Faith and smart phones commune in religion apps

Tue Aug 3, 2010 6:24am EDT
 
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By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor

CEDARBURG, Wisconsin (Reuters) - Father Tom Eichenberger began a recent sermon by playing an iPhone ring tone of church bells into the microphone and talking about how praying is like using the popular mobile device.

"The same rules apply," he told the Sunday mass congregation at St. Francis Borgia Catholic Church in this small town north of Milwaukee.

"You don't just use your iPhone for phone calls, you have to use the apps," he said, referring to small programs that make the popular smart phones perform specific tasks.

"And you don't just use prayer to beg for things and treat God like Santa Claus," said Eichenberger, 60, reminding parishioners that prayers are also for giving praise or listening to the Spirit.

With smart phones boasting apps to do everything from finding convenient restaurants to identifying stars in the night sky, developers were bound to make programs that bring age-old religious practices into the digital world.

Many contain full texts of scriptures like the Bible or Torah. Muslims can calculate the times for their five daily prayers and Hindus can present virtual incense and coconut offerings to the elephant-headed god Ganesh.

Not all religious leaders are as enthusiastic as Eichenberger. But many recognize that youth often use new media like smart phones or Facebook to define themselves, interact socially and seek answers for their deepest questions.

"Technology is one way we project outward our sense of the self," said Rachel Wagner, assistant professor of religion at Ithaca College in New York. "Religion is an important part of the search for the self. Which apps people run says something about who they are."   Continued...