Last week, I discussed the original meaning of profane, from the Latin pro-fanus, meaning “in front of the temple”—which indicates that which is not sacred. Rather than indecency, it originally meant that which is ordinary and common. But all people have a sense of a certain decorum that must be present in certain situations. Obviously, we may disagree what those situations might be, but there are some places and times that demand it nonetheless.
The reason for (or meaning of) these rules of conduct is based in a sense of respect. As I asked last week, respect for what?
Joseph Pieper, as usual, has done some careful thinking on this:
“A place of worship usually demand silence; at any rate, uncontrolled shouting and laughter are frowned upon. At the entrance to St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice, tourists who are clad too scantily are turned back. In such places, the paraphernalia of public curiosity as well are usually eyed with suspicion. In many Christian churches, at least during services, taking pictures is not allowed; the same is true of orthodox Hinduism. The Pueblo Indians of New Mexico even resent any camera-equipped visitor who dares so much as to approach the entrance of their underground ceremonial chamber.
“Should the stranger, the outsider, the uninitiated inquire as to the meaning of these rules of conduct, which may appear to him unreasonable and often quite cumbersome, he would be given answers that in spite of all variety in specific instances always agree on this: the reason is to show reverence and respect. Respect for what?”
And thus we’ve arrived at the crucial question: respect for what? Since Pieper has thought about this far more than me, I’ll continue with his thoughts:
“Respect for what? For something that at any rate requires and deserves homage and reverence. Should he persist in asking what concrete and specific reality there be that deserves such reverence, then, presumably, the answers [among the many different groups above] would no longer converge. But they would still unanimously inform the questioner about something that is (or should be) “sacred” to man, be it specified as the “majesty of death”, the dignity of the fatherland, the honor of fallen heroes, or directly as the tangible expression of something divine, if not of God himself.
“All such answers would indeed flow from the common basic conviction that within the world’s total framework of space and time, accessible to man, there do exist specific exceptional and separated spaces and times, distinct from the ordinary, and therefore possessing a special and unique dignity.”
So what are those spaces and times for you? And how do you express that reverence?