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Finding God Through Open Source

Can the open source process help make religion more meaningful and relevant to those who don't find it so?

So a few things I usually try not to blog about are politics and religion. With everyone talking about healthcare and politics, I figure what the heck, lets talk religion. Easter and Passover will be here soon, why not. Being as this is an open source blog, I wanted to talk to you today (there you go, it's a sermon) about open source religion. Can open source give us a better understanding of our own spirituality and a more personal relationship with divinity? There are religions and individuals who think the answer to that is a resounding yes.

By the way, I am not talking about the open source dogmatic quasi-religion that believes God has proclaimed open source as the preferred method of software development and distribution ;-) I am talking about the idea of adopting open source methodologies in our quest to understand ourselves, our world and our relationship with others. How we interact with divine beings or principles or whatever you believe in.

Now some of you may stop reading right here. You believe there is only one true religion and its rituals, fundamentals and teachings are divinely inspired or even more so, divinely dictated and commanded. Anything other is blasphemous. If you do believe that, the last thing I want to do is insult or demean your views. I think that is a perfectly valid belief system. If you don't read further, I understand perfectly and please don't be upset. I am not saying that I don't believe that myself. My purpose here is to give us pause as some of our religious holidays approach, to think about ways that others approach their own beliefs.

For many of us, we practice our religious rituals and customs based upon what we have been taught, which in turn have been handed down from generation to generation, in some cases for literally thousands of years. The fact that this is how it has been done for so long goes to the very essence of why we do it and is at the core of our belief systems.

There are though people who look at it differently. There are people who say that religion needs to evolve (is that a bad word to use in a religious post?) and change to remain relevant. There is in fact a fairly vibrant Open Source Religion movement, complete with its own Wikipedia entry. According to the Wikipedia article,

Open source religions attempt to employ open source methodologies in the creation of religious belief systems. As such, their systems of beliefs are created through a continuous process of refinement and dialogue among the believers themselves. In comparison to traditional religions - which are considered authoritarian, hierarchical, and change-resistant- they emphasize participation, self-determination, decentralization, and evolution.

These open source religious principles can be applied to both traditional religions and some of the "new age" religions that have sprung up over the past 20 years or so. For examples of open source religious beliefs being grafted into traditional religions, perhaps the best known is Douglas Rushkoff and the Reboot movement. The Rebooters say of themselves:

Reboot believes that every generation must grapple with the questions of Jewish identity, community and meaning on its own terms. Our goal is to facilitate that process for our generation and to help us “reboot” the traditions we’ve inherited and make them vital and resonant in our own lives. We are committed to creating opportunities for our peers to gather, to engage, to question and to self-organize with their own networks, in their own way, in their own time—via local salons, Guilt & Pleasure, Reboot records, books, films, and gatherings.

Founded in 2003, Reboot is a nonprofit organization based in New York City, with staff on the ground in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Reboot events regularly take place in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, New York City and now an ever-growing number of other cities. Our goal is to develop the mechanisms and media that allow anyone anywhere to “reboot” among themselves and their peers.

Rushkoff's writings and Reboot conference also gave rise to the Open Source Judaisim movement and the "Jew it yourself" group. They are perhaps best known for the Open Source Haggadah Project, a great attempt at using open source to literally allow participants to design their own Passover prayer and seder service. In true open source fashion they ask that you donate any of your own prayers, commentaries, etc for the use of the community. 

What I found very insightful was though using the site you could reorder the prayers and commentaries any way you wanted, the substance and content were in fact very traditional. Maybe that says that if something is right to begin with, people will inherently recognize it and not feel it necessary to rewrite what is right.

Judaism is not the only traditional religion to have an open source expression. The site opensourcetheology.net serves as the gathering place of the "emerging church". They define OST (open source theology) as:

OST is a model for doing community-based ‘theology’. This site makes use of drupal, a flexible and increasingly popular open-source (appropriately!) content management system. The format offers the possibility of developing collaboratively an applied theology appropriate to a particular missional purpose. At the moment this site has two basic objectives.

The first is to explore and promote the idea of an open-source theology. Is this a viable method for developing an applied, contextualized theology? What sort of rules would be needed? How does it relate to other forms of doing theology?

The second objective is to implement the open-source model as part of, and in support of, a renewed mission to the emerging culture. Can we use OST to develop a belief-system - a rationality, a theology, a rhetoric, an ethos, a style - that will give intelligent, convincing, and powerful expression to the gospel within the emerging culture?

Traditional theologies however are not the only breeding ground for applying open source methods to achieve a higher, more personal level of spirituality. Yoism has been the subject of debate, curiosity and even ridicule over the years. Yoism is based on the 5 Pillars and 10 Sacred Principles. One of the cores is the Open Source Truth Process which leads to Open Source Spirituality. The Yoans believe this about the open source process and open source spirituality:

Yo's core doctrine and beliefs are created and refined as Open Source documents. Like the Wikpedia, the Open Directory and Open Law projects, which take after the Open Source movement, the Open Source Truth Process endeavors to harness the power of Internet communication to cultivate and develop the most thoughtful, meaningful, and moving religious inspirations that have ever existed. No longer must humanity be chained to the limited beliefs found in the neighborhood of each individual's birth and growth. The Internet enables a spiritual community to form in which the best in human thought and insight can be available to everyone, wherever they live.

As such, Yo is a Living Religion whose core writings will evolve over time as people from all over the world provide input and improvements. Not only do we believe the collaboration and combined insights of all the members allow for a more intelligent and deep religious vision, we also believe that the process itself is inherently beautiful and spiritual. Indeed for Yoans, one form of the most profound religious experiences consists of our involvement in the human community, our engagement, struggle, cooperation, and commitment to the Yoan vision for ourselves, our families, our species, and our planet.

Of course there is more to Yoism than open source and this blog is not the place to delve further into it. There are other "new age" religions that also espouse the open source mantra in creating a more relevant experience for their members.

Regardless of your own feelings, there are people who find that this open source religion to be more reasonable and in line with their own spiritual and world outlook. From my investigation, a large number of these people are somewhat "geeky" in nature and have been exposed to open source principles through the open source software movement. But that doesn't make it any less real for them.

New and interesting times call for new and interesting philosophies. Trying to either recast your existing religion or forge a new "church" and basing it on community driven open source may not be as new as you think. Who is to say that the first Hebrew, Christian or Muslim rituals and customs were not community driven. Yeah, they didn't have Linux or the GPL, but without community buy in and conformity would our beliefs and traditions have lasted all these years?

Open source religion may strike some of you as a bit of a joke. For others it may resonate with an inner voice that has been searching for a better way to bring spirituality home to you. But in this season of religious traditions, I was always a believer of "if it works for you, go with it". Maybe that in and of itself is a bit of an open source mantra itself.  

Besides the links in this article, I found another good article in Search Magazine from May/June of last year that talks a bit more on open source religion.

Go in Peace. Live long and prosper, or whatever your community agrees with ;-)

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