Hass McCook is a renowned civil engineer based in Sydney who has worked on some of the world’s most spectacular structures, from Munich’s Allianz Arena to Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands.
In addition, he considers Bitcoin to be a form of religion.
The 35-year-old, who goes by the handle Friar Hass on Twitter, had a religious epiphany about Bitcoin in 2017.
As in the Bible’s The Trials of Job, McCook purchased Bitcoin three years earlier at $1,000 per coin, only to watch it lose 90 percent of its value over the next three years.
A significant portion of the remaining sum was then lost as part of a hack of the Bitfinex cryptocurrency exchange.
“That sent me down into the psychological and spiritual gutter,” he says. “And I came out of that with a religious experience.” He’s not being ironic.
“They always say in times of tragedy and trauma, people turn to God. That is sort of what happened with me. It’s tough to describe the experience, but basically, the best way I can describe it is I went to Bitcoin.”
According to McCook, who is a member of the Bitcoin Mining Council and a friend of MicroStrategy’s Michael Saylor, Bitcoin is a form of energy, and as Einstein was fond of pointing out, when it comes down to it, everything in the universe is energy.
I literally WENT to Bitcoin, and now Bitcoin is my [email protected]
— Friar Hass (@FriarHass) July 11, 2021
“It was the culmination of all of my learning, experience and trauma — it was the realization that you and I, in long-term equilibrium, are just Satoshi,” he says. “Every atom in the universe through heat and energy transfer, one day will become literally Bitcoin.” He adds:
“It’s a very, very powerful thing, like we get buried into the ground, we go into the ground, become worm food, circle of life and eventually it ends up in the grid. You literally end up in Bitcoin.”
When this feature was first commissioned, it was intended to be a lighthearted exploration of the notion that the culture surrounding Bitcoin is, metaphorically speaking, similar to a religious tradition.
However, it has come to light that some people are beginning to regard it as a literal religion — or at the very least as an ideology or even a cult with the potential to transform into one.
Although it appears to be crazy — and perhaps it is — there is more substance to the concept than you might expect.
Bitcoin Holy Capitol
Many attendees at the recent Bitcoin 2021 conference in Miami noted the religious overtones.
The New York Times article, titled “Thousands descend on Miami to glorify Bitcoin,” quoted Moishe Mana, the owner of the convention center, as saying: “The more you fight religion, the more holy it becomes and the stronger the movement becomes.”
According to media outlet Paradox, a “ten-thousand-plus legion of devoted believers” gathered with “followers of Bitcoin maximalism” to listen to the movement’s high priests:
“Before thousands of wide-eyed attendees like Joel Olsteen preaching at a megachurch, prophets like Michael Saylor called Bitcoin the ‘apex’ of human achievement, while architects of the Holy Capitol blatantly acknowledged the asset as a full-fledged religious movement.”
And, similar to religious adherents, Bitcoiners believe, with some justification, that they are on a righteous mission to transform the world.
“I don’t believe there is anything more important to work on in my lifetime,” Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey told the crowd.
The concept dates back to at least late 2012 when Bitcointalk forum user Crazy-rabbit posted:
“I’m sure people have noticed how eerily similar to religion Bitcoin is becoming. The mythical founder, the email disciples, the followers… So why doesn’t someone just do it already and register the Church of Satoshi? There is certainly enough philosophy here.”
As it happened, a month earlier, a satirical Bitcoin Church had begun operations, urging followers to “Praise Bitcoin” and “Honor the Blockchain.”
In August 2017, Henry Romp founded a more sincere effort called The Church of Bitcoin, urging members to ”Distribute our scripture, Prophet Satoshi Nakamoto’s whitepaper.”
Jonny Qi, the chief narrative officer at Qi Capital, tells Magazine that as a spiritual person, he began to notice parallels shortly after investing in cryptocurrency in 2017.
“You have this charismatic leader who disappeared, Satoshi, and then you have a white paper which acts as a holy paper, and if you kind of go against it, you’re basically not part of their religion anymore and they’re going to attack you. So all the basic fundamentals to build a religion are there.”
In an article earlier this year, Bloomberg’s Joe Weisenthal neatly laid out the parallels, dubbing Bitcoin “the first true religion of the twenty-first century.”
He noted that Bitcoin’s first block was dubbed the Genesis block and that Satoshi appears to have been selfless and benevolent, as he died without selling a single coin.
He compared the white paper to the Bible, Hal Finney to a saint, Bitcoin Pizza Day and the Halving to religious holidays, and the Bitcoin Cash fork to a schism in the faith.
Weisenthal also remarked wryly that “orthodox” Bitcoiners eat only meat.
“Prophets, apostles, holidays, dietary customs, sacred texts, schisms, sayings and more. Bitcoin isn’t like a religion. This is just what a religion is.”
While the article was satirical, the metaphor is surprisingly profound.
Bitcoiners spread the word about the faith’s tenets: anti-inflationary hard money, decentralization, and uncensorable transactions that will aid good in its fight against evil (bankers).
They demonstrate their faith by hodling, partaking in rituals such as “buying the dip,” and informing nonbelievers (nocoiners) about the miracles in which the poor converted pennies into Lambos through Bitcoin’s version of transubstantiation.
Numerous Bitcoiners envision an apocalyptic scenario in which the existing fiat-based financial system eventually collapses.
McCook described “Judgment Day” as an upcoming period in a blog post: “Viewed by many Bitcoiners as a catastrophic economic event, the end of fiat.”
“Ultimately, this will lead to total civilizational collapse or the phenomenon of ‘hyperbitcoinization,’ effectively when all global trade is conducted in Bitcoin, and its market capitalization is in the dozens of trillions, if not hundreds.”
Cointelegraph Magazine contributor Elias Ahonen, a former seminarian, wrote an entire chapter about the similarities in his book Blockland.
“I actually spent a semester at a Bible college before university,” he says. “It constantly blows me away how similar crypto and especially the Bitcoin movement is to a charismatic religion. I would dare to say that unless you’ve experienced it, you can’t understand how absurdly similar they are, to the point that they are indistinguishable.”
Bitcoin fixes everything
Bitcoin maximalists are fundamentalists — hardline lay preachers who forbid their flock from worshiping false idols or blaspheming by purchasing shitcoins.
McCook asserts that he is at ease with the comparison.
“Yes, because we do have fundamentals,” he says. “There are fundamental, ethical and moral principles to Bitcoin.” While many Bitcoiners just think of it as a fun way to make money and maybe stick it to the banks, some maximalists view it more like a righteous crusade. They believe:
That is, Bitcoin resolves all issues.
“If you’re an actual environmentalist and if you don’t have Bitcoin, you’re not a serious environmentalist. You know, if you want to end poverty and you don’t hold Bitcoin, you’re not serious about ending poverty,” says McCook, adding:
“Because the root cause of all of our problems is basically money printing and capital misallocation as a result of that. So, the only way the whales are going to be saved, or the trees are going to be saved, or the kids are going to be saved, is if we just stop the degeneracy.”
A much darker view of maximalism exists in Qi’s mind, in which the latter is seen as a constricting form of moral superiority:
“Morality is the essence of every maximalism, a belief that somehow their system is morally superior to every other system. Bitcoin maximalists are more interested in moral superiority than sound money.”
In an interview, Roger Ver, the self-proclaimed Bitcoin Messiah who is now the leader of the breakaway BCH sect, claims that Bitcoiners are the only community in crypto that behaves in this manner.
“You see that mainly from the BTC camp,” he says. “They hate every other coin that’s not BTC. Whereas I see the Ethereum guys, they like lots of different coins, the Bitcoin Cash people like lots of different coins. Most coins are okay with other coins, but there just seems to be a pretty large contingent of people that think that BTC is the one and only true religion or one true and only cryptocurrency, and I think that’s foolish.”
Define religion then
The Oxford Dictionary defines religion in part as “A pursuit or interest followed with great devotion.” While Mirriam-Webster defines it as “a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs and practices” and “commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance.”
Referring to those two definitions, McCook claims religions do not have to be centered on a god, citing Buddhist and Taoist traditions as examples.
Torkel Brekke, a professor of religious studies at Oslo Metropolitan University and the author of Faithonomics: Religion and the Free Market, agrees with this assessment of religion and the free market that “it’s absolutely reasonable to say that you can have a religion without a strong concept of a divine being.”
According to Brekke, one thing that all religions have in common is a strong social component.
Following rituals such as prayer or singing to elicit strong emotions from their followers, they believe they have a “very strong sort of sense of being a community that is something special, different from other communities.”
In addition, he points out that many established religions are now conducting these gatherings and rituals on the internet.
Could Crypto Twitter be the gathering place for Bitcoin believers to experience ecstatic highs when the price of the cryptocurrency rises and crushing lows when the price of the cryptocurrency falls?
While technically speaking, hodlers should not be concerned with short-term price movements if they are not planning to sell, a price increase appears to validate their belief, whereas a price decline appears to put their belief to the test.
Torkel Brekke is a professor at the University of Oslo.
My expectation is that he will dismiss the idea after hearing about the similarities between Bitcoin and religion, as well as McCook and Qi’s perspectives on the subject.
“However, some aspects, particularly the “end of times” story “where everything is going to collapse in terms of the financial system and they are going to remain as a select group of people who saw the light,” make it appear as if the comparison might actually be plausible, according to him.
It seems to me that the more you talk about it now, the more I believe that there is something to this,” he asserts.
No, the whole idea is silly
Crypto enthusiast, filmmaker, and public speaker Kirby Ferguson is one of those who believes that the comparison is overstated (This Is Not a Conspiracy, Everything is a Remix). He believes that anyone who worships Bitcoin or adheres to its rules and regulations is going too far.
“I think it’s super misguided,” he says. “It’s simply not a religion. There’s nothing metaphysical about it. There’s nothing supernatural about it. Satoshi Nakamoto is just some guy.”
“It just seems like a real limited religion, if you want to look at it that way. Like I just don’t see — aside from value outside of economics and finance and technology — I’m just not sure what it can really offer you. I would be surprised if many people think that way. And honestly, I’d be surprised if it grows. It seems like a joke to me.”
Decline of religion
One hypothesis, which has been advanced by a number of interviewees, is that the ideology surrounding Bitcoin is serving as a sort of substitute belief system as traditional religions lose their influence.
This is a concept that is gaining traction in relation to a variety of different ideologies and movements that are unrelated to Bitcoin, for example.
A seismic shift has occurred across Western cultures, but this has been especially true in the traditionally God-fearing United States of America, where the decline of organized religion has been particularly dramatic.
Twenty years ago, approximately 70% of Americans belonged to a religious organization such as a church, synagogue, or mosque.
According to Gallup, this percentage will drop to just 47 percent by 2020.
People who do not have a religious affiliation increased by nearly twofold over the same period, with the proportion being higher among younger age groups, including 31 percent of Millennials and 33 percent of Generation Z.
These are also the age groups that are the most interested in Bitcoin at the moment.
In the National Review, James M. Patterson, a research fellow at the Center for Religion, Culture, and Democracy, argued that young people are increasingly embracing alternative forms of belief.
He cited Ross Douthat’s book Bad Religion as evidence that “efforts to eradicate religion from public life in America have failed; alternative belief systems have rushed in to fill the void.”
He suggested that one manifestation is critical social justice movements.
McCook succinctly summarizes the concept.
“You have to believe in something, and it does not have to be God,” he says, citing the popularity of Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life on the opposite end of the political spectrum. He continues:
“You need some compass in your life or you’re just going to be lost and destructive.”
Even QAnon, with its mysterious prophet Q and its Judgment Day-style prophecies from the conspiracy theory “The Storm,” may be a way of satisfying people’s desire to believe. “People are sublimating, they’re redirecting, they’re channeling these kinds of impulses in other directions and I think QAnon definitely fits the bill there,” Ferguson says.
Religion is hardwired
Numerous scientists believe that the human brain is hardwired for religion — or that people have an innate desire to believe in something greater than themselves.
“I think it’s just really common, even among people who are like hardcore atheists, often they’ll have some other belief system that is really strong,” says Ferguson, adding: “It certainly could be Bitcoin but in lots of cases its environmentalism, its progressivism, its libertarianism, its conservatism, whatever.”
What these alternative belief systems have in common is a desire to improve the world, whether through the abolition of racism and sexism, the preservation of the environment, or the reform of an unjust financial system.
David French, a lawyer and civil liberties advocate, recently noted the unfortunate flip side of belief systems with such devoted followers:
“That really animates people and gives them a sense that what they’re doing, they’re on the right side of something really important and really good. But as with so many fundamental ‘isms’, it is so entirely intolerant of dissent and so entirely intolerant of disagreement it often ends up oppressing in the name of liberation.”
Ideologies or religions?
With the exception of QAnon, these movements are more frequently referred to as ideologies than religions.
However, Ferguson notes that it is sometimes difficult to discern where one ends and the other begins.
“Any sort of belief system, whether you’re a libertarian or a progressive or whatever, it’s a bit like a religion. It’s a kind of philosophy, it influences your decisions, it molds your moral take on issues. There’s a kind of blurry boundary.”
“Bitcoin I do see as a libertarian style belief system. But clearly, it’s not an actual religion. It’s more of an ideology,” adds Ferguson. Meanwhile, Brekke thinks that it may be less clear-cut.
“It has ideological aspects to it, but it has a lot of other aspects that I would say are religious-like — they are cult-like. If I was pressed for an answer, I would say, yeah, this looks like a cult with religious dimensions. To say whether or not it is a real religion. I would need to wait another 50 years.”
Qi believes the way events are transpiring means Bitcoin, or something like it could really become a formal religion in the future. “We have to see it from the aspect of the next 100 years: All spiritual ways will kind of die off and people will be more and more merged with the digital world — they’re losing basically the reality part of their life,” he says, adding that “When you see it from that perspective, you need to have a religion which fits that reality. You need to have a digital religion.” Qi then concludes:
“All these elements are in place to build the first basically worldwide digital religion. I think it’s already there. That’s what I believe: It’s a digital religion. It’s gonna be huge. I don’t think anybody can stop it.”