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Yoism claims to be "the world's first open source religion." It began in the mid 1990's and has hundreds of participants in the Boston, Massachusetts area, where it is centered, and an undetermined number world-wide, who call themselves Yoans.
The "Open Source Truth Process"
Yoism was modeled on the successful development of open source software and specifically on the subsequent explosion of interest in Wikipedia, a system for collaborative development of a compendium of human knowledge. In direct analogy to Wikipedia, Yoism was designed to be a collaborative collection/creation of a system of religious memes that best comports with the actual life experiences of people everywhere.
Yoans, however, do not see the Wikipedia model as directly transferable to their aims. Instead, Yoism focuses on developing an input/editing process that can be applied to human meanings and values, i.e., a technology that can be applied to human concerns that can not be addressed from a neutral point of view. While all open source models must have structures to deal with conflicts, Yoan writings indicate an acknowledgment that there is a high degree of difficulty inherent in non-neutral, open source collaboration, i.e., a collaboration focused on the development of a more ideal system of guiding values, morals, and truth validation. Their web site and their Book of Yo indicate that refining their collaboration process is an ongoing activity.
In their literature, the open source, evolving nature of Yoism is frequently contrasted to the formation and maintenance of traditional religions, which they claim have always been closed, authoritarian, and static. At their website, we read that Yoism's "Truth Process"
- "aims to create a new way for a group to explore and articulate the nature of reality and a common vision for our world. The goal is to include the broadest range of human experience, while minimizing the degree to which the articulation of truth falls victim to factionalization and power struggles (politics). . . The Open Source Truth Process ensures that the Yoan Community's core writings and beliefs will evolve over time, as everyone—based on each person's own direct experience of Reality—is invited to provide input and improvements."
According to Yoism, a valid truth process must be grounded in careful reflection on actual human experience (empirical observation). In this view, a person's beliefs must be consistent with their own experience and with their own sense of what is right. Yet, Yoism acknowledges that an individual's beliefs are always incomplete, and are often mistaken, misguided, or even deluded. Therefore, Yoans believe that only a community, consensus process built around intersubjective verifiability can provide a viable path toward a more inclusive, self-correcting truth. Thus, Yoan beliefs are not based on fixed, static, received wisdom, such as from long-dead patriarchs. Rather, Yoan beliefs are based on the consensus of the Yoan community that is represented in a continually updated, open-source Book of Yo.
Yoan Truth is derived from three sources. First, there is the empirical data of collective human experience. Second, reason and logic must be brought to bear on our experience to create our knowledge of how our experiences relate to one another and can be expected to relate to our future experience. Third, a careful exploration of our deepest feelings, our fundamental values, and our most vital strivings is necessary for us to realize fully what aims (goals, meanings) to pursue. The Open Source Truth of the continuously evolving Book of Yo is Yoism's collective understanding of how to utilize valid knowledge in the most effective pursuit of the deepest human aims.
Yoans build their community on an open-source process of consensus, striving to express what the individuals in the community find to comport with their experience, with scientific data (i.e., the systematically collected and recorded experience of others), and with the aspirations of the members of the larger community. Using this consensus on values, meanings (human desires and goals), and empirically validated facts (scientific, intersubjective truths), i.e., Yoism's Open-Source Truth, Yoans claim to be striving to improve the world.
Core beliefs of Yoism
Yoans state a number of specific beliefs and goals, which they share:
- A belief in the divinity of each and every sentient self, from which they derive the first and most essential of what they call their Ten Sacred Principles: “All humans are sacred beings that come into the world with equal, unalienable Rights.”
- A belief in the danger of delusion, false beliefs (based on closed, relatively static, non-empirical, authoritarian sources), and collective belief and action based on such notions (including most of the human history of mass movements, e.g., religions, ideologies, and imperialistic nationalism).
- The need to replace such delusional belief systems with systems of belief based on empirical, intersubjective verifiability and the need to elevate the individual, divine, sentient, human self to the highest "end." i.e., that there is a need for a religious system of belief, such as Yoism, that is built upon enlightenment values and beliefs.
- The need for world-wide justice (including political, religious, and information freedom, as well as more equitable access to life sustaining resources).
- The need for environmental sanity (including a rational acceptance of the need for reproductive constraints and the need to deal with the continuing overpopulation of a closed, planetary ecosystem).
- The need for healthy communities, as a central, vital need of humans who evolution to live in tribal groupings.
In the pursuit of these goals, Yoans believe in the possibility that the human species can move beyond its past, fractious, divisive group identifications into a more cooperative, ecumenical attitude toward others, and that a more stable, sustainable integration with our planet's ecosystem is achievable. This belief in the possibility of a profound change in collective human beliefs, actions, and relations is the first of the Five Pillars of Yo upon which Yoans claim to be committed to building "Heaven on Earth."
Yoism is the community dedicated to the "worship" and study of Yo, a word that serves as a place-holder, a symbol for that which gives rise to a person's experience of the universe or of reality. Yoans believe that each individual's experience is a miraculous manifestation of Yo. Yoans use "Yo" to refer to the source of (or the mystery "behind") the universe (including everything within the universe, the trees, bugs, and animals, the rocks and rivers, the stars and galaxies).
Despite such overt religious terminology (e.g., using words like "worship" and "miraculous") and the claim that Yoism comprises a religion that includes the essential features of all religions, Yoism claims to be unlike what most Westerners understand a "religion" to be. It claims to be similar to Buddhism, with the exception that---unlike Buddhism which has no deity or word for any overarching "source" of existence (or mystery behind the world)---Yoism makes a claim for the existence of something beyond the world of experience, i.e., what they call "Yo." Yo, in turn, manifests as the known world of human experience. While Yoan belief is also very similar to Spinoza's pantheism, Yoans say that what "Yo" stands for can be (and has been) proven to exist, even though the human psyche can not know anything about it other than its manifestation as the known world of human experience (also see John Locke's notions about the limits of knowledge).
Yoism also has considerable parallels with Taoism, and posits a similarity between Yo and Tao. There is a major difference in the two belief systems in that followers of Tao feel no great urgency in communicating their beliefs; the Tao is quite capable of looking after itself. In contrast, following the Bodhisattva tradition of compassionate service to others found in Mahayana Buddhism, Yoism's sensibilities are to some extent grounded in utopianism (as exemplified by their goal of "creating heaven on earth") and have a sociopolitical dimension. Taoism, by contrast, is a system of inner cultivation which eschews such concerns.
Yoans claim that, for some Yoans, this understanding of Yo provides comfort, strength, an awe inspiring sense of one's relationship to the universe, and can thus provide a basis for the formation of sane, healthy communities. For other Yoans, this understanding of Yo is of little or no importance. What leads this group of Yoans to identify as "Yoan" are the shared beliefs, values, and goals of Yoism, such as those listed above. This is why Yoans also refer to Yoism as "The Heaven on Earth Movement," with a redefinition of "heaven" as a possibility that can be created right here, in what they refer to as "the real world of our experience."
History of Yoism
The earliest Yoan writing listed on the Yoism website is the October 27, 1998 presentation The Word According to Yo, as Told to Daniel by Dr. Daniel Kriegman. The article implies that in addition to Dr. Kriegman there were other Yoans involved in Yoism at the time.
By that time, Isaac Kriegman, one of the founders of Yoism and an open source software programmer, had brought the open source concept into Yoism as a model for the development of a universal, religious meme system. The ensuing success of Wikipedia, which demonstrated that an open source, decentralized model could produce a reliable repository of human knowledge, led to the open source model becoming a core aspect of Yoism, though as noted above, Yoans have acknowledged ongoing issues specific to the development of open source religions.
Yoans have been holding regular gatherings since 1998. Starting in June 2003, the Yoan community in Boston began holding gatherings on a weekly basis in a space rented from the First Congregational Church of Somerville, Massachusetts. Average attendance, at that time, was around 30.
Yo, Inc. is a non-profit organization set up to promote Yoism. On March 8, 2005, Yo, Inc. was granted 501(c)(3) status as a "charity" by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (retroactive to December 30, 2002).