Lorcan Roche Kelly called Bitcoin “the first true religion of the 21st century”. Bitcoin Promoter Hass McCook
started calling himself “The Friar” and wrote a series of Medium articles comparing Bitcoin to a religion. There is a bitcoin church
founded in 2017, which explicitly calls legendary Bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto its “prophet”.
In Austin, Texas, there are billboards with slogans like “Crypto Is Real” that eerily reflect the ubiquitous billboards about jesus found on Texas highways. Like many religions, Bitcoin even has dietary restrictions associated with.
The dirty secret of religion
So does the fact that Bitcoin has prophets, evangelists, and dietary laws make it a religion or not?
As a scholar of religionI don’t think that’s the right question to ask.
The dirty secret of religious studies is that there is no universal definition of what religion is. Traditions such as Christianity, Islam and Buddhism certainly exist and have similarities, but the idea that these are all examples of religion is relatively new.
The word “religious” as used today – a loose category that includes certain cultural ideas and practices related to God, the afterlife, or morality – emerged in Europe around the 16th century. Before that, many Europeans understood that there were only three types of people in the world: Christians, Jews and Gentiles.
This pattern changed after the Protestant Reformation when a long series of wars started between Catholics and Protestants. These became known as the “religious wars”, and religion became a way of talking about the differences between Christians. At the same time, Europeans encountered other cultures through exploration and colonialism. Some of the traditions they encountered shared some similarities with Christianity and were also considered religions.
Non-European languages have historically had no direct equivalent to the word “religion”. What counted as religion has changed over the centuries, and there are always political interests at play in determining whether or not something is a religion.
As a scholar of religion Russell McCutcheon “The interesting thing to study, then, is not what religion is or is not, but the process of ‘making’ itself – whether that activity of making takes place in a courtroom or or a claim made by a group about its own religion. behaviors and institutions.
Critics point to irrationality
With that in mind, why would anyone claim that Bitcoin is a religion?
Some commentators seem to be making this claim to steer investors away from Bitcoin. Emerging Markets Fund Manager Marc Mobiusin an attempt to dampen cryptocurrency enthusiasm, said “crypto is a religion, not an investment.”
His statement, however, is an example of a false dichotomy, or the assumption that if something is one thing, it cannot be another. There’s no reason why a religion shouldn’t also be an investment, a political system or just about anything else.
Mobius’ point, however, is that “religion”, like cryptocurrency, is irrational. This critique of religion has existed since the Enlightenment, when Voltaire wrote“Nothing can be more contrary to religion and the clergy than reason and common sense.”
In this case, calling Bitcoin a “religion” suggests that bitcoin investors are bigots and don’t make rational choices.
Bitcoin as good and healthy
On the other hand, some Bitcoin proponents have leaned into the religion label. McCook’s articles use the language of religion to highlight certain aspects of Bitcoin culture and normalize them.
For example, “stack sats— the practice of regularly buying small fractions of bitcoin — sounds bizarre. But McCook calls the practice a religious ritual, and more specifically, “dime.” Many churches practice tithing, in which members make regular donations to support their church. So this comparison makes seated stacking more familiar.
While for some people religion may be associated with the irrational, it is also associated with what the scholar of religion Doug Cowan calls “the good, moral and decent fallacy”. In other words, some people often assume that if something is really a religion, it must represent something good. People who “stack the sats” can seem weird. But people who “tithe” can seem wholesome and principled.
Using religion as a framework
For scholars of religion, categorizing something as a religion can open up new insights.
As a scholar of religion JZ Smith writes, “’Religion’ is not an indigenous term; it is created by scholars for intellectual purposes and therefore it is up to them to define it. For Smith, categorizing certain traditions or cultural institutions as religions creates a comparative framework that will hopefully lead to new understanding. With that in mind, comparing Bitcoin to a tradition like Christianity can make people notice things they haven’t noticed before.
For example, many religions were founded by charismatic leaders. Charismatic authority does not come from government office or tradition, but only from the relationship between a leader and his followers. Charismatic leaders are considered by their followers to be superhuman or at least extraordinary. Because this relationship is precarious, leaders often remain distant to prevent their followers from viewing them as ordinary human beings.
Several commentators have noted that the inventor of Bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto, looks like something of a prophet. Nakamoto’s true identity – or if Nakamoto is actually a team of people – remains a mystery. But the intrigue around this character is a source of charisma with consequences on the economic value of bitcoin. Many of those who invest in bitcoin do so in part because they consider Nakamoto to be a genius and an economic rebel. In Budapest, artists have even erected a bronze sculpture in tribute to Nakamoto.
There is also a connection between Bitcoin and millenarianismor the belief in a coming collective salvation for a select group of people.
In Christianity, millennial expectations involve the return of Jesus and the final judgment of the living and the dead. Some Bitcoiners Believe in an Inevitable Coming”hyperbitcoinizationin which bitcoin will be the only valid currency. When this happens, the “Bitcoin believers” who have invested will be vindicated, while the “non-moneymakers” who have shunned cryptocurrency will lose everything.
A path to salvation
Finally, some Bitcoiners see bitcoin not just as a way to make money, but as the answer to all of humanity’s problems.
“Because the root cause of all our problems is basically money printing and the resulting misallocation of capital,” McCook argues“The only way to save the whales, or to save the trees, or to save the children, is to stop the degeneration.”
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This attitude may be the most significant point of comparison with religious traditions. In his book “God is not a», professor of religion Stephen Prothero highlights the distinctiveness of world religions using a four-point model, in which each tradition identifies a unique problem with the human condition, offers a solution, offers specific practices to achieve the solution, and offers examples to model this path.
This model can be applied to Bitcoin: the problem is fiat currency, the solution is Bitcoin, and the practices are to encourage others to invest, “stack the sats” and “hodling– refusing to sell bitcoin to maintain its value. Examples include Satoshi and other figures involved in the creation of blockchain technology.
So does this comparison prove that Bitcoin is a religion?
Not necessarily, because theologians, sociologists and legal theorists have many definitions of religionall of which are more or less useful depending on how the definition is used.
However, this comparison can help people understand why Bitcoin has become so attractive to so many people, in a way that would not be possible if Bitcoin were approached as a purely economic phenomenon.
This article is republished from The conversation, a nonprofit news site dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts. It was written by: Joseph P. Laycock, Texas State University.
Joseph P. Laycock does not work for, consult, own stock or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has not disclosed any relevant affiliations beyond his appointment university.