In the first season of the TV show “Silicon Valley”, we met a character named Peter Gregory who is a venture capitalist able to generate millions by speculating on the relationship between cicadas and sesame seeds. Peter Gregory is widely considered to be based on either Paul Graham, Peter Thiel, or both. Both of these real life venture capitalists speak in quite unique ways that at first seem a bit confusing. And interestingly enough both Thiel and Graham promote two very similar lines of thought:
What idea do you hold that you hesitant to share with your peers? – Graham
Tell me something that is true that very few people agree with you on. – Thiel
They posit, that it is these ideas that can at times be the most fruitful, important, and that we all keep such things tucked away in our heads for far too long.
Well I am going to risk telling my idea here for all to read, because while it is a bit risky, if you example the video below, I think you will find that it makes sense.
I don’t particularly believe in any supernatural thing, yet I believe that religion is important, complicated, and wildly misunderstood. It is inextricably linked to our culture, true life experience, or gestalt. I believe this so strongly that I promote a secular view of religion.
Let me explain in more detail. I was raised in a family that attended church each week and overall I greatly gained from the experience. However, when I reflect back on my childhood, I remember adults describing magical things to me. I never believed these things and didn’t perceive that they believed them either, even though that it what they claimed. It was as if I was being taught some sort of strange lesson about everyone together pretending to believe things that no reasonable person would ever believe. Had I learned this lesson better and internalized it, no doubt my life would have been a bit easier and would probably be measurably happier and healthier.
The church I was taken to was part of what is commonly called Mainline Christianity, specifically PCUSA. This church once was very different, more Calvinistic, but by the time I came around, it had been transformed into something quite secular. I remember as a child watching a television show with my father where Adam (and maybe Eve) simply rose up from a sandy beach and started walking around. I asked my father (who was himself a good preacher’s son) how this could be. He simply told me that it was a story, that it was symbolic. It seemed nice and so I never gave it another thought.
The church was good for me because I was socially awkward at school and the social setting was good for me. I preferred to be around adults because they made more sense than the other children. Looking back as an adult, I now see that the church was far from perfect, but at the time it was very nice.
When I got older and went to college, I did not attend church, but did study the sociology of religion and even researched the relationship between the Catholic Church and a community of Creoles in a small town near my University. By this time, I was on my own and simply went on to experience the world as what I now call a ‘secular person’. I learned about other religions in college and especially liked Taoism, which is often not called a religion at all, but rather a way of life, or of perceiving the world.
Years later, as I revisited some of these experiences with my family, it became clear that my experience was much what they had hoped it would be and was similar to that of my siblings and their friends. In other words, thought I had attended and enjoyed church, it was very much a secular experience all along.
It is only is the last decade or so that I have come to fully understand that this is not the typical American religious experience and perhaps my experience was one of a certain time and place that was vanishing even as I was wandering away from it to experience other things. I had always had an aversion to the evangelical versions of Christianity that I was exposed to, but I simply chose to avoid these, as they seemed preposterous.
After watching a number of Netflix DVDs about atheism, I decided to formally tell the world that I was in fact, an atheist. This was greeting almost no fanfare from those around me, with the exception of some heavy religious inlaws whose opinions I had already discounted. Here is a video that I watching and feeling good about because a well-spoken adult was finally confirming what I had imagined all along:
I also became involved with a Unitarian Universalist Church, which was quite accommodating to atheists and even allowed atheistic clergy. As an outspoken atheist, I would begin to argue with Christians from time-to-time, but I eventually outgrew this phase. Now I generally tell people that if they have a special question about how I could be an atheist, that they could simply google the question, perhaps with the word ‘science’ added, and whatever answer they get would probably be close enough. I take no joy in winning such arguments these days.
It is difficult for me to understand how common or uncommon my experience has been. My atheist friends have never heard of such thing, but I really think that most people like me simply can’t be bothered to register an opinion on the matter (and may in fact be wise in that way). Demographically, I am solidly a ‘None’ as well as an atheist and this is why I have become really interested in the term ‘secular’ and often identify myself as such. This is only after making sure that everyone understands that I am not trying to be vague about my lack of belief in the supernatural for social gain or stability (again, honesty before wisdom).
Being in information technology and having studied humanities and the philosophy of religion also informs how I see these ideas. It is why I am a secular blockchain/cryptocurrency evangelist. I believe that we should start allowing some organizations to claim church-hood along with existing religious organizations. I see great benefit in using a common opened ledger. Actually, I don’t see any organization stopping this behavior. New ideas seem strange, but once implemented, often then seem perfectly reasonable. The trick is to understand how to make this jump. In this case, I am interested in promoting first the idea that secular religion can be dignified and implemented rather than 501c3 charitable organizations. I see no law or tradition that restricts this, it is simply a matter of making claims of a generic secular religiosity.
But maybe I am getting ahead of myself. I don’t claim that my own sort of religious ideas are about nothing, but I am not sure that it must be about anything in particular. My ideas about religion are based on what I see around me. Large and well-organized denominations spread out into residential areas and serve communities as people can conveniently fit attendance into their life. The churches are a confluence of a denominational agenda which target certain geographical areas and the people that can make the church a part of their lives. Historically religion has of course been very different, at times compulsory, manipulative and destructive. Most people that I know in the atheist community, and much of liberal religion spend a considerable amount of time and energy on the healing process of past religious abuse. I count myself so lucky to not need such things , but also end up with a very abstract, legalistic, and bare-bones interpretation of what religion could be. I see religion as the institution of last resort which can give a group of average people an edge. Religion has also been historically a way for politics and the wealthy to at the very least communicate and direct the populace. Of course, too often and in extreme cases, again religion can be a source of great manipulation. I believe that non-supernatural religion, however, can be transparent and transformational in a way that can be quite helpful at this time. I believe, in a sense, that a Jubilee can be triggered, with all levels of wealth participating.
Charles Taylor has been involved in politics, economics, and philosophy. In his ponderous tome “A Secular Age” he promotes a worldview were I see myself right alongside people who call themselves traditionally religious. Although he doesn’t mention it in the speech below, his “Immanent Frame” offers more than enough intellectual fire-power to fill in the blanks needed anchor a universal, indisputable sort of secular religious currency. This works for both the religious and the secular and allows us a common order, a shared record, and even a common way to respond to a national crisis in a fast and indisputable way.
And if you still are curious about how these puzzle pieces fit together, I strongly recommend getting a copy of “Gardens of Democracy”. Taylor’s arguments very much remind me of a “Garden Brain” where society is to be tended to grow in a healthy and prosperous way:
So finally, I would like to discuss blockchain technologies. Bitcoin is the first most obvious implementation of this technology and is now known for how its value goes and down in wild swings. For me, however, the most important thing about bitcoin is that anyone in the world can look at its shared ledger. Bitcoin accounts and wallets are expressed as numbers rather than names, but once a name is disclosed, then all of the transactions can be seen. The ledger is stored in a way that is indisputable on a distributed network of computers. All of the computers must agree and if any computer tries to change the ledger, it will be immediately ejected from the system. A system knows as the Byzantine Generals uses codes and mathematical puzzles to pull this off. For me, this is more than enough of a system upon which to build a secular (or supernatural if desired) system which would allow for efficient propagation of the benefits of religion. Some of the primary benefits of this system is that church leaders and or board members are considered clergy and are therefore allowed tax exempt parsonage stipends as well as tax exempt love gifts.
Here is an example of a view into one of these ledgers, this transaction is for 2 bitcoins:
A group of five people could easily create a special sort of mark into the ledger by passing a very small amount of coin or token to each other. This could be done with any currency. If they make a complete loop where all five pass the currency to each other within a few minutes, then that loop could be seen on the register. By formally connecting one of their ids into an agent such as myself who would then report to the IRS as a religious denomination of X blockchain religion, they would be essentially making what could be construed as a legally binding claim of religious practice. Five people wouldn’t transfer coin to each other in this way in this sort of loop on accident, repeatedly, while connecting to special accounts. If a group meets once a month and does this action for each meeting, then they would be acting in a way which would signal the IRS or any one else concerned of their intention. This is how I propose to form blockchain religion. The currency then could be used to make exemption religious payments and would thus begin to create standards for such behavior. The net result would be that this behavior is either accepted and exemption would be greatly expanded, or religious exemptions would be reformed wholesale and benefit would be shifted to charitable organizations. In either way, an inequality would be remedied. I will close with a video of the FBI discussing blockchain, so that one could imagine how the technology could be seamlessly integrated into an official reporting system: