Jarring Sects and Buttered Parsnips

Stan uses religious metaphors to discuss the Linux community.

The term “theologian” has found a niche in the computer lexicon [sic]. He or she represents, rather unfairly, the dogmatist ever-ready to promote MyGol over YourGol. They (to switch to the gender-free plural) are also wont to niggle and squiggle over every jot and tittle. Not just the jots and tittles in the source code are fair game (after all, that misplaced semicolon can cost rockets and lives), but also the fuzzier jots and tittles in a natural-language document such as press releases, pattern proposals, or ISO standards.

We should not be surprised, therefore, if fervently supported socio-computer “movements” betray many of the exegetical biblical excesses noted by historians of religion. (Not to be confused with religious historians.)

The unavoidable keywords are “schism” and “syncretism.” In particular, the OSS (Open Source Software) agendum, one with “community” written into and between every syllable, is now subject to inter-commune dissension. It takes only a few agendums to create an agenda. And Church Father, Eric Raymond, added to the religious dimension with his Cathedral and the Bazaar discourse.

This columnist was tickled by the diverse opinions reported in “We Talk to Everybody” (Linux Journal, June 2000). The disciples were typically opposed on vital fundamentals (the telltale sign).

Compare this, briefly, to St. Paul's efforts in fusing messianic Judaism and pagan Platonism to spread the gospel through a hostile Roman empire. Christianity endures as a major world “belief system” (yes, this must sound cold and offensive to believers) in spite of almost daily “cultic” splits that outscore the welcomed annual ecumenical reunions. (Walter Martin, the original “Bible Answer Man”, had a marvelous term for petty disputations: “majoring in the minors”.)

You may have guessed that I'm pondering impious parallels with the Linux gospel. Of course, analogies should never be pushed beyond luck or reason, but it's worth a try if lessons are to be learned. It took several Trent Councils to resolve the trinitarian bits, so let's be patient with the LSB (Linux Standard Base) canon. But not overly patient—I'm prepared to sizzle dumb opponents with a just auto-da-fe.

Martin Scorsese and I, about to film Son of Last Temptations, have no problem casting Richard Stallman as John the Baptizer and Linus Torvalds as St. Paul. We'll risk the odd anachronism (U.S. viewers will hardly notice) by having the Pauline epistolary admonishments sent by e-mail. We'll show some messages bouncing from corinthians.org and romans.mil. Mel Brooks has scripted a catchy letter to the Hebrews. Our studio historical research team tells us that the Galatians were unruly Celts, so we plan to exploit this fact for the Irish-American audience. FreeBSD will appear as the Essenes writing those “Dead-C” scrolls.

Lots of cast gaps remain for major and minor prophets, not to mention profits. I see Turing as Job, von Neumann as Abraham, Ritchie/Thompson as Ezekiel/Isaiah and, subject to legal approval, Gates must get the nod for Satan. Judas? All we can say at the moment is that he or she wears a red hat. I'm currently co-favorite with Stallone for the major messianic role. I have the edge in C++ syntax, but he just punched me in the gob, screaming “ggg-nooo”.

Coming Soon (September 2000): the ultimate book on Linux Security from Prentice Hall PTR: Bob Toxen's Real World Linux Security—Intrusion Prevention, Detection and Recovery, including a CD-ROM of vital programs to reduce your “vulnerabilities”.

Stan Kelly-Bootle (skb@atdial.net) has been computing on and off since his EDSAC I (Cambridge University, UK) days in the 1950s. He has commented on the unchanging DP scene in many columns (“More than the effin' Parthenon” —Meilir Page-Jones) and books, including The Computer Contradictionary (MIT Press) and UNIX Complete (Sybex).


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