Maybe at one time religious leaders thought that printed books or periodicals meant the end of religion. It was considered a radical reform when printed Bibles in English were introduced into every parish church in England. Today there are many who think that the internet and social media will harm faith by interfering with the intimacy and immediacy of human relationships.
Lisa Miller, writing in the Washington Post, discusses how the best apps enhance religion.
Information technology means the end of organized religion — or, at least, that’s what the opinion-makers say. The existence of Google, argued the atheist Hemant Mehta on the Web site of this newspaper, “is a death knell for religion as we know it,” because it enables people to instantly discover verifiable truths about the universe (evolution, the sex lives of clergy). In a pre-Internet world, they could have been kept in the dark. Last month, 40,000 Orthodox Jews met in a New York baseball stadium to bemoan the erosion of values in their communities thanks to the Internet. “It brings out the worst in us!” a spokesman for the event told reporters.
I would argue that the opposite is true. Technology can greatly enhance religious practice. Groups that restrict and fear it participate in their own demise.
Take the Sikh app, for instance. It’s cool on a practical level. It distributes pertinent information to a specific group in need of that information. But it also has perhaps unintended spiritual and religious consequences. It encourages among users a broad sense of community and mutual support, which is what good religion does. It abets religious affiliation, promotes action in the face of injustice or oppression, and welcomes outsiders, or anyone who experiences discrimination at airports, to use the app and see themselves, in some way, as Sikhs.
All the best religion apps do this: They support religious practice rather than substituting for it. Michael McBride, an economist at the University of California at Irvine, teaches a freshman course called the Economics of Religion. Understanding that religion is always about people making choices, he asks students to research the coolest religion apps. He also showcases some of his favorites, including Insight Timer, which announces the start and end of Zen meditation sessions with the chiming of bells: “Crystal clear, with extra long fade-outs.”