We’d need a miracle to sort out the current bear market. Perhaps that’s why blockchain startups are looking toward the heavens for divine inspiration--and a tidy profit.
Christ Coin, Shekel Coin, and HalalChain are among a slew of companies popping the world's biggest religions onto immutable ledgers. 0xΩ, a religion created by the brainchild of Augur, Matt Lister, goes one step further by creating an entirely new religious dogma that only exists on the blockchain. In fact, there’s now a long list of companies looking to decentralize faith: from Muslim crypto-companies making crypto that adheres to strict scripture, to things like Jesus Coin that promises to “outsource sin,” and “provide miracles exclusively to Jesus Coin owners".
They all claim that some of religion’s biggest problems--corruption, ambiguity, and efficacy--could be solved using a decentralized, trustless system. This isn’t new—Catholic ‘indulgences’, tithes paid by sinners to reduce the amount of time they spent in purgatory, have long been known to breed corruption. Heck, that’s what lead Martin Luther and his merry men towards the Protestant Reformation.
But are these crypto companies doing God’s work, or just out to raid the purses of the believers?
Faith for sale
Hope drives a speculative market, and that’s exactly what religious crypto coins hope to cash in on. Christ Coin, for instance, claims in a video that it’s built with the purpose of ‘reviving hope, repairing lives, and rebuilding dreams’. How, exactly? By financially rewarding people for reading the Bible on its ‘LifeChange’ app, of course. Just like the big man himself, Christ Coin’s creators did not respond to Decrypt’s requests for interview or our prayers for one.
Christian Traders preaches a similar message. “Put your money where your God is,” says a pamphlet on their website. They say our generation’s, “me me me” culture, “distorted… the American Dream” (aka God’s Plan). Christian Traders suggests that the new kinds of missionaries are traders, and that to trade crypto is to pursue Christ. They say that a trader sees ‘Work as worship’, but do not comment on whether automated proof of work scripts will be recognized in heaven. But it’s far easier to find bible verses on their website than to get actual information about the coin itself. In a similar premonition to Christ Coin, they saw us coming and turned down requests for comment.
But revolution is what Matt Liston and artist Avery Singer had in mind when they launched 0xΩ, blockchain’s own religion, last year. By investing in 0xΩ, church members can vote to reach agreements and to voice their own religious beliefs. Conducting spiritual life on the blockchain also means that scripture becomes immutable. To avoid disputes thousands of years down the line, 0xΩ’s own sacred text, “The Flame Text”, is already cryptographically secured on their Ethereum-based network.
Yet with their ambitions for 0xΩ’s, it’s clear that Liston and Singer are either desperately grasping for attention or dangerously moronic. For their own sakes, let’s assume its former.
Even the peaceful Buddhists want a piece of the pie. The Buddhist Lotos Network wants to “disrupt religion” by creating a “decentralized spiritual community.” Members pay a monthly fee to access features like personal meditation classes and online video content, and earn much of that money back—in the form of Karma Coins—through meditation. Their website claims that their app makes it possible to “move easily between temples”. Perhaps an empty claim, as none of these temples actually exist—maybe they’re referring to metaphysical ones. But the Lotos Network could finally be onto something: they hope to solve some of organized religion’s biggest problems—“corruption, incentivization, and efficacy”—by putting their network on the blockchain. But why pay for meditation classes, when you could sit alone in your room for free?
Perhaps a more sensible use case is in the Muslim world, where crypto-companies are creating coins compliant with strict Shari'ah law.
As cryptocurrencies are speculative, some Islamic scholars say they don’t comply with Shari'ah law. Shari'ah principles ban interest payments and usury--the practice of lending with a view to making profits through interest--and focus on economic activity that’s based on physical assets like gold. Such issues led Egypt’s Grand Mufti—Sheikh Shawki Allam—to endorse a ban on trading Bitcoin early last year. He claimed that crypto led to money laundering, fraud and the financing of terrorists, conveniently ignoring that the most prevalent currency in money laundering, fraud and terrorism is the US dollar.
Religion in the eye of the beholder
And Shaikh Haitham al-Haddad, a Muslim scholar who sits on the UK’s Islamic Sharia Council, issued a fatwa on Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In a 2017 speech, he argued that, unlike paper money is printed and backed by governments, crypto is issued by “anonymous people or by some companies”.
Not everyone holds the same views as the shaik, who’s a figure of controversy in the Muslim world. In an article against the shaikh, Harris Irfan, a chairman on the UK Islamic FinTech Panel, rejected the shaikh’s views as rambling, confused and fundamentally inaccurate. “Islamic law by its nature is sufficiently organic and evolving to encompass technological advances which are of benefit to society... A dogmatic approach by scholars in recent history has, in contrast, caused much harm,” Harris later told Decrypt in an email.
But condemnation of crypto in the Muslim world has been enough to inspire crypto companies to develop coins compliant with Shari'ah law. As one of the problems some Muslim scholars have with crypto is that it’s entirely virtual, OneGram and HelloGold both issue gold-backed cryptocurrencies. For each OneGram coin, a gram of gold is held in a physical vault. Since the price of gold is relatively stable, speculation is limited.
What Onegram and HelloGold do isn’t entirely original—ZenGold and OroCrypt do similar things without a religious twang—but among a sea of spiritual babble, it’s perhaps the most reasonable marriage of religion and crypto. But it’s early days for the companies—OneGram only made their first transaction in June. For now, to atone for the sins that led to the bear market, our hopes and prayers go straight to the crypto-gods themselves.