The modern world often feels very hollow, flat and dull. But why? We live in an age of riotous color and spectacle, of the greatest material abundance in human history. In our pockets we carry devices capable of bringing us the most beautiful music, the greatest works of literature, and conversations with our loved ones in an instant. And we’re constantly told that we’re at the bleeding edge of history, the most enlightened, most moral, marching on the vanguard of the sweep toward utopia. Why does it all feel so tawdry and false?
Dietrich von Hildebrand suggests that the problem is a lack of reverence, which is, on his account, the foundation of all authentic virtue:
Wherever we look, we see reverence to be the basis and at the same time an essential element of moral life and moral values. Without a fundamental attitude of reverence, no true love, no justice, no kindliness, no self-development, no purity, no truthfulness, are possible; above all, without reverence, the dimension of depth is completely excluded. The irreverent person is himself flat and shallow, for he fails to understand the depth of being, since for him there is no world beyond and above that which is visible palpable. Only to the man possessing reverence does the world of religion open itself; only to him will the world as a whole reveal its meaning and value. So reverence is a basic moral attitude stands at the beginning of all religion. It is the basis for the right attitude of men toward themselves, their neighbors, to every level of being, and above all to God.
Dietrich von Hildebrand, The Art of Living, 8
Without reverence, there is no wonder, no virtue, no depth. We’re flat and empty.
How many people there are who are never lastingly influenced by great works of art, or by delight in beautiful landscapes, or by contact with great personalities. The momentary impression may be strong, but it strikes no deep root in them; it is not firmly held in their superactual life but disappears as soon as another impression makes its appearance. These men are like a sieve through which everything runs. Though they can be good, kindly, and honest, they cleave to a childish, unconscious position; they have no depth. They elude one’s grasp, they are incapable of having deep relationships with other people because they are capable of no permanent relationship with anything. These men do not know responsibility because they know no lasting bond, because with them one day does not reach into the next one. Even though their impressions are strong, they do not penetrate down to the deepest level in which we find those attitudes that are over and above the changes of the moment. These people honestly promise something one moment, and then in the next is has completely disappeared from their memory. They make resolutions under a strong impression, but the next impression blows them away.
The Art of Living, 11
You must defeat this tendency to flatness within your soul, inculcate wonder and reverence. Sit in silence and stare at nature, trees swaying softly in the breeze, the patter of the rain, the never-ending rolling of the waves.