Hacking the Church

June 1, 2004 — Leave a comment

I started re-reading a book that I got back in 1984 by Steven Levy called “Hackers.” In this very readable book, Levy tells the story of the computer revolution in three movements. First Levy examines the first generation hackers at MIT in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Then Levy considers the second generation of “hardware hackers,” including Jobs and Wozniak who created Apple Computer as well as a young Bill Gates who even then was fighting pirated software. Finally, Levy documents the rise of the gaming hackers, the software geniuses who saw the computer as a creative tool.

For quite a while, I’ve seen connections between the emerging conversation and the ethic of these computer and technology gurus. But I was struck again tonight by those connections as I read Levy’s overview of The Hacker Ethic:

Access to computers — and anything which might teach you something about the way the world works — should be unlimited and total.
Hackers believed that essential lessons can be learned about the systems — about the world – from taking things apart, seeing how they work, and using this knowledge to create new and even more interesting things. They resent any person, physical barrier, or law that tries to keep them from doing this.

All information should be free
A free exchange of information allowed for greater creativity.

Mistrust Authority — Promote Decentralization
The best way to promote this free exchange of information is to have an open system . . . the last thing you need is a bureaucracy. Bureaucracies . . . are flawed systems, dangerous in that they cannot accomodate the exploratory impulse of true hackers. Bureaucrats hide behind arbitrary rules: they invoke those rules to consolidate power, and perceive the constructive impulse of hackers as a threat.

Hackers should be judged by their hacking, not bogus criteria such as degrees, age, race, or position.

You can create art and beauty on a computer

Does this sound familiar? Are those of us in the emerging conversation living out the hacker ethic in our theology? Are we hacking the church? Certainly deconstruction, conversation, and decentralization are a part of what we’ve been talking about. I have read folks on the boards question the need for seminaries in the postmodern world. And we all talk about the church needing to be a place that promotes art and beauty. Is what we are about the natural evolution of the technological revolution, with an intersection between the hacker ethic and the church?

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