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!

6 thoughts on “Can Catholics Comprehend Cryptocurrency?”

  1. I admit that I have a hard time understanding cryptocurrency, and can’t say yet that I do well enough to have any comfort level in a discussion about it.

    Zippy Catholic is a blog that covers this topic somewhat in-depth, or at least I’m fairly certain the blogger has in-depth knowledge of the topic. I wonder what your thoughts are in response to his writings:

    https://zippycatholic.wordpress.com/?s=bitcoin

    1. I just read several of his posts over the years about bitcoin and crypto.

      His conclusion seems to be that bitcoin has nothing backing it and so is worthless or worse than worthless.

      I would say, let the market value bitcoin, and the proper value will happen through the market’s discovery mechanisms.

      Bitcoin has a fixed total supply, so is non-inflationary, can securely send a scarce digital token from one person to another across the world without a trusted third-party, and ensure that no one can double spend tokens or take back the send.

      This capability is in itself valuable. Now, whether that makes one bitcoin worth $0.01 or $10,000.00, I can’t say, and that’s what the market helps us figure out.

      Other cryptocurrencies have specific purposes as well that are valuable: see the Brave and BAT ecosystem.

      So I disagree with his blanket condemnation of the space, and I think over time cryptocurrencies’ value propositions will be proven out even more than what we’ve seen thus far.

      1. Thanks for taking the time to read some of Zippy’s posts, and for your thoughts here.

        I suspect Zippy would strongly disagree with your positions on bitcoin (and though I am not well-versed on the topic, I also suspect there are some important things about it you may not have considered in your analysis about the morality of its use), but if you are ever interested, my experience is that he is usually open to honest conversation on the subjects of his posts, even those that are several years old.

        1. Yah he’s a smart guy; I haven’t read his posts for a long time but back in the Catholic blog hey-day I would swing by and see what he was saying about this or that issue.

          There are two somewhat separate issues that he would need to interact with: one is bitcoin which is his focus I think, and the other is cryptocurrencies in general, which have many different use cases apart from being a store of value or currency, like the Brave-BAT ecosystem I mentioned. I think he would find it impossible to actually find any argument against the latter cryptocurrencies.

  2. Cool article.

    I’ve found that most people that look down their nose at crypto don’t really grasp the concept.

    Regardless of what your feelings are on it for financial transactions (I’m very much for it personally), imagine the implications on voting and democracy where your vote can be registered in an immutable ledger. With certain implementations, you could have a private key or address that you can independently verify without giving away identity and revealing who you voted for.

    There are thousands of other use cases beyond currency. This is the equivalent to the early stages of the net. We’re scratching the surface of what is to come.

    With decentralized immutable and openly reviewable ledgers, you very much level the playing field for ‘the little guy.’

    1. Thomas, I agree. Already many blockchain companies are working to build such identity solutions, and voting ones.

      You pointed out the little guy, and it makes me think of the poor people in Venezuela and similar countries, whose currency is devalued by the day, such that it is weighed in stacks to figure its value rather than actually counted. For them, cryptocurrency is a store of value, a means to buy food and necessities, a way to avoid losing all their money between paycheck and the bank.

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