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.

Staff photo
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.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.