Reverence is the belief in something better than us, in something that fills us with awe. For many, its God who deserves our reverence. For others, Its the nation that deserves reverence; and chances are, believers in the need for reverence esteem both God and country as being of the highest worth.
Theres no better indication of what we value than considering what we esteem above all things. We fetishize ideas, endowing them with a mytique and an innate worth sufficient to make those ideas seem real. The idea of the state is one such idea. We value it for its strength and power because strength and power are qualities we admire; and yet we distrust the state for being so powerful. The most reverential among us, however, believe that such power deserves the utmost respect and even sacrifice. What better way to give life meaning than by offering it in the service of a country or a grand political cause?
God, as we understand God today, is also an idea. Let it not be said, however, that the Church That Is No Church dismisses the belief in God. This couldnt be further from the truth. Nonetheless, God is usually not worshipped for what he or she is, but, rather, as an idea of a powerful almighty entity, creator and destroyer, judge and friend. People revere God not for having met God or from having known God but because of our tendency to fear the unknown. And when thoughts turn to the unknown, the idea of God doesnt always give us comfort, throwing us, instead, into fear and trembling of all the things we cant control.
In short, we revere that which we fear; as if only fearful things deserve reverence. Yet its through reverence that we hope to placate the things we fear. We fear the power of God and state to destroy us, and we throw ourselves at the mercy of such ideas.
Fortunately, ideas alone can never kill us. Our lives are only at the mercy of those who believe in those ideas and refuse to compromise them; those who take lives so that the ideas may thrive. In this way, the ideas diminish the worth of humans whose lives must be sacrificed to keep the ideas fresh and alive.
Its akin to the human sacrifices of an ancient age, when the brilliance of the sun depended on the ready flow of human blood. In those days, humans had much to fear from an untamed world and an even more untamed populace. What they shouldnt have feared was the idea that their lives were as nothing compared to the angry, unforgiving gods up above.
Reverence means worship but it also means that ideas take precedence over human beings. Its the purest folly from which come wars over those ideas, lives sacrificed so that one country might hold sway over others and one God lord it over the others. Furthermore, only one mode of reverence may prevail, every other mode of worship less worthy of that which must be feared.
The idea of reverence, then, is the natural consequence of the instinct of fear. It doesnt allay those fears. It merely keeps them in check, much as reverence is designed to restrain God and country. Its an understanding that if the people hold God and country in awe, and remain willing to sacrifice all, that God and country will seek no punishment.
from eliminating our fears, reverence gives us more to fear: namely the power
of Church and state. However, we dont fear everything we revere since not all
object of reverence are powerful. Some objects are merely famous, like
Humanity doesnt make us reverential. Its the idea that something exceeds our humanity; something capable of destroying us unless we surrender our respect and praise. What we should revere, however, is the possibility that we can exceed ourselves. And by praising our own innate abilities, we can have reverence without the need for fear. Nothing exceeds ourselves but for the notion that something must be better than us, something that keeps us from measuring up, something that renders us perpetually unworthy of the better things we know we deserve.
The consequence of fear and reverence, however, is obedience. As self-interested humans, obedience isnt a trait that comes naturally to us. It takes effort and it takes something powerful enough to inspire that effort. Obedience keeps us safe when worse consequences are sure to follow from following our instincts, our hearts and our minds. Obedience, then, is a means to an end and that end is survival, disobedience dooming us either to eternal damnation or, at the very least, to a lifetime incarceration.
The more we fear the entities that exceed us, the more we turn to obedience as the means to survive those entities. Of course, obedience also goes beyond fear to a reasoned acceptance that without laws there would be chaos; and so we follow rules in the hope that others do the same. The rules, after all, are designed to streamline human society to the benefit of all. As previously discussed, not all people benefit equally. All the same, reasoned acceptance is still, for most of us, a more rational alternative to willful refusal.
To the extent that obedience comes of reasoned acceptance, it removes itself from fear; not entirely, of course, but enough that people begin to question the ideas that restrain them, pushing the bounds of whats acceptable and demanding more value as human beings. Reasoned acceptance isnt the goal, but it is at least the path to a future that will no longer have need for fearful ideas.
The only purpose of fearful ideas is to control a potentially unruly populace. The more elites fear others, the more those fearful ideas are used to maintain the upper hand. And as long as fearful ideas remain useful to some, they will never be superseded by human traits. Besides, fearful ideas inspire results like no other. What other ideas, apart from God and country, are likely to justify human sacrifice in times of war? Few ideals have the same capacity to group people together in a common and risky undertaking. Its the power of ideals that exceed human worth.
By aligning ourselves with God, country and even political party, reverence permits us to exceed ourselves. However, we identify ourselves snot by self-definition but by external means; and those external means limit us to preapproved patterns of behavior which must be directed from above. We can no longer author our own actions which are informed by others in the interest of the group.
When humans lived a more tribal existence, they feared the natural world, and with good reason. As mastery of tools and weaponry eroded those fears, self-empowerment made individuals more dangerous than the environment. New fears had to be invented to maintain the sense of community and to secure the power of communal leaders. With fear came gods powerful enough to allay that fear, thereby empowering communal leadership which served as the link between the human and the divine. Soon enough, the leadership allied itself more with divinity than with the members of the community, creating a state that required as much reverence as any god. Gods became more fearful as did the humans who represented those Gods: state and organized religion both. As many gods became one God, the fears were never overcome, not when people adopted forms of power to represent the things they feared. For years kings and popes held sway over people by demanding reverence to all forms of power, temporal and spiritual.
By now, people dont fear the divine as they once did; and yet, they still fear the consequences of disobedience to other forms of authority. And as long as we believe that those in power know best, we will defer to that authority without question, venerating that which may be more deserving of contempt.
Were told the state exists for our own good, and that it protects us from harm. In truth, the state is designed to protect those who have something to lose from those with little to lose. And the reason that there is such a vast difference between the two is because only some see through the illusion of power long enough to know that the illusion must be maintained and enforced. Fortunately for those in power, many people are reverential by nature, too in awe of authority to question it.
Obedience alone is just obedience. Coupled with reverence it becomes loyalty and respect. It becomes proper behavior in a society that requires codes of behavior to maintain itself. But its those codes of behavior that also secure the power of the elite at the expense of those too reverential to realize that its just obedience, and obedience surrenders without getting anything equal in return.
Far from encouraging the displacement of the current power structure, the Church That Is No Church is still calling for an examination of what holds society together. Only be exceeding reverence will we realize that it serves us no purpose. Only by relating to those in power as equals in power will we have the opportunity to take full responsibility for our lives.
As it is, we choose to live passively, leaving the most important decision to others and relying on others to act in our best interests. But theres no assurance that others will always act in our best interests. Chances are, they wont; and when they dont, it will be said that the best interests of all take precedence over the interests of the few. Although the few are advancing self-interest at a prodigious rate and will continue to do so if most people let them.
Like the wizard behind the curtain, the fearful image of the state assures reverence. But its a misleading image, one that aggrandizes an idea to the peril of the humans involved. Only obedience may hope to quall the anger of the almighty. And yet the anger of the almighty will always require obedience.
Its those who choose to maintain this venerable illusion who also fear what might happen when the illusion is discarded. Anarchy will ensue, its said, and those in power will be no safer than those without power. For those viewing the illusion, theres nothing to fear. Only those who benefit from obedience have something to fear from losing it.
For those who speak of reverence and freedom, there can be no reconciling the two. Reverence implicitly disavows freedom in favor of loyalty and awe. Freedom, on the other and, empowers by endowing individuals with the ability to direct their own fates. Freedom never benefits from reverence since reverence inhibits self-empowerment, giving deference instead to the power of others.
Freedom is active engagement and reverence is passive acceptance. Freedom is responsibility and reverence is leaving difficult decisions to others. Freedom is taking bold steps forward and reverence is refusing to surrender the past, fear and all. Freedom is what gives a human being value and reverence is what takes it away.
There is only one way forward and reverence will only keep our gaze turned to the past. Seeing only the past, we wont know what else to do but repeat the past. Looking forward, on the other hand, is frightening because theres nothing there, not yet anyway.
The past, at least, offers the comfort of a familiar world that could be survived with the proper reverence or what could hurt us; comforting, to be sure, but the same as before. And the price of comfort is restriction, mistrust and diminished value.
The way forward may be empty but its for us to decide how to give expression to it. And we can stretch the future as much as we want to accommodate our self of self-worth. Nothing will contain it but for our belief that were unworthy and must revere the right ideas to become worthy.
Yet theres no reason we cant measure up to the ideals that inspire us. Viewed as an ideal, God is a noble one indeed, provided we strive to improve upon ourselves rather than suffering our inferiority. If God provides for the betterment of mankind, then mankind should seek that God. If God, however, expects us to forever answer for our failures, then God cannot help us improve. Belief in the divine should inspire, after all, not to convince us were inadequate and incapable of great good.
Freedom promises a better tomorrow by holding us to higher standards; and more is expected because were free to do more. Were not held to outmoded standards nor are we faulted for not being more perfect; rather, were engaged in the process of self-perfection which requires the reworking of standards designed to make progress possible.
Freedom requires us to be rational and independent, thinking for ourselves so that others wont offer to do that for us; and theres a price to pay for leaving such thinking to others, and that price is reverence for those who claim to act on our behalf. It means reverence for the state and God and for those who speak on behalf of the state and God.
As long as reverence values other people and things at the expense of self-worth, it will only hold us back. Only with sufficient self-worth can we make proper and responsible use of freedom, and only with freedom can we achieve the better world we believe we deserve. We must first believe we deserve better and, as designers of our future and our fate, theres no reason we cant.