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Hass McCook is a well-known and respected civil engineer from Sydney, Australia, who has worked on some of the world’s most spectacular buildings, from the Allianz Arena in Munich to Marina Bay Sands in Singapore. But he is even better known on Twitter, where he appears under the name of Friar Hass – Friar Hass. Now 36, he had a religious epiphany in 2017. And since then, bitcoin has been his religion.
In a modern story with valences reminiscent of the biblical passions of Job, McCook had bought bitcoins (BTC) three years before the moment of his big revelation, at $1,000 a coin. He lost in a fairly short time about 90% of the invested money. Just when things seemed to be picking up, Bitfinex was attacked by hackers and left with almost no money. (In August 2016, 120,000 bitcoins—about $2.7 billion in today’s value—were stolen in a series of unauthorized transfers from the e-wallets of users of Bitfinex, a cryptocurrency trading platform based in Hong Kong, the largest in the world at that time.)
“That threw me into a psychological and spiritual abyss. From which I came out with a religious experience”, he confesses to Cointelegraph. And there is no irony in his words. “I have always said and I always say that in times of hardship and trauma, people turn to God. That’s what happened to me too. It’s hard to express the experience I’ve had, but basically the best way I can describe it is that I discovered…Bitcoin.”
McCook sees cryptocurrency as a form of energy, part of a universe made up of energy, as postulated by quantum physics theorists. “Through the transfer of heat and energy, every atom in the Universe will become a Bitcoin one day, literally,” he says.
If you read more about bitcoin, you will inevitably come across people who associate it in one way or another with a religion. Lorcan Roche Kelly, for example, a journalist at Bloomberg, called cryptocurrency “the first true religion of the 21st century.” And what would a religion be without a universal church, such as the Bitcoin Church, founded in 2017, which explicitly names the legendary creator of the cryptocurrency, Satoshi Nakamoto, as its “prophet”.
In Austin, Texas, there are billboards with slogans like “Crypto Is Real,” mirroring the ubiquitous Jesus billboards on the state’s freeways. And like many religions, it even has associated dietary restrictions – a group of online enthusiasts promote an all-meat diet on specialist forums, citing material, spiritual and physical benefits. But does all this make it a religion?
Jonny Qi, narrative director of Qi Capital, says that as a spiritually inclined person, he began to notice the bitcoin-religion parallel soon after he started investing in cryptocurrencies in 2017. “You have this charismatic leader who disappeared ( known only by the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto, the creator of bitcoin sent a final email to the developer community on April 26, 2011, announcing without elaborating that he was moving on to other projects; it is still unknown who he is or what happened to him , no), you have a white paper that functions as a sacred text, and if you disregard it in any way, others will turn against you. Therefore, all the basic fundamentals to build a religion are there.”
Meanwhile, the so-called “Bitcoin Maximalists” go out into the world and preach the tenets of the faith: safe money that covers inflation, decentralization, and uncensorable transactions that will help Good win over Evil (the traditional banking system). They demonstrate their faith by “hodling” (the misspelling of the word “holding” defines the refusal to sell, remaining impassive in the face of large price fluctuations), participate in “buy the dip” rituals – convincing investors that it is worth buying when prices they collapse—and tell unbelievers about miracles that turned pocket money into fortunes, a modern version of transubstantiation.
They are the fundamentalists 2.0, the preachers who keep the flock from worshiping what they consider false idols or blaspheming by buying worthless cryptocurrencies. “It’s something you see especially in the BTC camp. They hate every other cryptocurrency. Ethereum folks like many other cryptocurrencies, and so do Bitcoin Cash folks.
Most cryptocurrencies are fine with other cryptocurrencies, but there seems to be quite a contingent of people who believe that BTC is the only true religion or the only true cryptocurrency. And I think it’s stupid”, says Roger Ver, the investor and early promoter of BTC, nicknamed “Bitcoin Jesus”.
And they are also the ones spreading the scenario of an economic apocalypse to the world, in which the existing financial system, based on fiat currency, eventually collapses. For them, bitcoin is the universal answer. “If you think you’re a real environmentalist, but you don’t have bitcoin, then you’re not a real environmentalist. If you want to end poverty but don’t own bitcoins, you are not serious about ending poverty. Because the root cause of all our problems is basically money printing and the resulting misallocation of capital. So the only way the whales, the trees or the children will be saved is to stop the degeneration,” says McCook.
In a broad sense, religion is defined as a set of ideas, feelings, and actions shared by a group that provides its followers with an object of worship and a code of behavior. Seen from this perspective, McCook says, religion does not have to be centered around a God, recalling Buddhism and Taoism.
Torkel Brekke, professor of religious studies at Oslo Metropolitan University and author of Faithonomics: Religion and the Free Market, admits that “it is perfectly reasonable to say that you can talk about a religion without also having a strong concept of a being divine”. What all religions share, he adds, is a strong social aspect.
“Believers have a very well-developed sense of a special community, different from other communities, and rituals such as prayer or singing have the role of accentuating this feeling.” With the pandemic, he points out, many established religions are carrying out this kind of collective rituals online. As things stand, could Crypto Twitter be the place where the Bitcoin faithful gather to feel the joy as the price rises and the crushing disappointment when it falls? Technically speaking, hodlers shouldn’t care about short-term price movements since they don’t want to sell, but a rise in BTC seems to validate their belief, while a fall puts it to the test.
Is the bitcoin-religion comparison overblown and completely wrong? “Definitely,” believes Kirby Ferguson, cryptocurrency enthusiast and director of the documentary series “This is Not a Conspiracy, Everything is a Remix.” “Anyone who worships bitcoin or follows it religiously is going way too far. It is simply not a religion. There is nothing metaphysical about it. There is nothing supernatural about it. Satoshi Nakamoto is just a guy”, he believes.
But there are many other voices who argue that the ideology surrounding bitcoin could act as a sort of surrogate belief system as traditional religions lose their influence. And that’s an idea that’s gaining ground in a whole host of different ideologies and movements unrelated to bitcoin.
The decline of institutional religion has had the effects of a systemic earthquake in Western cultures, especially in the traditionally God-fearing United States of America. Two decades ago, about 70 percent of Americans belonged to a church, synagogue, or mosque. A rate that dropped to just 47% in 2020, according to Gallup statistics. In the same period, the number of people with no religious affiliation nearly doubled, with the proportion being higher among younger age groups, including 31% of millennials and 33% of Gen Zers. The very age groups most interested in bitcoin.
James M. Patterson, a researcher at the Center for Religion, Culture and Democracy (USA), says young people are now beginning to embrace alternative forms of faith. And political analyst Ross Douthat writes in his book “Bad Religion” that “attempts to eliminate religion from American public life have failed; alternative belief systems rushed to fill the void,” suggesting that critical social justice movements are a manifestation of this phenomenon.
Even QAnon, with its mysterious prophet Q and its apocalyptic-conspiracy theories, is a way to fulfill people’s need to believe in something, Kirby Ferguson gives one such example. McCook sums up the concept simply. “You have to believe in something and it doesn’t have to be God. You need a compass in your life, otherwise you will be lost and destructive.”
Many scholars believe that humans are “wired” to believe in something greater than themselves. “It is something absolutely common. Even people who are staunch atheists often have another belief system that is really powerful. And such a system could be bitcoin, environmentalism, libertarianism, progressivism or anything else,” adds Ferguson. What unites these alternative belief systems is that they seek to make the world a better place, whether by eliminating racism or sexism, saving the environment, or reforming a financial system deemed unfair and unjust.
But there is another side to the coin, warns lawyer David French, a well-known campaigner for the promotion of civil rights. “There are things and causes that really bring people to life and give them the feeling that what they are doing is supporting something really important and really good. But, as with so many fundamental ‘isms,’ they often become completely intolerant of dissenters and critics, ending up oppressing in the very name of the liberation they call for.”
With the exception of QAnon, all of these movements are referred to as ideologies rather than religions. But many are of the opinion that it is (increasingly) difficult to tell where an ideology ends and a religion begins. “There is a kind of blurred border,” believes Ferguson.
“Any kind of belief system — whether you’re libertarian or progressive or whatever — is a little bit like a religion. It influences your decisions and shapes your moral interpretation of issues.” Commenting on how things have turned out so far, Qi of Qi Capital believes that bitcoin or something like it could indeed become a formal religion in the future. We have to see all this from the perspective of the next 100 years, when the symbiosis between people and digital will be deeper and deeper, he elaborates. “You’re going to have to have a religion that fits that reality. A digital religion. It will be something huge! And I don’t think anyone will be able to stop it!”