Tuesday, September 1, 2015

I didn’t become a Bill Gates, you are unlikely to become another Joel Osteen.


I have been a software developer for more than half of my life; that is more than a quarter of a century. As a new entrant into the software industry, like many others, my dream was to become another Bill Gates. (Back then there was no Google or Yahoo; Apple, Oracle and IBM were not prominent enough.) But, like millions of aspirants, I did not become another Bill Gates. Apart from his skills and business acumen, there are many factors that contributed to his phenomenal success.

Had there been open source and freeware software available at the time Bill Gates founded his Microsoft Corporation, it is unlikely that he would have reached the heights where he is now. He established his business empire before Linux and Android and other competitors came on the scene.

Just as me and the millions of other new entrants into the software industry aspired to be like Bill Gates, many Christians aspire to be as successful as Joel Osteen, or at least some of the successful preacher known to them. [Someone may accuse me that I am jealous of Joel Osteen. I am sorry, I have more reasons to be jealous of Bill Gates, because, it was in software industry that I invested my youth, time and energy, studying and updating myself, over and over again.]

Joel Osteen established his empire while the internet was still in its nascent stage, with connectivity being out of the reach of common man. He utilized various television channels to reach out to millions all over the world. He has a captive audience eagerly waiting to watch or witness his shows. Fortunately for him, most of his captive audience are less knowledgeable than him, as regards the scriptures. I can visualize their astonished faces while they listen to him including Prophet Daniel and his friends in the conversation between Jehovah and Moses. (Such gaffes are not unique to Joel Osteen, many preachers make such mistakes.)

Once an establishment becomes huge, it becomes inaccessible to common man. Have you ever tried calling up the customer service of some giant organization like Microsoft? Once the call is connected to the customer service number, you are asked to press 0, 1, 2, and so on, ad infinitum, to connect to a real human being, all the while listening to recorded voices telling you how great the company’s customer service is. Then you get to speak to some customer service executive, who is more interested in flaunting his accent, than in solving your problem.

The same situation arises while a preacher becomes an establishment. You have a serious doubt about some passage in the Bible or some issue that begs for the attention of your pastor. But, with a huge crowd hanging around him/her, it is quite unlikely you will be attended to. If your doubts could challenge some of the tenets of your denomination or congregation, I am pretty sure you will not present your doubts in front of your preacher, fearing excommunication or shunning. And, there is absolutely nothing that assures you that your preacher has the answers or solutions for your doubts. If the preacher has no answers, the situation would be really unpleasant. It is hard to find a preacher who would admit his or her ignorance on a given topic. (On the 3rd of August 2003, in the early morning, while I was reading the Bible, I got a doubt and I presented it before our preacher and some of the elders of our congregation, only to be shunned. It took years for some of them to realize that they were wrong.)

Just as the internet, with its open source software and freeware, is adversely affecting the monopoly of big corporates like Microsoft, it is playing spoilsport in the business interests of preachers. Today, with the internet (specifically Google and Facebook) you have your answers at your fingertips, within a matter of a few seconds. (On that morning on the 3rd of August, 2003, I could get only one answer for my question, today there are thousands of them.)

The theologians of yesteryears were taught to study the Bible using Strong’s Concordance, which often aggregates many unrelated words under one index number. Their knowledge of ancient Hebrew, Koine Greek and Aramaic were limited to learning the alphabets of those obsolete languages and the ability to read a few words from Strong’s Lexicon, though they may claim that they are well versed in all these languages. I need to add this, though there may be exceptions, it is rare that someone with outstanding academic records taking up preaching as a career.

Other than some “explaining away” websites like gotquestions.org, answersingenesis.org and preachers who defend their preconceived notions, many of the answers that you receive from the internet may be from people who have invested their time in studying to prove themselves worthy. Any software engineer, who is worth his salt, can extract Greek or Hebrew word patterns that matches an instance and infer the meaning in context, rather than using Strong’s or any other lexicon. Again, manuscripts of the scriptures are no more within the constraints of seminaries and theological colleges. You can find them on websites like http://www.codexsinaiticus.org. And there are wonderful, free software, like eSword, which facilitates fast search for words and patterns. Hundreds of versions of the Bible are available in public domain, so that one may compare and study.

World is changing, pretty fast. If you are a planning a career in preaching for yourself or your son or daughter, please don’t expect that you could be the next Joel Osteen. A new generation of Bible scholars, who are content to be loyal to God and His Christ are coming up, and take it from me, that you will not be able to match their knowledge and insight. You may argue that the true knowledge comes from the Holy Spirit, but you may find it hard to prove that these people who are way smarter than you have received their intelligence from any other source than the Holy Spirit.

In Christ,
Tomsan Kattackal