The Fallacy of Chesterton’s Fence: Why We Shouldn’t Just blindly accept Tradition

The Fallacy of Chesterton's Fence: Why We Shouldn't Just blindly accept Tradition

G.K. Chesterton once said Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. To this day, that quote holds in so many ways, but there are many out there who believe that we should always follow tradition without question and with unwavering loyalty no matter what it costs us or what information it may be hiding from us.

Unfortunately, those people are wrong, and their reasoning can be summed up in one simple phrase: The Fallacy of Chesterton’s Fence . . .

What is tradition?

Tradition is a set of norms and practices which are passed down over time. There are many types of, such as family, holiday traditions, or religious traditions.  create stability in the society by providing a sense of continuity and solidity to social order.

When individuals resist tradition they often feel the need to rebel against something that is so deeply ingrained in their upbringing. However, it can be a mistake to assume that tradition needs to be followed without question. The fact is most communities have no problem accepting that individual beliefs exist but if someone starts bringing up anti-social beliefs with intentions of implementing them then things get complicated for society at large.

How do we know if something is good or bad?

There are a few different schools of thought when it comes to how we should know if something is good or bad. The first is the philosophy that things that are because of pleasure are good, and things that are because of pain are bad. This would mean addiction to drugs or alcohol is seen as a bad thing while eating chocolate or watching tv would be seen as a good thing.

Secondly, there is the ethical intuitionist approach which states that morality doesn’t come from within yourself but instead through some innate sense of what is right or wrong (usually religious).

For example, this approach would deem something like adultery or suicide as wrong because God told you not to do them. Lastly, here’s what can be called the Utilitarian approach where people evaluate decisions based on their consequences.

Can we use tradition as evidence that a practice is right?

This essay attempts to offer an analysis of how we should weigh the arguments for tradition, in light of the words and actions of Jesus. Specifically, it will consider how Jesus views a couple of key points in His ministry.

The point is not to argue that all l values are false but to highlight specific instances where the following lead to bad consequences and ask if it would be prudent for us to make a conscious decision about those values, based on what we have learned from Christ. For instance, one that is often taken for granted is fasting.


What happens when we follow tradition without critically evaluating it?

Traditions exist for a variety of reasons. Some are used to sustain certain norms and cultures, some are used to differentiate in-groups from out-groups, and others serve no purpose at all.  often take on the status of authoritative beliefs and we would do well to critically examine them with this in mind.

Chesterton believed that when someone builds a fence, it does not prove that this particular side of the field is its rightful owner but rather proves that somebody owns it at all. When he says the right answer, he means something has been proven as fact by the evidence presented or agreed upon by two parties who want the same thing they both care about resolved.

What role does skepticism play in the Christian life?

A couple of weeks ago, I listened to an amazing sermon called How to Become a Christian Without Really Trying by William Lane Craig. There was this one line that I just couldn’t shake out of my head, and it became the theme for this blog post. We cannot simply refuse to take a step unless we know where that step will lead us. The idea is called Chesterton’s fence and it means we should not reject new ideas just because they’re new.

What would a careful, thoughtful examination of traditions show us about how we should live our lives?

Traditions are the fabric of our culture. Then we follow and ll us about what matters to us and how we want to live in this world. And so there is nothing wrong with holding it close to our hearts.

But it can also blind us and keep us from being true individuals who are capable of thinking critically for ourselves. Some have become meaningless or irrelevant, while others have outlived their usefulness, like a barbed wire fence around a meadow, as stated by GK Chesterton in his 1908 essay titled Heretics.

Does this mean Christians don’t need to hold to any traditions at all?

  1. As Christians, we understand that anything not anchored in Christ is a stumbling block to the Gospel and is therefore inherently sinful.
  2. Humans are prone to twist their traditions for personal gain we can see this in the biblical record with Israel’s false idols and Jeroboam’s golden calves.
  3. Our tendency towards idolatry makes us susceptible to our sinful nature, which will inevitably lead us astray from God when given the opportunity.
  4. Therefore, Christians need to reject any traditions not found in Scripture and follow those teachings precisely as they were written originally.
  5. That way they may be spared from the eternal consequences of their sinfulness, which they might have unwittingly made tradition had it been allowed to take root
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