Sunday, December 14, 2008

Is irreverence possible anymore?

"Is nothing sacred?"

The phrase is often said jokingly, to express hyperbolic disgust over the transgression of some minor tradition. "Pizza with artichoke on it? Is nothing sacred!?" Really, though, what do we have today that IS considered sacred?

That less and less is actually considered taboo in most Western countries is considered by some to be a good thing. I generally agree - this is almost part and parcel of the freedom of expression. The tearing down of taboos means the opening up of new avenues of social and political discourse. We are free to talk about teen pregnancy, STDs, racism, sexism, and abuse of power by all traditional authority figures. We are free to make asses of ourselves, just as much as people are free to point out how assinine we are.

Shock-value entertainment thrives in this environment. Want to see women fight over a wealthy man? Tune in every Wednesday night at 8. Want to become an overnight celebrity? Write a book insulting a religion. Want to make your movie a box-office hit? Gore and sex are your guarantors, but please, go further than the last movie did.

I don't claim that this is new. For the Romans, watching people kill eachother or be torn apart by lions was also wholesome public entertainment. That said, where in "Western" civilization do we find reverence anymore?

There are some topics that still cannot be mocked or exploited for public entertainment. It's still considered bad taste to make fun of victims of domestic abuse or sexual violence. War veterans and cancer patients are also considered above reproach. This is not reverence, though, this is pity, or in the case of veterans, respect.

As for religion, those doors seem to have been flung wide open. Prophets, scriptures, saints, icons, and the Almighty himself are not spared. To ridicule religion seems so overdone that it is cliché.

Today, irreverence is impossible, because that would imply that there was something we revered.

I am not sure that this is a bad thing. If we are free to criticize, then we don't have to hide the thoughts that we might have been silently concealing, and by expressing them we give ourselves the benefit of hearing the response.

That said, reverence is not just a quality of the revered, it's also an emotion that we feel. I wonder what would happen to a society where no one ever felt it.

Stumble Upon Toolbar

No comments: