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DA*DI offers contemporary reports and commentary on culture; its aberrations and its heroes.

Reverence: Annihilating the Nihilist?

Gerald L. Rowles, Ph.D.
November 18, 2002

Reverence: "Honor or respect, felt or shown. The emotion inspired by what arouses one's deep respect or veneration." Revere: "To honor and admire profoundly and respectfully."

Nihilism: "The general rejection of customary beliefs in morality, religion; the doctrine that existing social, political, and economic institutions must be completely destroyed in order to make way for new institutions.( - Webster's)"
Prior to September 11th, the American culture had been held hostage by rampant nihilism. Historical notions of reverence and honor were turned upside down, and all that had been revered was now defiled. The founding fathers were branded as licentious slavemasters. Our national heroes were debased. The family was vilified. Old Glory was suited only for burning and patching torn jeans. Religion was caricatured as fascist. Fatherhood was criminalized. Even God was unwelcome under the "New Moral Order".

In the kind of stunning reversal that sometimes explodes upon human society, and before the end of that fateful September day, reverence was reborn in America. Male heroes were revered. Old Glory once again unfurled its honorable presence on countless edifices. A Crucifix was miraculously revealed in the WTC rubble. Fathers once again were seen as heroes and protectors with the words "Let's Roll". Blood-spilt Patriotism was born anew. And "God Bless" was on reverent lips everywhere.

The Bolshevik media and pols, alarmed by this unseemly reverence, declared that this would be a short-lived phenomenon, and that the patriotic displays heralding respect and veneration for things of tradition would soon give way to our contemporary penchant for nihilism.

Two years later then, what are we to make of this week's "November surprise"? In an announcement more stunning perhaps than the Republicanized election returns, the United States Postal Service affirms that, indeed, "In God We Trust." Yup, the national motto will now be reverentially posted officially in all 38,000 postal facilities across the width and breadth of the nation.

How powerful is that statement? Well, according to the movie Miracle on 34th Street, the USPS can declare that Santa Claus is real. As the 34th Street's young skeptic Susan declared, "Oh mommy I do believe, I do." Well then, USPS acknowledgment of the reality of our trust in God should certainly propel equal or greater belief - at least in Hollywood. Most of us already knew what the USPS just discovered.

Political ethicist J. Budziszewski's (bood ja shef' ski) book The Revenge of Conscience: Politics and the Fall of Man develops the argument that Conscience is as vibrant a part of humanity as any other drive. The key to his argument is that Conscience is not a passive artifact of social learning that can be "weakened by neglect and erased by culture." Instead, as the "old" natural law tradition asserts:
"The problem of moral decline is volitional, not cognitive; it has little to do with knowledge or the lack thereof. By and large we do know right from wrong, but we wish we did not. We only make believe we are searching for truth - so that we can do wrong, condone wrong, or suppress our remorse for having done wrong in the past. ... We do not lack moral knowledge, we hold it down. (p. 25-26)"

Whether you call this emerging moral rebirth one of reverence or conscience may be a matter of your posture toward religion. In either case, as philosophers have endlessly pondered, morality is both a matter of objective (pragmatic) and subjective (faith) social reality. We are social animals. Reverence for life, liberty and justice are compatible both with the natural and supernatural.

Three fundamental motives are involved in reverence/morality: Enlightened self-interest; we obey inconvenient rules because we know that we may suffer if we do not. Respect for rules; we respect rules because we know that society cannot function without them. Respect for others; our obedience and respect for rules is born of empathy, knowing that others may be harmed by our disobedience.

If there truly has been a return to reverence, can matters of conscience, justice, and common sense be far behind - with nihilism receding at every advance?

Here are signs to look for:

  • A newfound reverence for all life. If we do not revere even the origins of life in the uterus, then we are only one rationale away from devaluing life in all stages of its development.

  • A newfound reverence for the Constitution and its writers. There has never been so inspired a set of man-made rules as that which guarantees life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to all mankind. Inherent to these rules were the Ten Commandments, which apart from one's deontological belief system, affirm the three fundamental motives that are the glue that binds human culture.

  • A newfound reverence for the traditional family. "The human baby cannot survive without the help of its parents; and a small human group such as the family needs mutual support. Moreover, everything that we regard as specifically human, as distinguishing us from other animals, depends on the use of language and the transmission of skills ( - Encyclopedia of Philosophy)." And two biological parents serve both the child and each other. They provide mutual support; the assurance that one's loss does not leave the child an orphan; and models for the child in their interaction with both sexes - a microcosm of society itself.

  • A newfound reverence for the human mind. The nihilists have lowered our focus to the genitalia. Perhaps our reverential gains will raise our focus to wonder at the heavens and the eternal ideals of goodness and beauty. We will know this has happened when we rediscover that ideas and mind are eternal, and that our material bodies are mere shadows and dust.

    It is this final thought, ideas and mind are eternal, that is the essence of reverence. Reverence is what will ultimately annihilate the nihilist - whose only true end is mindless, debauched irreverence and destruction.

    Society and culture can only be built and maintained by that which uplifts our minds and our ideals - what arouses deep respect and veneration. We have many examples in our history and traditional institutions to look up to, the United States Postal Service notwithstanding.

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