Published On: Sun, May 10th, 2015

Can we Open-Source Religion?


Most people like some aspects of their religion but not the entire package. They say “I am ok with loving my neighbour” (platonically of course). But I refuse to accept that the universe was created 6000 years ago. I want to believe in a benevolent universal life force. I am even willing to call “it” a “him” and address him as Allah. But I refuse to believe that all people who don’t call him that .. or those who choose to call “him” a “her” should be killed.

Wouldn’t it be nice if, instead of being stuck to one religion, we can pick up whatever pieces of software we want from different places and create, update, customize, theme our own religion. In many ways that is what people are doing nowadays around the world but there is no recognition of the phenomenon.

Open Source Religions

This sort of begs the question of “what is religion”. I define religion as set of ideas and actions that promise of a better future. Faith is the gap between when the promise is made and when the future can be verified. The definition is general enough to include any area where you follow someone or some theory without full knowledge on your part. For instance, I don’t have enough knowledge about money .. but I trust the “capitalistic religion” based on the prophet from the ICICI bank and invest my money in some combination of stocks and bonds. Alternatively, I buy bars of gold and bury it in my backyard in an iron box based on sound advice from my friendly neighbourhood anarchist. Religion.

This sounds a little absurd.. and perhaps it is. Because we normally use the word religion towards the far end of the scale.. Where the number of people who “know” is less and the time gap between the promise and the experience is large. Hence the requirement for faith is larger. In some religions, the time gap is infinite – in that they declare that the truths can never be verified. Thus making the faith factor required to follow these religions much larger and hence out of the comfort zone of a large majority of people.
As in the case of open-source software, most end-users would not know the difference between open-source and closed-source. They use whatever software their trusted friend, parent or neighbour recommends. However the impact open source has is the amount of variety of software and the amount of “customizability” available to make it fit “just as you want it”.

Turns out that such a framework for a open source religion already exists. It has existed for millenia and goes by the name of Vedic Hinduism. The reason Hinduism baffles western anthropologists is the same reason that open-source software baffles someone who had lived all through in a IBM centric or Windows centric world. There are so many “distributions” and “branches” and “licenses” and never ending internal squabbles about the definition of the word “free” or “which license is the best” and what not. Chaos. But chaos that moves the system forward towards better reliability, security, usability etc.

That sort of is the closest you can come to understanding Hinduism. It is a collection of open-source religions.  Each custom configured from a set of open source libraries to match the exact problem being faced by a set of individuals. And some of these solutions – such as Buddhism, Jainism etc. – grow large enough in following and acceptance to become a close-source religion themselves. However at the very core of Hinduism – is a framework for creating religions. A religion that fits you best and helps deliver the “best future” for you. Many times, a future that you don’t even know is possible.

The Vedic religion never restricted the use of its understandings. It has a set of simple rules that you need to follow in order to maintain the integrity and reduce confusion. One is that the original code can never be misrepresented. It has to be preserved verbatim to the extent of the intonations and the sounds. A large amount of energy was put into this and for millenia it was transmitted by word of mouth and the vedas are still the oldest body of knowledge that is reproduced in such a large geographically dispersed region with the least amount of corruption. Many close-sourced religions have this too (sort of).. but the key that makes the Vedic religion flexible is that anyone is allowed to update/comment/emphasize various parts of the source scriptures as long as they attribute back to the original giving chance for users many centuries down the line to go back to first principles. And if they chose to make an entirely new interpretation of the selected part to update the update.

Open Source Religions Wordle White BG

So going back to my analogy, I would liken Christianity to IBM. A set of random code that grew to be accepted by a large group of people because they didn’t have any alternative.. And the legacy is maintained in spite of all its bulk and bugs because it is too big to change. Islam would be like Microsoft. An offshoot from the IBM people that made it’s own smaller code and tried to kill off everyone who opposed it.  Spreading itself by the force of the sword (Microsoft lovers, this is a just an analogy.. please don’t get worked up about it.. and yes Satya Nadella is awesome and you are different now. *whew* Hope I don’t get a fatwa from Redmond). Buddhism is like Apple. Born of open source but became large enough to have it’s own fan following that want to believe it is different. Cute but with limitations and not too much flexibility. Hinduism however is the entire gamut of open source software, companies, licenses, products and so on. They are too many to list and understand .. so they are dumped into one category by people who don’t want to know about it. The Vedic Tradition is like the core of it. Like say, the C language, Unix system 9, Gnu etc. from which the rest of the religions – all of them – have sprung up.

Open source has been the origin of most of the innovations in the world – even those which are now in the closed world. And it is the mechanism by which progress happens. And the way by which both religion and software are kept relevant to real life, useful to people and customized perfectly to their actual needs.

It is the future.



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