Various similarities exist between The Protestant Reformation and the revolution being built around Bitcoin.
The European Renaissance is generally held in high regard in the Bitcoin community as a model of a contrarian, revolutionary impact on the world. This movement was driven by humanist thought leadership and philosophy, scientific discovery, geographic exploration and artistic evolution. Likewise, Bitcoiners have been champions of pushing the boundaries of society’s status quo, looking to make real, lasting and positive change for all people in the world.
A major component of the Renaissance is often left untold, but, in my opinion, carries an even greater parallel to the events we are witnessing in the present day. The Protestant Reformation was responsible for much of the social and political liberation in Europe, paving the way for a number of advantages for the people of that time and their descendants. These benefits include a weakening of the centralized political power (the Roman Catholic Church), the increase of localized (decentralized) church organization, seeding the concept of separation of church and state, and the lawful printing of the Bible in common languages, which enabled the intellectual freedom to choose the faith or not. The rest of my essay will illustrate important historical features of the Protestant Reformation and draw parallels to the journey the Bitcoin Revolution is on with a hopeful conclusion.
All Roads Lead To Rome
The Protestant Reformation was initiated by Martin Luther, a German monk disillusioned with the Church's clerical culture of false piety and power abuse over the millions of Europeans under their sovereign rule. The Church was able to amass an unrivaled fortune through the promotion of religious sacraments that enabled a person to “earn” one’s way into Heaven. These sacraments, while allegedly divine in motive, all came with a temporal price. Paying indulgence was a fee to save dead relatives from Purgatory. The greater the payment, the more the Pope was willing to grant more years of supernatural clemency for the dead.
Individuals were compelled to partake in pilgrimages to massive Cathedrals across Europe to witness alleged ancient relics from Biblical and early church history. This generated economic activity in the municipality to build, maintain, and further enrich the Church’s domain. Relics, if there ever was a real one, were easily counterfeited, stolen and fabricated. French theologian John Calvin famously remarked that there were enough shards of the "True Cross" of Christ in the middle ages to build a boat. Regardless of these relics' true origin, they were all used as a way to generate tourism revenue, promising spiritual experiences and reduction of time in purgatory for passed relatives.
Additionally, the church financed cathedral building projects through the selling of church positions such as Bishop and Archbishop to wealthy families for their sons. The leadership of the church at this time grew to be saturated with wealthy opportunists, as opposed to humble servant leaders.
A Spark Of Knowledge, An Abundance Of Freedom
The renowned “95 Theses” of Luther was posted on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517. This was an antiquated bulletin board medium of communication and intended for a specific church leadership audience as it was written in Latin, not the local German dialect. It was essentially an encrypted message to discuss his concerns with leadership. Unbeknownst to Luther, some local seminary students reviewed it as well. Compelled by its shocking revelations and perspectives, they felt this letter should be known by all. Leveraging a local Gutenberg Printing Press, they were able to print thousands of copies that spread the message throughout all of Germany in two weeks. Like an ancient WikiLeaks, this was one of the first times in history where we see how the individual was empowered against an oppressive central authority through the use of technology.
Bitcoin's creator, Satoshi Nakamoto, is often compared to Johannes Gutenberg because they both invented technologies that empower the masses against central authority. I propose a more accurate comparison to Satoshi would actually be Martin Luther. Both provided a spark to the latent energy in groups of people that grew tired of the wholesale theft that defined the systems of their respective times. The Bitcoin Revolution and the Protestant Reformation both provide a way to opt out of the oppression in authority.
Number Go Up, Strength Go Up
Protestants found support in their shared faith with others that agreed with Luther’s contention with the centralized Church. They organized local (decentralized) places of worship that were void of the bureaucracy that held their spiritual faith hostage for the purpose of wealth and power consolidation. Those freethinkers 500 years ago realized they did not need to funnel their meager earned value to the wealthy central authority to have an organized, healthy system of faith.
Similarly, Bitcoiners have found various ways to act against the rulers of the present day: central banks and their fiat currency. Many participate in the emerging digital economies like the Lightning Network or manage their own full node to help secure the Bitcoin network. Miners spend costly amounts of energy to generate bitcoin rewards while the mainstream world continues to protest the alleged fake money.
“Cryptocurrency has created opportunities to scam investors, assist criminals and worsen the climate crisis. The threats posted by crypto show that Congress and federal regulators can’t continue to hide out, hoping that crypto will go away. It won’t. It’s time to confront these issues head-on.” -Elizabeth Warren, June 9, 2021
Even the simple act of HODLing is being a “protestant” against the established power. Exchanging your time, energy or money for bitcoin is a proclamation saying “the current financial system is broken and must change!”
Monopoly: The Language Edition
As mentioned before, the “95 Theses” was reprinted in the native german tongue for the commoners. Although the German Gutenberg Bible was first printed in the mid-1400s, the Catholic Church had used the Latin Vulgate since the fifth century. This created an ever increasing divergence of religious knowledge between the Latin-versed clergy class and the commoners across Europe. Only the highly-educated, the clergy and some affluent individuals understood the Latin. If you were of common upbringing or too busy to learn the language, you were unable to read religious scripture to determine for yourself if you believed the teachings and practices. For over a millenia, the people of Europe were unable to challenge Church authority and decisions according to religious doctrines in the Bible. They had no counterparty because of the monopoly on information.
The Protestant Reformation reformed Middle-Age Roman Catholic Christianity from an aloof, unapproachable intercessor to God (clergy-as-middlemen) and instead developed a format that brought the faith of the individual to a local and personal level. With the increase of the Bible being written in common tongue, it gave way to more individual clarity in theological teachings. Various alternative church government structures were formed at the town, provincial and even national level as people tried to reform their faith under leadership they felt they could trust and govern. Generally speaking, a nationally sponsored religion is an abomination to individual rights, but it was a vast improvement to the Catholic Church’s unchecked international supremacy. The people gained traction in the institutions they participated in. They truly had “skin in the game” and were participants in their faith because of the Reformation, rather than subjects to the rulers of their faith.
Bitcoin Is Free Speech
In this current day, the separation of church and state is an obvious first principle of a free society. That freedom is protected in the United States under the First Amendment. Freedom of speech is also protected under the First Amendment. Money is a form of communication, like language, to indicate wants and needs. Bitcoiners have already known this for years and the rest of the world is increasingly understanding this as well.
The U.S. Constitution that protects religion, press, peaceful assembly and speech must also protect the many forms of those ideas. A newspaper owned by a major corporation is not the only format of press that should be protected. As technology progresses, the newer mediums like blogs and online video streamers should also be protected. Bitcoin, as the highest form of monetary energy, is therefore the most accurate and powerful form of monetary communication. This power is most seen in the individuals that use Bitcoin instead of fiat currency that mostly empowers the political domains that control it.
Bitcoin is governed by the protocols of the Bitcoin network. There are no exceptions for the wealthy or affluent. Whether you own 1 BTC or 1000 BTC, everyone plays by the same rules. This is a clear parallel to the Reformation when Protestants sought to dethrone the Vatican and its manipulation of religious practices for the benefit of those in positions of authority. Rather, these brave trailblazers sought to rely on the text of the Bible for their highest authority. Whether accepted or not, it is unchanging for everyone, regardless of their power or wealth.
Wolves in Wolf Clothing
Many socio-economic factors played into the Protestant Reformation. It was not void of its fair share of opportunists. The Catholic Church had sway over monarchs because it was the church that controlled the masses. For hundreds of years monarchs across Europe had to tread carefully when crossing the Vatican, as it was not unheard of for the Pope to deprive them of their role as head of state for any number of reasons. King Henry VIII took advantage of the socially weakened Catholic Church during this time in history to establish the Church of England and the 1534 Act of Supremacy, declaring the monarch as "the only Supreme Head on Earth." Was this decision made based on his moral opposition to the Vatican? Perhaps. Was this decision politically opportunistic? Most definitely!
Comparably, Bitcoin and cryptocurrency will not be void of bad actors seeking illegitimate gain. From the rubble of fiat institutions, there will be some entities that the good people of Earth will likely wish would disappear. This is natural. But what is also natural in Bitcoin is that bad actors have no additional leverage over the Bitcoin protocols than anyone else. It will truly be up to society how powerful such pariahs might become through the free market. In a decentralized financial world you cannot hide behind endless debt and central bank friends to exert monetary power.
Persevere In The Truth And Freedom
Politics may have been a factor for some, but the essence of the Protestant Reformation was about who decides what is true and how to reconcile who we are with who God is. When knowledge and information was able to spread, people realized they had power. As commoners gained access to Bibles, they realized they were not forced to practice their religion in the way the Church had mandated. They even had the right to not believe at all! Through the varied perspectives of the Biblical message, multiple denominations are able to exist freely and in a decentralized manner. Through their differences, the study of contended principles are enhanced while discovering common essential tenets that bind the Christian faith as a whole.
It is an obvious parallel with the battle facing the Bitcoin network today. The masses are illiterate to the world religion of this day: fiat currency. We are told inflation is the key to economic prosperity. We are told assets and hard resource prices do not matter when assessing the strength of a currency. We are told quantitative easing is not bringing us closer to a communist economic model. We are told money printing is an exciting event. We are told that toxic, failing companies should be bailed out rather than let the free market establish new participants. Bitcoiners may focus on one of many attributes of Bitcoin: the hard money cap, the decentralized network, proof of work, etc. A favored concept does not disqualify another. Rather, one's favored concept brings them into the Bitcoin fold where they will then discover more than what initially attracted them to Bitcoin.
Satoshi Nakamoto is our modern-day Martin Luther. As Bitcoiners, we are the students responsible for broadcasting this economic truth, debunking lies and helping those on the fence understand it's okay to live in a world bound by rules, not rulers.
As a Christian, I have always lived in a world structured with sound doctrines, first principles and order. It's not always smooth sailing. It takes mental fortitude and hope in a future promised. Every day is about sacrificing some instant gratification for a better tomorrow. This is known as "low time preference." Bitcoiners share this characteristic.
Bitcoin was a no-brainer choice for me once I learned about it. I believe that clarity will come to millions more once they hear it from the people in the network. I encourage readers here to persevere. History does repeat itself. 500 years ago, brave people put their lives on the line for religious rights that the western society experiences today. The fight for financial rights is just beginning, but seeing how The Reformation turned out with just a few printing presses, I think there is hope for us yet!
Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning. -Proverbs 9:9
Grace and peace be to you all in these historic times! HODL.
This is a guest post by Ulric Pattillo. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC, Inc. or Bitcoin Magazine.