This solution pleased the anklet-wearers, they liked the idea of being completely united in wearing their anklets. Unfortunately, there was nobody to write to who could be trusted to settle the score. So that's why on feast day there are two feasts at the same time.

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