The Wired Congregation
By Will Wlizlo
The bible business has come a long way since printing presses and door-to-door salesmen. Rather than being schlepped or sermonized, now scripture spreads on sacred streams of digital data. The advent of tablets, smartphones, and all manner of mobile computing is changing holy literature even more deeply than televangelism. Religious writing is literally at the fingertips of more people than ever before.
“Apps of the Bible are now more frequently downloaded than Angry Birds,” reports The Book Bench’s Macy Halford, “and the sacred texts of other religions aren’t far behind: there’s an iQuran, iTorah, and a digital Book of Mormon.” The diversity and popularity of scriptural and religious apps is positively astounding. In addition the basic scriptures, there are apps that allow you to compare different scriptural translations in forty-five languages; devotional apps; multimedia texts that add layers of video, recitation, explication, criticism, and commentary on top of the original verse; fun and educational scripture-based video games; and individual house of worship-centered apps that connect members of the same flock.
As you might imagine, this trend is causing some religious leaders to shout “hallelujah!” and others to rend their garments. In her article, Halford talks with experts from the monotheistic religions who express their hopes and concerns for a constantly wired congregation. Some are excited for the utilitarian aspects of many apps, such as Islamic ones that remind the faithful of prayer times or use the mobile device’s GPS to point the right direction toward Mecca. Other leaders caution that in some ways a house of holy is like a move theater: Apps and e-scriptures distract everyone around from the big show. What’s worse, some consider the digital texts an affront to the original scripture’s authority.
To that point, it’s worth considering Leslie Leyland Fields’ ruminations in Christianity Today. “We may forget at times the lineage of these words,” she writes, “but our eagerness to put the Scriptures onto scrolls first, and onto electronic screens much later, is more than a love of invention and gadgetry, I believe. It’s a timeless need for life-giving truths.”
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