We’re reasonably certain this wasn’t written by the hand of any god. Then again, we haven’t personally met any gods, so how would we know? All we know for sure is that as some good book almost said, “The truth shall make you chuckle.”
It’s easy to imagine Richard M. Stallman yelling “Repent, ye software sinners!” as he stands on a mountaintop, wearing flowing robes and raising a hand-carved wooden staff toward the sky — with lightning and thunderheads swirling around him, of course. Meanwhile, the Israelites — I mean computer users — cower in the valley below, worried that The Lord shall smite them for the sin of using proprietary software.
To me, Richard (RMS if you prefer) is much like a prophet. Read your Torah (what some call the “old testament”) and you’ll see what I mean. Beard? Check. Jewish Prophets have beards. It’s right there in the original (and never translated) Hebrew manual that YHWH gives to all (male) prophets when He selects them. You also have to be a Jew. Again, check. Willingness to have people cast stones at you? Check, check, and check. Happy to buck popular trends? RMS gets nearly infinite checks on this one. Robes are optional, but we’ve seen him wear them. More than once.
This is not an original thought. Or maybe it is, since I first likened RMS to a traditional Hebrew prophet back when he was not nearly as well-known as he is today, and all other mentions of this metaphor I’ve seen came later than my original one. But it doesn’t matter. Prophets are prophets, typically from birth (same as Dalai Lamas). It is scary to imagine a baby Richard crying “Wah! GNU’s not Unix! Wah!” His mother was probably horrified as well, poor woman. But somehow, Baby Richard managed to grow into an adult computer person at MIT, where one day he did the equivalent of overturning the moneychangers’ tables and started preaching the Gospel of Free Software.
Editor’s note: “The Gospel of Free Software” contains two main errors: 1) It is self-described as “Fun,” which it may be in a way, but it is dead-serious at its core; and 2) “St. IGNUcius” is a misbegotten attempt to equate The Prophet RMS with a Jesus-come-lately religion that enjoyed a brief flowering during Roman times — even though we all know that RMS, like all prophets named in the Torah, is Jewish.
We Unwashed Masses have a long history of ignoring the prophets YHWH sends to us. RMS has accumulated at least as many followers (as a percentage of the world’s population) as prophets in the days of yore. He founded a persistent organization to spread his word. He may not have entirely vanquished the Devil, but no doubt helped him decide to step down from his position at Microsoft. Still, both Microsoft and Windows still exist, and GNU/Linux is about as successful in the world of desktop operating systems (based on its number of users) as Judaism is among world religions. In other words, influential but not terribly widespread. (Sigh.)
But does popularity matter to a prophet? Of course not! Does the number of adherents to a religion have anything to do with whether YHWH considers it a True Faith? I would hope not!
Whether or not we are followers, we should honor Richard M. Stallman as just about the only true prophet the software world has produced so far. We pray to the Holy GNU in his name, like this: “There is no software but Free Software, and Stallman is its prophet. Hallelujah!”
Few of us will ever live up to Richard’s spiritual example or follow every tenet laid out in The Gospel of Free Software. The best we mere mundanes can do is try — and work especially hard to avoid egregious sins like melting our jewelry down into raw gold and using it to build a golden Windows computer or something similarly evil.
Robin “Roblimo” Miller is a freelance writer and former editor-in-chief at Open Source Technology Group, the company that owned SourceForge, freshmeat, Linux.com, NewsForge, ThinkGeek and Slashdot, and until recently served as a video editor at Slashdot. Now he’s mostly retired, but still works part-time as an editorial consultant for Grid Dynamics, and (obviously) writes for FOSS Force.