What’s Precious and What’s Not

There’s nothing like moving to make you separate what’s precious from what’s not.  I’ve moved eleven times in the last seventeen years.  Somewhere back around move number four I cut my library in half.  At different places along the way I’ve left behind desks, bookshelves, chairs, a tiller, and partial stake in a foosball table.  I did hang onto my vinyl record collection; a bunch of CDs; an aging amp; and a tattered, brown velour arm chair.   You can live without a dresser, but not without music.

At other times in my life, I let go of things I regretted.  You don’t always know what’s precious up front; sometimes you realize in hindsight.  I valued my grad school studies, when I was forty-two, much more than my college ones, when I was nineteen.  After working for twenty years, it seemed cool to go to school.

A lot that we deem precious is a matter of personal taste.  I know numerous young men in western North Carolina for whom a pick-up truck is a precious thing.  If you gave one of these guys a choice between a full-package pick-up and a full-package woman, I think he’d take the truck.  Vehicles are not as precious to me, although I do appreciate the mud flaps with silver silhouettes of buxom, reclining women.

Gollum, famously, found a ring precious.  In his case, preciousness was not a good thing.  We often forget that side of the ledger.  Whatever we deem precious comes with demands.  I’ve counseled many addicts who felt like Gollum about their booze, heroin, and crack.  Sometimes they smelled like Gollum.

Since addicts prove our beliefs about preciousness are not necessarily healthy, we have to question our ability to even define the term.  We can invest preciousness into anything.  More than one addict has seriously told me his higher power was a door knob.  Superstitious folk believe totems really work.  Some people think nothing is worth more than money, giving up family, friends, and anyone else to get it.  When you look at our track record, how do we know that we know what we’re talking about?

Ironically, the concept of preciousness began in religion, where no one can prove they know anything.  Things were precious because of their association with sacredness.  Gold and silver were connected to the powers of the sun and moon, Ra and Nephthys, Apollo and Luna.  Egyptians thought the Gods had skins of gold; that’s why it was valuable.  Pharaohs wore lots of bling so they’d look like Gods.

Today, gold and its equivalents are their own deity- the God of Mammon.  Marx called it reification, the process by which an inert object is treated as a living thing, worthy of devotion and love.  In this case, treated as a God-like thing, able to bestow blessings.  We bow at the altar of metallic preciousness, and its cheaper, knock-off  monetary spawn.

However cheap it may sometimes seem, whatever is sacred is precious.  That’s the original definition.  It’s why people will pray in front of pancakes that look like the Virgin Mary.  Preciousness doesn’t depend upon objective, rational values.  Preciousness depends upon magical factors, upon a projection of desire, into all kinds of otherwise mundane materials.  Early forms of money were things like dogs teeth, shells, and stones with holes in them.  I’m sure the sacred pancake would bring a few bucks on E-Bay; wads of Britney Spear’s used chewing gum go for as high as $100.

Put another way, wherever your treasure is, that’s where your heart is, too.  Just because people have demented definitions of the sacred doesn’t make it less true.  It simply means some beliefs are irrational, illusory, egoistic, in-grown, even solipsistic, with a correspondingly deranged sense of what’s important.

Nothing exceeds the self-centeredness of suicide bombers, for example.  Their lives are more sacred than planes full of innocent people.  Death is the sanctified medium of exchange, and the more people that die, the richer their deaths become.  Wall Street bankers fall in the same category, only without the suicidal tendencies.  They scammed the international financial system, sent entire countries into bankruptcy, and caused a worldwide recession, in order to enrich themselves.  Increased starvation, malnutrition, disease, joblessness, and homelessness, on a global scale, have all resulted from a predatory belief in their own golden entitlement.

Our world attests to manifold distortions in the sacred-preciousness continuum.  But that’s what happens when the gravity of desire takes over.  Our circle of devotion shifts.

We live in the age that Emile Durkheim termed the “cult of the individual,” where it’s everyone for his or herself, winners take all, along with their fifteen minutes of fame.  Caveat emptor is the equivalent of a creed, for a fun house mirror religion, practiced in temples dedicated to visible Gods.  We worship ourselves.  Nothing is more precious than you!

Unfortunately, when the sacred is limited to the warp of our own desires, we become spiritual black holes.  Think of it as the opposite of being a light for the world.  Muslims call it a form of forgetting.  We forget that for something to be truly precious, it must be greater than our desires.

About Bucky Dann

I teach religion, sociology, and psychology at Southwestern Community College in the Smoky Mountains. I have worked in the United Methodist ministry and in the substance abuse field. I possess a Masters of Divinity, a Masters of Philosophy, and a PhD in the sociology of knowledge.

One Response to “What’s Precious and What’s Not”

  1. i agree with your thoughts but, i would rather not think about that kind of person, i would like to be fishing with a flask of jd. just makes you feel right and no worries. you know how many people i have hunted and fished for only to learn about i.

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