This is a philosophical statement. It is intended to spark thinking and examining.
“Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships.”
That’s quite the provocative line.
If you’re like me, you might have a strong reaction to that assertion by David Foster Wallace. It might be of the “feh, not me, I’m not a follower” variety, or maybe it’s of the “oh no way, I know many who worship less than I,” or somewhere in between. A reaction.
It’s a challenging statement. Often, though, those are the best kind.
“If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. … Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.”
That hit home for me. I do worship, just not in the way I thought.
Worship is one word out of many that we can use to describe those things that we make a part of ourselves and that we elevate to the highest ideals. They are the areas where our attention and efforts are consistently focused towards. Sometimes they’re quite silly. Other times, not. And once we have elevated it/them, once we worship them, once we make them part of our identity, make it part of who we are, we will righteously fight for it.
We aim ourselves that way because we think it will bring us satisfaction.
However, if we make those – power, money, beauty, intellect, being right, smart, funny, etc – our prime modes of worship, then there’s a problem. They are transient, impermanent, randomly distributed, material, and perhaps above all, relative. They are all on shaky ground. They can crumble instantly. They will crumble over time. And if we hook ourselves to that, then we’re ripe for anguish as they crumble.
“But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.”
Reflecting on ourselves can often bring up the most shocking realizations. There can be quite the difference between who we say we are and what we value versus what our actions and behaviour, in reality, demonstrates who we actually are being and what we worship. Those areas where we don’t have peace of mind… maybe we’re inadvertently worshiping something.
Sometimes things are well hidden from our view, but at least here we can look at our actions as the clue. And even better, we can ask a trusted friend to be our mirror. And see.
“There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.”
We’re never stuck with what we worship. We can see, we can observe, and we can choose. We can choose to be that which brings us and those around us the most fulfillment, empowerment, love, and peace of mind.
* This is from Wallace’s famous “This is Water” commencement address. I’ve shuffled the order of the quotes around a bit from the original. Here’s the entire speech: