I knew I should never have written about this. I’m trying to be understood here, not start a deep discussion of who’s morally correct. Here’s a third draft. Unfortunately this draft now includes even more bad words. Stop reading now.1

I was having an on-line conversation the other day with someone who asked me whether I was a Christian. As it happens, I am not, despite having been trained for years by Jesuits and their inferiors. So I am somewhat expert on the subject, and I like to think that I am generally thoughtful.

My interlocutor and I parted ways amicably, in large part because I am unfailingly polite in the persona I was using at the time. (Unlike the one I am using now.) But in our conversation, at one point, I said something about Christians who do bad things, or allow them to happen, to the poor. I may have commented that Christ had said something about what you do to the least of these.

My interlocutor said something to the effect that no true Christian would be that way. I didn’t drill into that, and soon our friendly conversation was over. I didn’t even mention the No True Scotsman fallacy, which is of course pulled out every time I say, or someone like me says, that it isn’t “Agile” if you’re not doing what we said.2 After the conversation, while reflecting, I found that I wanted to say this:

Christianity is what people who call themselves Christians do.

Well, my folks didn’t raise no dummies,3 so I can see this parallel:

Agile is what people who call themselves Agile do.

It seems to me often that every good idea gets watered down and ultimately perverted. “Agile” is no exception. There are many bad things done in the name of “Agile”, and many more quite inadequate things. Somewhere in the past there are the original authors of the good idea, and their immediate um disciples,4 who perhaps understand the good idea pretty well.

Historically, I’ve held close to the position that it isn’t “Agile” if it isn’t quite a lot like what we said. And believe me, a lot of what people call “Agile” isn’t remotely like what we said. See the Die in a fire series for examples. See also this article. But my chat with the Christian caused me to want to say about Christianity what many people want to say about “Agile”. What can we conclude?

Hell5 if I know. What I do have is a bit more understanding of why people would say that “Agile is dead” or “Scrum should die in a fire”, even though the things they are seeing or doing aren’t remotely like the things I learned from my betters in the “Agile” movement. I will try to be more aware that when they use the words “Agile” or “Scrum”, they do not mean what I mean by those words, and I’ll try to respond from that awareness, somehow separating the good advice from the names, and from the bad advice.

Even as a non-Christian, I’m inclined to say that Christianity ought to be a label for behavior that’s aimed at and mostly consistent with what Christ said. And I’m inclined to say the same about “Agile” and “Scrum”. We “ought” to use those labels to mean what the originators meant. We “ought” to associate ourselves with those labels to the extent that we behave as the originators advised.

In reality, language is what people say, and “Agile”, “Scrum”, and perhaps even “Christian” now mean whatever people understand them to mean. Yet sometimes I do need a label for the ideas that mush about in my head, and I have liked calling them “Agile”. More and more, I try just to talk about the specific things I do, without proper names. Maybe that’s best.

Go now, and use TDD to write ten methods and three classes. Thanks for reading.

  1. I am, as you have surely suspected, a Dale Carnegie graduate. In Dale Carnegie, there are certain disallowed topics. At an after DC drink up, I once created the perfect DC talk: “I know that in Dale Carnegie we never speak of religion, sex, or politics. But Jesus Christ, those fucking Democrats!” 

  2. For values of “we”, and values of “said”. 

  3. I was put out for the wolves, you may recall, and discovered by a roving band of Jesuits, who raised me in a style one can only call intellectually rich yet physically austere.6 

  4. I consider myself to be a disciple of “Agile” more than an author, despite my having been at the Manifesto Meeting. I’ve tried my best to understand the ideas of my predecessors in the “Agile” movement, and have done my best to explain things as I understand them. Like the early Disciples, I’m sure I’ve gotten some of it wrong. I do aver, however, that unlike some of them, at least I really did write my writings. I am in fact writing this now. 

  5. Subtle Christianity reference? Mere accident? You decide. 

  6. The footnote referred to by this one is not precisely true.