A Meditation on the Worship of Gold

Biblical prophet Daniel stands in defiance before the golden statue of Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar while the Babylonians bow in worship (see Daniel, Chapter 3)

Since the beginning of recorded history, mankind has worshipped the metallic commodity known, colloquially, as “gold.” All other religions fade in comparison with the worship of gold. We create idols out of gold – most famously, the golden calf created by the Israelites who dissented with Moses following their exodus from Egypt, and who were severely chastised for their act of rebellion (see Exodus, Chapter 32). We construct elaborate mythologies based on gold – sometimes involving gold-mining extra-terrestrials, as seen in the creation myths of the Sumerians and Babylonians. We base entire economies and monetary standards on gold. We characterize our standards of excellence, metaphorically, as “gold standards” and we lavish our icons of extreme wealth with golden trappings.

Rebellious Israelites worhip the golden calf after the Exodus from Egypt

When Columbus landed in the New World, it is said (anecdotally), that the first priority that obsessed him was to scour the land for gold. The Spanish conquistadors in South America were predominantly motivated by the hunt for Inca gold. The mass migration of more than 300,00 fortune-seekers to California in the mid-nineteenth century was instigated by the gold rush.

Golden statuettes representing the ancient Sun-Bull cult

And yet, gold has no intrinsic value, per se, other than its bright, shiny color and its relative scarcity, and the fact that its value remains relatively stable over time. In the vein of an Einsteinian “thought experiment,” however, let us consider what might happen if the value of gold suddenly crashed.

The idea that the value of gold might, one day, suddenly collapse is not entirely fictional or fantastical. In relative proximity to the earth’s orbit, there are asteroids floating about in space containing more than enough gold and silver ore in them to permanently crash the value of precious metals on earth. Even as we speak, there are startup companies around the world that are making serious plans to explore deep space, beyond the orbit of the moon, and one of the primary ambitions and motivating factors of these space-faring enterprises, launched by Elon Musk, Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos and others, is to harness and mine these floating gold and silver mines.

Main nave of the Church of the Society of Jesus (La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús), a Jesuit church in Quito, Ecuador.

But have we seriously considered what such an enterprise, were it successful, would do to human society on earth? What would the collapse in the value of gold mean to centuries, even millenia, of religion, mythology and iconography, all constructed around the value of gold?

Author and scientific visionary Peter Diamandis, in his seminal book Abundance: The Future is Better than you Think, relates, in the first chapter, the fascinating history of another element – the metal aluminum.

He recounts the story of the initial discovery of the remarkable element, described as “a new metal, very light, shiny, almost as bright as silver” (Diamandis, Peter H., and Steven Kotler.  Abundance: the Future Is Better than You Think. Simon & Schuster, 2015., p.3). The metal was, apparently, extracted from clay, using a secret process, by an enterprising goldsmith, during the reign of the Roman emperor Tiberius (contemporary to the life of Jesus Christ).

However, the goldsmith was rewarded for his pains by being beheaded by the ruthless monarch. Diamandis notes:

This shiny new metal was aluminum, and that beheading marked its loss to the world for nearly two millennia. It next reappeared during the early 1800s but was still rare enough to be considered the most valuable metal in the world. Napoléon III himself threw a banquet for the King of Siam where the honored guests were given aluminum utensils, while the others had to make do with gold.

(Ibid., p.3)
The capstone of the Washington Monument, in Washington, D.C. is made of aluminum, once considered to be rarer and more precious than gold!

As recently as the early 19th century, therefore, aluminum was considered to be more precious, even, than gold! Diamandis continues:

While bauxite is 52 percent aluminum, separating out the pure metal ore was a complex and difficult task. … In 1854 Henri Sainte-Claire Deville created the first commercial process for extraction, driving down the price by 90 percent. Yet the metal was still costly and in short supply.

It was the creation of a new breakthrough technology known as electrolysis, discovered independently and almost simultaneously in 1886 by American chemist Charles Martin Hall and Frenchman Paul Héroult, that changed everything. The Hall-Héroult process, as it is now known, uses electricity to liberate aluminum from bauxite. Suddenly everyone on the planet had access to ridiculous amounts of cheap, light, pliable metal.

(Ibid., pp.3-4)

For Diamandis, there is a generic lesson to be learned from the story of aluminum:

History’s littered with tales of once-rare resources made plentiful by innovation. The reason is pretty straightforward: scarcity is often contextual. … Technology is a resource-liberating mechanism. It can make the once scarce into the now abundant.

(Ibid., p.4)

Aluminum products are now widely used as kitchen utensils, cooking foil, etc.

From the perspective of the thesis of this meditation, however, the story of aluminum represents a cautionary tale – the parable of a once-precious metal, regarded not so long ago as even more valuable than gold, but which is now “cheap, ubiquitous, and used with a throwaway mind-set” (Ibid., p.3) thanks to a series of technological innovations in the latter half of the nineteenth century!

Can we, nevertheless, even begin to fathom how disruptive it would be to human society if the value of gold suddenly crashed, as a result of technological developments, such as those described above? The difference between aluminum and gold is stark – while aluminum may once have been more valuable than gold, gold has had a deep iconic status in human culture for millennia – going back to the beginnings of recorded history, in fact – a status that aluminum simply never had. Thus, a collapse in the value of gold, or even silver, would not simply be hugely economically disruptive, it would be socially, culturally, and even religiously disruptive to a level that is currently beyond our ability to grasp! The truth is that, when all is said and done, let’s face it – the worship of gold is the real religious principle that underlies and drives human society, not so much the worship of any deity!

The Tragedy of Scientific Materialism

Eagle Nebula’s Pillars of Creation. (NASA, ESA/Hubble)

“Modern Science” may claim to be a methodology — a toolkit, as it were, to enable and empower one to separate truth from fiction — but, in actual fact, Scientific Materialism is a belief system rooted in an ideology — no different, in essence, from any other belief system. In this century, Scientific Materialism is the establishment dogma and is responsible for the marginalization and even persecution of competing theories, ideas and belief systems.

When establishment voices speak about the importance and relevance of “Science,” they are not talking about the agnostic scientific method, per se. They are, in fact, referring to the dogma of Scientific Materialism — a dogma that worships at the altar of the big pharmaceutical industry (aka Big Pharma), that denounces alternative medicine and alternative science as heretical, that venerates Darwinism and the doctrine of Climate Change (previously known as “Global Warming”) as its sacred texts, and that heralds the coming of its new messiah — Artificial Intelligence (or AI)!

The tragedy of this misguided dogma is that it is, in fact, a belief system rooted in blind faith, rather than a thought system rooted in critical, rational analysis (as it claims to be), and that dismisses sound evidence that may, in any way, contradict or undermine its core suppositions — namely that human existence is a purely mechanistic phenomenon, that the human organism is an organic machine that evolved purely circumstantially, and that consciousness is purely a product of random electrical activity in the brain. Thus, the high priests of this establishment dogma of scientific materialism feel justified in ridiculing and marginalizing alternative science, alternative medicine and any ideas, propositions, claims or theories that may call their core belief system into question. In so doing, not only do they contradict the very scientific methodology that they claim to uphold (namely, the one that claims to be based on observational evidence and rational analysis), but they are in the process of making themselves irrelevant and obsolete through the process of denial and self-deception.

In actual fact, the cutting-edge claims of the very science that they claim to evangelize and venerate so deeply — the claims of Quantum Mechanics, for example — completely undermine the core suppositions of the materialistic worldview — namely, that the universe can definitely be known as a coherent, solid, material certainty, that human existence is mechanistic and purely organic in its form, and that consciousness is purely a product of the brain’s electrical activity, with no connection to anything beyond or outside itself. The course of scientific research has, ironically, completely undercut and undermined its own core foundation — the scientific materialism that originally arose from Newtonian physics. The cutting-edge physics of Nikola Tesla, Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Max Planck, Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schrödinger, and beyond, appears to have more in connection with the pantheistic spirituality and mysticism of ancient times than with more recent Newtonian physics!

Unfortunately, the political establishment of the early 21st Century is still run by people educated in the Newtonian model of reality and have their consciousness immersed in that defunct mode of thinking. It will probably take a generational shift before scientific materialism will finally be dismissed for the obsolete dogma that it, in fact is, and the mainstream world embraces the cutting edge claims of Quantum Mechanics and, with it, the ancient claims of mystical practices and spiritual texts from the remote past that resonate with these new ideas.