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Since the late 1970s in the United States, the term "traditional values" has become synonymous with "family values" and imply a congruence with mainstream Christianity. However "family values" is arguably a modern politicized subset of traditional values, which is a larger concept, anthropologically speaking. It is also not necessarily a political idea, though has come to be associated with a particular vein of evangelicalism and politics, embodied by some American politicians such as Ronald Reagan, Dan Quayle, and George W. Bush, and the Christian right more broadly, as embodied for example by Pat Robertson. For a clearer sense of the range of differences, one can compare interest in reviving traditional values in Native American communities, such as Red Lake Indian Reservation, to the Family Research Council. Or, within Christianity, the difference can be seen in the interpretation of the idea by C. S. Lewis and Jerry Falwell.
Definition of "traditional values"
In its own right "traditional values" simply means the values coming from tradition rather than any specific philosopher, moralist, or writer. This means the "traditional values" of non-Western societies may be wildly at variance from any Christian Right notion of family values. Societies based on traditional values often embrace animism and ancestor worship rather than any Abrahamic religion. Confucianism also tends to place high value on the maintenance of traditional culture and values. It is related to the concept of traditional authority and folk culture.
However, the term does apply to Abrahamic cultures as well. It can mean the actual values that are claimed or perceived to have remained relatively unchanged for centuries, for example the values in the Apostles' Creed, the preservation of the Coptic language in Coptic Christianity, the values in the Hadith, or certain rites in Orthodox Judaism. In Christianity, maintaining tradition is perhaps most valued in the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Christianity, and Oriental Orthodoxy, although within Protestantism the Old Order Amish and some Anglo-Catholics could be deemed to place a strong value on traditional values. Historical research often shows that traditions and immutable values, in fact, change more over time than most adherents recognize.
The term can also refer to an intention to preserve ancient or traditional customs and values against anything deemed "innovation." In Abrahamic religion, Old Believers and traditionalist Catholics can be deemed to be champions of "traditional values." In Zoroastrianism, those who oppose conversion as being against the religious tradition generally deem themselves to be a force for "traditional values." Radical elements of Hindutva are also intent to keep any Christian or other "foreign" religious values from entering their society, although their more modern views on Hindu law might make their relation to traditional values more complex than this implies. There are also Hopi traditionalists who wish to keep Christianity and other "foreign" religions from gaining a foothold amongst their people and who prefer that Native American languages be used instead of English, Spanish, and so forth.
Attempts at creating a kind of universalized "traditional values" has proved generally difficult or even impossible. It is generally fair to say that usually traditional values tend, by definition, toward conservatism and that they often, but not always, accept some form of patriarchy as normative.
The usage of "traditional values" can in some cases imply that said values, in being traditional, are better than values that are non-traditional; but without giving a defense of why they might be better other than an appeal to tradition, which would be a fallacy of logic. However, in other cases "traditional values" can simply imply a matter of identity ("it's who we are") without seeking or addressing any notion of absolute values of "good" or "bad". In this latter case, values are no more a matter for logical defence than are aesthetic judgments or matters of preferred flavours; with the presumption of a necessity for logical defence coming simply from a different bias of value set (one which seeks abstract universal guides that can be applied in a meaningful way by concrete personal beings (humans).
The term "traditional values" can though be an intentional usage of rhetoric in order to get the listener/viewer of the words to believe that a set of values is good because traditional is often perceived in a positive sense by many.