Catholics have long had an uneasy relationship with money. As our Lord said, “You cannot serve both God and mammon” (a word that means “riches”). He also told us that “Blessed are the poor.” Many of the greatest saints, including my favorite, St. Francis of Assisi, embraced poverty and saw it as a path to sanctity. Because of all this, many Catholics are naturally adverse to money. Some go so far as to assume that one cannot be rich and a faithful Catholic (something our Lord and the Church have never taught).
This negative attitude toward money seems to have infiltrated some Catholics’ view of Bitcoin, the newest form of money. Most news stories about Bitcoin are about its price changes and how people have gotten rich off it by doing nothing more than holding it (or “hodling” it, as Bitcoiners would say). This has led to criticisms of Bitcoin and accusations that Bitcoiners didn’t earn their riches and even that those who promote Bitcoin have fallen into a new form of idolatry.
I’m not going to dig too deep into these criticisms (which are mostly based on a misunderstanding of Bitcoin, a misunderstanding of economics, or a misunderstanding of Catholic teaching on money), but I would like to address a more simple issue: is Bitcoin moral? Is the technology itself moral, and is it moral for a Catholic to hold and use Bitcoin?
Can a Technology be Moral or Immoral?
To be precise, Bitcoin, like any technology, is amoral. It is neither good nor bad, much like a pencil or a knife is neither good nor bad. It is how the tool is used that matters—one can use a pencil to write slanderous words against another, or can use it to write a beautiful poem about the love of God. Likewise with Bitcoin: it is just a piece of software, and thus isn’t good or bad.
But that’s a cop-out answer. While all tools may be amoral, some tools are more likely to be used for evil than good. A nuclear bomb, for example, is an amoral tool, but it’s almost impossible to use in a morally good fashion since it inevitably will kill innocent non-combatants. Some technologies lead people to sin more easily than others.
By that standard, then, is Bitcoin more directed toward the good or the bad? I think we can discover this by comparing it to its main “competition”, i.e., the U.S. dollar.
Many things differentiate Bitcoin from the dollar, the primary being its money supply. Bitcoin adds to its money supply on a fixed schedule that is public for all to see (currently 6.25 BTC are added to the network approximately every 10 minutes). Further, there is a maximum supply of 21 million BTC that will eventually be created. This limit is hard-coded in the software, and is essentially impossible to change.
Contrast that with the dollar: the money supply is controlled by the Federal Reserve, and no fixed schedule exists for when new dollars are created, and there is no maximum supply limit—dollars can be created to infinity if the Fed wants (and it seems to want that).
This feature alone makes Bitcoin more “moral” than dollars. When a small group of Elites can flood the money supply, thus devaluing the real purchasing power of an individual’s saved dollars, they are for all practical purposes stealing from those individuals. The senior on a fixed income who is making $30,000/year makes less every single year because of the inflated money supply.
Bitcoin, by design, prevents this form of theft.
Another feature of Bitcoin that makes it morally superior to the dollar is the fact that a government cannot control it (and in fact, no one controls it). History has shown that governments who control their currency always use it to pay for their bad decisions, particularly war. Most wars are unpopular with regular citizens, and these citizens do not support leaders raising their taxes to pay for these unpopular wars. But with control of the money supply, politicians don’t have to get approval before going to war—they can pay for it through printing new money.
The adoption of Bitcoin can lead to more peace in the world.
Trusting Third Parties with Your Money
In addition, Bitcoin’s decentralized nature also leads to it being more moral than the dollar. When you use your credit card at a store, you are trusting a third party with that transaction (often multiple third parties): your bank, credit card company, the store itself. You have given all these parties access to your bank account. Beside the fact that they could potentially use it to make fraudulent charges (which might be reimbursed to you, but will increase costs to the bank which will be passed to you in fees), the banking system also has the ability to “shut off” your account, denying you access to your own money.
On the other hand, one of the mottos of Bitcoin is that you can “be your own bank.” You can have complete and total control of your money, and when you pay someone, they only have access to what you send to them, nothing else. This leads to far less fraud, and far less ability for a “trusted” third party to abscond with your funds.
Bitcoin better protects your money.
One final aspect of Bitcoin that makes it more moral than the dollar is the difficulty of counterfeiting it. While the government has made strides to prevent the counterfeiting of dollars, it is practically impossible to counterfeit Bitcoin. This not only prevents the sinful act of counterfeiting itself, but it prevents the virtual theft of other Bitcoins through devaluation—counterfeiting a currency has the same outcome as the “legitimate” inflation of the money supply.
Bitcoin prevents the debasement of its value.
The Bitcoin Religion?
One more point comparing Bitcoin to the dollar: any negative uses of Bitcoin, such as for buying drugs or funding terrorists, are equally applicable to the dollar. After all, it’s cash that king for illegal activities.
The superior features of Bitcoin get its proponents excited. Yes, that excitement can be excessive at times, even giving Bitcoiners a religious feel. While I wouldn’t say I’ve seen it fall into idolatry as some have claimed, I also know that one should not judge the tool based on some overenthusiastic followers.
For example, football can be an enjoyable sport, but many in this country treat it as an idol, worshipping at the local stadium each Sunday. But that excessiveness doesn’t negate the sport itself—it just shows that there is a religious hole in many people today that needs to be filled. And when the true Faith does a poor job of evangelizing, other activities will take its place, including Bitcoin.
So, is Bitcoin moral? I’d say it’s far more moral than the U.S. dollar. While the love of any form of money is the root of evil (1 Timothy 6:10), money itself is not evil. And in the case of Bitcoin, it’s a form of money that is less prone to tempt people toward evil than other forms of money.
If you want to know more about Bitcoin, you can buy my book “Bitcoin Basics: 101 Questions and Answers,” which was written six years ago, but still lays out the fundamentals of Bitcoin.