What does Bitcoin and the Catholic Church have in common? Turns out – far more than most realize, but first a brief history of Bitcoin.
The Quest for a New Kind of Currency
For quite a few years in the late twentieth century, efforts were made by coders and programmers to develop a peer-to-peer digital currency that was scarce, verifiable (to avoid double-spending of the same coins), and independent of government involvement and manipulation. After many attempts to find the “Holy Grail” of currency, by the early 2000s, most had concluded this to be an impossible task.
But then on All Hallow’s Eve in 2008, Satoshi Nakamoto posted a paper in a cryptography mailing list that became known as “the Bitcoin white paper.” Using just nine pages of text, “Satoshi” (a pseudonym for the still-unknown creator) explained the model for how this long sought-after currency could be achieved. This new form of money would utilize public blockchain technology, which allowed anyone access to a digital ledger of transactions, making it highly decentralized. All “nodes” that were running the blockchain program of Bitcoin would always know what the true records in the entire chain were. That meant that even if someone were to hack one (or several) of the nodes, the other nodes would be able to compare it with their own records of deposits/credits along the blockchain.
Bitcoin’s not so well-known backstory, as told in Nathaniel Popper’s highly recommended book Digital Gold, is that during the first two to three years of its embryonic stage, there was every reason to assume it would fail. But “Satoshi” and his merry band of misfits believed in the mission so strongly, they practically willed it to work. Problems were spotted and debated, forums were held, and questions were asked about how this or that issue would be handled, and to determine the most prudent path forward. The fact that all of these early players offered their skills and time in order to make this work bordered on miraculous. To them it wasn’t about profit or personal glory, rather, it was about making an idea actually play out in real life that would benefit individuals on a global scale.
Later on, various ne’er do-wells jumped in to the game to see how they might profit from those users who were attracted to this libertarian approach to currency. But the fact remained that the Bitcoin code, and the blockchain technology it was platformed on, was revolutionary. The technology was and continues to be disruptive, as hackers and other nefarious actors attempt to overtake the system, but its decentralized nature renders such efforts sterile. The strategy of those nefarious actors is to challenge the status quo and motivate those in positions of power to cast a myriad of aspersions at the concept of cryptocurrencies and the technology that supports it. Their hope is that a sufficient amount of usually false or misleading claims will resonate with enough people to stifle or kill its impact.
Yet, Bitcoin lives on, and has turned into a currency that could well be a boon to the poor and disenfranchised of the world. While many people who live in third-world countries don’t have access to reliable banking systems, they do have access to the Internet, which is all that is needed to make use of this type of currency that enables super-fast, cheap, and secure financing to those most in need of a widely accepted and stable currency. To that end, El Salvador has already adopted Bitcoin as its official currency, and countries such as Paraguay, Brazil, Mexico, Panama, and others have all expressed interest in doing likewise.
A Currency with its Own Doctrines and Traditions
We now return to the question presented at the beginning of this article: what do Bitcoin and the Catholic Church have in common? The similitude is in the way Satoshi established the digital ledger system, whereby Bitcoin is secured through an unbroken blockchain that cannot be hacked or corrupted because any changes can always be verified by checking the records of previous transactions along that blockchain. This system is analogous to how the Church’s Sacred Tradition holds fast to the original deposit of faith left to us by Christ and the apostles, and allows it to faithfully pass on the faith to future generations.
When troubles arose in Bitcoin’s early years, its creators created online forums to hash out problems in the same way the Church convened various councils to work out theological issues and deal with heresies. In fact, you might say that the ne’er-do-wells mentioned above and other online grifters were the “Gnostics” of the Bitcoin ecosystem who, like the early Church “intellectuals” who tried to lure Christians away from the traditional apostolic faith, offered “secret knowledge” to gain wealth, but only from behind a paywall.
Bear in mind that I am in no way trying to claim that Bitcoin (or cryptocurrencies, in general) represent some type of divine ideology or belief system. However, it is true that the commonalities between Bitcoin and the Catholic Church are striking, as many of the goals of this currency are in line with the teachings and functioning of the Catholic faith. For example, both involve a radical departure from societal norms and challenge us to think differently. In addition, both provide opportunities for those who’ve previously had little reason for hope, to have access to a better future. Finally, Bitcoin offers a unique but significant opportunity for Catholics to reach people on a global scale, an opportunity which, like the Catholic faith, is beyond the reach of government interference. This is certainly a factor that may prove useful in the future considering the FBI’s continued scrutiny of traditional-minded Catholics.
The Church has always found a way to meet people in their own environment and call them to something greater in a way that speaks uniquely to them. Offering and explaining Bitcoin’s parallels with Catholicism might be an efficient vehicle for evangelization, with “St. Satoshi” playing the part of the apostle to computer geeks and agnostic libertarians who are passionately part of the Bitcoin movement. Now is as good a time as any for the Church and Her members to take a closer look at Bitcoin and cryptocurrency as a whole, not only for financial security reasons, but also (as always) for spreading and handing on our Catholic faith.
Photo Credit- bitcoinist. com