Programming with Bahá'ís
If a Linux user opens the man page of ctags – a handy piece of software that generates tag files from source code for editors like vim or emacs – and scrolls the manual towards the end, the user can discover the following section.
“Think ye at all times of rendering some service to every member of the human race.”
“All effort and exertion put forth by man from the fullness of his heart is worship, if it is prompted by the highest motives and the will to do service to humanity.”
-- From the Baha’i Writings
Bahá’í Faith is a religious movement that emerged in the second half of the nineteenth century around the ideas of the Persian religious leader Bahá’u’lláh (1817–1892). Bahá’ís believe in the harmony of science and religion. The same was the case for quite a few movements that emerged around the same time, in the atmosphere optimistic of technological and social progress. However, Bahá’ís went further than most of their contemporaries. According to ’Abdu’l-Bahá, the eldest son of the creator of the movement,
In accordance with the divine teachings the acquisition of sciences and the perfection of arts are considered acts of worship. If a man engageth with all his power in the acquisition of a science or in the perfection of an art, it is as if he has been worshipping God in churches and temples [quoted from Friberg, 1998].
Put simply, Bahá’ís consider engaging in arts and sciences as a form religious worship. This idea follows from the belief that God envisioned people as having reason and creative powers and therefore it is a human duty to develop this God-given potential. While Bahá’ís acknowledge the importance of rationality in general, of all types of sciences they prefer those that have direct practical application. To this end, Bahá’u’lláh urged his followers to study “sciences which may profit the people of the earth, and not such sciences as begin in mere words and end in mere words” [quoted from Friberg, 1998].
The Internet has a special place in Bahá’í worldview. In order to understand why, it might be helpful to keep in mind that Bahá’í Faith is inherently globalist, believing in the unification of humanity, different religions, and worldviews. The Internet represents for Bahá’ís a step towards their vision of the unity of all people.
the Internet, as a socio-technical system, represents a far-reaching advance in the ability of the world’s peoples to engage in new forms of interaction and collaboration, simultaneously contracting the planet and deepening bonds of interdependence. It offers tangible evidence that “the human race is now endowed with the means needed to realize the visionary goals summoned up by a steadily maturing consciousness” [Weinberg, 2019].
While optimistic about the ability of new technologies to transform society, Bahá’ís recognize the dangers that these technologies bring with them. In fact, Bahá’í tech experts like Matthew Weinberg who worked for the Gates Foundation and the United States Office of Technology Assessment are well-equipped and perceptive about these issues. In particular, Weinberg correctly points out that a lot of the issues of the contemporary Internet are rooted in its increasingly centralized nature and dominance of commercially-driven platforms that thrive on abusing personal data and manipulating users.
that a few major profit-making platforms have taken hold in virtually every country in the world (Google, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter), basically serving as information gatekeepers of social reality, reveals technological and economic lock-in effects that are hard to overcome. . . . That our “attention” is captured by these online services and then repackaged and sold is a particularly seductive characteristic of these tools. Indeed, the ultimate expression of technological passivity perhaps is the idea that individual users become the “product” when they provide personal information in exchange for free use of these commercial platforms [Weinberg, 2019].
The solution for this issues, for Weinberg, is multifaceted. On the one hand, it is related to development of alternative technologies such as open-source software and decentralized services. On the other, Weinberg advocates for regulations of IT sector based on internationally acknowledged human rights norms – an approach similar to one advocated by the United Nations. In a signature Bahá’í fashion, he also emphasizes the importance of attitudes based on ethics and values. Indeed, if we to find a way beyond the for-profit user-exploiting Internet than we need to find motivations other than purely commercial ones and religion more than anything can be a source of such motivations.
For me, Bahá’í vision of the Internet as a manifestation of the growing unity of humanity is an optimistic one and one that I, in many respects, want to share. Bahá’ís are consistent in their genuine interest to the power of new technologies to transform society and in arguing for taking steps to ensure that technologies are used in appropriate ways. It would be great if we, Bahá’ís or not, could learn this attitude and introduce it in our daily practices.
- Friberg, Stephen R. “Science and Technology.” Bahá’í Studies Review 8, 1998.
- Weinberg, Matt. “Technology, Values, and the Shaping of Social reality.” The Bahá’í World, May 23, 2019.
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