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The “right to repair” movement: Why this is good news and why we need the Good News

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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The "right to repair" movement: Why this is good news and why we need the Good News
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My first car was a 1967 Mercury Cougar. My father and I spent many Saturdays “bonding” as we worked on it. Due to automotive technology that nearly anyone could repair and a lack of funds to pay for a mechanic, we were able to keep it running.

I am also old enough to remember the days when you could replace or update your computer’s hardware and put a new battery in your mobile phone.

These days, I wouldn’t even know how to change the oil on my car. I don’t remember the last laptop or cell phone I owned that could be opened or repaired. One of the ways technology businesses continue to make money is by making technology that only they can repair and that quickly becomes obsolete.

That’s why this headline caught my eye: “The ‘right to repair’ has its moment.” The Federal Trade Commission is voting July 21 on whether to change its approach to repair restrictions. They could address such restrictions as product designs that prevent or complicate repair and software locks or firmware that prevent repairs without the key.

Manufacturers, however, say such restrictions are meant to protect consumers’ safety and their own intellectual property rights. Nonetheless, twenty-seven states this year have introduced right to repair bills that would limit restrictions; US Rep. Joe Moselle (D-NY) introduced similar federal legislation in June.

It seems to me that a larger cultural collision is at work here.

On one hand, we want ever-evolving technology to enhance our lives and world. If this means that companies make products we cannot repair and that they need to protect their intellectual property, that’s the price of progress.

On the other hand, we are existentialistic consumers who have been taught that we can have whatever we want, whenever we want it. “The customer is always right” is the mantra of our day. If we want to repair what is ours, technology companies should be made to conform to our wishes, or so we feel.

This is a conflict as old as time. The first temptation is the only temptation: “You will be as God” (Genesis 3:5). Be your own God by stealing this or lying about that. Do what you want. It’s all about you. Every temptation is a variation on this one theme.

The good news is that our Creator is still in the business of repairing what he makes. The Great Physician still heals broken bodies; the Good Shepherd still finds lost sheep.

The bad news is that humans still want to be their own Creator. Our fallen human nature wants to use God as a means to our end, prayer as a means to what we want, worship as a means to God’s blessings. We want a transformational religion when God wants a transformational relationship.

How logical is it for me to try to repair a car I cannot fix when a mechanic is available who can? For me to try to treat a disease or win a legal dispute when a doctor or attorney is available who can?

The Bible says, “You do not have, because you do not ask” (James 4:2). Or, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (v. 3).

What do you need to ask of God today?