Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Open-source religion (and further digression)

I thought that Steven Weber's use of religion as an instance of the struggle between open-source and classical ideas of property were pretty fascinating, particularly as it pertains to my own experience. I have a friend who's an ordained rabbi and a student at the Graduate Theological Union up the street from campus, and she was remarking to me about some similar issues. Her planned thesis topic is on worship practices of American Jews, and how some of them turn to practices like Buddhism, because they weren't satisfied with what Judaism alone was giving them. So I guess that means someone who does that is effectively a hacker, forking off their own branch of religious code. But how far does the analogy go? For instance, how about network effects and Metcalfe's Law? The Windows/Linux argument is filled with points about switching costs and the price of using something out of the mainstream. Are there any benefits to practicing a religion that many other people practice, as opposed to breaking off on your own? It doesn't really seem like it... on the other hand, maybe that's because the religious practitioner is both hacker and user, whereas the the CIO making the decision on his or her company's computing platform is just the user.

So maybe that has relevance for open-source in general. Hackers (who, I'd imagine, are nearly all users of what they hack) are much more invested in what they do than mere users. Perhaps that's an obvious observation, that you care more about something if you work on building it as opposed to just using it. But maybe open-source initiatives that make more of an effort to broaden their contributor base are more successful -- that would be interesting to discover.

In general, Weber seems to blur the conceptual line between open-source issues and copyright/ownership issues in ways that hadn't occurred to me before. As I was reading his descriptions of ownership as "excluding rights from others" as opposed to granting rights, what came to mind was Creative Commons licensing. I assume that open-source software developers don't really think about copyrights of code that they write and contribute to projects, but particularly if you apply the concepts to non-code realms, would copyright (either classic or new ideas like CC) interfere? What if you had something like an open-source book? Or, say, wikipedia -- how does ownership work? (Does anyone know the legal status of wikipedia articles?)


Blogger yardi said...

Open sourcing as it applies to religion has come into the limelight recently with regards to gay marriages. Churches and church-goers (two very different entities) are both very divided on views pertaining to gay marriages and civil unions.
It is especially difficult because there isn't really a single source of ownership that anyone can turn to for an authoritative stance. The Bible would be the ideal source, but it is vague and unclear on its views towards homosexuality so it doesn't help. As a result, religions are forking off left and right in their inability to agree on a single belief system.

For example -
"In July, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A), under pressure from a network of 1,300 churches that threatened to break away, narrowly voted down a measure that would have permitted the ordination of gays.
It would have been the largest split since the church divided into northern and southern factions during the Civil War. The network, called the Confessing Church Movement, holds the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman as a central doctrine. "

And similarly -
"The Southern Baptists, the country's largest Protestant denomination, withdrew from the Baptist World Alliance in June, citing the membership of Pryfogle's American Baptist group. It later threw the weight of its 16.3 million membership behind its ``I Vote Values'' campaign, which reminded members of the denomination's stand on moral issues, such as gay marriage. "

-Boston Herald

11:40 PM  

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