It’s been a predictable cycle over the past few years: the price of Bitcoin rapidly rises, and news feeds are filled with Bitcoin-related articles. Heck, I even wrote one of those articles for the Federalist four years ago when Bitcoin was trading around $1,000. Then the price falls or is stable, and Bitcoin returns to the shadows, ignored by the mainstream. Well, the Bitcoin price has had another of its stratospheric rises—this time surpassing $50,000—and so again Bitcoin is dominating the news…and again you have an article from me on the topic.
But this is Crisis Magazine, not CryptoCrisis Magazine, so why should a Catholic in particular care about Bitcoin? After all, Bitcoin was originally made popular by anarchists and drug-dealers, and lately it’s become a plaything of tech titans like Elon Musk—not exactly the typical Mass-going Catholic crowd. Yet I would argue that Bitcoin—or more precisely, the underlying “blockchain” technology that powers it—might very well be the tool that helps Catholics maintain the faith and the Church spread the Gospel in the dark times we seem to be entering.
While today’s headlines focus on tech geeks getting rich or people forgetting passwords that could unlock millions, Catholics should be aware of how Bitcoin and blockchain technology could impact the future of the Church. In other words, this article isn’t investment advice, but instead evangelization advice.
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First, a brief primer on Bitcoin. Although it’s often in the news, most people still don’t understand it. If you already do, feel free to skip to the next section (and if you want to know even more about it, check out my book on the topic).
Bitcoin is a decentralized way to transfer value (note: contrary to the image accompanying this article, Bitcoin is strictly digital; there are no physical bitcoins in existence). The key word here is “decentralized:” no one person or entity controls Bitcoin. That’s a hard concept for most people to imagine, but it’s true. Bitcoin is a software protocol (a set of rules governing how computers communicate), and as such, it allows for two parties to use Bitcoin without a centralized authority between them.
In other words, Bank of America or Google or the U.S. Government can’t control your use of Bitcoin. Yes, they can make it more difficult (and even illegal) to use, but none of these entities can shut Bitcoin down. This differs from credit cards or bank accounts, for example, as your bank can cancel your accounts without notice if it desires.
“Blockchain” is the name for the technology that powers Bitcoin, and now thousands of other cryptocurrencies use the same basic principles. Likewise many diverse tech projects are being developed using the same decentralized blockchain technology that runs Bitcoin. That’s a key point to remember: Bitcoin is not just another currency—it introduced a whole new technology paradigm, and this new paradigm is transforming the technology world, and therefore our world, whether we are aware of it or not.
How does this relate specifically to the Church? Many Catholics in fact have been suspicious of the technology since it first came into the news a decade ago. The primary concern is the association—now lessening—between Bitcoin and immoral activities such as drug dealing. But I’ve also heard worries from Catholics that Bitcoin will be the global currency of a future anti-Christian one-world government. And then there are the legitimate concerns of many people, Catholic or not, regarding Bitcoin’s volatility and whether it can be hacked.
Perhaps the biggest concern from a Catholic perspective is Bitcoin’s built-in anti-institutional, anti-authoritarian nature. Since it is by design decentralized, that means it fundamentally undermines centralized institutions and authorities. And what is the most institutional, centralized authority on the planet other than the Catholic Church? So isn’t the rise of Bitcoin bad for Catholicism?
Here’s where I think it helps to recognize the signs of the times. Although the Catholic Church is the oldest, most established institution in the Western world, our post-Christian-rapidly-becoming-anti-Christian world is on a path to making Catholicism anti-institutional and even driving it underground in some parts of the world. Name a “Big” (Big Tech, Big Education, Big Media, etc.) that is not actively opposed to orthodox Catholicism. While no one can predict the future, you don’t have to be Nostradamus to see that practicing Catholics are being increasingly “cancelled” in society.
This is where Bitcoin and blockchain technology can help. Throughout history, missionaries from St. Paul to St. Maximilian Kolbe have used the latest technology to spread the Gospel message. We need to do the same. If Facebook or Twitter or YouTube or even Bank of America cancels you, what can you do? Embrace decentralized technologies that can help you practice your faith and tell others about it.
As I write this, there are thousands of projects in the works to apply blockchain technology to decentralize services such as search engines, video hosting, and payment processing. If these projects are successful, then there’s no more need for Google, YouTube, or Paypal, all of which have already shown a propensity to discriminate against faithful Catholics. And of course Bitcoin itself can be a means of financial savings that cannot be confiscated if one day your bank decides your “dangerous” Catholic beliefs make you unworthy of keeping your own money.
So does this mean that every Catholic needs to go out and buy as much Bitcoin as he can? Again, this article is not investment advice; what you do with your money is up to you. What Catholics do need to do, however, is become more familiar with decentralized technologies like Bitcoin. They may very well be the means by which the Church survives in dark times, allowing us to set up alternative ways to communicate and interact, eventually re-emerging, ready to convert the world back to Christ.
Our Lord tells us to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” and that too often “the children of this world are wiser than the sons of light.” Perhaps one way to be “wise” in this world is for Catholics to embrace technology originally built to undermine centralized institutions in order to build up the only divine institution on earth—the Catholic Church.
[Photo Credit: Pixabay]