When a story appeared in the Sunday papers about a spoof on the Internet concerning the alleged takeover of the Catholic Church by Microsoft, but failed to actually print it, we received a large number of requests from friends who knew that we could fish it out for them. With a predictably dour response, MS of course issued a formal denial. But so popular was this brilliant piece of hack PR, that a follow up concerning the equally unlikely acquisition of the Episcopal Church by IBM quickly appeared. This is posted at the end of the original (reproduced here) in the Issue 12 item on our web site. Enjoy!
...and IBM responds!
VATICAN CITY (AP) -- In a joint press conference in St. Peter's Square this morning, MICROSOFT Corp. and the Vatican announced that the Redmond software giant will acquire the Roman Catholic Church in exchange for an unspecified number of shares of MICROSOFT common stock. If the deal goes through, it will be the first time a computer software company has acquired a major world religion.
With the acquisition, Pope John Paul II will become the senior vice-president of the combined company's new Religious Software Division, while MICROSOFT senior vice-presidents Michael Maples and Steven Ballmer will be invested in the College of Cardinals, said MICROSOFT Chairman Bill Gates.
"We expect a lot of growth in the religious market in the next five to ten years," said Gates. "The combined resources of MICROSOFT and the Catholic Church will allow us to make religion easier and more fun for a broader range of people."
Through the MICROSOFT Network, the company's new on-line service, "we will make the sacraments available on-line for the first time" and revive the popular pre-Counter-Reformation practice of selling indulgences, said Gates. "You can get Communion, confess your sins, receive absolution -- even reduce your time in Purgatory -- all without leaving your home."
A new software application, MICROSOFT Church, will include a macro language which you can program to download heavenly graces automatically while you are away from your computer.
An estimated 17,000 people attended the announcement in St Peter's Square, watching on a 60-foot screen as comedian Don Novello -- in character as Father Guido Sarducci -- hosted the event, which was broadcast by satellite to 700 sites worldwide.
Pope John Paul II said little during the announcement. When Novello chided Gates, "Now I guess you get to wear one of these pointy hats," the crowd roared, but the pontiff's smile seemed strained.
The deal grants MICROSOFT exclusive electronic rights to the Bible and the Vatican's prized art collection, which includes works by such masters as Michelangelo and Da Vinci. But critics say MICROSOFT will face stiff challenges if it attempts to limit competitors' access to these key intellectual properties.
"The Jewish people invented the look and feel of the holy scriptures," said Rabbi David Gottschalk of Philadelphia. "You take the parting of the Red Sea -- we had that thousands of years before the Catholics came on the scene."
But others argue that the Catholic and Jewish faiths both draw on a common Abrahamic heritage. "The Catholic Church has just been more successful in marketing it to a larger audience," notes Notre Dame theologian Father Kenneth Madigan. Over the last 2,000 years, the Catholic Church's market share has increased dramatically, while Judaism, which was the first to offer many of the concepts now touted by Christianity, lags behind.
Historically, the Church has a reputation as an aggressive competitor, leading crusades to pressure people to upgrade to Catholicism, and entering into exclusive licensing arrangements in various kingdoms whereby all subjects were instilled with Catholicism, whether or not they planned to use it. Today Christianity is available from several denominations, but the Catholic version is still the most widely used. The Church's mission is to reach "the four corners of the earth," echoing MICROSOFT's vision of "a computer on every desktop and in every home".
Gates described MICROSOFT's long-term strategy to develop a scalable religious architecture that will support all religions through emulation. A single core religion will be offered with a choice of interfaces according to the religion desired -- "One religion, a couple of different implementations," said Gates.
The MICROSOFT move could spark a wave of mergers and acquisitions, according to Herb Peters, a spokesman for the U.S. Southern Baptist Conference, as other churches scramble to strengthen their position in the increasingly competitive religious market.
For Immediate Release
The Chairman of IBM announced today that, in response to Microsoft Corp.'s acquisition of the Roman Catholic Church, IBM has bid for and acquired the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America for $1 billion.
"We are the oldest and most prestigeous computer company in the world," he said, "and we cannot be seen to be lagging behind in the race for preeminence in the religious software and hardware markets. We have tendered an offer to the Most. Rev. Edmund Browning, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church and Pamela Chinnis, President of the House of Deputies of General Convention, and they have recommended acceptance to the shareholders^Wcommunicants."
The Episcopal Church is one of the oldest and most respected denominations in the United States. Many current and former officeholders, including many Presidents, have been communicants. Although its membership was declining in recent years, the latest figures show a slight increase in membership. A combination with IBM will probably be beneficial in terms of putting "fannies in the seats" in Episcopal Churches across the United States.
There will also be great benefits to IBM in terms of international connections through the Episcopal Church. The Church is one of the most senior members of the international Anglican communion by way of its separation from the Church of England after the Revolutionary War and the consecration in 1784 of its first Bishop, Samuel Seabury. IBM hopes to gain a foothold in the international religious business through these connections, and perhaps tender a bid for the entire Anglican Communion by the time of the next meeting of the world Anglican bishops in London in 1998 (Lambeth Conference). The Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, was unreachable for comment.
IBM and Episcopal Church are "good fit"
IBM has had the distinction of being the first and, up until several years ago, the most successful computer company in the world. It was founded by Herman Hollerith, the inventor of the computer card, in the late 1800, and concentrated on business machines such as adding machines and typewriters until the invention of the computer in the 1940. They invested heavily in this new technology, and became rich from selling and maintaining them in the 1950's through 1980's.
However, IBM's stodgy corporate culture prevented it from taking advantage of newer technology. It almost entirely missed the value of personal computer technology in the late 1970's, allowing other companies to use processes it developed to make so-called "clone" personal computers. It therefore lost out on billions of dollars spent on this technology over the past 15 years.
IBM has recently spun off its typewriter and printer businesses and concentrated on PC building and software, and has even resorted to layoffs for the first time in its history. The slogan, "No one was ever fired for buying IBM" has become a bitter joke in the business world.
The Episcopal Church was, for a long time, considered the most successful of the Protestant Churches in terms of wealth and power. Many of the rich and famous swelled its numbers, and its liturgy was noted for its archaic beauty as much as its treasury was noted for its gilt-edged bonds.
However, in recent years, with the dying-off of the elderly rich and the fall in the birth rate among the bluebloods who remained, the Episcopal Church has suffered both a decline in numbers and in influence and wealth. Notwithstanding the slogan, "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You," numbers have only recently begun to increase again as the Church begins to be seen as a place where outcasts can take part in its life.
Along with IBM, the Episcopal Church has had to resort to layoffs to balance its budget, and the merger will allow both organizations to trim even further their personnel costs.
IBM's chairman said today, "We have been known as the place where the white-coated mystics take charge of computers in sealed rooms. As a direct result of this merger, our white-coated mystic roster will be cut by half and merged with the ordained ministry of the Episcopal Church. After all, they also wear white garments when celebrating their mysteries. The similarities outweigh the differences, and we think that we can bring their white-suited mystics up to speed in JCL and C++ within a few months."
The Presiding Bishop and Ms. Chinnis issued a joint statement saying: "We welcome this merger as a meshing of two great but sometimes old-fashioned institutions. The merger will allow us to cut our technical staff by half again, and concentrate our resources on becoming the largest and most successful Protestant Church in the United States. Our first IBM mainframe is already being installed in the basement of 816 Second Avenue, Church Headquarters in New York."
They continued: "So that we can assure ourselves that the Apostolic Succession will be continued, the Bishops of the Episcopal Church will lay hands on the Board of IBM in a ceremony at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. Then, the entire House of Bishops will travel up to Armonk, where they will be instructed in the use of the personal computer."
The business writers of most US newspapers will join the religion correspondents in recording this momentous occasion. Both the business and the religious communities are awaiting the new developments that this historic merger will make possible.
His Eminence, Bill Gates, had no comment.
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