What Moglen's Corollary Taught Me About the Church

Eben Moglen's Essay "Anarchism Triumphant," is one that has been very important to me. It was my introduction to the Free and Open Source community as well as my introduction to the concept of Emergence. I think the thing that made the biggest impression on me is his criticism of monetary incentives, which he playfully deemed Moglen's Corollary to Faraday Law.

"Incentives" he says, is merely a metaphor, and as a metaphor to describe creative activity, it's pretty crummy. The better metaphor arose on the day Michael Faraday first noticed what happened when he wrapped a coil of wire around a magnet and spun the magnet. Current flows in such a wire, but we don't ask what the incentive is for the electrons to leave home. We say that the current results from an emergent property of the system, which we call induction. The question we ask is "what's the resistance in the wire?" So Moglen's Metaphysical Corollary to Faraday's law says that if you wrap the internet around every person on the planet and spin the planet, software flows in the network. It's an emergent property of the connected human minds that they create things for one another's pleasure and to conquer the uneasy sense of being too alone. The only question to ask is, what's the resistance of the network? Moglen's Metaphysical Corollary to Ohm's Law states that the resistance of the network is directly proportional to the field strength of the "intellectual property" system.
- Moglen, Eben. Anarchism Triumphant: Free Software and the Death of Copywright.

At the time, I was a student at Bethel Seminary, taking my second course in Systematic Theology. My project for that term was a paper on ecclesiology (the theology of Church). The questions I was interested in answering were
  1. What is the essence of church? And . . .
  2. Why do some Churches seem to have the ability to draw people like a magnet, while others have members who seem to be unenthusiastic - and more driven by a sense of religious duty.
I remember my family taking me to church as a kid. We found no joy in in it. We didn't long to be in the presence of other Christians. We dressed up "to show our respect", and fought in the car all the way. We basically did our religious duty, and came home immediately afterward.  We had no friends at church - and no believing friends at all - at least as I remember. I've felt this same thing visiting many church's as an adult. Most people, if I can judge their behavior, seem to come out of a sense of religious obligation - and when they do socialize with believers its about sports or politics not the kingdom or Jesus. I contrast this experience with my time at Northwest Fellowship - a small group of believers who had come out of the Jesus Movement in the 70s. There, for the first time, I experienced genuine Christian fellowship. People who loved to be with one another. People whose conversation was filled with reference to Jesus. Nothing about it was forced or awkward. I wondered, what was the difference? If I discovered the answer, could this life be awakened in a church that seemed lifeless or dead? I believe Moglen's essay, unlikeliest of places, set me on the path to answering these questions. Here's what I found.

Just like electricity is an emergent property of Faraday's induction coil, -
Moglen believes creative and useful software is an emergent property of human minds connected via the internet.


Just as the copper wire, in the Faraday generator, presents a restraint the system's power output - due to friction, the intellectual property system presents a restraint on the output of creators. Power output is maximized when you aim for as little resistance as possible.

So I thought, what if a living and vibrant church is not something you have to build, but rather, the natural emergent state of human beings called through the proclamation of the Word, and united by the Holy Spirit?


Suppose the output of that system is restricted by the friction created by the Ecclesiological systems in which we choose to operate?

This would mean that hierarchical organization which divides believers into clergy (professionals) and lay members, are actually at the heart of the problem. Many churches have long struggled with its called "the 80/20" rule - where 80% of the work is done by 20% of the members. This is a constant frustration to leaders who rightly believe that every believer should be somehow actively engaged in the life of the church. This reality has also caused burnout in the churches most active and committed members due to the excessive burdens that are placed on them.

The 80/20 rule, also called the Pareto Principal, was coined by managing consultant Joseph Juran. It is a power law which means that there is a functional relationship between the two quantities so that a change in one necessarily affects the other. It is my belief that lifelessness of the lay members in many churches is proportionate to the degree of unilateral authority invested in its leaders. In simple terms - the planning, strategizing, vision casting, dreaming, are all contained within the leadership structure. This leads to myopia, group think, limited ability to creatively problem solve, slowness to adapt to new contexts, numbness to the needs in the body.

It is my belief that the more power is concentrated at the top of the organizational structure the more these problems are exacerbated leading to the fading of members interest in the life of the church, and the slow decline of the congregation. A good part of this blog is to be dedicated to showing the ways in which this theory bares out. I will present scripture, personal experience, and relevant reference material to prove that what I'm saying is true.

This post is not meant to disparage leaders or leadership. It is meant to remind us that the church is a living organism, and every member is important. I believe some forms and philosophies of leadership are unilateral and destructive. Leaders have to remember that the Church is not an institution which they preside over, it is the body of Christ which they serve.

Having taken Hebrew I can't help but notice that the meaning of the word "Eben"(אבנ) is "stone". The metaphor of stones are prominent in the New Testament.
  • Jesus is a stumbling block, (1 Cor 1:23)
  • And the stone the builders rejected (Matt 21:42 and Acts 4:11)
  • Yet has become the capstone. (ibid)
  • He is also called the corner stone of the living temple. (Eph 2:20)
  • Christians are called living stones, from which the new house of God is built. (1 Peter 2:5)
I don't want to elevate Eben Moglen to the status of an apostle - I'd just like to point out the fitting symbolism of his name, given that Moglen's Corollary provides such an excellent building block for thinking about the church as a living system. It seems somehow, appropriate.

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