Emacs is exactly like a religion. A western religion, at least, operates by testing the faith of its participants. The god coldly allows babies to die of unexplained illnesses, violence to affect the innocent, wars to break out, natural disasters to ruin everything. That we mortals have faith that this is a loving and intelligent, all knowing god causes us to question reality itself, our selves, our church or temple, and our religious leaders. But this questioning followed by resolve, strengthens character. Or, ruins character. It could really go either way, which is why so many object to religious pursuits.
But in Emacs we find a solution.
It is impossible to really know if Emacs is truly the One True Editor. There are arguments on all sides. Emacs, though Gnu, adheres to the First Unix Commandment, Thou Shall Do It Well, but it violates the Second Unix Commandment, Thou Shall Solvith One Small Problem at a Time. Yet, in so doing, Emacs transcends the sphere of applications and becomes like The Operating System, thus obviating the second rule. Emacs can be the Operating System, yet it cannot exist without the Operating System. Emacs and the Operating System are separate, yet in its maximally configured glory, Emacs is so like an Operating System that the two form a duality. With self documentation and the ability to execute the contents of a buffer, they truly become one.
So in this way, Emacs is exactly like God in all but two ways: Emacs is useful, and we can prove Emacs exists.
But the true mystery of Emacs comes from the question: Is it the best editor or not?!?! In my personal journey in search of an answer to this question, over two years now, I have gone back and forth, bouncing between two utterly opposite ends of the spectrum, with respect to this question. Emacs is so powerful that it must be the best editor. Emacs is so arcane that it must be pure evil. When I feel down on Emacs, I look at vi. vi is a seductress. In its simplicity it is a nude, virginal beauty that seems to acknowledge that I alone exist in all the world, and it alone exists to serve my modal desires. And then suddenly I feel dirty and realize that I may be consorting with the world’s most evil application, at least with respect to home row key command configurations.
How many times have I typed “ctrl-x ctrl-f .emacs” and then gazed at my configuration file, trying to figure out what it all means?!? Verily, in using the editor, I am astounded at its speed and cleanness one minute, and frustrated by its crappy fonts and inability to automatically handle word wrap the next. I am enticed by the prospect of playing a game of chess with my text editor one minute, and frightened by the potential mix of Major and Minor Modes the next. I fall in love with the Command Chords, then I worry that if my Control or Meta key breaks, all will be lost, forever.
For years, I struggled with configuring the god-beast to work with my needs, so serve my humble desires, and each time ran into the unbelievable frustration of discovering that I am the only person in the world who wishes to spell check my text or bold a word, or use HTML mode without creating an entire web page or simply chose a file to open without having to traverse multiple frames to select it when in true terminal mode. Or am I? Am I merely the only person who prefers not to feel pain whenever I try to type up a simple grocery list?
Then, recently, I started speaking in tongues.
global-font-lock-mode t. set-face-background ‘highlight “#444″. … defun my-matlab-mode-hook ()… (let ((line-text (delete-and-extract-region start end))) …
…. yes, I began, suddenly, to speak with a lisp. I am channeling Richard Stallman. Holy crap. Or, should I say, Holy Gnu.
Emacs is a religion. It gives you everything a religion gives you. Your character is tested by the constant test of faith that learning the software is all worth it, and will eventually get you to a higher place. But in case that does not work, have a Plan B for getting high some other way. It is enigmatically of the OS and is an OS itself. Emacs builds strength, especially of the outer two fingers (the pinkey and the one next to the pinkey). But it is different from religion, because you can use it to type stuff.
I was recently told, by a gnu guru maximizer of emacs that we do not exchange .emacs files. One builds one’s .emacs file on one’s own through the consistent practice of The Zen. So do not send me your .emacs files, especially if you do a lot of work with standard text files that use long-line-mode, auto-fill-mode, and some html coding and possibly even html friendly markdown language. Please.
In the mean time, I chose to believe in emacs. I will not let the seeming inability to do the simplest things stop me. Because every time, so far, that I have turned away from The One True Editor, I have later returned and figured out how to do what I failed to do before.