“Normality”, “tradition”, “traditional natural family”: how to answer?

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Discussion by: brainbrain75

Often some religious people mention, as a defense for the segregation of women, the repression of gay rights and the imposition of religiously inspired views on public life, concepts such as "tradition", "normality", "traditional natural family". How would you answer? 

25 COMMENTS

  1. These words mean something to the speaker of them. What I would define them as, and what the religious speaker interprets as their definition may be worlds apart. When I hear a devoutly religious person use these terms, they usually define these as Judeo christian in nature with reference to passages in the bible, particularly St Paul on what a wedding is. “A man shall take a women etc..”

    But of course what is “Tradition” “Normality” or “Traditional natural family” depends on where you were born, when you were born and who happens to be in charge at that time. There is a “Traditional” culture in remote China where a marriage involves the women living on her own with here mother’s family forever, and the husband having visiting rights only for occasional copulation. There are “Traditional” families where the children of the tribe are generically cared for by the elders of the tribe, who are too old for hunting and gathering, the caring grandparent model. There are “traditional” models where the men and the women live around separate campfires and locations and only meet for meals and copulation. So the definition of the world “Traditional” comes from the culture of the person using it.

    When a religious fundamentalist uses “Traditional” in the above sense, he is talking about a man with sole power, a subjugated women useful for breeding and caring for him.

    Culture and civilization are not static. What was “Traditional” some time in the past, may be modified by enlightenment and knowledge. For example, keeping slaves is no longer “Traditional” because we have come to the view through reasoning, that this is not acceptable behaviour. (Even though the bible still condones slavery and allows a man to sell his daughters off) So if a religious fundamentalist wants to keep to the “Tradition” of the bible in relation to his family, then he supports slavery. If he, and it nearly always a “He” wants to be a citizen of a civilized world, then the definition He ascribes to “Traditional” has to pass the test of what is accepted as civilized in 2014. If this contradicts your personal god, then tough.

    What it comes down to is the same old scam, over and over again. The fundamentally religious of any brand wish to impose, if necessary by force, there own personal version of “God” on everyone on the planet. That is uncivilized, and I will oppose it.

    Religion should be practiced by consenting adults in private.

  2. The appeal to tradition is a well known logical fallacy, just because our ancestors did something a certain way does not mean that it was a reasonable thing to do or that we should continue to do things the same way.

    I am not sure exactly what you mean by “normality”, but I would guess it is something like an appeal to what is common, considered normal, or what is ubiquitous. This could also be an appeal to “common sense”. The best thing that I can do for you is to point you to the book “The Hidden Brain” written by Shankar Vedantam, who I believe is the science correspondent for NPR. The book is written as a popular science book and as such is not extremely technical, but it does give a good scientific review of what common sense is, and points out some troubling flaws in it. The short answer, if were talking about an appeal to “normality” is to ask how is this different than an appeal to majority? Something is only normal if it happens most of the time or if most people participate in it. For example, most people are heterosexual, but that does not make being non-heterosexual a bad thing, it is simply not as common.

    Finally, the idea of a “traditional natural family” could mean one of two things, if we are talking about the “traditional biblical family”, the obvious response is to point out all of the crazy forms of marriage endorsed by the bible. The easiest way that I can direct you to a consolidated list of bible verses related to the biblical definition of marriage is to send you to this nifty youtube video(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFkeKKszXTw&list=UUS0AAs7t62rKfnrql2fbo9A). This is a somewhat silly video, but the important thing about it is the bible verses which appear across the bottom of the screen. It may also be useful to point out that even in American history, marriage has been redefined many times to allow for instance, people of different racial or ethnic backgrounds to marry each other. A little knowledge of the Loving V. Virginia case might be helpful here, if you are really interested, you should look it up in a library and read the rulings and history.

    The other kind of “traditional natural family” that we often come across is the idea that a child needs both a mom and a dad, in which the mom stays home and cooks in the kitchen while the father goes out and shoots things or works to bring home money. The best thing you can do to be able to respond to this is point to the scientific studies that have been done on this topic. A good place to start is Micheal Lamb’s paper, “Mothers, Fathers, Families, and Circumstances: Factors Affecting Children’s Adjustment” which was published in the journal “Applied Developmental Science” Vol. 16 in 2012, please note that this is a meta-analysis of many studies done up to that point, and if you are serious about advocating for LGBTQ rights it would be wise to read all of the cited works in this paper, as well as the more recent ones, but this is nevertheless a good place to start. Another good resource is the statements and amicus briefs filed by the major scientific organizations in the appropriate fields. The American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics are just a small few of the most prominent ones, and you can obtain good information from their websites. I hope I have answered your questions, please let me know if I misunderstood any of them or if you want to ask anything else.

  3. Simply conservative Christians don’t want anyone to rock the boat. Traditional families had the little woman as property of the man, children seen and not heard, and anyone that was homosexual ostracised from society. Those are not the days I want to return to.

    • In reply to #3 by naskew:

      Simply conservative Christians don’t want anyone to rock the boat. Traditional families had the little woman as property of the man, children seen and not heard, and anyone that was homosexual ostracised from society. Those are not the days I want to return to.

      Thanks for your submission. I found it interesting because you described a system. And that made me think. In a nutshell I guess that these people feel that their system is threatened by change. They fear change as a disruption to their perceived stability, made of all the things you mentioned. They in fact seem to think (they told me) that the change to other people’s right, such as in the case of gay rights, will result in an imposition of a new lifestyle in their personal sphere. They complained that, for example: “gay people want every heterosexual to become gay”. It’s quite frankly hilarious, but let’s ask ourselves where this fear comes from. My explanation follows. Rigid religious people generally wish to impose their views and lifestyle on everybody. They cannot therefore conceive that a minority would simply like to enjoy their legitimate human rights and are not actually plotting some sort of world domination. I see here a strong link between religious beliefs and political thinking.

    • In reply to #4 by Catfish:

      I would suggest they read or listen to “Letter to a Christian Nation” by Sam Harris. There is a audio version of this book available from http://www.audible.com.

      Thanks for the suggestion. I will read it myself but several of these people would sadly most likely refuse to expose themselves to any material that contradicts their beliefs.

  4. I must say that for someone who grew up in a time or place where church going nuclear families were the dominant or only type of households they came in contact with, then finding themselves in a pluralistic society, I can see how they might default toward language like natural or traditional when describing what had become so familiar. Just curious what adjective would you propose for someone steeped in the past who wants to distinguish between what they grew up around and what you might find in a large city today, without making them or others uncomfortable?

    • In reply to #7 by DrG:

      I must say that for someone who grew up in a time or place where church going nuclear families were the dominant or only type of households they came in contact with, then finding themselves in a pluralistic society, I can see how they might default toward language like natural or traditional when d…

      Good point. I would definitely avoid using the adjective “traditional” as that has too many emotional connotations (it makes you think of security, predictability, warmth) whereas in reality it simply means “long-established”. “Old fashioned”, too, has too many emotional connotations.”Old” seems judgemental. I am at loss… Anyone?

      • In reply to #8 by brainbrain75:

        In reply to #7 by DrG:

        I must say that for someone who grew up in a time or place where church going nuclear families were the dominant or only type of households they came in contact with, then finding themselves in a pluralistic society, I can see how they might default toward language like natur…

        ‘Accustomed’ or ‘What I am accustomed to’ seems to fit the bill well enough for me. It’s very definition is that of subjectivity and cannot really be applied in a context of what ought to be or what other people should think.

        • In reply to #10 by Seraphor:

          In reply to #8 by brainbrain75:

          ‘Accustomed’ or ‘What I am accustomed to’ seems to fit the bill well enough for me. It’s very definition is that of subjectivity and cannot really be applied in a context of what ought to be or what other people should think.

          Thanks Seraphor. This is a great solution in my opinion. They use “traditional family” as it is evocative, loaded with emotional meanings. Replying with “family you/we are accustomed to…” takes the emotional accent away from the argument, leaving space for more rational discussion, and most importantly bringing back the basic meaning of “traditional”, which simply means “long established”.

    • In reply to #7 by DrG:

      I must say that for someone who grew up in a time or place where church going nuclear families were the dominant or only type of households they came in contact with, [...]

      I find it hard to believe that this ever existed. Were there no older spinsters? No “confirmed bachelors”?. Overheard when I growing up in rural england

      “is he a batchelor?”
      “nay, lives with his sister”

      [...] then finding themselves in a pluralistic society, I can see how they might default toward language like natural or traditional when describing what had become so familiar. Just curious what adjective would you propose for someone steeped in the past who wants to distinguish between what they grew up around and what you might find in a large city today, without making them or others uncomfortable?

      nostalgia?

      I was speaking to a 19 year old recently she was worried about the fast pace at which society and technology were changing and expressed the hope that it would slow down soon. Perhaps I should have recommended Future Shock to her.

  5. I would ask why concepts must take priority over people?

    or to give the long answer

    Tradition: something that hasn’t changed much. some traditions are good, some not so. it’s traditional to protect homes by killing children and burying them under the foundations. that tradition is not observed these days because it’s considered a bit unenlightened. but it’s a tradition. just like passages of the bible, if you pick and choose which to adhere to, the fact it’s a “tradition” or biblical verse is meaningless. Traditions survive if enough people want them to. doesn’t rely on any reason just herd mentality. traditions are overturned when enough people are unable to see their benefit.

    Normality: everyone’s different. how do you measure “normality”? like with tradition, it comes down to herd mentality. internet use wasn’t normal 20 years ago. not using the internet is not normal now. if being different from the majority is somehow wrong then chances are you carry some wrongness that needs curing, or a member of your family does. if it’s your child then chances are it’s your fault for providing the “wrong” genes, or worse still, procreating with someone carrying the wrong genes. one day they might come for you…

    Traditional Natural Family: do you even know what that is? for most people it’s based on a model that goes back 3 or 4 generations of their own culture. The above 2 comments count for this also but I’ll add that I personally despise the concept of “traditional families”. sorry to anyone who is married with kids and very happy, I don’t mean you, you have found a lifestyle that works for you and your family and you represent a large proportion of humans, but not all of them. for many, a traditional family exists only by enforcement. Parents who stay together because their religion forbids divorce, children unable to speak up about physical or mental abuse because their culture forbids them from seeking help outside the family. the “traditional family” is populist claptrap that the likes of David Cameron love to trot out because no one dares speak up against it.

    How about these for some rules on families? parents MUST by law, want to stay together and be happy or they must be seperated to avoid their dysfunction being placed on their children (read Vicki Garrisons blogs on emotional incest). Adults who wish to have children must be vetted in the same way as adoptive parents before having their sterilizations reversed (oh yes I’d do that, you do it to cats without asking). These don’t come to pass because the “traditional family” has cultural protection. no politician dares speak out against it.

    The traditions people cling to evolved out of their ancient cultures. they usurped the traditions that went before them because times changed and cultures evolved. When you need to argue on behalf of a tradition simply because it is a tradition, it’s already no longer fit for purpose

  6. I think the answer to tradition is pretty straight forward. Just because we did something some way in the past doesn’t mean it’s necessarily moral or a practice we shouldn’t alter based on new knowledge or the evolution of social norms. People used to consider slavery to be a legal and even moral institution. Torture used to be considered a proper form of punishment and interrogation. As recently as the 1960′s it was considered natural that whites and blacks should be segregated and should never intermarry, even having laws that made it illegal to do so. Pinker (in his last book The Better Angels) has a good discussion of these issues and how our standards for morality have steadily evolved to granting everyone (all humans and eventually other animals as well) basic universal rights, as opposed to only granting them to people of a certain race, gender, sexual orientation, etc

    A related claim I also see is that X just means Y and so we can’t say that it’s Z. The most obvious example is marriage, people sometimes argue that marriage “just means union of a man and woman”. Which I think is also a clearly flawed argument and come to think of it also something Pinker addresses, e.g. in The Blank Slate. I think this kind of reasoning is an example of the essentialist fallacy in language, to assume that words have some fixed meaning that exists in some world of forms or mind. From what we know of language that simply isn’t true. Many words evolve radically over time to have different meanings. The meaning of a word is not some predefined form or concept but rather a constantly evolving social convention and as such can and is really expected to evolve over time.

  7. Personally I’m a moral conservative. I think the world has gone downhill since we abandoned traditional values like stoning people who wear two different kinds of clothing. When I see people walking down the street in cotton polyester blends it’s all I can do not to pick up a brick. Bring back the old traditions I say.

    I do find though people don’t always respond well to this kind of sarcasm !

    • In reply to #12 by mmurray:

      Personally I’m a moral conservative. I think the world has gone downhill since we abandoned traditional values like stoning people who wear two different kinds of clothing. When I see people walking down the street in cotton polyester blends it’s all I can do not to pick up a brick.

      use use bricks! Only stones should be used for stoning!

      splitters…

      • use use bricks! Only stones should be used for stoning!

        And only the correctly sized stones should be used. Neither so big that they cause immediate and relatively painless death nor so small that they cause too small an injury. A truly civilised person must get one’s brutal punishments just right.

  8. In reply to #12 by mmurray:

    Personally I’m a moral conservative. I think the world has gone downhill since we abandoned traditional values like stoning people who wear two different kinds of clothing. When I see people walking down the street in cotton polyester blends it’s all I can do not to pick up a brick. Bring back th…

    Absolutely. And, as George Carlin pointed out, we should bring back crucifixion, with the worst criminals crucified upside down. Of course, all this should be televised during family hour.

  9. Basically, (I think), these people are ‘arguing’ on fallacious grounds. One fallacious element is that they argue from authority, (that of priests and religious leaders and religious documents). The second is that the past has to determine the future for some reason. The word normal, (normality), is loaded to imply that what * was, * must continue to be, and the fallacious cliche put forward is that the notion in question “has stood the test of time”.

    Since the authority of priests and religious leaders and religious documents relies on the existence of a god, (the one espoused by that particular religious group), then unless they can provide proof of their god and the truth of their beliefs, the authority of priests and religious leaders and religious documents is pretty thin. Besides, people form varying religious groups with incompatible ideas`about what is right, proper and moral. The people you allude to brainbrain75 seem to be those of the Judeo-Christian-Muslim variety. They seem to be claiming superiority over other religious ideas, and those of secular/agnostic/atheist people. There are other religions. As I said, in the absence of proof, “God” as the grounding for authority is pretty thin.

    And if something so-called standing the test of time implies that change is therefore unwarranted, then many things would still exists, (on the basis of standing the test of time). Slavery might be a good example. That stood the test of time, (many millennia), yet reason(ing) finally overcame it as a justified and moral state of affairs.

    So any state of affairs should be open for discussion, and change promoted or tolerated, depending on the analysis of the relative merits of all relevant data, but as you say: sadly most religious people are likely refuse to expose themselves to any material that contradicts their beliefs. Still, my reaction would be that if the justification for a position is that “God” decrees it, I’d ask for proof of “God”.

    In return, I would expect to be asked for proof of the non-existence of “God”. Since I can’t do that, I would like to think that no group should hold sway over another. For example, if abortion is legal, the fact does not compel a religious person to make use of it. So the pro-lifers, and the pro-rights groups both get to exercise their beliefs – no compulsion either way.

  10. I would ask why is “tradition” a good enough reason to do something? Is there some rational moral basis that the tradition comes from? If it does, then is that basis still relevant?

    Normality is a stupid idea. Because something is normal just means it is the most common thing (median is probably more accurate). It gives no good reasons why states outside that most common one should or should not exist. If you assume that “normal” is the best then what do you do with those who have IQ’s well over 100? what about those who are great athletes or scientists? Are they “normal”, if the abnormal is to be shunned what do you do with them? Normalcy is an idea for idiots who want a very mediocre world.

    • In reply to #15 by Stuart Coyle:

      I would ask why is “tradition” a good enough reason to do something? Is there some rational moral basis that the tradition comes from? If it does, then is that basis still relevant?
      Normality is a stupid idea. Because something is normal just means it is the most common thing (median is probably more accurate). It gives no good reasons why states outside that most common one should or should not exist. If you assume that “normal” is the best then what do you do with those who have IQ’s well over 100? what about those who are great athletes or scientists? Are they “normal”, if the abnormal is to be shunned what do you do with them? Normalcy is an idea for idiots who want a very mediocre world.

      Hi Stuart. That’s my reasoning exactly. The issue they have with it is as follows: tradition is a good reason to do something as good things come only from long established practices upheld by the vast majority. Many come to this conclusion through political extreme right wing thinking (they expressed this clearly). Others through sheer irrational fear of the unknown (again, they clearly expressed this). You see how hard is to dialogue rationally in these circumstances.

      “Normality” seems to be a favourite subject they appel to as it goes hand in hand with “majority”. The reasoning is: “If something is done by the majority, then it’s normal. And viceversa. That something has to be done and protected as it helps prolonging the present system and status quo, which are good because upheld by the majority and therefore normal”. It’s a reasoning that goes in circles, but they don’t seem to be bothered by this flaw.

  11. Tradition, normal, or what my favourite books says is right is never a valid defence or argument for anything. To defend a practice or “tradition” you can’t just say “because it is a tradition” – circular logic does not prove anything.

    The world is full of traditions, and “normal” practices that most people have given up as barbaric or unenlightened: slavery, bear baiting, capital punishment for minor crimes, racism, burning witches… you get the idea.

    The only way to defend a practice is to rationally analyse it and see if it is harmless or actually tends to improve the general welfare of people. If it fails these simple tests it is not a good practice.

    For example, is it a good idea to make women second class citizens with hardly any rights who live at the whim of the men around them? One simply way to look at this is to ask the men involved if they think it would be a good policy if it was reversed. I highly doubt it. There is no rational reason to treat men and women differently before the law; the minor physical differences have no bearing on women’s ability to be active and equal members of society.

  12. Often some religious people mention, as a defense for the segregation of women, the repression of gay rights and the imposition of religiously inspired views on public life, concepts such as “tradition”, “normality”, “traditional natural family”. How would you answer?

    FGM could also be regarded as traditional. So’s bear baiting and judicial torture

    “Traditional” usually means “what I grew up with”. Or rather an idealised version of what they grew up with. Perhaps only white property owning males should have the vote?

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