Worship what is important

I recently had an opportunity to read through a speech by the dearly departed David Foster Wallace called “This is Water.” It’s a commencement speech, delivered at an American university some years ago.

The speech is a brief testament to Wallace’s brilliance as a writer; it’s unsullied by the sort of things that are de rigueur in commencement addresses: the clichés, optimistic bromides and all that “you are the future” rhetoric.

There’s much to admire in the speech, but one point especially stood out to me.
Wallace, not known to be a particularly zealous theist, writes: “In the day to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism.”

I heartily concur, and I’d go so far as to say the same thing is true here at Laurier.
I’ve been struck by the palpable lack of unbelief on campus.

That’s not to say that there aren’t a whole host of people here who’d assent to the proposition that “God does not exist.”

I’ve heard there’s even a club for folks like that.

The point of Wallace’s assertion is this: everyone worships. Everybody worships something, even if they affirm God’s nonexistence.

This isn’t a novel concept; it was either Saint Augustine or Bob Dylan who voiced something similar when he sang, “You gotta serve somebody.”

We all worship because we all love – and we tend to exalt the things we love. And by love, I mean an ultimate love – what we consider to be the most worthy of our love – the vision of the good life, of what it means to be in the world.

We all have an ultimate concern, an idea, a world view, a possession or a person that we exalt and place at the head of our existential table, and live accordingly.

This tendency to worship and to exalt is evidence that all humans live a life that is, broadly speaking, religious.

Worship is not just the territory of the Christians or Muslims, etc., or the folks who are “spiritual but not religious.”

Even self-styled “freethinkers” are worshippers, exalting the (specious) idea that the human intellect can stand at a rational and objective distance, unmoored from and unswayed by all ideologies and superstitions.

There’s a poem in the Old Testament that states how humans tend to take on the character of the things they worship.

It’s actually a riposte to idol worshippers, mocking those who worship stone statues, saying that they’ll become just like them: blind, mute and a waste of space.

Even though we’ve mostly done away with the gods and idols of old, this poet is on to something, and his words ring true today.

Consider the sorts of things we worship in our culture.

Some of us worship capitalism and money, the ineluctable movement of the free market.

But this only leaves us easily lost and squandered, like a pocketful of change.

In a consumerist culture, it’s easy to worship materialism by disposing our income at the mall or the bar.

More of us make pilgrimages to Vegas than to Jerusalem or Mecca. But ultimately, we’re left suffering the pain of overindulgence, jonesing for the next fix or indentured to our debt.

Some of us worship ourselves, our importance, our individual liberty to live however we please.

But doing so ushers in the loneliness of megalomania: insecurity, individualism, delusions of grandeur, the exertion required to forget that in many ways, we are frail and fragile creatures.

Worshipping can be a dicey business. That leads me to think that we ought to be incredibly mindful of the sorts of things we worship.

Life on campus puts us in a competing marketplace of things to worship – great ideas, great thinkers, great books, smart and intelligent people.

There’s an abundance of evangelists, preachers, prophets, hucksters and carnival barkers, all looking for converts.

Part of me wants to say that now’s a great time to choose what you’re going to worship, but I think that’s way too simple (and beholden to a consumerist mindset that thinks life is all something we get to “choose”).

We are already worshippers, and the objects of our worship don’t yield easily.

Our love for them gives them a strong claim on us. Maybe the best question to ask right now is: “That thing that I worship – is it worth it?”