I believe in binary Zen. You're either at one with everything, or at zero with everything.

Digital Religions - the Religions of the Geek Culture

Date/Time Permalink: 03/31/06 02:53:34 pm
Category: Geek Culture

With a machine as widely used as the home computer, a culture was bound to evolve around it. And like any culture, it developed it's own mythology over time. And inevitably, it got it's own gods. Herein, a dictionary of digital dieties and a roll-call of random religions, whether serious or parody, which have their roots firmly planted in the world of computing, hacking, and/or the Internet - in other words, the Geek Culture's own religions. Which ones are parody and which are serious? Hey, we report, *you* decide:

By far the most well-known, and certainly the most stylish. It is the only Net religion I know with a whole operating system named after it. It boasts it's own voluminous graphics collection, known as the "Art Mines", which seem to extend forever and rival the Vatican's art collection in individual piece numbers, and top *everybody's* art collection for utter weirdness. By the way, I'm a Slackware fanatic who just happens to smoke a pipe, so, uh, treat this one with some respect, OK?

Central Figure: J. R. "Bob" Dobbs, the Divine Drilling Equipment Salesman. Always pictured smoking a pipe. Usually dressed conservatively, like a 1950's TV-show dad, although of course he has been depicted in everything from jungle-native costume to pin-up-model drag.

Central Theology: The attainment of a mystical substance "slack", which is the source of all happiness. "Slack" is another ethereal substance, like karma or chi, but it is of course something entirely different.

Doctrine: First up, a True believer understands EVERYTHING, INSTANTLY, upon exposure to the Word or even just the face of Bob. Like a flash of Zen, POOF, you're enlightened. Outside of that, quite a bit of hedonistic living-for-today philosophy taken with a devil-may-care smirk. An apocalypse in the future termed "X-day". A kind of judgment icon/evil entity known as "The Stark Fist of Removal". Other evil forces to look out for include the "Brain Hackers" and the "Star Forces".

Practices: Adding to the Art Mines your own twisted imagery interpreting the ideals of the religion so that others might better understand it. Horde Slack. Spread the Faith, but never, as I have, try to clarify the religion and explain it to the squares. "Bob" Dobbs personally came to me in a dream and granted me the right to explain this much in this article. That's how close we are. We also share the same aftershave and mistress.

Another well-established faith. Derived from the classic book trilogy "Illuminatus!" Unlike some digital religions, Discordianism seems to tread a fine line between being a parody and being something you could take seriously. And once you grasp that thought, and how artfully one may tread this line, you have grasped one of their central concepts: "Ha Ha! Only Serious!"

Central Figure: Eris, a fairly sexy maiden in flowing robes, with a disposition of radiant sweetness (if you get her) or laughing mockery (if you don't get her). No relation to the Greek deity. If you're already familiar with such gods of Chaos as Loki and Finagle, you've come a long way to Eris already. Unlike some reclusive digital religion figures, Eris shows up in movies and TV shows all the time.

Central Theology: To seek discord, that is disorganization and chaos, in all it's varied forms. You don't personally get anything out of it, save the satisfaction of doing Eris's work.

Doctrine: Well, see, you can't *help* but do Eris's work, anyway. Because you are part of the Universe and the Universe is Chaotic already, so your participating in Chaos brings you into harmony with the Universe, whereas your fighting the Universe by attempting to impose your own order and logic on it gets you nowhere. Oh, and any member can declare themselves "Pope" (males) or "Mome" (females) and then excommunicate all other members, declare or revoke Sainthood, any any other damn thing they please...because the only rule is that there Are No Rules. Anywhere.

Practice: Read the Principalia Discordia and keep it wholly in mind. You might consider adopting National Lampoon's "Deteriorata", available on the Doctor Demento 30th anniversary album (of COURSE I have that album!) as your hymn. Lastly, you should verbimwise aclumb to sanriff the targonomies, so that verly himps siggolf most tweakenest.

Just in case you thought it was all fun and games, here's one with a serious cause. The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is dedicated to eradicating religious influence in our schools and stamping out the persecution of our scientists. So, basically, you adopt the Flying Spaghetti Monster as your deity, then protest that if your kids are to be taught one of those monotheist creation myths in lieu of science, then your Flying Spaghetti Monster should have equal time.

Central Figure: Kind of obvious from the title, isn't it? A flying mass of noodles with two meatballs filling out it's shape and a pair of cartoony eyeballs. Adopted by "The Church of Reality" as their patron deity, and since they weren't even original enough to dig up their own god, they shall be denied their own entry in this article.

Central Theology: Well, see, in addition to the popular creation myths, the Flying Spaghetti Monster went one further and *deliberately* created the Universe in such a way that we would be *fooled* into thinking that it happened by chance and that all life forms evolved! Hey, at least they try to explain something... By the way, the Flying Spaghetti Monster is a direct descendant of the Invisible Pink Unicorn, in terms of purpose, which makes so much sense that your head should reel just to marvel at it.

Doctrine: The Flying Spaghetti Monster works all of His miracles by touching things with His Noodly Appendage. Followers refer to themselves as "Pastafarians". There's also something about Pirates - their gradual extinction is causing global warming, earthquakes, and et cetera.

Practice: Buy their stuff. Wear their T-Shirts. Spread the Word. Put their bumper stickers on your car. The primary practice is to spread it as far as humanly possible. And most importantly, keep a straight face. This will never work unless you play it dead serious. But always do so in a gentle, humorous way.

No, not "Monty python's Life of Brian"! Do not, by any means, begin mentally singing the "Brian" theme song or the closing number "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" from the same movie! OK, Brianism ("Watch it!") is based on the Book of Brian by the self-proclaimed "Cyber-prophet" - and he Meant Business!

Central Figure: A Unicorn who is paradoxically both pink and invis... no, wait, I screwed up. It's Brian.

Central Theology: The preservation of intelligent life via bringing all skeptics, atheists, and rationalists under a church they can enjoy. This is stated as their Prime Directive. All the pomp and pageantry with none of the guilt! And if you join now, we'll toss in this set of steak knives... They have a symbol, the Circumpunct, which looks a little bit like the Alchemical symbol for Gold, if you ask me!

Doctrine: Thought you'd never ask! The Pillars of Brianism:
Intelligence - the preservation and continuation of intelligent life.
Rationality - firm rejection of conventional religion and pseudo-science.
Propagation - eventual emigration to other worlds.
Environment - protection of the terrestrial and extraterrestrial environments, in so far as this is compatible with the Prime Directive.
Evolution - continued evolution, even into artificial intelligences, if required.
Knowledge - scientific progress, teaching and the acquisition of information
Heritage - preservation of beneficial aspects of human's heritage.

Practice: Generally, the idea seems to be to mingle with your fellow Brianists and laugh in a snarky way at the unbelieving fools outside. But there are a few curve balls, such as you must respect *all* intelligence, even that possessed by future HAL9000's we invent. Presumably, intelligence is held in the same esteem as faith is in other religions, which somehow conjures images of Mensa members getting fawned over by Brianist groupies...

It's here because it actually has practitioners, albeit more or less as another parody...I think. Bokononism was the invention of Kurt Vonnegut in his classic novel "Cat's Cradle", and with a pedigree like that, you've gotta love it. Contains many similar beliefs to discordianism, while showing Papa Kurt's masterly touch. Like Orwell's "1984" or Anthony Burgess' "Clockwork Orange", "Cat's Cradle" has spawned a whole vocabulary of made-up words which have slipped into the mainstream at the corners, which I will present here in quoted parenthesis next to their defining words or terms.

Central Figure: Bokonon, the only prophet. Allusions are made to God, but God takes a backseat here, not even taking Himself seriously.

Central Theology: That all religions are sweet lies ("foma") told to make us feel better about the world, including Bokononism.

Doctrine: OK, God created the world for absolutely no purpose, but still plays with mankind rather like the Greek gods of old, as an amusement. He accomplishes goals by uniting people into groups which only He knows the members of ("karass"). A karass at any given time has a central object around which it revolves ("wampeter"), but it can drop one and pick up another. The members of a karass are usually unaware of the other members or of their wampeter, unless enlightened by such events as a flash of revelation ("vin-dit"). Lastly, people who get their own ideas about how things should be run try to form themselves into false karasses ("granfalloon"), which are utterly useless for accomplishing anything.

Practice: Get together with another Bokononist and sit facing each other with the soles of your bare feet pressed together ("boko-maro"), so that you may "share your soles". I shall not here say more: read "Cat's Cradle" and hear it from the creator yourself!

Founded by the legendary James "Kibo" Parry. Famous throughout Usenet, it's practice has continued into the Internet Age, although Kibo seems to have found other things to do with his time in his advancing years.

Central Figure: Kibo, his dog Spot, Einstein, and the evil dual-universe version of Kibo: Xibo.

Central Theology: My God, where do I start? Well, "Everybody is a Kibologist, whether they know it or not." is as good a place to leave it as any. Go ahead, ask Kibo yourself. You will get a different answer every time!

Doctrine: All the candy in the world belongs to Kibo, except the candy corn, which he hates. If you make a prank call to dial-a-prayer, you can only redeem yourself by calling dial-a-prank and saying a prayer. Pete Rose should only be back in baseball if he'll fit in a baseball. You're not allowed. There is an orange safety cone conspiracy bent on taking over the world. The Universe is running on the dynamic tension between nougat and anti-nougat, and only the Antichrist can take a bite of anti-nougat without exploding. Wait, come back, I'm not done yet, there's more, LOTS MORE!!!

Practice: I can't tell you, because then Kibo would find out.

Perhaps belongs here more than any of the others. That's right, a whole religion about a text editor. Emacs just happens to be my LIFE-LONG FAVORITE PROGRAM, so I can assure you that I will treat this subject with absolutely no bias whatsoever. A related quasi-organization, the Wizards of Lambda, used to have a page that went on at great length about Lisp (Emacs' mother toungue) and carrying on about scrying mirrors and grimoires and such. The Wayback Machine verifies that I'm not crazy. So I guess the good wizards moved on to Somewhere Else, perhaps because they never see well to draw too much attention to themselves... and to honor that, they do not get their own entry in this article, since they couldn't be good enough to stick around long enough for me to write it.

Central Figure: St. IGNUcious, the alter-ego of Richard Stallman, Emacs' creator.

Central Theology: There is but one editor, and it is Emacs.

Doctrine: Emacs can be used as text editor. But to fully partake of Emacs, you can use it as a full operating system. It can compile, be a shell, read your news, surf the web, play games...if you can do it on a computer and it can't be done within Emacs, the only reason why is because nobody's written an eLisp program for it. Anyway, the practice of studying the ways and whys of Emacs literally can take a lifetime, and hence the need for it's own religion.

Practice: Use Emacs and....um...uh... Well, using Free Software and eschewing Closed-Source, Proprietary Software seems to go without saying...

NOTE:
This article is unfinished, and it will always remain so. It is mortally impossible to finish on such a subject, the only recourse is to keep going until you become tired enough to go do something else.

"Man is certainly stark mad. He cannot make a worm, and yet he will be making gods by dozens." - Michel de Montaigne

"Men rarely (if ever) manage to dream up a god superior to themselves. Most gods have the manners and morals of a spoiled child." - Robert Heinlein

"...it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket, nor breaks my leg." - Thomas Jefferson

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