Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue

Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue

Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue

Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue

Synopsis

An elegant meditation on the forgotten virtue of reverence Reverence is an ancient virtue dating back thousands of years, yet it survives among us only in half-forgotten patterns of behavior and in the vestiges of old ceremonies. This short, elegiac volume makes an impassioned case for the fundamental importance of this forgotten virtue, revealing how awe for things greater than oneself can, and must, be a touchstone for other virtues like respect, humility, and charity. Ranging widely over diverse cultural terrain-from Philip Larkin to ancient Greek poetry, from modern politics to Chinese philosophy-Woodruff shows how absolutely essential reverence is to a well-functioning society. He argues convincingly on how reverence plays an unseen part in virtually every human relationship, whether in government, work, friendship, or family. Elegantly written, thoughtful yet urgent, Reverence is sure to reach out to anyone interested in the moral health of Western culture.

Excerpt

Reverence is an ancient virtue that survives among us in half forgotten patterns of civility, in moments of inarticulate awe, and in nostalgia for the lost ways of traditional cultures. We have the word “reverence” in our language, but we scarcely know how to use it. Right now it has no place in secular discussions of ethics or political theory. Even more surprisingly, reverence is missing from modern discussions of the ancient cultures that prized it.

Reverence begins in a deep understanding of human limitations; from this grows the capacity to be in awe of whatever we believe lies outside our control—God, truth, justice, nature, even death. The capacity for awe, as it grows, brings with it the capacity for respecting fellow human beings, flaws and all. This in turn fosters the ability to be ashamed when we show moral flaws exceeding the normal human allotment. The Greeks before Plato saw reverence as one of the bulwarks of society, and the immediate followers of Confucius in China thought . . .

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