Free as in Speech

My roommate has quite intentionally provided me with an Idea.

I was raised and baptized a Catholic, but was allowed—no, with my family’s background I was fundamentally encouraged—to learn about and try to understand other religions. To that end I have visited Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, and Hindu temples, have participated in several pagan rituals, including a seance, and have even gone to Church on occasion. In addition to the Bible, I have read much of the Bhagavaad Gita and the Ramayana, the Tao Te Ching and bits of Confucius’ Analects, some of the Qu’ran, and at times I have attempted to get my facts straight so I could properly make fun of Scientologists.

I am also, however, a Computer Scientist. For the uninitiate, the Computer Science line of studies is almost equivalent to that of a Mathematician, albeit with additional concentration on electrical engineering and a focus on logic. What this means is that anywhere I see a problem, my most natural instinct is to take steps to correct the problem.

The reason these religions exist is because of the human need to belong to a larger group, and the (perhaps greater) need to exclude others from that group. The problem is that currently too many people have positioned themselves into exceedingly large groups that do not actually answer for all of their needs, only most. Let us compare this to an area with which I have even more expertise: Software.

Microsoft’s hold on the desktop market, for better or for worse, is nigh-absolute. If one shops for a computer, they will find themselves choosing between nine desktops running Microsoft Windows, and one running Apple’s OSX (in user population, the Islam of the operating system market). Other choices are available, usually flavors of UNIX, but many people are simply not exposed to them. Unaware, or indeed, afraid of alternatives, users will sometimes even more firmly clutch to their familiar operating system, which may not do everything they want, but become blindly zealous about the fact that theirs is (quite obviously!) the ‘best’.

For these users it is too late. Nothing can be done for these extremists, except perhaps to keep them well separated from extremists of another side. It is for those who search for their alternatives, for those Windows- or OSX-users who decided it “just wasn’t enough”, and found alternatives, even if they were also lacking, that I have created this religion. And it’s based on another idea from the desktop worlds: Licensing.

Intrinsically, old-world religions resist change. They contain certain agreed upon stories and rules, and no matter how much time passes, almost nothing else will ever be considered “cannon”. Efforts are made to change some of these religions, but the shifts are usually not universally accepted, and often end up with the fledgling offshoot religion being condemned unilaterally to hell or some other unpleasantness. But sometimes people require a change, simply because the belief structure they’ve hitherto subscribed to no longer makes sense to them. This can be in very small ways, but even a small rift in such a rigid structure can create a much larger fracture and shake the entire system to its very core.

This religion is different. To be more accurate, This would be a new religion structure: the Open Source Religion.

Let’s say I base this religion, let’s call it OpenTheism for now, loosely on a ground-up rewrite of Christianity. Let’s start with the Believer Agreement. We’ll say that in order to be an OpenTheist, you must believe in one God, and you must believe that God wants you to be good. Other than that, you are free to believe, evangelize, or modify anything within this religion, so long as any modifications you release are released such that others may freely believe, evangelize, and modify them. If you are evangelizing OpenTheism (or a derivative thereof), you must include either this Believer Agreement or a later version of this Believer Agreement. You may not sell any material documenting or teaching of OpenTheism for more than the material cost of producing said documentation. Salvation is and always will be free. The Assembly of OpenTheists reserves the right to re-evangelize OpenTheism with new or updated versions of the Believer Agreement, but OpenTheists are only required to follow any Believer Agreement version including or later than the one that was supplied to them when they became an OpenTheist.

Perhaps this is a shaky first draft, but with time and effort I’m sure that people could be convinced that the Open Source Philosophy as applied to Religion is not about what you can’t do, it’s about what you can do. People who have ever thought, “I believe in God, sure, but what if I want to be able to run a web server on my religion?” OpenTheism is designed for you.

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