In her short story, “Time Capsule Found on the Dead Planet,” Margaret Atwood makes an analogy that really struck me. She compares our modern reverence towards money to the way Ancient civilizations revered the gods. Both entities have been carved out of shining metals and provide intangible forms of power “as if by magic” as Atwood explains. Taking this a step further, our contemporary fascination with money is staggering. Our treasury and federal reserve are like temples and its workers are like clergymen who dictate the use and flow of money.
The question has to be raised: how did humanity arrive here? At what point did belief turn into greed? There is likely no single answer; nevertheless, broad speculations may point in the right direction. For instance, by asking why money is revered in today’s society, we can infer the answer is related to value. The value of money is what provides it with the power to turn paper into comfort, excess, and luxury. Similarly, this is what the gods could provide to the Ancient civilizations. Citizens believed the gods provided them with water, warmth, and anything else of value to their lives. For these reasons, Atwood hit this analogy right on the mark.
With value being the common link between the gods and money, we can start to see the origins of the transition from religious society to the modern monetary-based society. Assuming that it is instinctive in human nature to chase value, there must have been a time when the amount of money you had became more valuable than your beliefs. This is a really powerful notion that many people would probably like to think does not apply to them. However, our neoliberalist society, increasing financialization of almost every institution, and commercialization of most resources are all signs that money may already be the dominating force of modern society.
So when did money outpace religion? It is likely impossible to say as a number of confounding factors would lead to this drastic movement. Perhaps it is associated with the Industrial Revolution and the subsequent commercialization of goods. Additionally, it could be associated with scientific advancements that offered explanations for how the world works, thus decreasing the value of the gods. Whatever the answer may be, it is important to study because this chase for more value is shaping our perceptions of what is important and leaving environmental degradation as an afterthought.