Christian Hacking

I’ve just read an article on The Economist on how hacking is a very Christian thing to do – and so is Open-Source. Let me just quote a couple of parts of the article:

Mr Spadaro says he became interested in the subject when he noticed that hackers and students of hacker culture used “the language of theological value” when writing about creativity and coding, so he decided to examine the idea more deeply. “In a world devoted to the logic of profit,” wrote Mr Spadaro, hackers and Christians have “much to give each other” as they promote a more positive vision of work, sharing and creativity.

Catholic open-source advocates have founded a group called Elèutheros to encourage the church to endorse such software. Its manifesto refers to “strong ideal affinities between Christianity, the philosophy of free software, and the adoption of open formats and protocols”. Marco Fioretti, co-founder of the group, says open-source software teaches the “practical dimension of community and service to others that is already in the church message”.

Don Parris, a North Carolina pastor, wrote an article in Linux Journal in 2004 in which he argued that “proprietary software limits my ability to help my neighbour, one of the cornerstones of the Christian faith.”

While I agree that there are very theological and religious reasons to hacking, it is definitely not in-line with the Christian faith as mentioned in the article:

Moreover, hackers in particular have problematic traits from the perspective of the Catholic church, such as a distrust of authorities and scepticism toward received wisdom. And the idea of tweaking source materials to fit one’s needs doesn’t mesh well with the Catholic emphasis on authority and tradition.

Exactly. Most hackers identify more with Buddhist traditions as typified in Hacker’s Zen and enshrined in the Jargon File. Hacker culture can be easily reconciled with Buddhist traditions and in fact, I would go as far as to say that the Buddha, is a hacker himself – in the sense that he tinkered with and hacked the human condition.

The main reason is because of the fundamental clash of hacker and Christian traits – hackers generally do not take to faith – as mentioned by Eric S Raymond in the article:

Mr Raymond took to his own website to note that he had deliberately equated cathedrals with proprietary, closed-source software directed from above, by contrast with the more chaotic bazaar of equals which produces open-source code. “Cathedrals – vertical, centralising religious edifices imbued with a tradition of authoritarianism and ‘revealed truth’ – are the polar opposite of the healthy, sceptical, anti-authoritarian nous at the heart of the hacker culture,” Mr Raymond declared.

As for Mr Spadaro’s ideas, they possessed a “special, almost unique looniness”.

So, while Christians may want to lay some claim to the hacker culture, ethic and ethos, the hackers have already spoken.

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Shawn Tan

Chip Doctor, Chartered Engineer, Entrepreneur, Law Graduate.

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