What can a global cryptocurrency scam tells us about the future of religion? That’s a strange question to ask, but the answer is: quite a lot. That’s because beliefs of all kinds, including quasi-religious faith in get-rich-quick schemes, are increasingly being shaped online – a phenomenon ignored by the mainstream churches as they slide into irrelevance.
In this week’s episode of Holy Smoke I’m joined by Jamie Bartlett, one of the world’s leading experts on the dark web, radical politics and technology, whose gripping podcast series The Missing Cryptoqueen is currently being broadcast by the BBC. It tells the story of a shady Bulgarian tech entrepreneur, Dr Ruja Ignatova, who vanished just as her dodgy cryptocurrency OneCoin was raking in billions of euros from investors – or true believers – all over the world.
Despite her disappearance, it still has footholds in African villages, the Chinese business community, Scottish housing estates and Britain’s Muslims – it claims to be Sharia-compliant. Not only does Dr Ruja’s operation resemble a religious cult, it also gives us a glimpse of how technology and belief are combining in ever stranger patterns, often inspired by the utopians of Silicon Valley.