Frankly, it seems to me now that I was arrogant when I was younger, to think that I understood my faith. I had then what I call cultural confidence – that is, a confidence that comes from having a lifestyle that is fully integrated with your worldview. It’s easy to talk and act with boldness, because there are so few loose strings that pull at your mind and make you hesitate. You know what’s right to do – you have role models and policies, and systems of thought to guide you.
I suppose a post-modern look at cultural confidence would probably critique it pretty negatively – all those indicators of arrogance, an unwillingness to question presuppositions – but I’m not a very good post-modern. I like to tell myself that the Greeks were post-modern just before the dawn of the classical age, and flatter myself that I can be post-post-modern if I just go one step beyond and be a classicist.
At any rate, I aspire to have cultural confidence again. I learned from doing office work that there’s no real great benefit to thinking all the time. I don’t mean it’s good to be thoughtless, but that you actually make more mistakes at whatever job you’re doing when you’re still thinking your way through it. You only become good at your job when you can do it mostly without thinking. Then your mind becomes free to make incremental adjustments quickly and efficiently. The same thing applies to driving. The worst drivers are the ones who have to think through everything that they do. They’re so busy focusing on what should be habit that they don’t have any mindspace left for anything unusual that comes along.
I think of cultural confidence the same way. The best way to go through life is by having to make as few adjustments to your worldview as possible. This frees you up to respond to life in something resembling a cohesive manner. It’s something I aspire to. The curious thing is that it’s possible for a human being to have cultural confidence from the beginning. You can grow up into a worldview from birth and go through your whole life making only minor adjustments. This can be done by inheriting a tradition – another word looked down on by moderns and post-moderns alike. (It’s a particularly unfair aspersion too – looking down on tradition is a modernist tradition) But the cohesion that comes from having a tradition is hardly ever wrong. A tradition quickly cast aside leaves only room for chaos. Tradition is, in fact, something that I aspire to give to my children as my highest gift, the way some people long to give their children the education they never received. In fact, I think of it a lot the same – like being able to hand down the rudimentary framework of an elite education to a child before they turn five. It’s nothing to be sniffed at.
Tradition, then, is the foundation of cultural confidence. And what I said before still stands: it strikes me as arrogant that I thought I understood my faith before. I had confidence, but apparently a very fragile culture. As I look back on it now, it comes down to the fact that I did in fact have a tradition. But it was a very shallow tradition. I was a non-denominational charismatic Protestant Christian. Probably the sturdiest root of that tree (barring the generic “Protestant Christian” part) reached back 100 years to the Pentecostal revival at Azusa street in 1907. But even then, my particular tradition had made some pretty radical diversions from that movement, particularly in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. As a result, I was a part of a tradition that was made up of a hodge-podge of religious ideas, not particularly thoroughly integrated. I had a community that believed just exactly the way I did, but it was a very narrow community indeed – perhaps a few million at most. If all of us across the world were gathered together, we could perhaps populate a few cities. I was fine with this, and rather proud, because it allowed me to be independent and ecumenical at the same time.