“Everybody Worships”

“Everybody Worships” October 7, 2022

Into the void left by the loss of religion has rushed “wellness,” in which devotees seek “to become a new you” by arduous disciplines of “self-care,” featuring ascetic exercise, dietary laws, and magical medicine.  This new religion is also a big business, but, ultimately, it fails its adherents.

This is the thesis of Rina Raphael’s new book The Gospel of Wellness:  Gyms, Gurus, Goop, and the False Promise of Self-Care.  I haven’t read it, though it sounds good, judging from Meghan Cox Gurdon’s review in the Wall Street Journal.

What struck me is a larger truth that the book raises, expressed in a quotation the author gives from the troubled but brilliant contemporary novelist, the late David Foster Wallace. (See his Wikipedia article and read Infinite Jest to see what I mean.)

There is no such thing as not worshiping. Everybody worships.  The only choice we get is what to worship.  And the compelling reason for choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship is that [. . .] anything else you worship will eat you alive.  If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap the real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. . .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.

(From a 2005 commencement address, published as David Foster Wallace on Life and Work in the Wall Street Journal).

That such worship proves futile and self-defeating calls to mind Francis Thompson‘s poem The Hound of Heaven, about his attempts to run away from God, who nevertheless relentlessly pursues him.  The poem explains why the created world cannot satisfy his spiritual hunger.

I tempted all His servitors, but to find
My own betrayal in their constancy,
In faith to Him their fickleness to me. (lines 34-36)

The creation–nature, the body, pleasures, romantic love, friendship, etc., etc.–remains loyal to its Creator, and so will ultimately refuse to be a god.

That “everybody worships” reminds me of what Luther said in the Large Catechism:

 A god means that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress, so that to have a God is nothing else than to trust and believe Him from the [whole] heart; as I have often said that the confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol. If your faith and trust be right, then is your god also true; and, on the other hand, if your trust be false and wrong, then you have not the true God; for these two belong together, faith and God. That now, I say, upon which you set your heart and put your trust is properly your god. . . .

For no people has ever been so reprobate as not to institute and observe some divine worship; every one has set up as his special god whatever he looked to for blessings, help, and comfort.  (First Commandment,  2-3,17)


Photo:  David Foster Wallace by Steve Rhodes, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

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