Reverence: the lost virtue


Over the next few months I will be studying and writing about the concept of virtue.  What virtues are common to man?  Which ones were prevalent in ancient societies?  These are important since ancient societies, such as Greek and Roman, are foundational to the Western society we now live in.  I will further look at how the concept of virtue influenced the founding fathers of the United States.  What did they think about virtue and how did their concept of virtue influence the documents and processes that shaped the forming of America?  I want to also look at how virtue is viewed in modern society, here in the 21st Century.

In my research on virtue, I stumbled across a short little book by Paul Woodruff, Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue (Oxford University Press, 2001).  Thus far this has been a great read.  Most of us negatively associate “reverence” with the practice of religion or spirituality, yet Woodruff astutely expands on this concept.  He categorizes reverence with other noble concepts, such as Truth, Justice, or Courage.  Woodruff proposes that “reverence is the well-developed capacity to have the feeling of awe, respect and shame when these are the right feelings to have”.

Reverence is not as simple as showing respect for God or a Supreme Being, but rather it is a bigger and essential part of the human existence.  Reverence grasps the concept that not everything is known about our world, that there is an order to our world, and that there some things that are bigger than the average, everyday life of the individual.  When one demonstrates reverence, they are awed by the majestic Colorado Rockies, or a sunset over the Santa Barbara coast, or the smile of a new-born baby.

Woodruff claims that modern American society has forgotten what reverence means.  I agree wholeheartedly.  He further explains, “reverence fosters leadership and education … reverence kindles warmth in friendship and family life .  without reverence, things fall apart.  People do not know how to respect each other and themselves.  An army cannot tell the difference between what it is and a gang of bandits.  Without reverence, we cannot explain why we should treat the natural world with respect … To teach reverence, you must find the seeds of reverence in each person and help them grow.”

When we acknowledge a higher power in the world, then we begin to embrace reverence.  When we care for our neighbor as we would care for ourselves, we demonstrate reverence.  Reverence is the starting point to realizing that each human life is endowed with worthy characteristics.  Each life matters.  Reverence is realizing that we part of a 7.5-billion-person family.  We are all traveling this world on the same bus and we really can’t get off the bus alive.  Thus we must care for each other and the bus too (our planet earth).

Woodruff perceptively observes and warns: “

Reverence runs across religions and even outside them through the fabric of any community, however secular… If you desire peace in the world, do not pray that everyone share your beliefs.  Pray instead that all may be reverent.

Reverence is a virtue that in past ages was considered immensely important but has lost its place in modern America.  However, I believe that reverence is something we should not lose, and rather by fostering it in ourselves, in our children, and in our sphere of influence, we can establish a better world.

What do you think?  Is reverence dead in America?  What can you do to instill a sense of reverence in your world?

About John Forrest