Taylor: The world’s greatest religion

…religions…refer to belief in some kind of controlling power…author Harari describes [one belief as]…“the greatest conqueror in history.”

The world’s dominant religion is not belief in Jesus, with some 2.3 billion adherents. Nor is it belief in Mohammed, with about 1.5 billion. It is belief in money—and it counts 7.3 billion people as its disciples.

Wait a minute, you’re saying, money isn’t a religion.

Look up definitions of religion. They will all refer to belief in some kind of controlling power and to a set of commonly agreed upon convictions which affect the worshippers’ conduct and behaviour.

Fits money, doesn’t it?

In his massive overview of human existence, Sapiens author Yuval Noah Harari describes money as “the greatest conqueror in history.”

“Money,” Harari goes on, “is the only trust system created by humans that can bridge almost any cultural gap and that does not discriminate on the basis of religion, gender, race, age or sexual orientation.”

We don’t know who first introduced money as a vehicle for exchanging goods and services. We do know that there is no nation on Earth today that doesn’t use money. Even those that despise free-market economics happily use capitalist currency.

Yet money doesn’t actually exist. “Money is not coins and banknotes,” says Harari. “Cowry shells and dollars have value only in our common imagination. Their worth is not inherent in the chemical structure of the shells and paper, or their colour, or their shape. In other words, money isn’t a material reality—it is a psychological construct.”

He’s right. I rarely pay cash anymore. For anything. Most often, I use a little plastic card. I pay bills from my computer. I transfer money by e-mail. Even a cheque is not money; it’s merely an assurance that someone’s account has enough imaginary money in it to cover its face value.

You don’t even need real cheques now. You can deposit digital photos of cheques.

Money works only because we agree to treat it as if it were real.

Harari calls money a system of trust. I think the whole system is based on faith.

Some people disdain religion because it deals with convictions that cannot be empirically rested and verified. Exactly the same can be said of money.

Nations worship their Gross Domestic Product, the calculated total value of their goods, services and assets. When the GDP rises, we sing hallelujahs; when it declines, we panic about recession.

Only tiny Bhutan, sealed among the peaks of the Himalayas, with a population roughly matching Winnipeg’s, rejects the GDP. In 1972, it declared its own Gross National Happiness Index. Which is mostly subjective.

We don’t really know how to measure value—except through money.

How do you measure the value of clean water? The euphoria of falling in love? The exhilaration of sliding down a mountain on skis? The satisfaction of a stimulating conversation?

Oh, sure, we know how to measure the negative side. The cost of falling out of love, of going through a bitter divorce. The price of purifying water, of cleaning up toxic spills. The cost of lift tickets, or of teachers’ salaries.

But we have no objective way of assigning a value to the cleanness of a lake or river. To a goodnight kiss. To an unexpected insight. To a moment of sheer delight.

As the ads say, such things are priceless.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A local aerial photographer's drone was stolen from his car Feb. 24. (Kyle Froud photo)
New Vernon business deflated by thieves

Aerial photographer’s drone stolen from car overnight

While the Okanagan Rail Trail remained open, Coldstream parks have been closed for a month now, but could re-open mid-May. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Funds link Okanagan Rail Trail to Predator Ridge

1.3-km section of multi-use trail with a safe crossing under Highway 97

Vernon Fire Rescue Services, BC Ambulance and Vernon North Okanagan RCMP responded to a three-vehicle collision at 32nd Street and 41st Avenue Friday, Feb. 26, 2021. (Google Maps)
Three vehicles collide on main Vernon road

Extent of injuries unknown at this time; police, ambulance and fire on scene

Several road closures were in effect Jan. 13 due to downed trees, but meanwhile many residents are hoping Lake Country will invest in fixing damaged roads in 2021. (District of Lake Country photo)
Road safety puts Lake Country traffic plans in drive

District funds traffic calming program, and community grant

One person was extricated from a vehicle that rolled off Highway 97 Feb. 25, 2021, near Clerke Road in Coldstream around 2 p.m. (Roger Knox - Vernon Morning Star)
Two hurt in Highway 97 rollover south of Vernon

Ambulance transfers two patients with non-life-threatening injuries

Site C will go ahead, one year later and $5.3 billion more, the NDP announced Feb 26. (BC Hydro image)
B.C. to go ahead with Site C dam, with new $16B budget and delayed to 2025

Reviews recommend more oversight, beefed up foundation stability work

The Canada Revenue Agency says there were 32 tax fraud convictions across the country between April 2019 and March 2020. (Pixabay)
Vancouver man sentenced to 29 months, fined $645K for tax evasion, forgery

Michael Sholz reportedly forged documents to support ineligible tax credits linked to homeownership

Then-Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson looks on as MLA Shirley Bond answers questions during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria. (Chad Hipolito / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
B.C. Liberal party to choose next leader in February 2022

Candidates have until Nov. 30 to declare whether they are running

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

NorKam secondary student Karis Wilson in the outfit that got her sent home from school on Feb. 23, 2021
Kamloops-Thompson school district drafts new dress code policy after students sent home

The new policy is being created after a NorKam secondary student was sent home because of what she was wearing

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

After nearly 10 months of investigations, Mounties have made an arrest in the tripping of an elderly woman in Burnaby this past April. (RCMP handout)
VIDEO: Mounties charge suspect for tripping elderly woman near Metrotown in April

32-year-old Hayun Song is accused of causing bodily harm to an 84-year-old using her walker

A local aerial photographer's drone was stolen from his car Feb. 24. (Kyle Froud photo)
New North Okanagan business deflated by thieves

Aerial photographer’s drone stolen from car overnight

British Columbia provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry arrives to view the Murals of Gratitude exhibition in Vancouver, on Friday, July 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Death threats mount against Dr. Bonnie Henry, sparking condemnation from Horgan, Dix

Henry has become a staple on televisions in homes across British Columbia since January 2020

Most Read