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Pablo Peniche
11 Aug 2022

Digital Monastic

For Terry Davis, the computer was a vessel for the divine.

Digital Monastic

In 1996, Terry Davis had a revelation from God. Though he’d lapsed from his Catholic upbringing into atheism, he could not turn away from the mandate handed down to him from Heaven: build the Third Temple, as is prophesied in the Bible. So Terry got to work and a decade later, he had made a new operating system, from scratch, all by himself.

Terry Davis was an American programmer who created the operating system “TempleOS.” He was by no stretch a perfect person. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and later with schizophrenia, which informed his public persona. He courted controversy with spastic episodes and spewing slurs in his thousands of video streams, but despite that, he grew a group of converts who felt passion, or at least intrigue, about his mission. Today marks the anniversary of his tragic death in 2018.

Davis tried to recreate the environment of the old Commodore 64. With a resolution of 640 x 480 pixels, with sixteen colors, a single voice audio, with no preemptive multitasking. TempleOS, like many cathedrals built to honor God, could not have been built without religious fervor. This operating system, written in a language that Terry created, “Holy C” similar to C but it has functions that can be invoked without parenthesis or arguments and uses “Just in Time” compilation, which means it also acts as a shell language that can be executed directly from the terminal. 

This OS is completely encapsulating and isolated from any other system. It has games, a flight simulator, hymns, all the passages from the Bible; and on the technical side: a bootloader, compiler, kernel, window manager and 3D graphics library, which if you’d like you can change by opening the source code and with some lines of Holy C, you can change anything thanks to the file system called “Red Sea” – all created from scratch and it fits in under 100,000 lines of code at 1.4 MB. 

Terry did not shy away with the names of everything in his creation, for example the debugger and program monitor called “Adam”, which is also the single mortal task that is created as booting up the system and it’s the father of every other task. Clicking Shift F7 prompts you with “God’s word”, a passage from the Bible. Ctrl + Alt + B is a shortcut to read the Bible. Unlike Windows or Linux (which Terry hated), TempleOS it’s Ring 0 only, which means everything happens directly in the kernel, including user programs, which gives you total control of the computer, as it runs as close as possible to the actual hardware – very much like a religious zealot tries to live as close as possible to Truth, isolated in the middle of the desert.

The isolation was an important part for Terry, since he programmed a random word generator through which he believed God spoke directly to him. This has a special meaning once you realize that a computer cannot really generate random numbers, there is no randomness, since everything they spit out is a result of an explicit calculation. The only way to get real randomness is to get it from the outside world. All the variables that calculate the pseudo-random words are coming from the program he coded or from the words from the Bible passages he inscribed in the Operating System.

In the past, when we created new technology, humans thought of ways to use it for war or to honor God (or sometimes both). Painting and sculpting techniques used for churches as new metal alloys were forged into armors, and gunpowder used to blaze through the world bringing the one religion to the people of the new world who haven’t heard the Gospel. They preserved the teachings of the Desert Fathers. 

But in our world, the computer came and it was mostly used for secular activities, if not for satanic ones – but Terry, although full of flaws, was a beacon of light who now reminds us of what is possible with our current machines and our newfound powers of this age. We still have a lot to learn from the ancient Desert Fathers, but maybe Terry Davis is the beginning of a new era and a proto-version of the future Digital Fathers, different from the current ones spouting the Cyborg Theocracy. TempleOS is the opposite of the Metaverse. The metaverse is software to keep you numb, to create an AI you worship. TempleOS is a tool, a small altar, to honor God, not to replace it with a golden (digital) calf.

Back in the medieval ages, the scribes worked for God under the Catholic Church – autistic men of immense intellect and talent created not only beautiful works of art, but laid the groundwork for theologians to stand on, preserving and articulating the Word of God. Today, the computer scribes of the information age lay the digital bricks to build monuments for commerce and governments, but don’t be surprised to see if the life of Terry Davis inspires some of these men to rediscover God and are compelled to build digital cathedrals. Maybe some of them are already building new Operating Systems that can foster and nurture a connection with God. Maybe some of them even aim to build Bitcoin-mining monasteries in space.

Modernity has a strong apocalyptic feeling to it, in the biblical meaning of the word, which means “the unveiling”, the event when we see and know reality in all of its forms as it truly is. If we are in a stagnant period of history in which we are not having real technological progress but rather we just optimize screens to get people addicted to click ads, maybe the way out of this mess and to get actual innovation is to get on your knees and pray that God will illuminate you on how to build a warp drive.

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