Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Christian Ethos of Freedom Software...

an article by Ted Carnahan

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” – Matthew 18.20

The essence of the Christian life is community. This promise of Christ places God’s presence in the other, so that while God is present within each one of us, God’s presence is most available to us in our relationships with other Christians. If we take that seriously, there is a great deal to be learned about how we are to interact with our neighbor. If people have needs, they should be taken care of as bearers of God’s image. The fundamental orientation of the Christian life, lived in relationship, is upward to God and outward to people.

I would like to focus on living outward to people today. How we interact with people says a lot about what we believe about God. If we are generous, it communicates – whether we intend it to or not – that God is generous. Where we are cruel and distant, we inadvertantly communicate that God is cruel and distant. These messages that we send extend to what we do with our posessions. Where we grasp onto our posessions, whether those are money, property, time, or abilities, we communicate that God’s grace is withheld for our neighbor. Where we give our posessions away, we communicate that grace is abundantly available to our neighbor. On top of all this, what we do speaks much more loudly than what we say.

One of the most powerful aspects of Freedom Software is the intrinsic right to give it away. Freedom Software comes with a license which guarantees your rights instead of restricting your freedom. With proprietary software like Microsoft Office, the license agreement (which everyone ignores and clicks past) is designed to keep you from giving copies away. In fact, our government calls that copyright infringement, and it is illegal. With Freedom Software, you are guaranteed the right to give copies away to everyone, without limitation.

Over-zealous Freedom Software enthusiasts will sometimes argue that all proprietary software is evil – that paying for something is intrinsically wrong. I think that leads in the wrong direction. At the same time, where appropriate Freedom Software equivalents to proprietary software exist, the church has an obligation to choose the software that it is free to give away. Spending less on software is better stewardship. More importantly, the message we send when we can give something away freely, unencumbered by copyright limitations or cost, is more hospitable to the other.

Don’t underestimate the importance of good software for improving peoples’ lives. Now, more than ever, computers and software are part of society. Access to computers and appropriate software is necessary in this day and age to find and apply for a job, take care of many daily tasks, be an informed consumer, and participate in the political process. Freedom Software offers effective alternatives for nearly every task an average (or, for that matter, professional) computer user may need, and all of it is available at no cost and grants the freedom to copy and distribute it far and wide.

Since the essence of the Christian life is community, and we ought to be directed outward towards others, every tool we can obtain that allows us to be more free to serve the other has intrinsic value. If someone is hungry, we should feed them. If someone is thirsty, we should give them something to drink. And if someone has need of our posessions, we should be free to offer them. Freedom Software is an important part of that picture for modern congregations.

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