Ran across this article from Collide magazine. The author asks a lot of good introspective questions about church services and what that means about priorities. Of course, why limit that to only your church services? Why not ask that about other parts of the church including your IT strategy? About the type of computers and software you use? What do you elevate? And what does that say about your church? Does it say exclusion or inclusion? Does it say selfishness or sharing? Once you know what it does say about your church, it then follows on to ask the original authors question: what should we be elevating? When you ask and answer those questions, my guess would be that more Christians and churches would be using (and creating too) more open source software and sharing more of their content with Creative Commons licensing. But that’s just a guess.
Posts Tagged ‘theology’
I enjoyed this short post entitled, “As We Worship, So We Believe.” I thought it encapsulated why I encourage the use of open source software verses proprietary software. It’s not about the details of feature set or which software is really better. It’s about the concepts of sharing, inclusion, and helping others that the use of free and open source software embodies that show as a tangible example that we support those positive values. Of course, the opposite is also true whether people would like to admit it or not. When we use closed, exclusive, expensive software that only serves our own needs, it says something about the type of Christians we are: exclusive and selfish. Our choices in worship, in personal interactions, in the software we support show things about our beliefs. It’s just that simple.
A few weeks ago I wrote an article about the ethics of file formats. That article covered ethics from a more philosophical perspective. While that case is strong in and of itself, I wanted to follow up with teachings from the Bible that also support the position.
Now, the Bible doesn’t mention anything about the digital era, files or formats. Society was quite different then, but I believe several concepts in biblical teaching can be used as metaphors to help us along. Those metaphors can help us in the discussion about file formats but also more generally as we rethink ethics in a digital world as well as anything else that comes along in our society. 1 Corinthians 13:5 says to “Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine.”
So in process of examining ourselves through the use of Scripture, what metaphors can we use to look at this issue specifically? Since the use of open vs closed file formats really comes down to exclusion vs inclusion (see my previous post on file formats), I’ll focus on that. I believe one of the strongest, most applicable biblical metaphors that examine inclusion and exclusion is the concept of gleanings. In Lev 19:9-10 and Lev 23:22, the old testament law mentions:
When you harvest the crops of your land, do not harvest the grain along the edges of your fields, and do not pick up what the harvesters drop. Leave it for the poor and the foreigners living among you. I am the LORD your God.
And in Deuteronomy 24:21, it commands:
When you gather the grapes in your vineyard, don’t glean the vines after they are picked. Leave the remaining grapes for the foreigners, orphans, and widows.
As we learn later in Ruth 2, Boaz definitely holds to this practice, so it seems this law was not only laid down, but it was also assimilated into the culture successfully. But why was this law created?
Like today, the poor didn’t own land and had no access to it. Obviously, the poor also had very little or no money. So, not only did they not have a livelihood, but they also had no way to produce a livelihood or at least very limited means because agriculture was the main driver of the economy. Widows and orphans had no means because family was the main source of insurance since there was no social security or other welfare system. That’s when the community was expected to provide a mechanism so that those that could not provide for themselves had a way to at least gather food to eat and therefore remain a part of the community.
So let’s take a look at this principle and use it as a metaphor in the digital age.
In our society, computers and the internet are becoming the main methods of communication and upward mobility in our society. We are well into the Information Age. Whether cell phones, laptops, internet access or whatever else, computers and the internet are how our society runs (even for the jobless and homeless). It is also mainly how we get work done. Technology and software has become indispensable for us. Without access to that technology, we are taking away the ability for the poor and marginalized to engage in our society and community. By using file formats that aren’t open, we widen the chasm that the poor must overcome to gain access into our increasingly technical society and community.
On the other hand, the principle of gleaning shows that we should make at least one way for the poor to engage with the community and provide for themselves. For technology, using closed formats just makes it harder to enter into that community because there are no alternatives except those attached to paying lots of money (when you are poor, any amount is a lot). On the other hand, using open formats allows as many people as possible to have access to the information gateway to the community. For instance, you might choose to purchase a proprietary program for any reason. If you choose one that supports open file formats (even though it is proprietary), you are allowing others that you collaborate with to make a different choice if they need to. They are still able to use a different solution to be in community. Like gleaning a field or vineyard, it might take extra work to use free and open source solutions, but they aren’t immediately excluded from the community by doing so.
Additionally, the Bible has many other examples and teachings for including the poor and marginalized in our communities. These teachings support the use of open file formats, but also an open source culture more generally. For instance, 1 John 3:17-18 says:
If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.
As Christians we should not only talk about the need, but find ways to take action to remedy that need. Using open file formats is a tangible action that you can take to make sure that the poor are included and not excluded from your church or organization. Additionally, James 2 says:
Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom He promised those who love Him? But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?
Isn’t it proprietary, closed companies that are dragging everyone into court because you infringe on their intellectual property? By using open file formats and open source and Creative Commons projects we support a more moral and less litigious society in general. Additionally, we shouldn’t always be wooed by the glitter of the beautiful (i.e. Apple ), but rather support everyone whether rich or poor. As a church or organization, using open file formats and open source software invites more people to invest in your community rather than being relegated to the periphery because they can’t afford to be involved.
Jesus’ words in Luke 14 put an even finer point on it:
When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.
According to Jesus, it was good to invest in the community without the chance for repayment. As a church or organization, you will invest resources into open communities without repayment, but you are investing so that everyone is invited to your party. That’s pretty cool.
As the last example, when Zacchaeus gave his life to Christ he was changed and different. He immediately gave half of his possessions to the poor and repaid those he had cheated four times over. He obviously was putting into action the love and gratitude that was in his heart. How are we showing that love and gratitude in the digital age? Do we continue to just think of ourselves and our own church? If we can afford expensive proprietary software that excludes the poor and marginalized from our community, do we ignore them and continue not to care? Or do we seek to make amends and repay for the wrongs that have excluded them? Do we seek to invest in community without the need for repayment? Do we seek to make sure as many people are involved with our digital community as possible?
I encourage you to choose open file formats and open source software as a biblical mandate. When you do, you are investing in love and community, not in a company and a bottom line. You are showing your love and faith in Christ through specific actions. In Galatians 6:10, it says “therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.” That’s the challenge I want to put to you as you continue to rethink ethics in a digital world.
As I was preparing the first in a series of posts about “digital ethics,” I realized that I needed to lay the groundwork for why I’m examining ethics in a digital world as a part of this blog.
First, while sometimes I’ll be looking at ethics from a more generic, philosophical perspective, my motivation is always driven by Christianity and the command of Christ to “get up and follow me.” From the time Christ was here on earth, Christian society has continued to change and Christian principles have been applied in new and different ways. Even Paul and the other New Testament writers were expanding and applying the Gospel in new and broader ways from the original teachings of Jesus. Maybe it was because Jesus didn’t necessarily always have a black and white answer to things, but rather chose analogies and stories to illustrate his teachings. I’m honestly not sure really why it has been this way from a scholarly perspective, but the reexamination and re-application seems to be a natural and necessary part of the Christian faith. From Paul to Augustine to Luther to C.S. Lewis and on, this examination of ethics in the digital world is one more step in that refining process and it seems like a great time to rethink things.
In the grand scheme of things, our society is still very young in the digital world. Our society has changed dramatically in the last half century with the advent of computers and even moreso in the last two to three decades with the advent of the personal computing. Of course, connecting all those personal computers using the internet mixed up the puzzle pieces even further. About every decade, computing continues to have huge shifts in innovation that further disrupt its relatively short past. This road has obviously not been a simple straight path from the proverbial Point A to Point B, but rather an unpredictable, swerving wooden roller coaster ride always seeming to be just a moment from coming off the tracks. Many discoveries, decisions and events have had unintended consequences in many different ways. Many vital participants that shaped earlier waves are now extinct or tiny boats buffeted on a huge ocean of change.
There have also been many parallel, perpendicular, and skewed paths all advancing simultaneously. For instance while Microsoft was preparing it’s ascent to conquer all of personal computing (if you hadn’t made the connection, that’s why Microsoft is synonymous with PC), the seeds of the open source movement were also sprouting.
In these conditions of complex, rapid and turbulent societal and economic change, it’s easy for morals and ethics to get lost in the shuffle. What starts as harmless grows into a completely different end state. It is hard to see or predict the repercussions of specific actions and decisions. My purpose isn’t to place blame. Rather,I want to take stock and hopefully help refine the current state of things.
So, we have a few decades under our belts and we’ve learned much and seen a lot of rapid change. Let’s take a look back and reevaluate how the current state of computing stacks up from a moral, ethical and Christian standpoint so that as we accelerate further into the digital age, we as Christians can do so knowing we are doing our best to support Kingdom values. Granted, I know my theology and scholarship aren’t on equal footing with the greats mentioned above and that this discussion *probably* won’t have the historical weight of the Reformation. I’m just hoping to start what I believe is an important conversation and develop the environment so those more well suited for the task can join in as we seek to follow Christ. I hope you’ll join me.
Now that we’ve been introduced, I want to give you a preview of what this blog will *hopefully* be all about.
I am not the first to talk about these subjects. However, I’ve had a hard time finding anything more than a short series of articles from the same writer, and most posts are not very recent. One of my goals is to build a permanent community and resource that will remain useful for many years to come.
First, we’ll talk about the theology of open source and creative commons culture and how it matches up with biblical values. As Christians, I believe we should be purposeful in our lives to support Christlike values in every aspect of life. I believe OS culture mirrors the community and generosity about which Christ and the New Testement writers taught. If you don’t agree, just hang in there until I can develop these ideas specifically and completely.
Here’s a few of the articles and writers I’ve found that have already weighed in on the theological aspects of open source (if you find others feel free to send them my way):
http://www.linuxjournal.com/article/7653?page=0,1 && http://searchenterpriselinux.techtarget.com/news/article/0,289142,sid39_gci990899,00.html
Aside from the theology of OS, there’s also just the reality of the power of OS culture from a philosophical perspective: how it develops community and how it binds us to and helps those around us whether in the church or not. OS has an amazing way of connecting very disparate people and when I see Jesus, I see him connecting disparate people in many surprising and interesting ways.
We’ll also talk about many different open source topics and projects and do detailed reviews and tutorials of them so that you can help your church or non-profit by using them. This is the main thing about the current writings I’ve found that makes me want to poke myself in the eye with a thousand needles. While several authors have written about how we should use OS in the church, very few if any gave specific tutorials or help to really get started. In some ways, it’s “faith without works is dead” to abuse that metaphor.
I can attest to the fact that while very rewarding, the move to open source isn’t usually an easy one. My goal is to not only to tell you why you should move to OS but also help you and your church make the transition into as many avenues of OS as possible (as painlessly as possible). I believe that if people actually read this blog that they may realize just how many ways open source software can help them accomplish the Church’s mission.
Along those lines, I want to cater heavily toward the non-technical user. On the other hand, if I think a project tutorial/review might be useful to a more technical church IT staff person, for instance, I’ll still include it. Additionally, while targeted at church and non-profit use cases, I hope the tutorials will help anyone interested in getting started w/ a specific OS software.
I also can’t be an expert on everything (and it’s lame to reinvent the wheel), so I’ll also just post links to tutorials that already exist with additional comments for the church-specific use cases.
I did find a few blogs that deal with tutorials for OS software specific to the church and wanted to give props:
Of course, we’ll not only talk about the numerous ways you can use open source software but also how you can and should become part of open source culture. Open source isn’t moral or Christlike by itself, but it is an effective avenue to build community within our churchs and bridges to the secular world. Whether donating documentation, bug reports, donations, etc., there are many ways for everyone to help open source communities across the world.
What we won’t do is talk about theology or topics that have no bearing on open source culture or its relation to the church. This isn’t a general theology site; if it doesn’t deal with open source and the church, feel free to post to the off-topic post comments section here.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts on these subjects.