Traditional Christian ethics / theology / eschatology (whether Liberal, Conservative, or Fundamentalist) has been similar to the battle between Apple and Microsoft. Apple users (read that as “traditional Christian ethics / theology / eschatology”) tend to have a rather snobbish approach toward Microsoft users — namely, our operating system is so far superior to yours that we can’t comprehend why anyone in their right mind would want to use Microsoft Windows (read that as “other systems of ethics / theology / eschatology”).
Both systems, however, are top down retributive (closed source) systems. Both Apple and Microsoft offer computer users a system that pre-determines what is to be available to them. “Here is what is best for you,” they both say. Both represent what Peter Block (Community: the Structure of Belonging) calls “culture” — a shared valuing system.
Linux is quite a different matter. It is an open source system that keeps it’s focus on possibility. A broad, diverse community of users and programmers distribute ideas, possibilities, corrections, and program codes. Everyone has access to everything. Even as a user who does not understand code development my ideas about what the operating system might do and/or what particular software programs might do are shared in open forums and, if some programmer is interested, implemented.
Traditional Christian ethics / theology / eschatology is caught up in a retributive snobbishness — there is only one way and I know what it is. My Christian way is far superior to your Islamic or Jewish or Buddhist or … way. I know that because I have a retributive source (the Bible) that tells me so. My Christian operating system is so far superior that I can’t comprehend why anyone in their right mind (or in their right belief) would want to use any other. Therefore, I will use imperialistic / retributive tactics to get you to accept my beliefs. “Hey, Stupid, I know that I am right! I don’t know why you can’t accept that. After all, the Bible tells me so!”
It is a seismic shift in orientation to conceive of God as an open source system (that is, a system in which my input is important.) John Dominic Crossan (“Eclipsing Empire” DVD series) puts it this way:
“Without Christians living Kingdom-lives, according to Jesus, or resurrection- lives, according to Paul, nothing [related to ‘God’s Great Cleanup of the World’] would ever happen. They claimed that, in the past, we have been waiting for God while God has been waiting for us. No wonder that nothing has happened up to now. They proclaimed that the eschaton is a cooperation between divinity and humanity. It is a matter of interaction, collaboration, and participation.”
Richard Beck (Experimental Theology blog) has suggested that so much of religious dialogue is based on the fear of facing life, with all of it’s unknowns. Rather than acknowledging our insecurities and learning to harness the energy (in the direction of possibility) that such insecurity brings, we have chosen to conceive of a g/God who is in active control of the universe (and my life) — that is, “the path of least resistance.” We end up with a g/God of retributive justice that punishes me when I stray and has an ultimate punishment for all the infidels. In Peter Block’s terms, we get stuck with the (external) culture. Beck (reviewing Hunter’s work, To Change the World) suggests that the we get stuck by either a) defending against society’s culture [Conservatives]; b) attempting to be relative to it [Liberals]; or c) striving to maintain a purity within it [Anabaptists]. The open source alternative, according to Beck, is a “realized presence.” Such a real presence affirms the world in which we live and provides an alternative valuing system (antithesis).
And, you may ask, what is the alternative, the antithesis? For Christians it is the Way proclaimed and lived by Jesus of Nazareth – the living of one’s live through hospitality, self-giving (kenosis), integrity, connectedness, peace, justice, love, … For many Chinese it is the Tao from Confucius. For Buddhists it is the Eightfold Path to Enlightenment. And there are many more. I am not suggesting that these ‘ways’ are all synonymous. There are ‘ways’ that have come and gone (e.g., the Shakers). Each of the ‘ways,’ however is evidence of a people who have chosen, to use Paul’s term, to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). These various efforts give rise, metaphorically, to a broad grin on the face of God.
After years struggling to help Christian churches learn to engage in conceiving possibilities based on abundance rather than deficiencies, I have concluded that God is the ultimate Appreciative Inquiry with provocative propositions — that is, God is the distribution (paying forward) of justice based on possibility rather than the retribution (paying back) of punishment for perceived mis-deeds.
To turn our understanding of God up-side-down & inside-out — that is, to encounter an open source God of distributive justice that seeks to bestow on every human being that which s/he deserves simply because s/he is a child of God’s own making — creates a tsunami that washes over us, baptizes us, and deposits us into the midst of a restorative (open source) community (Peter Block) that encompasses far more people than the religious congregation / community to which we are attached. That tsunami deposits us into the midst of the world — surrounded by people who are like us, and unlike us; people who like us and those who don’t; people with whom we have understanding and people whom we do not understand and who, in turn, don’t understand us; people we love and people we demonize, as well as those who demonize us. And it is here, in the strange mix of humanity (and divinity) that we and they are visited upon with the gift of “realized community” where suddenly we can “realize” the possibility that we are actually brothers and sisters of a fractured family. Such a realization opens the possibility of discerning a Way to live together… not my way, or your way; instead, a new way!
Crossan tells us that “empire” (and it’s attendant system of violence — that is, “peace through victory) is the normative mode of civilization. It is so normative that it pervades all our thinking, even our thinking about God. Competition is about winning a decisive victory over your opponent. Leadership is about directing the course of events out of one’s superior wisdom, or amassed experience, or willingness to “grab the bull by the horns” in a crisis situation. God is about divine leadership that cannot be bested by any opponent. God is omnipotent (able to impose divine will at any opportunity), omniscient (pre-knowing everything before it happens so as to impose punishment and rewards), and omnipresent (so God will not miss any misdeed and no miscreants will go unpunished).
I shudder when I think about God as conceived in the above paragraph; and yet I realize how easy it was to write that description, for it is what we have been socialized into throughout human history. How strange and difficult it is the to try to listen to and embrace the radical teachings lived out by Jesus of Nazareth. It is far simpler to elevate him to divine status where he takes on the imperial attributes of God than to follow in his Way. Paul presents us with a similar radical picture of a Way by which non-Jews can understand and live through God’s distributive (paid forward) justice which is also called ‘grace.’ Paul was radical enough that the disputed Pauline letters actually make accommodations to Roman culture — still radical, but not quite so much — while the non- Pauline letters (agreeably not written by Paul, though attributed to him) strip the radical nature of Paul’s thoughts and leave a reactionary and stunted message.
God as open source community… as a participatory venture… as a magnetic attraction pulling us into the present where we work out our own salvation daily, in fear and trembling… as peace through distribution of the benefit of justice… these concepts are hard for us to grasp and live into. They seem alien to us, for they contradict so much of what we have learned through the centuries. But that should probably not surprise us; for we have learned it from listening most closely to those who are benefiting from “the normalcy of civilization.” We have learned it from the victors, who can assure us about what is “right.”
Perhaps we would do well to listen more closely and more carefully to the disposed and marginalized peoples of the world. And, of course, that can only happen when we are in community with them, when we realize their presence with us and our presence with them. That is a presence that eliminates the disparity and discontinuity between ‘them’ and ‘us.’ ‘They’ don’t become ‘us’ and ‘we’ don’t become ‘them.’ Instead, there is a new creation.
Thus, in conclusion, God is more like Linux (a disparate open community of cooperation that operates by possibility and cooperation) than Microsoft or Apple (closed communities of power that strive for competitive edge through tight control and branding).