Sunday, February 24, 2013

A real dark emptiness

[David Foster] Wallace explains that he tried to join the Catholic church twice, once in the mid-80s and again in the early-90s. "I've gone through RCIA [Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults] a couple of times, but I always flunk the period of inquiry," he says. "They don't really want inquiries. They really just want you to learn responses." He sounds angry. "I'm a failure -- I couldn't get in.

"My parents are atheists of the 60s brand. You know, religion for them equals central suppression from authority. But their parents -- so my grandparents -- were very, very religious. My grandmother was basically raised in a convent. . . . I think religion kind of skips a generation. Most of my best friends are religious in a way that's cool, where you don't even know it for several years. They're not the type to show up at your door with a pamphlet under their arms.

"You know, I enjoy church and I enjoy being part of a larger thing. I think it's just not in my destiny to be part of an institutional religion, because it's not in my nature to take certain things on faith."

He peers once again at the photographer's dinner. "Could I just have one shrimp?" he asks.

Leaning across the table, he adds softly, "The area around here is dominated by charismatic Protestants. They get very upset with debate and argument, which I really sort of like. With atheists it's fun to say, 'If you presume that religion has no force, not just literal force but sort of moral or metaphorical force -- that none of the point of being here resides in religious stuff -- then what is the point of being here?'

"America is one big experiment in what happens when you're a wealthy, privileged culture that's pretty much lost religion or spirituality as a real informing presence. It's still a verbal presence -- it's part of the etiquette that our leaders use, but it's not inside us anymore, which in one way makes us very liberal and moderate and we're not fanatics and we don't tend to go around blowing things up. But on the other hand, it's very difficult to think that the point of life is to double your salary so that you can go to the mall more often. Even when you're making fun and sneering at it, there's a real dark emptiness about it."


1 comment:

  1. Because here's something else that's 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. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship -- be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible 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 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. On one level, we all know this stuff already -- it's been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness. 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