Home Ethereum Blockchain Prophet Or Snake-Oil Salesman? Embattled Founder Launches First Ethereum Religion

Blockchain Prophet Or Snake-Oil Salesman? Embattled Founder Launches First Ethereum Religion

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Ryan Duffin / New Museum

Avery Singer and Matt Liston discuss their blockchain religion at the New Museum in New York City on May 19, 2018.

It’s been three and a half years since former Augur CEO Matt Liston was unceremoniously forced out of the company he helped found.

In the aftermath of the bitter years-long feud with his fellow co-founders, which was documented earlier this month in a $152 million lawsuit, Liston has emerged a reborn man.

In addition to filing the lawsuit—the largest individual lawsuit in blockchain history—Liston, a self-described atheist, has found religion. Or perhaps more accurately, he created one.

Called 0xΩ, the religion, inspired by the way blockchain helps groups reach consensus, is part of an even larger effort Liston has conceived that is aimed at moving the way traditional religions receive donations, spend them—and do pretty much everything else—to the ethereum blockchain.

Drawing in part from governance models found in publicly traded companies and religious traditions including art patronage and missionary work, Liston’s work points the way to what could end up being the latest billion-dollar industry to be disrupted by blockchain.

“It’s a religious framework that could allow for belief sets to update much more quickly and also to democratize the relationship between membership and convergence on what everyone believes in this religion,” said Liston, who is also the cofounder of ethereum startup Gnosis.

To jumpstart that process, Liston last week handed out 40 hard copies of what he calls a “flame paper” describing both how the religion governance model might work and how his new religion—or cult, as it might more accurately be described at the moment—would implement it. More of a religious ceremony than a launch party, the event, hosted at the New Museum in New York City, included the marking of hyperinflated currencies such as the Weimar Republic’s reichsmark with public and private ethereum keys and the unveiling of what early adherents hope will become the first “totem” or sacred object.

The first step of the religion governance model is reminiscent of how stockholders might update by-laws via a proxy vote. Specifically, the model allows for believers to identify, approve and evolve their own sacred texts via a smart contract, blockchain-enable code that gives users the assurance they’re all viewing the same data without a middleman to verify the content. In the case of 0xΩ, those texts will likely be largely composed of Liston’s own flame paper—a play on the term “white paper,” usually used to describe a startup’s services prior to having any functioning code—but that too could change based on the preferences of those involved.

“The idea is you can take an existing religion, say Judaism, and you could place the scripture in a blockchain,” said Liston.

From there, the governance model further resembles proxy-voting in that it gives adherents of a religion the ability to appoint leaders and fund projects that fulfill the religion’s mission. In an evolution of the traditional patronage model, the governance structure is further being designed to let the faithful fund religious artwork and commission the construction of churches, synagogues, and mosques without the need of middlemen.

To illustrate how big the business of religion is, donations to religion for a wide range of purposes reached $122.94 billion in the United States in 2016, according to the most recent Giving USA report. As for Liston, he says he won’t personally receive any funds from the project when it launches later this year, and instead plans to be a donor.

To help demonstrate how that money might flow through a blockchain in the real world, artist Avery Singer presented a “Dogewhal” statuette at the launch party last week. Going forward, she says, such works could be commissioned by religious adherents and paid for collectively by contributing cryptocurrency to a distributed autonomous organization, or DAO, that is programmed to dispense resources when certain criteria are met. 

Ryan Duffin / New Museum

The Dogewhal, with Matt Liston in the background.

Beyond an opportunity to generate income from her work, Singer says, what attracted her to Liston’s ideas was the possibility of a governance model for a religion that doesn’t require a central authority to oversee.

“In this religion, the people participating and involved could essentially vote and continuously change the structure and nature of it,” says Singer, who variously describes Liston as a Cryptsiah, and a Cryptophet, titles that he refuses. If consensus can’t be achieved, however, Liston plans to use another blockchain concept, called a hard fork, where the historical transactions of the open-source distributed ledger are copied and used by a new group that follows a modified governance model.

If Liston’s ideas sound far-fetched, the technology on which they rely is a bit less so. The ethereum cryptocurrency behind the blockchain Liston wants to use is valued at $54 billion and is being explored as a way to disrupt industries as diverse as finance, supply chain management, healthcare and real estate.

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