Our contemporary debate about expressions of reverence may not be a question of interchangeable external gestures between different “styles” of music and expression. It may be because, as secular writer John McWhorter suggests, our entire culture is discarding the formal for the colloquial, the reverent for the casual. We’ve become, as a people, irreverent.
Resolving the debate over expressions of reverence is difficult. More than one reason could account for a clash in expressions of reverence between ethnicities, or even between generations of people belonging to the same ethnicity or culture.
First, there can simply be ethnolinguistic differences. Gestures, like words, function as signs and symbols of deeper realities. Different words that point to the same reality are not contradictory. They merely require translation. One culture might see standing as respectful, while the other sees remaining seated as respectful. While it is impossible to do both at the same time, translation would enable the two cultures to see that respect was the goal of the differing gestures. This difference in expression for the same meaning is not fundamentally problematic for reverence. The next two reasons, however, are.
Second, there can ignorance over meaning. Children are often rude, not out of a desire to offend, but because of ignorance of the forms and conventions that characterise polite company. This ignorance often continues in adults and their sub-cultures, who grow older in total ignorance of the meaning of respect, reverence, and of the forms that express it. This ignorance does not constitute total innocence on their part, for the pursuit of knowledge, wisdom, and self-understanding is an obligation laid upon every thinking man.
Imagine, for a moment, a biker gang that greets one another with an obscene hand gesture. They understand the offensiveness of the gesture in biker sub-culture, and delight in the very coarseness of making an insult into a greeting. By some strange machination of pop culture and mass media, this greeting finds its way into mainstream life, and after a few years, polite adults are now using this hand gesture to greet one another. Question: are the polite adults guilty of disrespect and coarseness? The answer is that they are, and they do not realise it. Their ignorance of the meaning of the gesture does not change its meaning; it only makes them foolish for adopting what they do not understand. This is true of musical forms, poetic forms, word connotations, slang, dress, body piercings or markings, hair, tone of voice and many other media of meaning. Now, it may be true that after many decades of use, the gesture is so widespread that its original obscene meaning fades altogether (assuming there was nothing obviously and intrinsically obscene in it). At this point, the culpability for using what was originally rude is no longer present. Except where the meaning is intrinsic, meaning does change with time.