“In the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshiping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.” — David Foster Wallace
In his famous commencement speech given at Kenyon College in 2005, David Foster Wallace shared with us a few simple, yet valuable insights that could very well form the foundation of someone’s daily philosophy on life.
Near the end of his speech, however, Wallace makes his most daring claim: we all worship. He talks about money, power, beauty, and intellect as false idols worshiped by our unconscious collective obsession with making sense of what we don’t understand.
In a way, we are all inclined to worship what we can’t quite define.
We don’t understand why someone’s beautiful, or why someone’s amassed incredible wealth. We call those who are intelligent as, gifted.
Who offered them this gift and why?
Worshiping is our way of trying to find order in an inherently chaotic universe.
Belief Is Our Foundation
One of the biggest reasons that we worship things is that we live in a world we don’t fully understand. It’s complex and strange and, as a result, we all feel alone and afraid. That said, in order to survive, we need to be able to come up with a bunch of rules or systems.
But underneath it all, our foundation, our framework, it’s all based on some sort of belief. Without faith, there’s no hope. Without hope, we become helpless in a mostly indifferent universe, a speck of dust in a cold and seemingly infinite universe.
Even people who don’t talk about their object of worship do worship something, and we can deduce that from their the way the act in their day-to-day lives.
The truth is that none of us would be able to survive for very long if we didn’t worship anything.
We Are Here to Understand the Universe
It’s long been my belief that we are the part of the universe trying to understand itself. We are a bit of stardust trying to understand why things are the way they are.
Questions and answers, the stories of why the world is what it is, all of them make up the human mind. We determine what makes sense and what doesn’t because we are willing to ask questions.
The problem, however, is that the more questions we answer, the more questions we seem to come up with. There’s no end to this, and we often give up on trying to understand, and we just want to operate in a less strenuous mental mode.
People begin to worship something the moment they stop asking questions about it. Religion has always tried to offer the ultimate answer, and our quest to define the universe has lead us towards a similar path.
It seems we’re quite incapable of accepting that we just don’t know, and that it doesn’t seem to matter.
The Object of Worship Always Demands a Sacrifice
“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 feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on.” — David Foster Wallace
Worship has always been associated with sacrifice. If we’re not willing to venture into the darkness to find the answers to our questions, the price we must pay for the “bliss” of ignorance is always substantial.
What we don’t understand consumes our lives. What we worship makes us feel unworthy.
The hunger we feel for the object we worship is a way to avoid answering the most difficult of all questions,
Why do you worship it?
Why is money important to you? Why is it important to be beautiful? Why not worship something else?
Faith, no matter the type, is tricky like that. We respond emotionally because on an intellectual level, it rarely makes any sense.
My girlfriend believes beauty to be important. She never feels beautiful. She think about it too much.
I, on the other hand, worship my intellect. I am always on the quest to know more about the world around me. It’s quite addictive.
She wants plastic surgery, I want to read more books.
Which one is more worthy of being worshiped? Both lead to different kinds of suffering, and this is the one aspect of life we often tend to avoid: no matter what path we choose to take, we must suffer.
The trick is to identify what it is that you worship. If you turn the unconscious worship into a conscious decision, it becomes far less important. You might even laugh at yourself a bit.
The side-effects begin to subside.
The ultimate goal of a human being isn’t worship. It’s just to be. To experience the universe, not understand it.
This isn’t ignorance, this is the beginning of wisdom.
Socrates, probably the wisest man to have ever lived, was proud in admitting that he knew nothing.
Life’s kind of mysterious like that. Some questions, most probably, can’t be answered.
We are here because we are here, and it doesn’t matter why.
We are here to live our lives well, not to worship what is always running away from us.
Fame, glory, money, physical beauty, all of them demand that we sacrifice our time, our mental health, and our energy.
But to experience life, to witness the universe in all its magnificent glory, to accept that you are a speck of dust in a seemingly infinity of stardust and darkness, makes life a lot more manageable.
You just have to be.