Cryptocurrency driving new religious entrepreneurs

The emergence of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology is inspiring religious entrepreneurs to assist existing religious organizations or create new decentralized religions, writes Michael McKinley in America magazine (June 24). Blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, constitute a kind of currency without intrinsic value or physical form, one that exists only as ethereal data and has no central bank to guarantee its value. That blockchains guarantee a permanent record without a central authority and cannot be undone but only added to has appealed to those with democratic aspirations for this technology. Because it is also based on the trust and belief of the user, the technology’s affinity with religion is becoming recognized by entrepreneurs. Last year, cryptocurrency entrepreneur Matt Liston and artist Avery Singer launched a cryptocurrency-based religion known as 0xOmega at New York’s New Museum. The plan is that believers will contribute to the new faith in either traditional cash or cryptocurrency, which will then be converted to cyber tokens that become the currency of the religion that believers can accrue through “spiritual work.” “In looking at religion through this technical lens,” Liston said, “I discovered…religions are essentially coordination tools. They allow humans, as a society, to coordinate toward a common utility.”

Inspired by the concept of the “Omega Point” developed by theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., Liston plans to digitize 0xOmega’s religious texts and have users update them as they democratically push toward a cosmic endpoint. At the launch Liston and Singer already released hard copies of a founding document about the new religion (which they asked people not to upload publicly until the religion was active online) and a sacred symbol that could be translated into tokens. Liston also hopes that 0xOmega could “do good in the world,” beyond providing a mechanism to specify and spread its beliefs, by allowing followers to express their faith through donating to charitable causes. Ethereum, which is the cryptocurrency platform from which 0xOmega will launch, has in the past been used to create the “Jesus Coin” in a satiric attempt to “decentralize Jesus,” and the company Lotos is working on an Ethereum token aligned with Buddhism. Blossom Financial’s Smart Sukuk offers Halal cryptocurrency options to Muslims. Although the plans for a new blockchain religion may seem like science fiction, existing religious groups are already using the technology. McKinley reports how Catholic Blockchain, a startup company in Austin, TX, is using the technology to help the Catholic Church better manage its sacramental records and facilitate “investment in church property in a way that could be used to generate income for both the church and investors, Catholic or not.” Co-founder Devin Rose sees the technology’s advantages not only for record storage and revenue through “smart contracts,” but also for financial transparency. “On the blockchain it would be very clear where church money is being invested,” he said.