When Values Become Sacred

· August 2, 2018

We all have ideas or things that are important to us. Some of these things are so important to us that we give them value. The value increases in importance when more people value that thing. However, it’s sometimes difficult to quantify or exchange the things we value. We call these difficult to label or intangible items sacred values.

Our sacred values must be respected and protected by everybody. When something becomes a sacred value, it also becomes our moral responsibility to live by that value. The value becomes incomparable to other values. It’s impossible to exchange the value for tangible or intangible goods.

How are sacred values formed?

There are many ways in which an object or idea can become a sacred value. However, there are two processes in which values that are sacred to large groups of people become sacred. Both processes start with the perception of a threat.

sacred values

In the first process, arguments between two opposing groups can threaten an ideal. That threat will lead a group to place more importance on that ideal, turning it into a ritual and therefore transforming it into a sacred value. This process divides the world into two, the sacred and the profane. At the same time, the sacred value unites us with the members of our group while also separating us from the opposing group.


On the other hand, in the second process, the greater the threat, the more rituals group members will perform. These rituals are related to the sacred value. Group members will perform these rituals more and more often, which strengthens relations within group members. In addition, these rituals create the group’s norms.

What effects do sacred values have?

Sacred values influence the decisions we make. Any decision that endangers or goes against our sacred values will be rejected, even if that decision is unproductive or wrong. Sacred values incorporate moral beliefs, which entail rules of conduct. They tell us what’s right and what’s wrong.

Therefore, we defend our sacred values fiercely and we use psychological strategies to do this. Some of these strategies include moral outrage and purification. Moral outrage refers to experiencing cognitive, emotional, and behavioral averse to values that contradict your own sacred values. On the other hand, moral purification consists of carrying out symbolic acts that reaffirm our commitment to the sacred value.

Sacred values.

The advantages of sacred values

Normally we like to think that our behaviors are rational and that we make decisions in which we have to weigh the costs and benefits. However, many of our decisions are guided by our beliefs and what we perceive to be right and wrong. Something similar happens when it comes to sacred values. Although omitting sacred beliefs from our decision-making process might be the rational thing to do sometimes, we won’t do it.

Despite this, sacred values have advantages from an evolutionary perspective. For example, we can’t sell a sacred value. Not everything is for sale. This resistance makes us more supportive of people who share our value.

Likewise, sacred values are timeless. They’re important always, regardless of the events that happened thousands of years ago. Therefore, we maintain our commitment to that value with other people who share our sacred beliefs.

Jerusalem.

Jerusalem as a sacred value

We can find a current example in Jerusalem. This ancient city, disputed over by Palestinians and Israelis, has become a sacred value for both groups. Both Israelis and Palestinians see Jerusalem as a crucial part of their identities. Because Jerusalem is a sacred value, offering money to have the city isn’t an option.

When President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, he threatened the status of the city. The Palestinians saw this as a threat to one of their sacred values. Therefore, they rejected this idea. This rejection has manifested in violence.

All Donald Trump did was perpetuate the conflict. If he sought to resolve the conflict, this certainly wasn’t the way to do it. On the other hand, one way to solve intractable conflicts is realizing potential symbolic concessions without any material benefit. However, the symbolic concessions must recognize the other group’s values and let their voices be heard.