Opinion: Why do some people call bitcoin a religion?


Read enough about bitcoin and you will inevitably come across people who refer to cryptocurrency as a religion.

by Bloomberg Lorcan Roche Kelly called bitcoin
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“The first true religion of the 21st century.” bitcoin promoter Hass McCook he has taken to calling himself “The Friar” and wrote a series of medium-sized pieces comparing bitcoin to a religion. There’s a bitcoin churchfounded 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 strangely reflect the ubiquitous billboards about jesus found on Texas highways. Like many religions, bitcoin even has diet restrictions associated with it.

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 student of religion, I think this is the wrong question.

The dirty secret of religious studies is that there is no universal definition of what religion is. Traditions like Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism certainly exist and have similarities, but the idea that these are all examples of religion is relatively new.

The word “religion” 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 this, many Europeans understood that there were only three types of people in the world: Christians, Jews, and pagans.

This model changed after the Protestant Reformation when a long series of wars began between Catholics and Protestants. These became known as “wars of religion,” and religion became a way of talking about differences among Christians. At the same time, Europeans were encountering other cultures through exploration and colonialism. Some of the traditions they found shared certain similarities with Christianity and were also considered religions.

Historically, non-European languages ​​have not had a direct equivalent of the word “religion”. What has 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 religious scholar Russell McCutcheon argues: “The interesting thing to study, then, is not what religion is or is not, but the very process of ‘making it,’ whether the manufacturing activity takes place in a courtroom or it is a claim made by a group about their own identity. behaviors and institutions.

Critics highlight the irrationality

With this 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 mobius markin an attempt to stifle enthusiasm for cryptocurrencies, said that “cryptocurrency is a religion, not an investment.”

His statement, however, is an example of a false dichotomy fallacy, or the assumption that if something is one thing, it cannot be another. There’s no reason why a religion can’t also be an investment, a political system, or just about anything else.

However, the point of Mobius is that “religion”, like cryptocurrency, is irrational. This critique of religion has been around since the Enlightenment, when voltaire wrote“Nothing can be more contrary to religion and the clergy than reason and common sense.”

In this case, labeling bitcoin a “religion” suggests that bitcoin investors are fanatics and do not make rational decisions.

Bitcoin so good and healthy

On the other hand, some bitcoin advocates have leaned toward the religion label. McCook’s articles use the language of religion to highlight certain aspects of bitcoin culture and normalize them.

For example, “satellite stacking”—the practice of regularly buying small fractions of bitcoins—sounds weird. But McCook refers to this practice as a religious ritual, and more specifically as “decimate.” Many churches practice tithing, in which members make regular donations to support their church. So this comparison makes satellite stacking seem more familiar.

While for some people religion may be associated with the irrational, it is also associated with what religious scholars Doug Cowan called “the fallacy of good, morals and decency.” That is, some people often assume that if something is really a religion, it must represent something good. People who “stack sats” might sound weird. But people who “tithe” can sound sane and principled.

For scholars of religion, categorizing something as religion can pave the way for new insights.

As a religious scholar JZ Smith writes, “’Religion’ is not a native term; it is created by scholars for their intellectual purposes and therefore they must define it”. For Smith, categorizing certain cultural traditions or institutions as religions creates a comparative framework that will hopefully result in new understanding. With this in mind, comparing bitcoin to a tradition like Christianity can make people realize things they didn’t before.

For example, many religions were founded by charismatic leaders. Charismatic authority does not come from any governmental position or tradition, but only from the relationship between a leader and his followers. Charismatic leaders are seen by their followers as superhuman or at least extraordinary. Because this relationship is precarious, leaders often keep their distance to prevent followers from seeing them as ordinary human beings.

Several commentators have pointed out that the inventor of bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto, seems like something of a prophet. Nakamoto’s true identity, or whether Nakamoto is actually a team of people, remains a mystery. But the intrigue surrounding this figure is a source of charisma with consequences for the economic value of bitcoin. Many who invest in bitcoin do so in part because they consider Nakamoto a genius and an economic maverick. In Budapest, the artists even erected a bronze statue as a 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 imply the return of Jesus and the final judgment of the living and the dead. Some bitcoiners believe in an inevitable coming”hyperbitcoinization” in which bitcoin will be the only valid currency. When this happens, the “bitcoin believers” who invested will be justified, while the “non-minters” who avoided crypto 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 misallocation of capital as a result of that,” McCook argues“the only way to save the whales, or the trees, or the children, is if we stop the degeneration”.

This attitude may be the most significant point of comparison with religious traditions. In his bookGod is not one“, religion teacher Stephen Prothero highlights the distinctiveness of the world’s religions using a four-point model, in which each tradition identifies a unique problem with the human condition, posits a solution, offers specific practices for achieving the solution, and presents examples to model that path.

This model can be applied to bitcoin: the problem is fiat currency, the solution is bitcoin, and practices include encouraging others to invest, “stacking sats,” and “holding on”: refusing to sell bitcoin to maintain its value. Exemplars 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 what the definition is used for.

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 comment was originally posted by The Conversation — Why do people call Bitcoin a religion?

Joseph P. Laycock is assistant professor of religious studies at Texas State University. He teaches courses on world religions, religion in America, new religious movements, and the intersection of religion and popular culture.

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