Why Bitcoin is a Religion

I argue that Cryptocurrencies function as distinct religious beliefs, which affect ego permeability by playing into our natural tendencies to perceive attributes of money and value as inherently magic and spiritual. The longer you have spent in the cryptocurrency community, the more you will be able to identify with these statements.

Update: I am reposting this article from my Linkedin because I find it absolutely hilarious that theology PhD Craig Wright has convinced people that he is Satoshi Nakamoto by using melancholic speech, sleights of hand and religious language patterns. He is trying to use the blockchain ledger as if it were a bible, citing and quoting without understanding the content — and it works.

“I tested 340gigabyte Bitcoin blocks on my secret supercomputer, and it would totally work if used by banks and governments.” — paraphrase of Craig Wright

Disclaimer: This article is written from an entirely secular and Jungian point of view, any references to spirituality and the supernatural are accepted as real, psychological and sociological events rather than actual, physical disruptions of the natural order. I’m simply a practical nihilist / agnostic with an interest in theology and psychology.

Let’s begin.

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The behavior in the Bitcoin community is often strange. People attack and defend concepts and ideas with emotional, personal motivations. Many take criticism of Bitcoin, no matter how valid, personally.

Others are fervent in their enthusiasm, where they can only be accurately described as zealots and fanatics. On the opposite spectrum, some would refuse Bitcoin even well after every single merchant on earth is using it.

Nowadays, even outside the community, logic seems to have taken second place. The false idea that adding a blockchain to any project will instantly improve it, is still alive and well.

Some love the blockchain, but not the currency, while completely disregarding that you can’t have one without the other. Foaming at the mouth about these issues isn’t even that rare!

The religious similarities are slowly beginning to show.

Source: Bitcointalk.org

I was already familiar with this classic Apple study, which shows that certain brands can induce real religious sensations and found many similarities. But there was invariably more going on…

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

— Matthew 6:19–21,24 (KJV)

Slowly I began to study how cryptocurrencies get established, and carve out their own ideological space in the existing ecosystem. Much of it happened to parallel the research I had done on Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and the personality cult of Kim Il-Sung in North Korea.

I introduced bitcoin to a friend and they started talking about how the bible predicts a currency take over and its the start of the Revelation“ — Random Bitcointalk Member “Bush” May 21, 2013

Interestingly enough, it turns out that Bitcoin is fully compliant with Sharia, the Islamic banking law, whereas the Euro and Dollar are not. Bitcoin does not suffer the shortcomings of money posited in the Bible, and by ancient Greek philosophers such as Parmenides, who claimed that everything in the world is interconnected and that this is inevitable.

The internet is a multi-dimensional substrate which gives birth to countless parallel realities which exist within themselves and interact. Bitcoin unifies these realities with value, an idea more terrifying than we can suppose. Money moves the world, and we all know that more people worship wealth than religion.

Bitcoin is well on its way to being a fully mainstream, international currency. However, this neither detracts nor adds to the legitimacy of the subjective spiritual phenomena that it induces. To illustrate both points simultaneously, consider that Bitcoin has died 71 times, and therefore is continuously reborn in the psychic reality of the public.

In fact, notice how wealth and religion are usually mutually exclusive. When joining a religion, you must give up money. When creating a religion, you must obtain money or destroy it.

Creating a cult creates a vacuum of power, which is filled by its followers. Bitcoin without followers required you to beg and beg to get one pizza for 10,000 BTC. At this point its exposure was not numinous, it was purely software. No magic here yet.

Antropologist Anthony F.C. Wallace

proposes four categories of religions.

Individualistic: most basic; simplest. Example: vision quest.

The Bitcoin network is simultaneously one of the most advanced motivation and incentive systems ever built, and one of the simplest ideas ever. Everyone remains an individual, but everyone contributes to the collective of an entirely independent monetary system. Nobody is in charge of Bitcoin, except cryptography and math. And mathematics, as Einstein famously said, is our insight into the mind of god.

Here we can witness that fiat currency such as the Dollar requires faith in the government, the federal reserve, and the individuals in power. Bitcoin only requires in the faith of interpersonal value transfer, and the mind of god. It is therefore spiritually “clean” money. I believe this can be felt, additionally to simply being understood by the rational mind.

Bitcoin even has a method of ‘sacrifice’ wherein if a private key is lost, the Bitcoins associated with that key are lost forever and irretrievable. This makes all other Bitcoins worth more through scarcity. It’s a ‘sacrifice’ for the good of everyone else on the system, and some people even send them to provably unspendable addresses, which by definition don’t have a private key that can be calculated.

Many believe this is what Satoshi did with the first Bitcoins, essentially absolving himself of the sin of greed. This is very symbolic for a currency. In the Genesis block (the first block, and yes it’s actually called that) contains this message from Satoshi himself:

“The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks”.

And now the fact that other Cryptocurrency ‘blockchains’ are having crowd-sales of their supply, is still not very reassuring. People used to seize power through armies and pillaging, now they use corporations to promote centralization of the internet. Because if they centralize it, everything inevitably revolves around them.

Any ‘blockchain’ that isn’t immutable and doesn’t have an adequate network effect like Bitcoin, is essentially a normal database like they have existed since even before the 80s. But at the moment, everyone seems to be practically horny about the buzzword “blockchain” and completely nonsensical and entirely redundant projects are getting millions of dollars in funding. To do what? To build a database.

Adding a blockchain to your product doesn’t make it better. But it makes you richer. Creating a new blockchain because you are jealous of the success of Bitcoin, but want to have utter control over every transaction, is pointless. But it makes you richer.

That’s entirely identical to how the system works today. Banks print money, and centralized servers manage your balances. Everyone is trying to play god and create their own money to become the next “Crypto Prophet”. A blockchain with central control and no immutability is a normal, boring old database.

Bitcoin is immutable, has the first mover advantage, and has an insanely secure network. It has built-in incentive mechanisms and strong cryptography, without ANY central control or influence. Other projects lack these elements, and in the cases of government or bank created currencies: often all of them.

Please stop giving these people money. They’re tricking you.

Note: If you do not understand how to code or recognize damp, putrid programming BS, it’s much better to play it safe and stick with Bitcoin like NASDAQ, NYSE, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. If you’re relatively computer literate, this shouldn’t require more than a modicum of common sense.

At this point I feel it is important to re-iterate that NONE of this is supernatural. I’m writing this from an entirely agnostic perspective, and I am not religious whatsoever. Psychological, neurological, and sociological phenomena related to religion are empirically verifiable. Whether the belief contains measurable truth itself, is irrelevant.

A very old idea: Parmenides, a philosopher in Ancient Greece and founder of the Eleatic school, stated that everything in reality is connected and imbued with value through projection. An idea that greatly mirrors the Internet and the Bitcoin network today.

Seaford emphasizes that the Ionians were first to use coinage, and did so at the same time they produced philosophical cosmology. He therefore promises a “cumulative argument, correlating the development of coined money with the development of early Greek cosmology as a whole” (188). His basic explanation is that the Ionians’ material principles and Parmenides’ One are “unconscious projections” of the ideal substance of exchange-value (188–9). 
 
— A review of Money and the Early Greek Mind: Homer, Philosophy, Tragedy (Seaford, Richard) by Joshua Reynolds, Northwestern University.

Shamanistic: part-time religious practitioner, uses religion to heal, to divine, usually on the behalf of a client.

Many early Bitcoiners have a strong anarchist motivation against the government. This has obvious, utterly real reasons. However, where this becomes inherently spiritual is when Bitcoin is often seen as a ‘panacea’ that will automatically dismantle the government somehow on its own.

The idea here is that the banking system is made sick by the symbolic 7 sins and decentralized currency is the only cure. In many ways, this is technically accurate. But an overly paranoid and aggressive reaction remains unwarranted, and will not accomplish much to change it.

Jesus in his polemic would have extolled the virtues of the one true Blockchain for this reason, the freedom from financial tyranny and judgement by man.

Communal: elaborate set of beliefs and practices; group of people arranged in clans by lineage, age group, or some religious societies; people take on roles based on knowledge, and ancestral worship.

Whoever is closer to Satoshi (the creator of Bitcoin) in communication and time, is given extra reverence and respect. For example, early adopter and investor Roger Ver has earned the title “Bitcoin Jesus”.

Most followers thus choose their secondary prophet, who is a developer and therefore a type of secular magician or priest e.g.: Vitalik Buterin, Gavin Andresen, Gregory Maxwell, Peter Todd. Then they wait for future ‘revelations’. Developers who are actively engaged in coding often find this bizarre. In fact, the ‘prophets’ definitely notice, and find this bizarre.

We see a lot of this as people either rally for, or against side-chains and block size changes. Arguably, 99% of them understand neither. And yet the glint in their eyes, the violence in which they stand firmly in their belief, would suggest that they are experts.

Many will strain to explain either when confronted, while others parrot quotes by their designated ‘prophet’. Now, I am aware that the Bitcoin space is filled with brilliant programmers and developers. But those who display aggressive behavior are usually neither.

A notable exception is Peter Todd, a talented developer whose reactionary and vocal presence greatly attracts many of the confused users to his ranks. But if anything, that is well-executed PR.

Now, I do not claim to understand the technical debate adequately, which is why I refrain from voicing an opinion about it. If I am pressured to, then I make sure to demonstrate what I think about both sides.

It is simply incredibly bizarre to me, that people will go insane in a debate where they have made no effort to learn more than the words that represent individual sides.

There is a crossroad of explanations as to why people appear to be heavily emotional.

  • Some people are trolling. They usually have the least motivation, but the most vivid comments. Rarer than most think.
  • Some people are PAID to be pro, or against something. As Coinfire has shown, this is hardly debatable.
  • The promise of great wealth is a manic depressive trigger, as any behavioral economist and psychiatrist knows. This effect occurs because the unconscious mind is time-agnostic, as evidenced by temporal distortions in art and dreams. And so, the vision of future wealth becomes numinous and real in the present.
  • Their ability to turn numbers into money, and therefore influence, is a classic example of transmutation and blurs the line between illusions and delusions of grandeur. The more money investors have sunk into a cryptocurrency, the more they will defend it. Not only to rationally increase their wealth, but to preserve this ideology and their new future status.
  • Magic, in its classical definition, is the power of words and will over matter. There is nothing supernatural about this, apart from the subjective sensations it creates. There is a difference between knowing something, and FEELING that you know something with every fiber of your being. The latter bypasses the logical mind altogether.
  • Religiously devout followers of cryptocurrencies unconsciously feel that their magical ability will grow exponentially in proportion to their faith. If you’ve read Robert Anton Wilson, then the source of this ability is easily justified: it is the magic wand of the federal reserve which turns paper into money.
  • At MtGox and Paycoin, members invested their last savings well after everything was lost. Rationally, they would have noticed the overwhelming amount of tangible evidence. One argument here is that they haven’t. I don’t believe that for a second.
  • Pictured above: Mt.Gox founder Mark Karpeles being stopped at his Tokyo office by a disgruntled user who flew across the world to see him. Why? Because Mark decided to code his own exchange and managed to lose / steal roughly $473 million dollars worth of Bitcoin.
  • In the crypto-currency world, negative buzz and drama gets more exposure than Coca Cola on Christmas. You can be sure that 99% of these individuals have seen the criticism, and the evidence against them. This only increases their conviction, until the feeling of enlightenment dissipates and reality sets in. This can take a really, really, really long time. If ever.
  • Pictured above: Homero Garza, known scammer and extremely trustworthy looking individual.
  • They begin moving the goalpost and accusing outsiders of causing this to them. Example: Users in the Paycoin forums asking for genuine, emotional sympathy for CEO Homero Joshua Garza, because he is getting criticized for being a verified scammer. And they believe that’s what made him fail.
  • The criticism doesn’t get through, and indeed elicits an opposite reaction, because it has now become part of their identity. It is no longer a t-shirt they wear, but is metaphorically equivalent to their skin they are wearing. This is also called the backfire effect.
  • Coinfire (as a singular counterexample) showed us that close to nothing in the Bitcoin space undergoes more than a shallow investigation if any at all. A press release gets you an in with most news sites, which spread it like wildfire. In short, a post on PRNewswire immediately means it is true.
  • As we see, the Bitcoin space is not particularly receptive to evidence. Every other project has a whitepaper, which often contains long-winded theoretical rants instead of an actual plan. Even though Satoshi famous said “words are just a help until the code gets there”, a whitepaper is now somehow entirely satisfying.
  • This is adequate to satisfy the zealots, whose inability to mentally parse the content and their tendency to hero worship, leads them to either assume or wait until their ‘prophet’ has given them the green light.
  • This actually creates scenarios where It is better to have a whitepaper, than an actual product.
  • I would argue that most people suffer either from a lack of effort on this part, or an active cognitive dissonance that they cannot shake without causing substantial internal conflict. If you do not understand a whitepaper, a natural assumption is that it must be so brilliant that it exceeds your ability to fathom it.
  • You may be offended at this point. But that’s only because religious beliefs are easy to offend, and nothing has ever been shown to possibly dismantle evidence-blindness short of mockery. I would argue that trolling in this manner is a public service, because people are spending their money on crowdfunds entirely on FAITH.
  • Faith is fine if you are following a religion with positive spiritual values, however rare that may be. In the cryptocurrency world, these values are replaced by crowdfunders that seek to get more and more money. I have never seen the case of a crowdfunder to create another crowdfunder to create another crowdfunder anywhere else (Bitshares PTS, AGS, X). Funnily enough the second iteration is called Bitshares AGS, which actually stands for Angelshares. Another religious reference!
  • The reason crowdfunders are so popular is to obtain a sense of legacy. To feel as if you are part of giving birth to something greater. It is the thrill of personally waving the magic wand and turning paper into money. This is exciting.
  • When people donate to a church, their faith increases. But if they are supposed to use that money to help the sick and poor (as they assume the church would), suddenly they do not feel interested because it is not entirely about them. Philosopher Slavoj Zizek has addressed this in his critique of capitalist gratification.
  • Truly Bizarre:
  • In a company, the programmer is either a respected employee or equivalent to an ape (a.k.a code monkey, which theoretically is below an ape). In an open-source project, he is a valued contributor and in the best case receives some form of formal respect (honorary title, etc.)
  • In the cryptocurrency world, the lead programmer is often in the center of a personality cult. It is hard to deny this, when we witness people worshipping Vitalik Buterin and Gavin Andresen instead of the work they are doing. ( No offense to you guys, I think you’re awesome.)
  • This can reach an unhealthy extreme, where nothing these individuals say can ever be wrong.
  • But as mentioned earlier, Josh Garza had his own personality cult as well. His accomplishments? Copy-pasting the source code of Peercoin and changing the name. Poor guy even forgot to take out the licensing agreement.

“Skub” by Perry Bible Fellowship (pbfcomics.com)

Ecclesiastical: dominant in agricultural societies and states; are centrally organized and hierarchical in structure, paralleling the organization of states. Typically deprecates competing individualistic and shamanistic cults.

What is strange here, is that Bitcoin doesn’t deprecate competing individualistic cults. While it attacks the legitimacy of fiat currency such as the dollar, it currently deprecates individualistic payment processors such as Paypal, Western Union, etc. But these have no religious connotation whatsoever! There are undeniably positive aspects of this ‘pseudospiritual togetherness’.

However, the strong symbolism of surveillance and power on the U.S. Dollar as well as the motto “In God We Trust”, may prove to be a worthy adversary. This was first added to paper currency in 1957 as a response to communism, marking a formal unification of god and money. Constitution be damned, even congress says our money is spiritual!

The catholic church, however, thinks that Bitcoin is the mark of the devil.

To expand on why cryptocurrencies function as religions, we can take a look at a cult checklist devised by Michael D. Langone, Ph.D., and see which criteria apply. Keep in mind, this is not a statement on the legitimacy of these beliefs or preconceptions.

The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and (whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law.

In the Bitcoin world, this seems to be a common occurrence or Buttcoin would have nothing to post about. The plight of ‘regular money’ and living in the fiat world suddenly becomes a burden for the believer to escape, and for their worldview to change back becomes exponentially more difficult. It is akin to walking down a very steep hill.

Many consider Bitcoin to be above the law, and are genuinely confused when a legal conflict with the existing system turns out against their favor.

Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.

Consider the rise and fall of Paycoin, a pre-mined scam coin that reached the top of Coinmarketcap and bamboozled its members with promises of Amazon and Walmart integration, a $20 price floor, and endless features.

Nothing convinced the true believers, who held onto their illusory successful future until every man, woman, and child was screaming scam with overwhelming evidence to support it. Some still believe.

One notable function of the Paycoin community was to attack, and ban anyone who dissented. This creates the famous “echo chamber”, colloquially known as an internet “circle jerk”. Paid trolls and supporters fuel the fire.

‪Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).

Blockchain mining is not only a possible return on investment, it is also an electronic ‘prayer’ by the Bitcoin mining equipment, at least symbolically. The way it functions is that a random number is generated and it must be guessed by all mining participants. Many theological scholars argue that randomness is the mind of god, and empirically it does in certain ways reflect the structure of space-time itself.

Many people mine or run nodes because they want to feel part of something greater — even if they do not turn a profit.

Programmers can also attest to the fact that long-term coding is very much a tantric, mind-altering endeavor. For those who do not code at all, the results seem mystical. If we expand this concept to the development of strong AI, one could argue it is “playing god”. That is a true, yet ridiculous way to phrase this.

Note: Superstitious beliefs are not mutually exclusive with technology, as the military’s use of a DOUSING ROD in Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Georgia, India, Iran, Kenya, Niger, Qatar, Romania, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the United Arab Emirates and Vietnam clearly shows.

‪The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (for example, members must get permission to date, change jobs, marry — or leaders prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, whether or not to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth).

Although this was clearly not Satoshi’s intention, his quotes have become unequivocal gospel in the eyes of many ‘followers’. To question them is either dangerous, or futile. We see a tendency towards humor in this aspect, such as core-developer Gavin Andresen joking whether to start his ‘benevolent dictatorship’.

You may think, “All these people saying Satoshi is a god, they are clearly joking!” Yes, but the fact that this is so widespread and generally identified with demonstrates that there is clearly an underlying causal agent at hand. And many actually do see Bitcoin as their primary religion.

The value of fiat relies on faith. The faith in a violent force will punish you if you refuse it as your primary ‘magic’. Money is the triumph of will over matter. If you think about it, the entire world moves on it. If you want to literally move a mountain, all you need is a mountain of money.

When a government ceases to exist, is its currency still valid?

At this point we can consider… Scientology is a tax-exempt religion. Why not Bitcoin? After all, some believers have the idea that we are entering a new form of time like the birth of Jesus Christ…

The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (for example, the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar — or the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity).

Avid Bitcoiners often fail to communicate with outsiders, because they either assume prior knowledge or speak in a way that is ‘offensive’ to conservative outsiders. It appears that this is induces a positive sensation, which is not uncommon in cults.

‪The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.

Every cryptocurrency has users who will attack other cryptocurrencies in an overt, and hateful manner. Banks are branded, albeit not unjustly, as an incredible evil which is clearly “them” and not “us”. Paypal and Western Union are not simply motivated by greed, they are perceived to be evil and satanic.

‪The leader is not accountable to any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations).

Satoshi’s anonymity, the decentralized nature of Bitcoin development, and the uncensorability & immutability of the blockchain are more than sufficient to fit this criterion. Satoshi said let there be light, and his creation became eternal. There is no realistic way to destroy Bitcoin, providing an optimal substrate to grow faith.

The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members’ participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group (for example, lying to family or friends, or collecting money for bogus charities).

Activists engage in multi-level marketing without a direct payoff to them. They convince friends, family to buy cryptocurrencies and other currencies even at the expense of their friends and themselves.

The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt in order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion.

If you do not believe in [THIS COIN], you are an ignorant, uneducated poor pleb who is on a government handout to shill against the glory of [THIS COIN].

Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group.

Heavy Bitcoin activism has the potential to disrupt familial and other relationships. Some people commented that I made this up, and that it doesn’t make sense. Sigh.

There are people who will push Bitcoin onto friends and family as if it were Herbalife or Amway, making them paranoid and eventually alienating themselves.

I’ve read posts where girls have dumped their boyfriends for talking too much about Bitcoin and nothing else. Does this sound like mere enthusiasm, or can we finally admit that it borders on religious zeal?

The cryptocurrency scene in general is even worse. It was absolutely heartbreaking to see people coax their family members into Paycoin and other scams, because they were blinded by euphoria and feelings of enlightenment.

There were threads written in absolute destitution after a family member had convinced grandma or grandpa to invest their savings, or to dip into brother’s student loans. $20,000 into Paycoin at its peak is now worth around $40.

The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.

For anyone familiar with the cryptocurrency community, this is the primary drive, and I dare say that you could equate the level of aggressiveness with how Jehova’s Witness present their beliefs and attempts at conversion. The communities bitcointalk and /r/bitcoin make this more than clear.

‪ The group is preoccupied with making money, and worships Mammon.

The Bitcoin space is rife with so called investors who do not understand Bitcoin, or literally anything about it. Many ignore its potential as a payment method or currencies, and see it as a way to “make the numbers go up”. This draws frequent criticism that Bitcoin is a get rich scheme.

Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.

Not so much expected, as the fact that people get stuck in loop behavior and organize group activities. This aspect is not as prominent, since many members shun ‘the real world’ and have the option to rely on digital communication.

Getting lost in a loop and repeatedly refreshing the page which shows Bitcoin exchange rates is a bit like numerology. Obsessive, widespread and vacant.

(Keep in mind that I am not referring to being a day trader. That’s different. This is entirely pointless refreshing and OCD checking behavior.)

Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.

If you offend Bitcoin, it will be as difficult for you to co-exist with fanatics as if you had insulted Jesus in a church. You may even earn yourself threats, for being part of the “one world order”.

The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be, and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave (or even consider leaving) the group.

This is usually only seen in scamcoin a.k.a shitcoin communities. Loyal members are suddenly confronted with failure by the project, a loss of funds, and character assassination of their leader. Paradoxically, these members will invest MORE money. It takes an incredibly long time for these individuals to recover.

Consider that Auroracoin, pumped to $120 at one point, has dropped to $0.03 and people still believe it will be accepted by merchants everywhere. As long as they PRAY hard enough, and spread the Gospel.

What is the end result of all of this? Users and people otherwise involved in Cryptocurrencies operate on the desire to create their own legacy, inside an entirely religious ecosystem. Bitcoin even has its own eschatology, wherein it purports that the traditional banking system will be entirely demolished and people will be freed from economic tyranny. Admittedly, it’s not as unrealistic as the rest.

Why do especially centralized Cryptocurrency projects talk in parables? Because opaque, purple prose written in a brand new language is the way in which belief systems are propagated. For further reading, please refer to George Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language

Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you.“ — Jean Paul Sartre

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