Torvalds vents about religious extremism

Torvalds vents about religious extremism

Summary: What I like most about Linus Torvalds is his candor.You don't get his brand of off-the-cuff comments from most CEOs.

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What I like most about Linus Torvalds is his candor.

You don't get his brand of off-the-cuff comments from most CEOs. Okay, okay, so I admit I think of him as the CEO of Linux. Doesn't everybody?

Anyway, to the point. A few days ago, Torvalds described bumping into a bunch of religious zealots at a local Costco where he lives in Oregon.

Check this out, directly from his blog last Friday:

"Sitting there, I can't but help overhear that it's apparently some religious discussion going on. Ok, so it's the local God Squad having their lunch meeting, no biggie. They're apparently talking about Africa, and about life and death decisions etc - at least one of them is a missionary.

And that's when it gets strange. One of them starts to seriously talk about praying demons away, and then after the prayer has driven the demon out of the person, you have to support the person so that the demon doesn't come back. And nobody laughs at him.

Seriously? What year is it again? I'm pretty sure they didn't have Costco foodcourts in the middle ages, but maybe there was some time warping going on.

What the hell is wrong with people?

This is quintessential Linus, and the reason why journalists love to quote him. He is so colorful and to the point.

It makes we wonder, though, what he thought about the level of extremist rhetoric that went on in the early days of Linux and open source.

Many people in the industry were and remain very passionate about the open source model of development and its wide ranging impacts on society and democracy.

But there were some members of the community who truly believed that Microsoft was an evil empire and that proprietary software companies should be put out of business simply because of their profit motive. [And there were Microsoft zealots, too, who denounced open source as anti-capitalistic.] They were downright nasty.

I recall swapping stories with fellow technology journalists about the volume of hate e-mail we would receive if we dared write anything controversial or critical about open source software, and Linux, in particular. Newsweek's Dan Lyons, who was then with BusinessWeek, took great delight in provoking such response and recounting some of the most memorable zingers sent his way.

I remember more than a few myself. Once I wrote an analysis that carried the headline, "Is Linus Killing Linux?"

It was hyperbole, of course, and designed to provoke interest in a story that examined who or what might become the controlling "manager" of the Linux kernel -- or which commercial interest might try to hijack the code. [This was before the SCO lawsuit.]

But some of the e-mails I received about that piece indicated that some saw the headline as pejorative and me as a biased (maybe demonic) Microsoft worshipper.

Another time I attended a conference about desktop Linux and one of the speakers tossed a plastic penguin in my direction, inadverdently hitting me in the face. Everyone (including me) had a good laugh but it got uncomfortably quiet in the room when the speaker quipped that he didn't intend to hit a member of the press.

Much of that extremism has abated and the fiery rhetoric out of North Carolina and Redmond has quieted as the commercial reality of co-existence has set in.

Still, given his recent blog, I wonder what Linus thought about the extremism of some on the open source side. He was and is the rock star of the movement but was always careful to stay focused on the technical aspects of Linux -- and out of the marketing wars as much as possible.

I think his sensible approach to the business of technology and the rational demeanor he brought to the debate over open source vs proprietary software did more to steady the boat than anyone realized at the time. Maybe that's why he is still at the helm after all these years.

Topics: Linux, Open Source, Operating Systems, Software

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83 comments
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  • Most of the 'extremism' comes from the Windows Folk

    who depart from 'civility' at the drop of a hat when Linux is mentioned in any context.

    It's a red flag.

    And they are intimidated when they cannot rebutt an argument.

    So they are extremist in the sense that they drop down to name calling and ad hominem attacks here at ZDNET on a regular basis.

    Thanks Paula, we love YOU and your articles :)
    Can't get enough.
    D.T.Schmitz
    • Interesting supposition:

      But I'm not willing to stipulate your point.

      The fastest way to start a flame war (as bloggers here know well) is to compare Linux to Mac to Windows.

      That turns into a three way cage match, where everyone gets bloody.

      My (purely anecdotal) experience is that Linux zealots (no, not normal people who prefer Linux, but are reasoned in their approach... real zealots) are the first to devolve into name calling.

      Nothing wrong with reasonable discussion, but some of the muck thrown by all 3 sides is uncalled for.
      rshores
      • You're biased and it shows

        Either that or you haven't been paying much attention to the talkbacks.
        The Mentalist
        • Did you actually read the post?

          Where, precisely, did the poster indicate his bias?
          de-void-21165590650301806002836337787023
          • There...

            <i>"My (purely anecdotal) experience is that..."</i>

            Completely inaccurate, it either shows bias or a lack of reading skills. I prefer to think it's a bias.
            The Mentalist
          • re: There...

            LOL! Mentalist illustrates the point wonderfully by example.

            Was that the intent? (Probably not)
            Tsingi
          • Hate to tell you this but....

            Over time, in these kinds of blogs/stories I have a small list of names whose opinion is a given before I even click on the post. Rarely am I suprised.

            Some are Linux zealots, some are die hard follows of RMS a tribe noted for calling Linux GNU/Linux, some worship at the altar of Steve Jobs, some are Windows zealots and on it goes. All are more interested in hijacking Talkbacks to indulge in their pointless repeated arguments quite similar to those who Linus talks about, the tiny minority of religious people who go on at length about demons and casting them out.

            Fair enough. Have at it. Though I'm about as interested in that kind of pointless, entrenched debate as I am in any other ranting be it techological(sp), ideological, religious or just what someone's favourite colour is.

            Over the years Linus has made it clear he's not interested in that kind of discussion either. Sometimes accompanied by a good dose of Anglo-Saxon particularly on the kernel mailing list.

            All in all I agree with Paula's point and I agree with Linus. You do not improve anything, be it Linux, Windows, OS-X or whatever tossing balls of mud at each other. Strangely smelly mud at that.

            For the record I'm a long term Linux user, been around personal computers since before the IBM PC appeared and prefer it to Windows. I don't, on the other hand, get my identity from it. I use the appropriate tool that works for me. Mostly it's Linux, sometimes it's Windows, occasionally it's a Mac.

            I'm also a practising Christian who, like the vast majority of the world's three billion Christians finds the notion of casting out real demons (as opposed to metaphorical ones) quaint, amusing and rather sad.

            Maybe ZDNet should have a blogger who writes about nothing but techological "religion" and zealotry where that list I spoke of earlier can hang out and leave the rest of the Talkbacks to people interested in the meat of a posting rather than satisfying their zeal by seeing their names in "print".

            ttfn

            John
            TtfnJohn
          • You're a balance Fanboy

            How dare you suggest that balance is better than zealotry.

            Go back to your reality cult.

            You linux/windows/OS X supporters are all ignorant. If only you knew
            that Linux/OS X/Windows is inferior rubbish, I know this and that is
            why I have never, ever used it.

            Oops, sorry reflex reaction

            I'll just leave quietly before anyone notices
            richardw66
        • Yes, @rshores did express

          his/her pro-Microsoft bias. The language was above many forum poster's language level...but it was clearly there.
          Isocrates
      • Here's a supposition: Suppose your hair catches on fire (kidding again)

        See that. It's practically impossible to keep things from falling apart.

        Good Lord.
        D.T.Schmitz
        • Okay, you further opened Rooney's already opened door...<Grin>

          If by your use of the word, Lord, you are referring to the one some call the Jewish Messiah, some call the Son of God, some called a criminal, and some call a fiction...

          Yes, He was the example of good, wasn't he?

          He expressed his opinion and allowed discussion.

          He allowed others to express their opinion without attacking them.

          He did address one person who attempted to thwart His plans by stating, "Get behind me, Satan!"

          This begs the question..."What is a Satan?" In the above instance, it was one interfering with and attempting to thwart the speaker's plan.

          Therefore, definitions must be agreed upon as to the meanings of the words "satan," "demon," "prayer," and "deliverance."

          Of course, this also begs the question..."What is a religious zealot?" This requires defining the meaning of the words "religious" and zealot." Why? Because Paula Rooney introduced them in her quotes and discussion of Linus Torvalds. Until people agree on a meaning for words, there can be no clear communication.

          Some adhere to meanings attached to first use of a word (the most accurate) and others adhere to meanings found somewhere else along the chronological life of a word's etymology. The least educated adhere to meanings they have guessed at by the context of the word's use by those they have heard use the word, which is likely others, like themselves, with a limited education and disinterest in doing any research as simple as opening a dictionary.

          So, I think Rooney's objective was to point out how the same word can have different meanings to different people and how different opinions about the meanings of those words can cause tremendous disconnect in people's intercommunication.
          Isocrates
      • So, you argue a reversal of Schmitz's conclusion?

        You do not agree with D. T. Schmitz's point that Microsoft (i.e. Windows) fans are less adept debaters who resort to ad hominem attacks when they are unable to present a successful logical argument; and, instead, argue that it is Linux "real zealots" who resort to "name calling?"

        I have observed that weak debaters in all camps resort to fallacious arguments. However, I agree with Schmitz that most ad hominem attacks seem to come from weak debaters in the Microsoft/Windows camp.

        I think I understand your attribution of anti-Microsoft or anti-Windows fallacies to "real [Linux] zealots;" however, zealots come in varied intensities and causes, as these forums bear out. Therefore, it would help to reach agreement on the meaning of the words, "real zealots." This insinuates there are unreal zealots, yet I suspect you intended zealots of the highest gradation of intensity. Are you saying that people who achieve the highest levels of emotional involvement are zealous? If so, what would make some more real than others?
        Isocrates
    • I agree

      M$ did a very good job of conditioning its sheeps with a pavlonian reflex when they hear 'Linux' or 'FOSS'.
      Linux Geek
    • Is that so?

      Before you say that, I ask you to take a look at most of The Mentalist's, Linux Geek's, and Wintel BSOD's talkbacks... Even your own sometimes.
      The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • RE: Torvalds vents about religious extremism

      He was and is the rock star of the movement but was always careful to stay focused on the technical aspects of Linux and out of the marketing wars as much as possible.<a href="http://ipadbagblog.com/"><font color="LightGrey"> k</font></a>
      zakkiromi
  • RE: Torvalds vents about religious extremism

    Hey, I just like Torvalds a WHOLE lot more, it's indeed refreshing to hear a public figure speaking without constantly referencing christianity in this country....
    nothingness
    • Could that be

      because Christians remind you of your guilt?
      Isocrates
      • Guilt?

        I'd say it's the christians that would be most
        likely to feel guilt.
        After all, aren't the loudest of them usually the
        most guilt-laden. (Remember whatshisface Bakker?
        Heck, can go much more recent if you count ex-prez
        Monkey-boy)

        We pastafarians are guilt-free.
        martian@...
  • Archaic, hmmm?

    Ah yes, the age old art of eavesdropping. Granted, the man was blogging his thoughts, so I don't hold anything against him. Everyone is entitled to his/her opinion, but this is interesting to me.

    People can think that we came from monkeys and inanimate objects and that the intricacies and complexities of life are a pleasant happenstance.

    People can feel free to express their love to a person of either sex or both sexes.

    People can kill in the name of Patriotism.

    The growing sexualization of our society and the proliferation of pornography is not a problem.

    Yet when people express their religious beliefs, some people find it archaic.

    It doesn't bother me either way, yet it is just interesting what people find objectionable these days.
    PlayFair
    • Euro perspective

      Come over here - We've spent the last 1500 years killing each other over religon - Ostensibly the same variety as well, where they all agree about the base points!

      Finally after the last batch of killing (about 9000000000 - if you forget the recent Serbian bash) you'll realise Europe has finally come to its collective sense - religon and its adherents really do kill each other with alacrity, that in some cases is unbelivable in ferocity.

      Put in that light, Torvalds comment seem somewhat reasoned

      PS - just as we get to some sort of sanity, we get another bunch of nutters hell bent on causing ructions. Ho well! I suppose we'll just have to finds some more faggots and stakes, assuming global warming dohasn't killed off all the trees
      Dickie wheeler