Virtual Religion

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You’ll find no bigger proponent of using modern technology in ministry than I.  However, that is tempered with an understanding of when and where technology is appropriate.  It is not always proper to use technology in worship when it poses a risk of isolating the community gather to be united, or distracts from the main purpose for worship which is to focus all our attention on God.  Like a young child who discovers the power of the word “no,” we are enraptured by the possibilities and seemingly limitless applications of modern technology. 


(Image courtesy of ypray.org)


As one who regularly peruses the “religion” category of Android apps for my phone and tablet, I discovered ePrayer.  Here is the description provided by the developer:

“Too much to pray for? Let the mobile device take the load of your shoulder!

Let your mobile device perform virtual prayers as well as intercessions.
This is accomplished by an invocation of Christian saints.
Press Start and the prayer text will scroll automatically from bottom to top.”

Frankly, I use my phone and tablet to further my religious practices from the standpoint that they have digital copies of scripture, I access my website from them, and “jot” down ideas and thoughts on them.  I do not ask my mobile devices to do the spiritual work.  Curious as I am, I downloaded this ePrayer app and was less than enthusiastic about what I saw.  Here is the main screen:

(Image courtesy of market.android.com)

Apparently, I am supposed to select, from a drop down list no less, the “purpose of my prayer.”  I can choose from the following:

peace in Middle East,
canonization of J. Paul II,
health for Steve Jobs,
blessings to all animals,
happiness to all people,
wealth for my family,
success in work and private life,
divine inspiration,
health for my family and friends,
fast healing and recovery.

I clearly have issues with this list, which is neither sufficient or fully appropriate.  Nor is it updated because there’s really no point in praying for the health of Steve Jobs who passed away two weeks ago.  There’s no mention of anything other than material and physical blessings here.  No call for forgiveness, or deeper relationship with God.  What is divine inspiration supposed to mean?  There’s nothing personal or inspired about this list.  At best, it is generic.  At worst, it’s insulting to God to think that everything worth praying about can be summed up in 10 categorical options.

If I wasn’t feeling the Catholic under current, which is not bad in and of itself, there is the next fill in the blank of “choice of saint.”  These choices are very interesting:

Holy Virgin Mary,
St. Francis of Assisi,
St.Hildegard of Bingen,
St. Benedict of Nursia.

Top choice is the Virgin Mary.  Then three seemingly random saints.  I’ve never heard anyone pray to Hildegard of Bingen and I love her music!  I have three albums.  I have heard countless prayers to Saint Anthony (for those that have lost something), Saint Joseph (to sell a house), Saint Patrick (for the Irish), Saint Michael (for police), and Saint Augustine (for strong faith).  What about praying to God?  The Father?  The Son?  The Holy Spirit?  Why are these not even options???

Finally pick your “prayer.”  You have binary choices of the Lord’s Prayer or a Hail Mary.  Pick your  “count” between 1 and up to 10 times.  Click “start” and you are off.  To what I do not know, but the app runs its course aka. the saint’s picture chosen becomes the background and the prayer chosen scrolls up the screen for you to read, I suppose in a prayerful state.  It looks something like this:


(Image courtesy of market.android.com)

So what would Jesus think?  I think he would be saddened that we have taken something as sacred and precious as prayer and turned it into a multiple choice exercise.  Prayer is not an obligation that requires statistics (this app will provide you those too).  It is the conduit through which we reach out to our God and God reaches back.  We open communication and allow for the movement of the Holy Spirit within us.  In prayer we open ourselves up to God and allow ourselves to see who we really are and what we have really done.  In that revelation, we might discover that we need to ask for forgiveness, or that we need to give thanks.  Probably a mixture of both.  Prayer is not to be a virtual to do list.  That is not what Christ taught us to do.  Christ taught us to set aside time and be intentional about prayer.  Mostly, prayer is hard work.  It requires a desire to do it, the perseverance to follow through, and a willingness to let God respond. 

So while I can see the benefit of an app that helps us keep a digital running list of things we are praying about, for, and over; I think this particular app has missed the mark.  Uninstall.

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