Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Decentralizing Money & Spirituality

Written by: on November 9, 2022

In the book The Bitcoin Standard: The Decentralized Alternative to Central Banking, Saifedean Ammous lays out a fabulous history and sociology of money. He dives deeply into this discussion, while dropping one-liners and understandable definitions that summarize and synthesize his main points. As someone who is frankly averse to economic concepts, Ammous makes this conversation accessible, and yet I felt challenged and clearer by the end of the book.

Ammous begins his presentation by laying out the foundation of mediums of exchange, which he defines using two forms: direct exchange vs indirect exchange. Direct exchange is reflected in the barter system where, for example, a good is exchanged for a service or vice versa. The value is place in the good being exchanged and received, but this only works in small, specific situations, and proves unsustainable when supply and demand fluctuate. Indirect exchange measures all goods and services by an intermediary or a medium, which allows a buyer or seller to more fluidly make exchanges. Ammous writes, “Being a medium of exchange is the quintessential function that defines money.”[1]

Money, Ammous asserts, can be easy or hard, which refers to the variable or fixed nature of the supply. He employees the term “easy money trap” to indicate the mistake made when value is placed in a good that has a variable supply that can increase or decrease drastically. He writes of the easy money, “anything used as a store of value will have its supply increased, and anything whose supply can be easily increased will destroy the wealth of those who used it as a store of value.”[2] “The corollary to this trap,” writes Ammous, “is that anything is successfully used as a money will have some natural or artificial mechanism that restricts the new flow of the good into the market, maintaining its value across time.”[3] Ammous calls Bitcoin’s fixed (hard) amount, at around $21 million, a feature that protects users from the easy money trap. For a medium of exchange to survive over the long haul it must “appreciate when people demand it as a store of value, but its producers have to be constrained from inflating the supply significantly enough to bring the price down.”[4]

Ammous ends chapter 1 and sets the stage for examining the Bitcoin standard writing, “By examining the history of the tools and materials that have been employed in the role of money throughout history, we are able to discern the characteristics that make for good money and the ones that make for bad money. Only with this background in place can we then move on to understand how bitcoin functions and what its role as a monetary medium is.”[5]

In light of this, I found Ammous’ section on gold fascinating both historically and alchemically. Gold cannot be created, it does not rust, and the supply cannot be manufactured to meet rising demand. This means that it has a high salability as a store of value by keeping the supply and price stable regardless of the increase in demand. For these reasons and more, gold is superior to any other mental or natural resource as a store of value. Ammous argues that Bitcoin is even more so. He writes, “Until bitcoin’s invention, all forms of money were unlimited in their quantity and thus imperfect in their ability to store value across time. Bitcoin’s immutable monetary supply makes it the beset medium to store the value produced from the limited human time, thus making it arguable the best store of value humanity has ever invented.”[6]

Ammous writes extensively on the movement away from the gold standard and toward paper receipts during WWI when governments needed more cash to fund their war efforts, but did not want to tax the people any further. Governments‘ demand for money increased so they simply increased supply to meet the demand. Unfortunately, this demolished the value of their currency, which disproportionally impacted the poor and working class. Ammous advocates for decentralized forms of currency because they cannot be manipulated by those who print the money when their demand increases, and bitcoin is the prime example of this.

Now, I don’t live in the realm of economics and bitcoin, though I see correlates with social systems, spiritual formation, and shadow work. I’ve been fascinated by the concept of “decentralization” particularly within spirituality, spiritual practices, and the church institution. My organization, Deep Water, is a sort of decentralized spiritual community. If we think of the church as a sort of market, then the people who come to Deep Water find they have access to spiritual community in a way that the church institution simply doesn’t allow. Now, the church institution may see Deep Water’s work and mistake its decentralization for deconstruction, but in fact it’s simply a more stable “market” for spiritual growth.

We are seeing a mass movement away from the church, and it would be easy to quote Solzhenitsyn saying, “Men have forgotten God”, but my hunch is that the God-image of the church institution can no longer hold the value of human spirituality. Perhaps the veil is tearing, and God is being decentralized once again. Of course, there is still the need for a “medium of exchange” to facilitate and hold space for spiritual practices. I believe this is where spiritual direction and shadow work come in. A great read to extend this topic would be The Archetype of Initiation: Sacred Space, Ritual Process, and Personal Transformation by Robert Johnson. 

[1] Saifedean Ammous, The Bitcoin Standard: The Decentralized Alternative to Central Banking (Newark, UNITED STATES: John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated, 2018), http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/georgefox/detail.action?docID=5329351. 3.

[2] Ibid. 5-6.

[3] Ibid. 6.

[4] Ibid. 21.

[5] Ibid. 9.

[6] Ibid. 198.

About the Author

Michael Simmons

- Tennessee --> Oregon - Father to David and Bina, Partner to Liz - Portland Seminary Admissions Counselor - Spiritual Director - Companioning Center Leadership Team - Deep Water Board Member - Ordained Elder, FMC - Aspiring Jungian Theologian

7 responses to “Decentralizing Money & Spirituality”

  1. mm Andy Hale says:

    Chaos, disruption, and anarchy make most people nervous. How acclimated and comfortable are you with it? Do you think that cognitively plays a part in how you view what’s happening to the institutional church?

    • Ya know, I’ve not thought of it in those terms, but it’s an interesting thought. I like to think of the sort of chaos that leads to growth as a compost pile, which is sort of “contained chaos”. People still need spaces (or spices) for transformation, but the institution has become a bit too convinced on what human beings should be or become. The compost pile only creates the container for death to become new life, and doesn’t manipulate what that life becomes.

      But this is easy for me to say at this point. You’re closer to it. What say you?

  2. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Michael, you always present a challenge for us all to consider! You write about people leaving the institutional church in droves and the institution not being able to hold the value of the God-image – do you see hope for the church if it experiences reform or a new reformation? Of do you think the institutional church as we know it is in a decline that cannot be reversed? I am optimistic about the church mainly because of Jesus promise to build it but I also do not believe we need to keep the same structures we’ve known for centuries in the West.

    • Roy! Thanks friend. I always get a lit shot of affirmation and deeper though when you comment.

      I’m 100% hopeful for the church which I would broadly define as the collaborative relationship between humanity and divinity. That is archetypal and simply can’t be destroyed. But I think the dualism of Western Evangelicalism, born in the 16th century, is rapidly advancing in age. Will it accept its natural death, and embrace the mystery of what may come? The institution, in refusing to die, only imitates Adam, not God.


  3. mm Eric Basye says:

    Great post, Michael. That was an interesting concept you took away regarding “decentralization.” Thanks for shedding light to this idea as I certainly would not have grasped that on my own. I also appreciate the connection to Deep Waters… what I am hearing in both Ammous’ words and your’s is that there is a steady stream of consistency that holds “value” across time, though it most likely looks different today than say 500 years ago. Is that a fair statement?

  4. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Michael thank you for your summary of understanding on this book.

    What about the dynamic of privilege in how money value is determined? Ammous focus is ultimately getting government out of the money business. But how does bitcoin really become something the less advantaged can participate in?
    What can be gleaned from these questions that can then be applied to a decentralized church?

  5. mm Denise Johnson says:

    I love how you tied the decentralization of the monetary system to spirituality freedom. I am curious to know if you see any role for organized church?

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