In the cryptocurrency world, there is a lot of talk about soft and hard forks. Roughly speaking, a soft fork is when a cryptocurrency constructed on a blockchain splits into two branches, but the older branch is still compatible with the newer branch. It’s forward compatible. Examples of these soft forks include Bitcoin for much of its history, Ethereum, and Monero. A hard fork is when a cryptocurrency is split into two branches, but the two branches are incompatible and must develop separately. The canonical example is Bitcoin and Bitcoin Classic.
I’ve been studying religion a lot recently, and have noticed that forks are quite common in the world of religious traditions.
Just a few examples for your consideration:
Christianity hard-forked from Judaism after the death of Jesus Christ. I wouldn’t consider it a soft fork since Judaism, while sharing some views and practices with Christianity, is not forwards compatible per-se. A Jewish person wouldn’t consider herself Christian, nor vice-versa
Christianity continued to fork in the Great Schism with the development of the Eastern Orthodox branch, and then the further split between Catholicism and Protestantism as a result of Martin Luther and the Reformation. Again, these forks are probably closer to hard forks, since I don’t think Catholics consider themselves Protestant or Orthodox, although there is sometimes conversion and switching between the branches (more so, I think, between Catholicism and Protestantism due mostly to cultural and geographic differences).
Islam is somewhere between a soft fork and a hard fork of Judeo-Christianity, since Islam is a little bit backwards compatible, in the sense that Adam and Jesus among others, are seen as prophets in the Islamic tradition. But it’s also not technically a soft fork since neither Jews nor Christians consider themselves Muslims.
And Islam forked after Mohammed’s death into Sunni and Shi’a branches. And Sunni Islam went on to split further into traditions such as Sufism and Wahhabism.
Just a few more examples…
In Confucianism you have a soft fork, if you can even call it that, into differing schools of thought as best represented by Confucian disciples Mencius and Xunzi. This is probably closer to a soft fork since most Confucians probably believe, at least in part, in both schools of thought, and neither is so orthodox or exclusive as to reject the other.
And in Buddhism you have an incredible profusion of forks, from the original orthodox Theravada Buddhism into Mahayana, and then further on into Vajrayana and Zen Buddhism.
We could go on…
The Amish Church was founded by European Christians who believed only adults could freely choose Christ and the Church, and were against the baptism of babies. Mormonism is itself a branch of Restorationist Christianity, which itself is a long tradition that broke away from what was then the Catholic Church in the 15th century.
Anyway, forks are not exactly new. You could say that an even more fundamental kind of fork would be natural selection, the branching of single celled organisms into multicellular organisms, and then into plants and animals, and then into amphibians and reptiles and so on. So it’s kinda ad infinitum, but I just noticed such a fascinating parallel between the fork feuds in cryptocurrency – which has many religions undertones – and religious forks. Perhaps something to explore in a later post.
One thing we haven’t seen in cryptocurrencies, or maybe I’m unaware, are mergers. In religion, mergers – whether more formal mergers such as Zen Buddhism which fused elements of Buddhism and Daoism within a Japanese cultural context, or informal mergers, such as how most Americans today are culturally Protestant but increasingly believe or practice secularized aspects of Hinduism (yoga) and Buddhism (meditation) or merge religions in personal practices, such as Jewish Buddhists (JuBu’s for short).
Just food for thought. Both spaces – religion and crypto – are fascinating. Reach out if you have anything to add, edit, or discuss!
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