Religion apps put faith in the palm of your hand

Religion apps offer believers new ways to meditate, confess, study the Torah, and learn Bible stories, all in the palm of your hand.

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Religion apps such as Pray!, Confession, and Life of Jesus offer a high-tech take on faith.

Believers with cell phones – have I got an app for you: The Book-of-Leviticus-put-to Fruit-Ninja-like graphics. No? How ‘bout the Bible Shaker – shake your phone, and see what verse appears. Or, no, wait here’s a Last Supper animation, leading you through the books of the New Testament. Gaming apps are perhaps the newest and fastest growing segment of the religious app market – melding the technology of gaming with the religious imagery of tradition to make faith, well, fun. And if slicing animals ninja-style seems hardly holy, some have faith that such apps serve to introduce children to their religions’ icons and culture. 

Gaming is but the newest addition to a marketplace of religion apps so large and fluid that experts can’t even estimate how many are out there. Storytelling apps are also popular, especially with children, with varying degrees of interaction involved, according to Rachel Wagner, associate professor of religion at Ithaca College, and author of “Godwired: Religion, Ritual and Virtual Reality.

Social media apps published by specific congregations are emerging as religion app leaders as well, she explained. They feature denomination-specific content and often include streaming video of sermons, member comments, scriptures, worship, prayer materials and podcasts specifically packaged for a congregation’s membership. In an atmosphere of anonymous app sponsorship and dubious content, these church-specific apps offer congregants some familiarity and quality control: I know this conforms to my faith tradition. I trust this.  

Many apps want to invite you into a ritual or faith practice via phone, the most notorious being the Confession app, which ostensibly allows Roman Catholics to receive the sacrament of confession via cellphone. The notion of participating in religious rituals alone, electronically, raises questions among believers of what, indeed constitutes legitimate worship, said Professor Wagner. Less controversial are the many and varied “prayer” apps, with Pray! being a favorite of hers. You type in a prayer and hit “send,” a prayer mindset activator akin to the more familiar prayer posture of kneeling or folding the hands, she said.  

Sacred text apps are perennial favorites, and e-familiarity brings comfort. You can search your Torah, email your BhagavadGita, get commentary on that Gospel. Searching the apps stores using terms as specific as possible increases the likelihood you’ll unearth something designed not by an 18 year-old in his basement, says the professor, but by a someone who knows your own faith. Just because an app has 5 stars doesn’t mean it is meaningful. “Some religious experience isn’t popular at all,” she said.

Praying done, you can trim up your mobile prayer space with Jesus Christ Wallpaper, or screens showing Buddha, the Star of David, prayer beads, and such, and can hear anything from church bells to Christian pop and beyond on your ringer.

If all this leaves you wanting to clear your head, meditation apps like the Zen Garden come up big, as do others inspired by Eastern traditions. Some sites help you focus by locking out your email, phone, and other functions while you meditate. Guru Meditation makes you hold the device with both hands, thumbs not moving, in order to keep your distractible self from surfing. Om…amen.

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