Bitcoin — Is it a monetary system, way of life, or…..cult?
I’ll start by saying that I love No-coiners, Buttcoiners, Altcoiners, and trolls in general — if it weren’t for them, I’d basically have nothing to write about!
One of the biggest troll insults is that the Bitcoin community is like a cult or a religion. Well, I’m not going to disagree as I have quite a bit of religious fervour when it comes to Bitcoin, so the answer to the question in my click-bait title is “A mix of all of the above”.
Before we dive into the very deep, complicated and broad world of comparative theology, I’ll start by identifying the different religious characters in the Bitcoin space which will pop up in future pieces. Every religion has believers that span the gamut of practice, from preachers to parishioners and proselytizers, fundamentalists and fanatics, zealots and casual followers, and everyone else in between.
I’ve identified 7 broad categories of Bitcoin religious characters, with some overlap between categories:
- The Apostles & Disciples
- The Fundamentalist
- The TRUE Believer
- The HODLer
- The Preacher
- The Sufferer
- The “Casual Church Goer”
The Apostles / Disciples
The Apostles are those who once had a direct line with Satoshi himself before he made his ultimate sacrifice- typically, the developers. Just like Jesus’ apostles documented his teachings in The Bible, the first developers helped Satoshi build out his vision. The disciples came later and continue working towards Satoshi’s end-goal — the migration from centrally controlled fiat currency, to peer-to-peer money.
The apostles and disciples have no care for doubters, loud critics and obstructionists, and carry out their work with less appreciation than they deserve for their sacrifice. They proudly take the slings and arrows on the community’s behalf. As with other religions, their faith and deeds have literally granted some of them Heaven on Earth due to the immense riches they have accumulated due to having the opportunity to accumulate tens of thousands of Bitcoin for almost nothing due to the immense leap of faith they needed to take.
The Fundamentalist is militantly pro-Bitcoin, and militantly anti-everything else. They rail against banksters and corrupt governments and large organisations. They frequently “live in crypto”, that is, they don’t have any bank accounts, and get paid in, and spend only Bitcoin. When you ask them about the weather, they reply “Taxation is theft! Audit the Fed! Decentralize Everything!” These are people who are on the correct side of history, but very easy to caricature.
They fight mercilessly for us on the media front lines in staunch defense of Bitcoin, the majority of them with incredibly well thought out and well-articulated arguments. Without the fundies, the community lacks spine and bite.
The Fundamentalist is a typical trolling target, as they are quite passionate people who are sometimes easy to rile up (not unlike fundamentalists who subscribe to the world’s different religions). The Fundamentalist who successfully subdues trolls without getting riled up can be upgraded to “Saint” status in the community, alongside all the social media perks that come with it. The price to pay for sainthood is RSI from all the times you click on mute or block on your twitter account.
Fundamentalists come in all forms, and they may not be a developer or even technically inclined at all.
The TRUE Believer
The True Believer is the final backstop and actual foundation of the Bitcoin network. The True Believer knows in their heart of hearts that Bitcoin will take over the world, and that the economic justice that Bitcoin promises to deliver will solve most issues of social justice too. The True Believer looks at Social Justice Warriors with embarrassment and shame, as many SJWs have been misled about the fact that every single social issue they’re fighting for typically stems from economic injustice and fiat currency. It is possible that a Social Justice Warrior can be converted to a mellower Economic Justice Warrior by educating them about the global fiat scam and introducing them to Bitcoin — but I digress!
Several religions require “tithing the church” or making voluntary or obligatory monetary donations — usually up to 10 to 20% of income in some cases[i]. From Mormons to Muslims, Hindus to Jews, Catholics and Protestants alike, the True Believer is never short on donating to their church, and in most cases goes well beyond all requirements.
The True Bitcoin believer also tithes the Network by buying Bitcoin with 10% (or more) of every paycheck. There is an unfortunately small number of true believers among the millions of Bitcoin users/investors. In my study on Bitcoin Cost & Sustainability[ii], I estimated a Bitcoin user-base of over 20 million people. If there were in fact 20 million true believers investing 10% of their wages, or about USD$77 per week for citizens of OECD countries[iii], $1.5bn a week would flow into Bitcoin. At a Bitcoin price of USD$6500, about $12m of new Bitcoin hits the market daily, or, about USD$82m per week. As you can see, if we had 20m True Believers, the Bitcoin price would be at least one order of magnitude higher, if not two magnitudes.
Regardless, True Believers who have invested modestly but consistently have also been rewarded very greatly for their faith and sacrifice.
For the uninitiated, the term “HODL” is a huge part of Bitcoin mythology, dating back to the Bitcoin bubble of 2013. It is believed to be a mistyping of “HOLD”. We will revisit this bubble, and the others, when we discuss “The Sufferers”. To HODL is to hold your Bitcoin through thick and thin, with the aim to wait until Bitcoin proliferates to the point where a HODLer can spend their hodlings instead of “cashing out”. The HODLers, much like the True Believers form the second layer of bedrock for the Bitcoin network. Some HODLers are also True Believers, but all True Believers are HODLers.
HODLing is extremely simple to do and doesn’t require anything except faith and patience — traits that most religions hold extremely valuable. To HODL simply requires buying Bitcoin, storing it safely, and waiting. This simple act increases Bitcoin’s scarcity by taking bitcoins off the market, which increases the potential for a rise in price. A HODLer will typically continually invest in Bitcoin over time, but not as often as True Believers.
There are also HODLers of last resort, who make big sacrifices, and typically have bloody, cut-up hands from all of the falling knives they catch on our behalf.
All said, the HODLers require True Believers to continually drive scarcity, and Apostles, Disciples and Preachers to drive innovation & demand.
The Casual Church Goers
The Casual Church-goer is that really friendly dude you infrequently see around at Bitcoin meetups, but aren’t 100% sure about each other’s’ names, but will usually end up having a good chat anyway. They often heard about Bitcoin a while back, though it was cool, bought a little bit and didn’t monitor the price that often. You wouldn’t exactly call them a HODLer, even though he probably unwittingly engaged in the act of hodling.
They come and go but stick to their faith, and may even add to their HODLings from time to time. Several casuals become more strident in their faith after a “blessing” from the Bitcoin markets, and become weekly-tithing True Believers.
Over the years, several people have suffered dearly for their faith in Bitcoin. Their suffering is usually forged in the fires of the aftermath of a Bitcoin bubble, and more specifically, exchanges offering ungodly leverage rates. The extent of their suffering depends on how late into the bubble they bought into Bitcoin, and/or, how much fiat currency they borrowed to buy an asset that has depreciated considerably in a very short amount of time. Sadly, some of the sufferers even paid the ultimate sacrifice for it by taking their own lives over heavy financial losses. It is a true tragedy of the community, and the mockery made of it by some people is disgraceful and disgusting to tell you the truth.
There are several directions a sufferer can take –
a) Apostasy and leaving the religion
b) a) + Evolution into an altcoiner/buttcoiner/nocoiner/troll
c) Keeping the faith and accepting that without suffering there is no joy, then become a “casual church-goer”
d) Evolution from a Casual to a HODLer and/or TRUE Believer
e) Evolution from a TRUE Believer into a Preacher
Many sufferers turn into True Believers, and over time, pay their penance for their sins of desire and coveting of worldly things with their weekly tithings, their suffering is slowly relieved over time until they too reach paradise if they are strong in their faith.
The concept of “suffering” is a key aspect of the world’s major religions such as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism. Each has their different approach, but a quick comparison[iv] will show that the act of being alive itself is suffering, and the suffering is usually related to worldly sins you have committed; greed, hate, jealousy — in this or any past lives — and requires penance through good deeds to relieve the sufferer of their pain. There is a bit of consensus that suffering builds character, faith, and closeness to your religion. This also applies for secular people, who seek ease of their suffering through other therapeutic means.
You don’t have to dive too deeply into Bitcoin Twitter/Reddit/ Forums to quickly identify the preachers. Again, similar to the Fundamentalists, they come in all shapes and sizes, may not be a developer or technically inclined, and are almost always charismatic and/or charming in their own way. They are also a typical focal point for buttcoiners, no-coiners and trolls alike. I mean, is nothing sacred anymore?!
But there are a lot of choirs in the Bitcoin ecosystem, and each one requires a different type of preacher. The highly-informed hardcore Bitcoin maximalist choir who are interested in learning about the very hard stuff need the equivalent of a Cardinal who specializes in religious jurisprudence and scholarship. People who are just starting out in the ecosystem need more of an easy-going Sunday School preacher. There are also several preachers who spread the message of Bitcoin’s destiny, and the economic (and by extension, social) justice that Bitcoin will deliver to their flock.
There are however some Westboro Baptist-type extremist preachers who worship code and code alone, and don’t have any time for people wading into the religion for the first time. Perhaps their type of Bitcoin religion involves a lengthy conversion/initiation process, and even after intense study of the religion and religious laws (i.e. core code), displays of genuine sincerity and belief (i.e. GitHub contributions), and multiple vettings by reviewers and Fundamentalists, you can still be rejected by some denominations across the vastly diverse Bitcoin community.
Luckily, there are plenty of churches to go around — and you can follow the preachers of your choosing.
Now that we’ve had a bit of character development, in future stories, we’ll get into some comparative theology, and will demonstrate religious tenets of the world’s major religions, and contrast these with the varying, sometimes conflicting, Bitcoin religious ideologies. Maybe even build out a few full-blown hypothetical Bitcoin religious frameworks.
I haven’t forgotten about the secular\agnostic\atheistic\nonreligious who are technically the 3rd largest “religion” with 1.2 billion adherents[v]. To them, I’ll close by saying that Richard Dawkins famously argues that religions are a form of meme, but I won’t get into the finer details of his arguments! Judging by all of the “IT’S OVER 9000!” Bitcoin memes we saw in 2017, you can bet that Bitcoin will proliferate when it is naturally ready to so. Don’t let your memes be dreams!
[ii] McCook, H., 2018, “The Cost & Sustainability of Bitcoin (August 2018 edition)
[iii] OECD, 2018, “Average Annual Wages”,