One Bible-Thumping Child Per Village

   
   
   
   
   
olpc religion
Are they in need of God's word?
Imagine that you are trying to spread the Gospel, educate illiterate villagers on the teachings of Jesus. What might be an effective means to do so?

While the Gutenberg Bible revolutionized the Christian religion in Europe, it's not much help if you only speak Limbu or Bambra but can't read any language. Proselytizers have recognized that you need to transform the word of God into an acceptable format, or as Tim Bulkeley says:

If MP3 recordings of the Bible were available in someone's tribal language their children or grandchildren could download them and play them, and pass them on to friends and neighbours. The illiterate villagers could HEAR the Bible.
In fact, the Washington Post reports that since 2000, the Bible has been translated more than 600 more languages. And what better platform to spread Scripture audio books that One Laptop Per Child's XO computer? It's lightweight, durable, with built in speakers, and when backed up by Internet-connected servers with Bibles in multiple languages Tim is right to call it:
The most cost effective means of Bible distribution ever (whether cost is measured in dollars or people-hours).
Wait till Tim hears about the newest OLPC innovation, text to speech:
Hemant Goyal and Asiem Deodia are working on getting a text-to-speech synthesizer integrated into xbook (and perhaps into Sugar). Arjun Sarwal is mentoring them as part of Summer of Content.

They have an initial design working, involving a dbus service that will capture highlighted text and play it with espeak. A global “play” button is planned for the Sugar activity toolbar so that this is accessible from all activities.

Its not just audio Bibles that excite the clergy. Last week in Rome, Nicholas Negroponte and Matt Keller joined Antonio Battro, who is OLPC's chief education officer and a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, for a one-day whirlwind tour of the Eternal City. They were showing off OLPC XO technology to the Jesuit Order and got avery receptive audience:
U.S. Jesuit Father Keith Pecklers told CNS the Jesuits were encouraging other religious orders to become involved in the One Laptop Per Child project. "The impact the One Laptop Per Child program will have on a global level is phenomenal," he said.

A professor of liturgy at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University, Father Pecklers said the Jesuits have always been "at the forefront of education, particularly in the poorest of the poor areas where many would not wish to go, so it strikes me as appropriate and important that the Jesuits would take the lead in supporting this particular program."

While your opinion of the Catholic Church may vary, the idea of religiously-sponsored, OLPC-enabled education poses the very significant question: do we want Bible-thumping children or community elders using the "$100 laptop" to further spread Christianity? Might we do more harm than good if the first wave of OLPC XO's come with religious audiotapes or speak of Jesus in native tongues? Or as other people of faith say:
Technology is great, but as people and as Jesus-followers we need to be very careful how we share technology with other societies. What may seem like a good idea might actually be a cross-cultural force-feeding, with long term negative effects on these developing countries.
And against the backdrop of the US involvement in Iraq and the OLPC connection to the other Negroponte, maybe Tim should temper his enthusiasm for linking OLPC to Christianity, or at least recognize that the Koran, Torah, and Pali Canon should be equally available and promoted depending on local customs and traditions.

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17 Comments

In the end, if china distributed one million XO with the liittle red book of mao inside would it promote Communism or exactly the opposite? Sugar is so well in it's focus on the local community that the kids that it becomes impossible to one local authority to say what you are suposed to do with it.

The problem would not be giving a muslim child a laptop with the bible, the problem would be to force him to read it, and override te influence of their parents.

Thanks for the mention, though to my knowledge I've never thumped a Bible ;-) as for "linking OLPC to Christianity" all we'd plan to do is make facilities available to people who want to record and/or listen to the Bible in their langauge. I thought the OLPC project was precisely designed to allow local communities to do such things without centralised control from the US thought police! Perhaps I misunderstood ;-0

If others want to do the same to allow for the other Scriptures you mention like: "the Koran, Torah, and Pali Canon" to be recorded and made available freely that would be great. It is just not my primary goal.

"In fact, the Washington Post reports that since 2000, the Bible has been translated more than 600 more languages."r

The Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) has translated the bible in almost any language with a writing system, even if they had to develop the writing system themselves.

But I should warn you that SIL are quite controversial (ie, unwelcome) in some, especially catholic, parts of the world eg, Latin America.

No-one will stop the XOs from having the Quran or Vedas on tape. And XOs with the bible would guarantee the OLPC to fail in 2/3 of the world.

MP3 recordings

MP3 is neither open source nor a good compression for speech. The free Speex is much better.

Wrt speech synthesis.

There are many small footprint Open Source/Free TTS systems. The most are based in some form on Festival and use the Mbrola voices. You can get, and create, free Mbrola voices for most languages. However, Mbrola itself is curently encumbered with patents (not the fault of the mbrola people). Other free TTS systems, like eSpeak, have a low voice quality if not used with the mbrola voices.

Winter

I think Negroponte was right about ringing the bells in the Vatican city. The Catholic Church is REALLY important in the developing world and they play a huge role in education. I guess it's Ok if they want to put the Bible inside the XO as long as they allow the kids to have other religious views, which is certainly enforced by law in most of the countries, at least in the Latin American region.

Of course the OLPC folks should also talk with other major religions as long as they have an important role in the educational systems of the developing world.

Just to mention a similar case, we have been trying to reach the head of the Catholic Church in the Chilean campaing UCPN.cl for months.We've been unlucky so far, but we got an interview with the head of the Chilean Freemasons though. Yeah, I know it sound weird, but they also have an important role in education.

You have to be open-minded about 'spreading the olpc word.'

At the end what matters is to reach a successful consensus: getting everybody convinced that the idea that one laptop per child is no longer a luxury but a necessity for our kids, particularly the poorest ones.

Hi, Winter,

If OLPCs came with the Bible (or any other data) pre-installed it would presumably be because "the project" decided it should, that's NOT what I've been talking about, in fact I'd oppose it, because of MY religious convictions!

Equally, I have little desire to see any, even a really "good", text to speech system used (for anyone but the hearing impaired, who really need it).

What we envisage is providing a website where kids and their families with OLPCs can down and upload recordings of the Bible in their own language, for use by themselves and others of their ethnicity who choose to use them. MP3 seems a good format for that if only because phones and other small available electronic devices support it. (But we're not at all stuck with a file format till we get much further with the project. By then OGG for example might be more appropriate...)

OLPC comes in as a factor enabling this, previously needed infrastructure to record and play and to up and down load has not really been possible - or where phones make it possible easy or cheap.

I guess OLPC better just get used to the idea that people may choose to use the platform for things THEY want to do, and not just what Americans think is "good for them". Because all sorts of people will, including millions of Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and other religionists ;-)

I edited an issue of Cultural Survival Quarterly ten years ago on indigenous groups and the Internet. One part of my research was to visit the HQ of the SIL International (formerly Summer Institute of Linguistics) in Dallas, Texas. At that time the linguists were using email in the places where there was connectivity, but then as now they locate in some very remote communities with no access.

One of the memos posted on one of their bulletin boards directed the SIL linguistic experts not to get into religious discussion on the technical mailing lists, i.e. not witness to the non-Christian linguists.

I would agree that SIL has been controversial, but it has produced some very useful material, especially the dictionaries for some of these languages. There's an interesting book (from a left viewpoint): Thy Will Be Done -- The Conquest of the Amazon: Nelson Rockefeller and Evangelism in the Age of Oil, by Gerard Colby and Charlotte Dennett. 1995. Though it has been out of print, try your local library. The authors link SIL with oil, CIA, and all your other favorite people.

SIL has a long tradition of using ICT in different ways, and if the XO proves to have the right tools, I'm sure they may show up in some villages where SIL is working.

Tim,

Its good to hear that you're sensitive to local cultures and not trying to force religion (any religion) on a XO recipient. From South Korea to northern Uganda, I've been greatly disappointed by many evangelical organizations' attitude towards long-held beliefs of others, no matter their source or basis.

"or at least recognize that the Koran, Torah, and Pali Canon should be equally available and promoted"

Judaism doesn't proselytize.

Your thoughts in this article is very nice spreading the gospel in villagers by teachings about Jesus will definitely brings a very big change in there life. Using Mp3 players and other devices for this will bring big impact on them

"Your thoughts in this article is very nice spreading the gospel in villagers by teachings about Jesus will definitely brings a very big change in there life."

Sorry, but you seem to forget that all humans already have a faith. A faith that they feel serves them well.

Normally, they will resent being told their faith to be wrong. The reaction to proselytizing is generally strong and can be extremely violent. Just remember how the Japanese reacted to the convertions by the Portuguese (1542-1639).

Pre-loading the XOs with any one's specific faith will most certainly kill the OLPC.

As an example, SIL International is not just "controversial" but actively opposed in many rural parts of latin America. Their behavior, and that of other missionaries, has made life difficult for other linguists in many parts of the world.

Winter

Wayan: "I've been greatly disappointed by many evangelical organizations' attitude towards long-held beliefs of others..."

Yet you seem to have no problem with your own attitude toward the beliefs of Christians, displayed in broadly labeling them as "bible-thumpers" -- whatever that means, aside from being derogatory.

What's up with that?

Re: "Thy Will Be Done": conspiracy theories about SIL, the CIA, and big oil should be taken with large doses of salt.

Opposing someone's message -- even when the message is offered without coersion -- seems to translate very easily into vilification and slander.

For examples of SIL's advocacy on behalf of indigenous people, and appreciation thereof, see "The Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act:
A Triumph of Political Will" (http://www.sil.org/silewp/1999/004/SILEWP1999-004.html) or "Agta Human Rights Violations" (http://www.sil.org/~headlandt/agta.htm) or google SIL "Special Philippine Postage Stamp Issue".

@Lars:
"Re: "Thy Will Be Done": conspiracy theories about SIL, the CIA, and big oil should be taken with large doses of salt."

I have been at workshops where researchers working with indigenous people refused to come because people from SIL were invited. And religion was not even MENTIONED there.

Field researchers still have horrible problems getting indigenous people to even talk to them after missionaries have lived there. Your hearth breaks if you hear how these (often USA) missionaries have tried to destroy local culture. The days where one catholic priest, Fray Diego de Landa, destroyed almost all of Mayan literature because it was pagan are still not completely over:
http://www.mediamouse.org/pdf/pubs/solidarity_book.pdf

SIL have done marvelous work on language tools (I believe they were even involved in the ODF). But their reason of existence is to convert people to one creed. They are not there to teach, but to convert. People already have a faith and they are free to chose whichever faith they want. But his is hardly what they will hear from missionaries.

Winter

@Winter,

I have worked personally with quite a few SIL people. None of them that I know of have an agenda to "convert", if by that you mean coercing someone to accept beliefs, as opposed to making valuable information and a relationship available to those who decide they want it. I have never heard of an SIL worker trying to force anything on anyone, or to destroy culture. On the contrary, the links I cited above show how SIL helps to preserve cultures and languages. Ask UNESCO why they have continued formal relations with SIL since 1993, and had SIL in special consultative status since 1998. Indeed they invited SIL to lead workshops at the International Workshop on Improving Quality of Mother Tongue/Bilingual Literacy Programmes in Bangladesh last year (http://www.unescobkk.org/index.php?id=6679). In 2006, the prime minister of Papua New Guinea awarded SIL PNG's Independence Anniversary Medal of Appreciation, expressing appreciation for SIL's 50 years of service in language development and multilingual education.

"They are not there to teach, but to convert."
Do you have some evidence for that accusation, or is it just gossip?
As I said above, people in opposition to SIL are very quick to confuse a Christian motivation for service with an agenda of forcing Christianity upon people. The two are not the same, any more than any other organization of linguists, educators, or poverty reduction workers seeks to impose their own worldview on the people they study or serve.

"Sorry, but you seem to forget that all humans already have a faith. A faith that they feel serves them well."
You seem to be implying that it is wrong to offer someone information about another faith. On what basis?

"Normally, they will resent being told their faith to be wrong."
This is a self-defeating notion. Any statement held to be true, by definition, implies that an opposite belief is wrong. You don't seem to have a problem with telling missionaries that their attitudes (or your conception thereof) are wrong. Aren't you afraid they will resent it? Or is that OK, merely because missionaries are unlikely to retaliate violently?

"The reaction to proselytizing is generally strong and can be extremely violent. Just remember how the Japanese reacted to the conversions by the Portuguese (1542-1639)."
Indeed the Japanese leaders tortured and killed many of their own people who chose freely to accept the message brought by the Portuguese. In 1614, the shogun issued an edict requiring all Japanese to register as Buddhists (see http://www.spu.edu/depts/uc/response/autumn2k4/silence.asp). For this religious coercion, you seem to be blaming the Portuguese missionaries and absolving the Japanese leaders. That appears to be contrary to your expressed concern that people not have a religion forced upon them against their will.

If you persist in maintaining accusations against SIL, please provide some evidence rather than rumors. Events of the 16th century naturally do not count as evidence against SIL. Nor does dislike of SIL by unspecified researchers for unspecified reasons.

We're getting pretty far off topic here... I just have a hot button for false accusations against SIL. Maybe we should take this discussion elsewhere.

(On the other hand, you give them undue credit with "(SIL) has translated the bible in almost any language with a writing system." In fact there are still thousands of languages in which there is no scripture available, whether translated by SIL or anyone else.)

"Do you have some evidence for that accusation, or is it just gossip?"

I have spoken with field linguists who have encountered serious problems with their research in regions where SIL (or other missionaries) have worked. So much so that some will refuse to attend any workshop that involves people from SIL.

Redefining "convert" to be limited to human rights abuses does not help this discussion. Missionaries try to convert people that are almost by definition disadvantaged, uneducated, and powerless. In other enterprises (health-care or research), very strict guidelines about "informed consent" are in effect for working with such people. If missionaries have such guidelines, I am not aware of it.

SIL's basic aim is to spread a certain form of christianity. The people working for SIL might be of the best intentions, but that does not change the goal of SIL. And SIL is neither "Doctors without borders", nor a "Teachers without borders", but a missionary organisation.

For SIL, language research is just a tool to that end. If SIL creates a writing system for a new language, they use it to print a bible in it. This is not done because the people see that as their most pressing need, but because it is instrumental to SIL's goals.

As I wrote, the people from SIL have done marvelous work on linguistics.

"Indeed the Japanese leaders tortured and killed many of their own people who chose freely to accept the message brought by the Portuguese."

The Portuguese were distributing arms and organizing a rebellion. They used religion to take over control. Which, btw, was official state policy. The Japanese reaction was extremely brutal, but that was a gamble the Portuguese were willing to take. This DOES illustrate that proselytizing can be dangerous to the "subjects" of it.

We know that Iran and Sudan have a brutal leaderships. Trying to convert muslims there is putting these people into mortal danger. If you do try it, you are partly responsible for the outcomes. The fact that others perform the killings does not absolve you from taking care of safety.

In short, I stand by my statements that SIL is a missionary organization that is seen by many locals as attacking their culture and heritage. SIL's aims are to convert, teaching, healt-care and other benefits are only instrumental to that goal. Reactions to SIL and other missionaries can be strong, even harming those "converted". I think it would be very unwise for the OLPC to get involved in that arena.

Winter

@Winter
I have got to respect your opinion in many areas. I even have printed out a couple of your postings, something which a confirmed tree-hugger as I very seldom do, but they were so insightful that I wanted to be able to study them at leisure, away from the computer.

However your comments here show a level of religious intolerance that doesn't suit with the Winter I respect. Please do confirm that you do not mean to exclude SIL just because some uninformed bigots somewhere have chosen to call them enemies. I would want to see you on the side of those defending freedom and liberty, including SIL's, not on the side of those who believe values should be curtailed because some brutish bullies somewhere kill those who dare convert. They also kill and imprison atheists, gays, and those who happen to prefer American or European TV or music.

The day OLPC will exclude access to the Bible (or the Q'uran, or whatever) or its supporters will be a sorry day indeed. I don't know what good excuse would justify pretending we defend education, if we bow to such abuse.

Ed Cherlin is right as that Wikipedia is not necessarily truthful. Its article on the SIL is so obviously biased and has such spurious information that it is a shame, shame, for anybody like I that usually defends it and the FOSS bazaar everywhere.

"Please do confirm that you do not mean to exclude SIL just because some uninformed bigots somewhere have chosen to call them enemies."

I would never dream of excluding SIL, or any other religious organization from whatever enterprise they want to engage in. And if the XO comes equipped with every holy scripture of the world, I would only applaud it.

As I have said before, SIL have done really marvelous work in linguistics.

However, I have heard from quite respectable field researchers they are also (partly) responsible for shields at village entrances that read (paraphrased) "We are Catholic, so don't try to convert us". And I heard a first hand report of a field researcher about (different) missionaries having messed up village (cultural) life rather badly.

That said, I think it would be very dangerous for the OLPC to get embroiled in a missionary project of any creed. And I would directly include fighting religion (ie, atheism) or promoting any political or economic ideas.

I completely agree with Wayan:
"From South Korea to northern Uganda, I've been greatly disappointed by many evangelical organizations' attitude towards long-held beliefs of others, no matter their source or basis."

For anyone else, please help the poor if you can.

Winter

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