Open Source Religion

Bruce, at Pagans and Lutherans, has expressed some necessary thoughts about something called “open source religion.”

As an avid Open Source Software user, I have to add my own two cents. “Open Source” refers to the way software source code is treated. Source code is the human-readable programming code that is somehow translated into instructions that a computer is able to follow. Microsoft products have source code, but if someone like me wants to see it, I have to pay scads of money (as though they need more) and sign my life away first. Open Source (or “Free”) software is different. Anyone can obtain the source code at nominal cost. What’s more, anyone can use that source code to make new software, with only one major requirement: new programs that incorporate existing Free Software source code must themselves be Open Source. This guarantees that others can improve on Free Software that I write, and also that the source code of those improvements will always be available to me, in turn. For more information, check out the Free Software Foundation and the Open Source Initiative.

The Free Software movement has spawned an industry in competition with the likes of Microsoft, and in my opinion, destined to outlive Microsoft. All of the programs involved in my writing of this post, for example, are Free/Open Source Software (sometimes abbreviated FOSS). That includes the operating system, the desktop environment, the text editor, the email client, the email servers, the web server, the programming extensions of the web server, and probably much more. I’m using it all right now, and it’s all Open Source. What’s more, some open source programs have proven so reliable and useful that they have become a major part of the Internet’s foundation, and key elements of the Macintosh and other operating systems.

But what about “Open Source Religion?” Here’s a brief criticism of the notion.

Religion has no source code, in the same sense as software. That’s not to say religion is not based upon something. The Christian Science cult, for example, is based upon the writings of Mary Baker Eddy. But are they not available for anyone to read? If that’s the source code, then it’s already open for reading!

The same is true of the Bible. We don’t have the original manuscripts, but we have many ancient and reliable copies. Anyone interested can obtain the text of the Bible. It’s already open for any to read. But it’s not source code, to be altered, extended, or built into something bigger. The Bible is God’s unchanging, proclamatory Word. That means it’s not available for tinkering. If you don’t agree, check out Galatians 1:8-9, or Revelation 22:18-19.

A prevalent thought through the ages is that religion is simply an accretion of mankind’s beliefs and superstitions, as they might apply in any given context of place and time. In other words, religion is man-made. There are some calling themselves “Christians” who believe the same thing about the Bible. But how would the term “open source” even apply in that case? It comes from a different semantic context, and could therefore only apply by analogy or metaphor. Even then, it only applies to a small degree.

The source of religion can only be one of two things: human or divine. The term “Open Source Religion” assumes that it’s human, and that people are trying to hide the basis for their religious beliefs. I don’t see that happening, except in the case of certain cults where the leaders just make things up as they go along.

True religion must have its source in that which is divine. Otherwise, it’s only a game, a guess, a hoax, or a means to influence others. That’s why confessional Lutherans believe exactly what the Bible says; no more and no less. Some might argue that we have added the Lutheran Confessions to the Bible, but not anyone who has read the Lutheran Confessions. And yes, you can read the source, though if you want it in the original languages, you’ll have to buy it.

The term “Open Source Religion” makes no sense. It’s a clumsy label for the desire to invent one’s own religion, and that’s nothing new. So many people have always wanted to treat the religious landscape of the world as a smorgasbord, taking in only a bit here and a bit there. Nobody can really stop them, but it’s stupid anyway, and will prove to be self-destructive. Again, it assumes that all religion is man-made, which a false assumption. The truth is so much greater than that, because God has only revealed what we need to know in His Word. Isn’t it about time to wise up and understand that God must be greater than we are, not lesser? Isn’t it about time to recognize our human limitations and seek wisdom while it may be found?

I’ll continue using Open Source Software, and I’ll keep opening the source of my faith too, the Bible. I’ll open it for myself and for those for whom I’m called to teach it. It stands open of its own accord. I thank God that He has revealed His Word to us, and that Jesus of Nazareth truly lived, died, and lives again: true God and true Man, to redeem us from the blindness and guilt of our sin and unite us again with our Creator!

2 thoughts on “Open Source Religion

  1. Ellen G. White was the founder of the Seventh Day Adventists, not Christian Science, but the point stands.

    *[J.J.: Oops. I was thinking of both of them, believe it or not. I just told a Bible class this week that I get the two confused with each other, so I probably should have checked that I had the right one in mind. I’ll change it to Mary Baker Eddy.]*

    There is no wrath like that of the computer nerd (meant in the kindest, gentlest spirit, you understand!) whose terms have been ripped off, especially by a group he disapproves of! Heheheh.

    *[J.J.: Indeed. Hehehe.]*

    I don’t think these open source people would agree with you that their religions are man-made, and neither do I. They would not approve of our terminology, but I think something leaning toward the divine is what they have in mind. They just don’t want to be told by anyone in authority what the attributes of this are. A lot of what is going on among them is just plan and simple synchretism: each agreeing that what the other is calling Divine is what they are calling Divine. So. What IS going on? If it isn’t man-made but spiritual, what are our other options? Would these would-be universalists be dabbling in the field of “the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places”?

    *[J.J.: Good question. It reminds me of* That Hideous Strength. *But are they really seeking input from above? And if it’s only about bucking human authority, have they ever heard about a little thing called “The Reformation?” That’s the quintessential example. I still suspect that it’s the divine they are rejecting.]*

    Rather than see this as a man/God dichotomy, I think it is more likely a God/Satan dichotomy.

  2. I have been thinking of this comparison too. I see Microsoft like the RCC, pervasive and huge. Then I think of the FOSS users and Mac OS X users are these pool of Protestants.

    I have noticed more and more that Lutherans do not use Micorsoft Windows often. I think this stems from the fact that Lutherans are protestants (the original ones) and it flows to their preference for operating systems.

    I know I sound silly in this comparison but I am amused by it. 😉


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