Can Catholics Comprehend Cryptocurrency?

I’m typically a late adopter when it comes to technology.

Odd, since I’m a technologist and full-time software engineer.

But I was one of the last people in my set to get a smartphone or an Instagram account (which I don’t use).

But with cryptocurrency, I’ve decided to become an early adopter. This post is all about Bitcoin and blockchain and cryptocurrency, and how it relates to us as Catholics.

The Bitcoin

Bitcoin is a virtual currency, with a limited supply, secured and tracked through a peer-to-peer network of computers around the world. You can watch a video explaining more details here.

What makes it special is that no central organization controls it, yet by using cryptographic algorithms it is unhackable and also ensures that no one can double spend the same virtual bitcoin twice at the same time.

For Americans and others whose governments and currencies have been mostly stable, bitcoin sounds like a solution in search of a problem, but in countries with runaway hyper-inflation like Venezuela, Zimbabwe, and South Africa, bitcoin represents a store of value that is much less volatile and uncertain than their own national currencies.

Other Cryptocurrencies

Bitcoin and its associated technology, the blockchain, which is the public, immutable ledger of all the transactions that have ever taken place, has given rise to tens of thousands of other crytpocurrencies.

Many of these are forks of the bitcoin codebase, with a few of the parameters tweaked. Others are completely different systems that share only the idea of a decentralized, immutable ledger.

Ethereum is the second biggest cryptocurrency, and its claim to fame is the ability to write “smart contract” code that runs on the Ethereum network of computers. These smart contracts are programs that can enforce rules between two or more parties, allowing the exchange of digital goods, the minting of new kinds of cryptocurrency tokens, and the tracking of ownership of real world goods.

If you want to see a list of the top cryptocurrencies, their prices, market cap, and more, check out this site.

What Should a Catholic Think?

At first glance, bitcoin and other cryptos, being decentralized systems, would seem to be opposed by design against the Catholic Church as the most centralized organization in the world.

But in fact, this is not the case. The Catholic Church operates on the principle of subsidiarity, which means a problem should be addressed at the most local level possible. That might be person-to-person, or at the family level, the neighborhood, the community, the town, the parish, the diocese, or the global level (e.g. United Nations, the Pope, etc.).

Therefore, the Catholic Church can benefit from cryptocurrency technology without fearing any existential threat to itself. Catholics should be encouraged to make use of all the technology at their disposal to do good with it. Yes, technology can be used for evil, and of course it has been many times, but it can also be harnessed for good.

So Catholics have been getting into cryptocurrency, albeit at a relatively slow adoption pace. A few Catholics doing crypto are:

Brantly wrote an excellent introductory article about crypto for ChurchPOP a few years ago, yet the comments were anything but favorable:

One person opines this could be the anti-Christ’s world currency. (I’d say they’ve read a bit too many Protestant Left Behind series novels.)

Another commenter discounts Bitcoin as a fad peddled by traders and geeky-feeling people, which is valueless because no sovereign country guarantees it, and further claims the blockchain is hackable.

In brief response, whether it is a fad or not remains to be seen, but its demise has been predicted many times thus far, and each time it has resiliently bounced back.

Sovereign governments guarantee their fiat currencies, yet the market has revealed in many cases that their guarantee is worthless (see Venezuela for a recent example), so government backing is not in itself a sufficient requirement for trust. Finally, bitcoin has not been hacked, even though various exchanges have been due to incompetence or negligence.

Finally, someone accuses Bitcoin of being a scam and a ponzi scheme, and then proceeds to shame Brantly for writing the article.

A decentralized currency that no one owns or controls, whose transactions are fully auditable on a public ledger, which has a fixed supply and proven security through open-source code and cryptography, is an unlikely culprit as a ponzi scheme or scam, each of which always relies on central (bad) actors who control the money and technology.

No, it’s not a ponzi scheme, and it is irresponsible to claim that it is. But this type of ignorance is common with cryptocurrency commentators, and I personally excuse the person for spreading fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD). Indeed, FUD is a key aspect among the cryptocurrency movement, and if you engage in the movement you have to be prepared for it.

Where to Find Catholic Cryptocurrency People

What if you want to know more or chat with other Catholics about cryptocurrency?

Here’s a facebook group of Catholic Cryptocurrency people you can request to join.

You can also follow me on Steemit, which is a facebook-like social network for cryptocurrency that is itself fueled by cryptocurrency.

I provide a paid consulting service for people wanting to get into crypto or who need help with some aspect of it. It is a complex world and one goof can cost you a lot of money, so oftentimes you need some guidance from a trusted source.

But How Can It Help the Church?

Cryptocurrency can be used in the service of the Church in many ways. Brantly wrote two years ago about a sacramental registry system. Many other ideas exist, and I have no doubt that we will see some enterprising projects started in the near future that will bring blockchain technology to the Catholic Church.

Got a question or a comment? Leave it below and let’s chat!

Is it really that obvious? A case for Tradition

That without which Christianity could never do…or could it??

If I asked you this question, “What’s the most basic Christian doctrine?” What would your answer be? Take a moment to think about it.

You might say, for example, the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead, or, the virgin birth. Undoubtedly, these two are distinctive beliefs that Christians hold. But I’m confident that most of you would say almost instinctively: “Well, the Trinity, of course!” Seems pretty obvious, right? After all, what could be more foundational? what else could so decisively set Christianity apart from all other world religions? “Without the Trinity, you lose Christianity!” Some may even claim.

As a Catholic, I can wholeheartedly agree that the Trinity is the sine qua non belief of Christianity. The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms this in rather forceful language: The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them. It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the “hierarchy of the truths of faith.” (CCC 234, emphasis added)

My goal in this post is to reflect on the following question: “On what basis, or principle, is the Trinity considered a foundational doctrine of Christianity?”

The Reformed and Catholic answers

For Reformed Protestants the answer lies in one of the corollaries of Sola Scriptura, namely perspicuity.

The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it this way: “Those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned , in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them. “(WCF 1.7) Since the Bible clearly and plainly proposes the Trinity, therefore it is essential to believe it for salvation. Hence its status as a foundational Christian doctrine.

For Catholics the answer lies in Tradition, which includes Scripture, and the authoritative doctrinal judgments of the Church’s Magisterium. As Catholics we firmly believe that Scripture is the word of God and that everything in it has been written for the sake of our salvation. However, we deny that Scripture alone is sufficient for proposing a belief both as binding on the conscience of Christians and as an article of faith in the absence of a divinely appointed interpretive authority.

But isn’t this what Christians have always believed?!

To which I give my most resounding “Absolutely!” We Catholics believe that the witness of Sacred Tradition is authoritative and normative for theology. We don’t derive the certainty of everything revealed from Scripture alone. If there were a Catholic who denied the Trinity, we could present him with the testimony of the Fathers and the authoritative pronouncements of Popes and Councils and correct his erroneous view.

But what about Protestants? What would they do in case someone in their community arrived at the conclusion that the Trinity is an unbiblical doctrine, indeed, a tradition of men ?

Appealing to church tradition won’t work. As Trent Horn put it in his book “The Case for Catholicism“, no Protestant “believes that tradition has any ability to overrule an individual Christian who believes his interpretation of Scripture is correct, no matter what long-standing doctrine of the faith it may reject.” (emphasis added)

A conundrum

Case in point, what would they say to someone like Patrick Navas?

Several years ago Navas published a lengthy tome called “Divine Truth or Human Tradition?: A Reconsideration of the Orthodox Doctrine of the Trinity in Light of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures

He writes in the introduction of his book: “Although the doctrine has long been regarded as an established hallmark of orthodox Christian belief , I was always aware of ( and yet seriously perplexed by ) what most Trinitarian scholars themselves normally recognize ; namely , that the actual doctrine itself — as defined by the historic ecumenical creeds — is not one that is directly or formally taught to us by Jesus or by Scripture . But how could a doctrine as important as this — the very nature and identity of God — not have been directly taught in the very revelation of himself that God gave to humanity ? This is , of course , what ultimately led me into a deeper investigation into the matter , in order that I might “ examine everything carefully ” and “ test the spirits ” so to speak , in accordance with the apostles ’ instructions to the Christians that lived in their own day” (emphasis in original)

And also this:

My own conviction is that the authoritative pronouncements of the Scriptures themselves actually—and adequately—fulfill the role of defining Christian “orthodoxy,” and that the historic (4th and 5th century) creeds and their dogmatic formulations are ultimately irrelevant and unnecessary, especially so in terms of determining true or original Christian doctrine.

This is why the reader should know that the views expressed and points made in this book were sincerely and, I believe, reasonably made on the basis (and with deep reverence for the sanctity) of the inspired Scriptures, with the ultimate goal of inciting others to the worship of the one God “in spirit and in truth.” (emphasis added)

The Protestant’s dilemma

Could those Protestants who disagree with Navas say that he is simply engaging in dishonest and careless exegesis? Possibly, but that seems unreasonable given that Navas clearly indicates to have interacted with the views and scholarship of some of the most well-known and respected theological heavyweights in the Protestant community (check link to his book’s product page).

Could they say that Navas is simply too blind, evil or stupid to understand what the Bible clearly and plainly teaches? Could they say that he’s wickedly suppressing the witness of the Holy Spirit in his exegetical endeavors? Possibly, but then again, that seems unreasonable given the foregoing quotations from the introduction of his book.

If the Protestant belief and understanding in the perspicuity of Scripture is true, then they must either admit that all those who fail to see the Trinity leap off the pages of Scripture are intellectually dishonest, morally obtuse or just plain evil, or, recognize that it is possible for sincere and God-fearing Christians to arrive at conclusions that overturn centuries, even millennia, of historic theological reflection, indicating in the process that the individual Protestant remains his/her own ultimate interpretive authority and that beliefs held to be foundational for Christian orthodoxy aren’t rationally necessitated by the available Scriptural data.

As Navas so eloquently put it: ”

Even if one were to accept, in theory, that the creeds serve as a protection against false teaching, we would still have to keep in mind the existence of the various and conflicting creeds that have come down to us, all of course claiming to reflect true Christian “orthodoxy.” But who has the authority to say which creed or confession is the one Christians should look to and why? (emphasis added)

That is indeed the crux of the matter at hand.

(Originally published on 3-26-18. Revised on 4-2-18 following feedback from Casey Chalk, administrator at Called to Communion)