Wednesday, January 12, 2005
Thought for the day
Protestantism is open-sourced Catholicism.
Posted by benrosen at January 12, 2005 11:03 AM
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I'm just thinking that, historically, the Protestant Reformation was similar in certain respects to the open source movement, and that that might produce some interesting parallels or predictions.
In medieval Catholicism, the Church owned the Book. It owned the production of the Book, the authority to interpret it, used all its power to eliminate deviant/unlicensed vairants and derivative works, etc. It often banned ownership of Bibles by lay folk, who were not sufficiently expert to interpret it.
One of Luther's most revolutionary acts was to translate the Bible into German -- the vulgar tongue. In the Protestant model, everyone was licensed to produce Bibles, produce derivative works and commentaries, come up with their own interpretations. Protestant use of Bibles was interestingly isomorphic to the way open source code functions in the lives of actual coders.
In Catholicism, if you had a religious dilemma, you went to see a priest -- called tech support. In Protestantism, you opened the Bible and read and prayed -- i.e. you went straight to the code.
So what do we see? Protestantism did not eliminate Catholicism, but Catholicism did modify its practices under pressure from Protestantism. Protestantism did not instantly give rise to a happy, egalitarian, cooperative utopia -- rather, you had a violent period rife with schisms (open source calls them forks) and in some cases as brutal oppression as the Inquisition (e.g. under Calvin). Ultimately, though, arguably, the Protestant model gave rise to the liberal culture of freedom of conscience which is the cornerstone of modern human rights. Also of note, Catholicism flourishes in this culture just as well as Protestantism, while internally retaining a more user-friendly version of its heirarchical "call tech support" structure...
Interesting. But in terms of religion, wouldn't the Talmud be much more akin to the open-source movement in some ways?
Judaism, Sunni Islam, Hinduism, and many tribal religions are all open-source in the sense that Protestantism is, sure, or even more so. But the general movement in early religions has been from open to closed -- from a folk tradition or series of legends to an Authorized Version with an ecclesiastical caste and a heirarchy of control. The Protestant Reformation is interesting as a move in the other direction.
In this context, the Talmud is somewhere between a stable release of an open source project (that would be the Reform and Conservative Jewish view of the Talmud as an important snapshot of an ongoing tradition) and a "visible source and community influenced but proprietary" platform like Sun's Java (that would be the Orthodox view, where the Talmud is a final product and derivative works are owned by a loose but heirarchically organized oligarchic society of experts).
Religion as programming...
Richard Dawkins wrote an interesting article on the subject, "Design for a Faith-based Missile."
I'm sure it can be found online, but I don't have the address on hand. He basically says that religion turns out cheap guided-missile systems, and that Islam is no exception.
Protestants or Catholics can be fundamentalists too. In the US they elected _their_ president and -- a protestant majority -- seem determined to deny the rest of us a freedom of conscience, or the right to interpret the Bible as we see fit.
Protestants did not create our modern society, with its freedom of religion. Protesters did. People like Voltaire, Paine, and Jefferson.
Dawkins' article, which is amusing but specious, is here.
I love Dawkins -- The Selfish Gene changed my life, one of the best books on science I ever read -- but his tendentious attitude towards religion is very odd to me. He distorts his theory of memes whenever he's talking about religion -- instead of being the atomic particles of all ideas and thought, when he gets on the topic of religion, memes become something only other people have.
It's similar to Freud's "The Future of An Illusion", where he says something along the lines of "Early Man was consumed with fear of the vast universe against which he was helpless, so he needed a to project the image of his father onto the cosmos, as some great, august, austere but loving figure that would save him, make life meaningful, make everything okay... but now, we no longer need to do this.... because we have Science!"
And we the twentieth century's Stalinist regimes to show us how we'd all be so much freer and more peaceful if we could just create a true secular society, based on Science and Progress instead of religion, right?
Atheists can be fundamentalists too.
If only software was as important as religion, we could have another Thirty Years War to look forward to!
So how does Calvin fit into this? Like Darl McBride at SCO?