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Patrick O’Shea: Tradition and the Lindy Effect

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The tradition of praying at set times each day is certainly Lindy—we’ll do it for as long as anyone has the urge to pray.. Photo: Thérèse West by Unsplash
The tradition of praying at set times each day is certainly Lindy—we’ll do it for as long as anyone has the urge to pray.. Photo: Thérèse West by Unsplash

Beer, bread, the wheel, prayer, the pub schnitzel–all have been around for a long time and will more-than-likely be around for a long time to come. Economists call this the “Lindy effect,” the idea that to test whether something is likely to persist into the future, we should look at how long we’ve been doing it already.

Social media, plastic and electric cars are all popular, but are they “Lindy?” (The name comes from Lindy’s, a New York deli, where comedians got together to predict who in their scene had staying power, and who didn’t.) Not yet; only time will tell.

How about the church and her sacraments? They’ll last until the end of time: they were divinely instituted as “Lindy.” But what about other traditions in the church?

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Prayer beads have been a part of many creeds for thousands of years. Even before Our Lady gave St Dominic the rosary in 1214, the process of praying along a series of beads on a piece of string was commonplace.

It was fair to assume, even at the outset of the rosary, that it would become Lindy, which it did. We even continue this practice for the divine mercy chaplet. Prayer beads, the rosary, the chaplet: these aren’t fads; they’re Lindy.

Daily calls to prayer at numerous times are also Lindy. Jews, Muslims, even Christians have structured times for their daily prayers.

The Old and New Testaments are full of examples of Jews and Christians gathering at the third, sixth, and ninth hours for communal prayer.

While the Muslims are perhaps more famous for their five calls to prayer, Christians gather for the seven Liturgy of the Hours, or the Divine Office.

The tradition of praying at set times each day is certainly Lindy—we’ll do it for as long as anyone has the urge to pray.

The point to this is that we should prefer what’s time-tested over what’s new; the rosary has been around officially for 800 years, and is likely to last at least another 800 (and that’s not taking into account divine inspiration).

But what does that mean for recent trends? How do we determine if they’re Lindy?

The easy answer is that you don’t. The generation that enjoys the newest “thing”, be it AI or TikTok, can only guess as to how long they’ll be around for.

We can’t label them Lindy. Not yet. So we shouldn’t trust these things over and above what’s been tested over centuries.

My condolences, then, to change-makers in the church: time isn’t on the side of novelties. Not yet anyway—by definition, it can’t be.

On the other hand, it speaks volumes to the vigour of those resurging traditions often palmed off as reactionary, trendy, or rigid.

The recent uptake of young people participating in the Latin Mass, demanding more of their priests, and desiring chaste relationships following the cultural minefield of the last 60 years, shows just how Lindy these things are.

I’ve even seen women attending the Novus Ordo wearing mantillas; what strange times we live in.

Practises that are Lindy don’t just go away. They have a unique character about them that entices the mind and embraces the heart.

They’re perennial; this is why we have a traditional resurgence in the young today.

Our young, yearning hearts are burning for a future we long to see and we see it through the practises that have persisted and will continue to persist.

The traditions of the church speak to this longing for connection, stability, and certainty.

If in a few centuries Catholics are praying litanies generated by AI, then maybe it will have passed the Lindy test. Maybe AI will be around for a few hundred years more. But I’ll stick with the rosary—eight centuries of Catholics can’t be wrong.

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