Review of Reclaiming the Sacred, by Jeff Golden

Read: Reclaiming the Sacred by Jeff Golden 📚

I forget how I came across this book, I think it was through a review in a local publication. The author, Jeff Golden, lives in Beacon, NY, where I live. I have never run across him in all the years I’ve lived here, but hey, there are 20K people in this small city so there are a lot of people I have never run across. This and the word sacred in the title along with a review that made it seem compelling (I assume, as I don’t remember what it had to say) led me to purchase the book.

The book is/was very compelling to me. It did two important things. Develop a well supported argument that money and happiness are not closely correlated beyond having enough for basic needs and then a little more to make life comfortable. What was astonishing is that the amounts needed are pretty minimal relative to most peoples income expectations and aspirations in the United States. It also developed the argument that capitalism is violence on almost any level you care to look at it. Reading through the support for this argument is a depressing litany of violence against humanity, our fellow animal travelers and the planet.

The book has a third leg, or perhaps one might say a trunk that the author believes could support a better way of engaging the planet and one another, and that is a concept of the sacred. His belief appears to be that the universe and everything in it is sacred and that we have been misdirected away from that truth by our engagement in a materialist, capitalist way of organizing society. The author tells us we urgently need to reacquaint ourselves with the sacred and reclaim it. It seems a full third of the book is devoted to enticing the reader back to the sacred trunk of all life.

I agree with the author that we need a renewed appreciation of the value of the sacred, but my point of view is that it is not a fundamental quality of the universe except as manifested through intelligent beings, in our case, humanity. Mine is a humanist view of the sacred achieved by and through human beings. The sacred is something that must be cultivated. The problem with my view is that what is sacred for one culture is not sacred for another. The sacred exists in capitalism, but it is money, it is material things, it is growth and production. It is easy to turn down a wrong branch and arrive at the world we have in front of us today. On the other hand, the idea that the sacred is a fundamental quality of the universe is belied by the facts on the ground. Think capitalism. Think the war in Ukraine. Think the destruction of the planet which would strike me as impossible if the sacred were a fundamental quality, like the fundamental particles in physics, which is the the concept I get from the author. A quality that we have only to wake up to if we want to save ourselves.

In the end, the author’s exhortations to rediscover the sacred in myself, the planet and the universe becomes a little too new age, a little to utopian for me. However, I am not sure it matters how we return to a relationship with the world that is centered on the quality of the sacred, we just need to get there.

I highly recommend the book for the clarity and thoroughness of its important arguments and revelations about happiness, capitalism and materialism and for its belief in the sacred as a way forward.

And then I read.

Two more mass shootings in less than two weeks. Both carried out with assault style rifles. In Tennessee a protest against gun violence and for responsible gun ownership legislation leads to the expulsion of two black lawmakers for disruptive behavior likened by their white colleagues to an insurrection. Most people want gun control legislation. Most are in favor of a ban on assault weapons. The gun lobby has a strangle hold on the political system through conservative lawmakers.

I’ve been reading a lot about Capitalism lately. It would be more accurate to say, a lot about the problems with Capitalism. It’s a monstrous system. It’s a violent system. In the United States, we pursue capitalism on steroids. Which means, we pursue an economic system that is violent in a way that amps up that violence to its maximum. Connecting gun violence in America with the violence of capitalism I wind up asking myself, of what use will gun control legislation of any kind be in a society so dedicated to violence? Can it be anything more than bandaids? It occurred to me that if we are to bring this country to a place where gun violence is rare we will need to bring ourselves to a place where violence in general is rare. How do we do that when the metaphorical air we breathe through our economic system is so steeped in violence?

I have been making my way through Reclaiming the Sacred by Jeff Golden.

I read…

… there are more slaves in the world today than ever before, many of them making products for the American market.1

I read…

Mother Teresa once noted what she called “the deep poverty of the soul” that afflicts the wealthy, and said that the poverty of the soul in America was deeper than any poverty she had seen anywhere on earth.2

I read…

There is something profoundly sad, cruel, and dystopian about a society that so often denies us meaning and connection and dignity, that denies us the inherent wonder and worthiness of ourselves and the world, but then sells back to us the possibility of some degree of relief—just enough to keep us going—in the form of trillions of dollars worth of products and shows, food and pills and alcohol, while keeping everything else the same, while urging us to continue to channel our lives into simply producing and consuming ever more, to accept that this is just the way life is.3

I read…

In fourteen short years, between 1870 and 1883, the bison were hunted to such an extreme that only 320 remained. Yes, 320. From 30 million just seventy years earlier. Many were killed in the earlier 1800s, but more than a million a year were slaughtered during those peak years.4

I read…

Yet, for all these complexities, we have the stark fact that the new Americans did to the bison in the span of fourteen years something absolutely inconceivable to the Native Americans prior, and for all the factors that were involved, a primary one is that the new Americans were vastly more materialistic than the Native Americans.5

I read…

We Americans have proven that we want a lot of things. The average American’s “ecological footprint”—that is, how much land we need to provide the resources we use and to absorb our waste—is 70 percent more than the average European, and 700 percent more than the average African. We would need four earths if everyone consumed as much as us.6

I read…

We subjected ten million people to slavery, their lives and humanity stolen for the purposes of profit. We’ve created 150 million pounds of nuclear waste, which will be lethal to humans and other creatures for 250,000 years. We’ve overthrown at least fifteen governments worldwide, in part or entirely because they threatened American financial interests. We force ten billion animals a year to live out their lives in the pain and confinement of factory farms. We’ve cut some 98 percent of American old-growth forests. We’ve contaminated more than half of US waterways to the point where they aren’t healthy for drinking, fishing, or recreation. We’ve brought as many as 35,000 plants and animals to the brink of extinction in the US alone.7

I read…

“Materialism is a spiritual catastrophe, promoted by a corporate media multiplex and a culture industry that have hardened the hearts of hard-core consumers and coarsened the consciences of would-be citizens. Clever gimmicks of mass distraction yield a cheap soulcraft of addicted and self-medicated narcissists.” —Cornel West8

I read…

The world is burning. We are laying waste to the very life support systems that gave rise to and sustain human life. We are degrading and extinguishing lives, both human and a vast breadth of others at a horrifying pace, with horrifying disregard. This economic system, this culture of materialism and consumption, is brutal and hollow. It serves neither those of us who are doing the consuming or those of us who are being consumed. Whatever successes it may have to its credit, its failures are of another order entirely, and are only growing more urgent with every day. This system is bankrupt and it is doomed. One way or another it is going down.9

I read…

As Derrick Jensen writes, “So long as we find it not only acceptable but right and just to convert the lives of others and the life-support system of the entire planet itself into fodder for us, there is little hope for life on the planet.”10

I read…

So long as production and consumption remain the primary measures of our worth and purpose; So long as we feel utterly dependent on them for our well-being and happiness, for approval, and for keeping our sense of isolation, inadequacy, and fear at bay; So long as our default orientation is toward bigger, better, newer, instead of abundance and gratitude; And so long as we continue to be so epically detached from our hearts, and from the wonder of the world, and from the miracle of ourselves; Then we will continue to feed this violent and destructive machine. Regardless of any changes that are made, we will constantly rearrange ourselves and the pieces of the machine to keep grinding forward to meet what we falsely perceive as essential needs.11

This is not the only book I have read recently that points such a finger or suggests this way of organizing ourselves is not good on any level. There is Brading Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer, Sacred Economics by Charles Eisenstein and The Gift, by Lewis Hyde.

All of them point towards a way of thinking prevalent for most of human history and presented in many forms as Indigenous Wisdom. A wisdom handed down through the ages from generation to generation. I know, it’s naive to think we could go back to the time of indigenous wisdoms. I know violence was not unknown in those days. In fact, those days could be brutal in their own way. What can’t be challenged, it seems to me, is the fundamental wiseness of native wisdom. If we just look at it as a system of ethics and spiritual attitude, don’t we have something pretty wonderful?

I read…

The Honorable Harvest

Know the ways of the ones who take care of you, so that you may take care of them.

Introduce yourself. Be accountable as the one who comes asking for life.

Ask permission before taking. Abide by the answer.   Never take the first. Never take the last.

Take only what you need.

Take only that which is given.

Never take more than half. Leave some for others.   Harvest in a way that minimizes harm.

Use it respectfully. Never waste what you’ve taken.


Give thanks for what you have been given.

Give a gift, in reciprocity for what you have taken.

Sustain the ones who sustain you and the earth will last forever. —Robin Wall Kimmerer12

This morning I read about the massive fentanyl problem we are having in the United States. I read about the production and delivery system of the Mexican cartels, as complex and sophisticated as any “legitimate” corporate business. I read that drugs funneled to the United States by the Cartels are killing as many as 200 people a day. A loss of tens of thousands of American citizens every year. I wondered why so many people want those drugs and why they are killing themselves with them.

And then… I read.


  1. Golden, Jeff, Reclaiming the Sacred, location: 130, Kindle link ↩︎

  2. Ibid, location: 2599 ↩︎

  3. Ibid, location: 2863 ↩︎

  4. Ibid, location: 3081 ↩︎

  5. Ibid, location: 3081 ↩︎

  6. Ibid, location: 3088 ↩︎

  7. Ibid, location: 2123 ↩︎

  8. Ibid, location: 3158 ↩︎

  9. Ibid, location: 3630 ↩︎

  10. Ibid, location: 4427 ↩︎

  11. Ibid, location: 4430 ↩︎

  12. Ibid, location: 5028 ↩︎