Should Christians buy NFTs?
Non-Fungable Tokens (NFTs) are a new popular phenomenon online. Using blockchain technology, they provide a buyer with a token denoting that they exclusively ‘own’ a piece of art, such as an image or animation. NFTs have been embraced by a number of celebrities, video game companies, and even Christian missionaries.
However, NFTs are the subject of controversy, as they necessarily involve artificial scarcity and are environmentally costly to create.
From videogames to celebrity images to famous memes (such as Disaster Girl), NFTs have covered a wide variety of subjects. NFT advocates have argued that the technology empowers artists, giving them financial control means of directly selling their digital art to an engaged online audience.
Early in their existence, NFTs are a lucrative commodity. In a record-breaking sale, an NFT by an artist known as Beeple sold for $69 million USD.
NFTs have proven irresistible to some sections of faith communities keen to engage online culture.
This extends to the Bible itself. Israel-based company CryptoVerses recently started selling NFTs of four verses in Exodus.
In a press release, Cryptoverses said that purchasing these NFTs does not mean that consumers ‘own’ the verse itself, as the biblical books are in public domain. Instead, they compared owning an NFT to owning a, “medallion, where the purchaser becomes the owner of the medallion but not the owner of the verse written on it.”
One faith community’s use of NFT’s has more of a charitable bent. In Thailand, the Roman Catholic Mission of Bangkok announced in October 2021 that the church would release an NFT to raise money for Communita Incontro School located in Pathum Thani, Thailand.
The NFT contains a mosaic of images from Pope Francis’ 2019 Thailand visit. According to the Roman Catholic Mission of Bangkok, the church chose Kalamint to release the NFT, as the company was supposedly environmentally friendly.
In a Christianity Today piece (broadly in favour of the church engaging with NFTs) Stephen McCaskel and Patrick Miller recall the scepticism that initially surrounded social media and the internet itself, and how churches were slow to respond to both.
They argue that Christians should think seriously about the technology’s promise and pitfalls:
This technology will create a new world of possibilities for creatives, content creators, businesses, churches, and parachurch organizations—which means now is the time to ask some serious questions about how to think ethically and theologically about digital ownership. What are the promises? What are the pitfalls?
Backlash against NFTs
While NFTs are growing in popularity and are being more widely embraced, there are signs of fatigue and a number of public backdowns from companies that previously looked to get involved.
Team 7, the creators of the popular Worms videogames series, recently issued a statement on their website publicly backing down from getting involved with NFTs. A prior project called Metaworms would have lent one of Team 7’s properties to create an NFT statuette.
“We have listened to our Teamsters, development partners, and our games’ communities, and the concerns they’ve expressed, and have therefore taken the decision to step back from the NFT space,” the statement said.
Those walking away from NFTs have pointed to the environmental cost.
Much like Bitcoins, ‘making’ an NFT is an energy exhaustive process that takes about 26.5 terawatt hours of electricity a year. As one study found, as of right now, there is virtually no renewable energy used cryptocurrency mining. The same study estimated that the mining of cryptocurrencies consume more energy than gold or copper.
Technology columnist Alejandro De La Garza has labelled NFTs, “humanity’s most direct way of making money by polluting the planet.”
“If you are buying an artwork you don’t see those calculations going on,” Alex de Vries told Time. De Vries an economist who works to raise awareness about the impact of technology through his site, Digiconomist.
“You don’t see your money is going to a miner who’s going to pay for fossil fuel-based energy with it,” he continued. “That’s a real problem.”
Some participants have tried to justify their involvement with the technology by pointing to less costly alternatives. System of a Down frontman Serj Tanokin said on Twitter that the band heard criticism and were listening, but that the band’s own NFT used a more environmentally friendly technique known as lazy mining.
The other criticism levelled against NFTs is that the technology deliberately creates an expensive item for the prestige of ownership.
As The Foreward’s Mira Fox writes:
Ownership of some NFTs, such as those from the Bored Ape Yacht Club collection, come with perks, such as being invited to fancy parties, and a big part of the whole NFT world seems to be hype, bragging rights and a certain cliqueiness you get access to when you buy in, something particularly emphasized by the blockchain technology, which creates a public record of ownership – so everyone can see that you’re the owner of a hyped-up piece by Beeple. Value is relative, and pedigree has always been important in the art world; if anything, NFTs have simply boiled down the complex mathematics to pure prestige.
For all their prestige (and fundraising potential), NFTs pose ethical questions for Christians about what constitutes ethical consumption. Given the potential for artificial scarcity and environmental destruction (at a time when the Uniting Church aims to cut its own carbon emissions) there are serious questions that should be explored now.