What Would Jesus Hack?

This past week’s issue of the Economist had an . . . unusual article on hacking and religion. It seems like some Christians are promoting hacking as akin to godliness. (N.B. The term “hacking” here is used in its traditional, benign sense of “tinkering,” not “breaking into programs.”) These folks endorse the “open-source” movement where programmers put all their creations into the public domain. Some of them go further and hint more or less openly that proprietary software is sinful.

On the other hand, we have people saying that it’s ridiculous to try to make hacking and Christianity bedfellows. The argument here, made by Eric Raymond and others, is that the Roman Catholic Church, which teaches that it has a monopoly on the sacraments, is the poster child of the proprietary mindset.

I think Raymond is, shall we say, confused. I’m with the pro-hackers on this to the extent that they realize contributing one’s creative effort to the world without monetary compensation is an act of charity. If they want to argue that creating anything proprietary is a refusal to help their neighbors and un-Christian, let’s look to see whether they live at a bare subsistence level and give away the rest of their incomes. Anything less would be a refusal to help their neighbors, right?

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About Dr. J

I am an Associate Professor and head of the Department of Humanities at Faulkner University. I am also Associate Editor of the Journal of Faith and the Academy.
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4 Responses to What Would Jesus Hack?

  1. Ginger says:

    Charity and capitalism are compatible. How might someone give to the poor with nothing in their pockets?

  2. Pingback: On the Web (September 10, 2011) « New Testament Interpretation

  3. Dave says:

    The open source software movement is entirely compatible with both historical Christianity and capitalism. On the latter, “open source” does not necessarily mean “free.” There are a variety of OSS licenses attached to software sold for a profit, and other licenses (apache) allow companies to package, market, and even sell “distributions” of OSS projects as well as service, support, training, etc. (see Cloudera).

    As for OSS and Chrsitianity, the devil is in the details, as he always is. In principle, the idea of collaborative, transparent, community-run, freely-shared software is quite in line with Christ’s teachings, and many FOSS projects are run with a generous, make-the-world-a-better-place ethos. Nevertheless, there are also FOSS projects that are bait-and-switch schemes or are run by self-appointed tyrants and bullies. Tht said, these are the exceptions, in my experience, and FOSS is great, especially at places like Apache.

    I didn’t mention, either, that not all FOSS licenses are created equal! :)

    Disclaimer: I’m on a Project Management Committee for a project at Apache. :)

  4. Creating anything proprietary, not necessary intellectual property, does help the people who purchase it necessarily, or else they at least perceive that it will. Thus the notion of “giving back to the community” is absolute nonsense since anyone who makes money necessarily already helped others. That said, the monopoly privilege granted to people for intellectual property does to me seem immoral, though far be it from me to declare what is sinful and what is not. After all, holding onto an idea and not letting others improve upon it unless they pay you seems to me pretty despicable. That’s not to say that trademark is bad, but the way patents are used in medicine and technology really retards our progress.

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