What do we worship?

David Foster Wallace (1962-2008) was an American writer with a gift for acute perception and articulation. The quote below comes from a graduation address he gave in 2005, and touches on some of the themes we’ve been discussing, though from a different angle.

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. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it JC or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. 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 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 grieve 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.

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. They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing. And the so-called “real world” will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self… The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day. That is real freedom…The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the “rat race” — the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.
David Foster Wallace, from his Kenyon College Commencement Address – May 21, 2005 (edited by David R. Loy and published in “The World is Made of Stories”)
Full text here: http://faculty.winthrop.edu/martinme/Thisiswater.htm

Although Mr. Wallace’s voice may seem a bit rough to some, he points to an important truth: we set our direction in life by consciously setting our goals. Worldly goals and personal goals are not separate, but are two sides of one coin. Since this direction-setting (and monitoring) process is so important, it’s worth spending time considering the possibilities, discussing them with others, and choosing with care. What are the forces that move us? Have we chosen them or do they seem to come from nowhere? What is it we’re really after?

About lynnjkelly

Australian/American. Practicing Buddhist.
This entry was posted in Compassion. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to What do we worship?

  1. Frank Parisi says:

    Very insightful article.
    We don’t know what we are really after because we don’t know why we are here in the first place.
    All we can do is be kind to one another and try to leave the world a better place than how we found it for the next generations.

  2. keri wassenaar says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed the full text of Mr’Wallace’s speech, thank you Lynn for making us aware of it’s existence. As for the last line in your post ‘What is it we’re really after?’……. a very BIG question for me…….It will need some thought and I’m very curious what I will come up with. Might be an idea to ask myself that daily and write it down, then in a years time peruse the answers and see where I am….assuming of course I am still alive in a years time.
    Thank you Lynn for your continued posting.

  3. bobgriffith says:

    Hello. I’ve been following your blog for awhile and have enjoyed receiving the latest posts in my mail box. This post serendipitously (or maybe not? 😉 ) meshes with recent thoughts posted at my blog, The Cascadian Wanderer. If you are interested the posts are at the following locations:

    Keep up the good work! Take care, and Namaste’, Bob

  4. Deborah Blank says:

    Truly some profound thoughts here! Thanks!

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