Christians worldwide are called to follow Jesus’ example of showing preferential concern for the poor. This means that as Christ’s followers, they are called to respond to the needs of all, especially the marginalized and the most vulnerable. The philosophy of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) is based on cooperation, common good and mutual benefit, and is in many ways consistent with the Catholic Church’s preferential option for the poor
Option for the poor is rooted in the biblical notion of justice and common good, where God calls us to be advocates for the voiceless and powerless in society. It means that we need to look at the world from the perspective of the poor and to work for justice and equitable sharing in the world community. In the area of computers, it means that we need to break down an oppressive system that forces billions of people to use closed, proprietary formats and subscribe to sky-high licensing fees. It is both a matter of justice and common good that structures and systems be put in place to address the needs of the poor to have access to free software and open formats.
The use of FOSS can help poor people to empower themselves. This is because FOSS allows its users to learn how software works by providing both the binary and source codes as well as the freedom to run, copy, modify and share the software. Proprietary megacorporations, on the other hand, label it a crime to modify or make copies of their overly expensive software.
It is said that the moral test of any society is how it treats its most vulnerable members. In the area of computers, the best way to treat the most vulnerable members of society is to share free and open source software with them and collaborate with them in improving old applications and developing new ones for the common good of all.
What can Christians do to promote FOSS? The best answer to this question is found in the Manifesto of the Eleutheros project, which proposes, among other things, that Christians should:
- increase their awareness of the importance of Free Software and Open Formats and Protocols, as well as their ethical values
- propose that only Open Formats and Protocols are used, by all Catholic Organizations to store or manage any kind of digital data
- propose that, whenever it is possible, Free Software is used instead of proprietary software in all Catholic Organizations
- request that, without exception, teaching of programming and basic Information Technology in all Catholic Schools and Universities is performed using Free Software
This is not an easy task, I know. But we will get there, one FOSS application at a time. As Christians we must never stop exploring and examining how software is developed and used, especially in terms of how they affect the poor.