I’m not an especially religious person. I’d use the word ‘spiritual’ but it always struck me that it’s typically used by those in awkward social situations to help infer that they have depth of character. Judgemental? Yes, and I’m often disproved.
The reason I’m getting all theological – aside from it being the Sabbath – is a Click report on BBC News this morning that really stood out to me. The diversity of religious practice across Singapore has provided a market for mobile apps that ‘enhance the religious experience’ according to the Beeb. Muslim Pro, for example, will point to Mecca, play readings from the Quran and locate the nearest Mosque.
It’s developers have recorded 1.5 million downloads over the last 12 months and, more recently, a further 3 – 5,000 a day. Talk about religious fervour.
I envy the commitment of those Hindus that feel such an affinity with their religion that they need to be in close proximity of a holy place at all times. I think the last time anyone in my social circle used GPS technology to locate a local chapter of, what they’d call an ‘institution,’ was to find a KFC in Newquay. Sigh.
What concerns me about these apps (yes, a new blog post, a new worry) is the prognosis of social and religious commentators in this same report. Those quoted foresaw these apps as enticing young, tech-savvy citizens into becoming interested in religion, helping to factor faith into a hectic teen lifestyle.
Don’t get me wrong; there’s no doubt that making aspects of religion available in a friendlier format will raise awareness. In terms of accessibility, an app on your iphone vs. the dusty family Bible is no contest. Just so long as people don’t simply take a moment away from Angry Birds, download a faith-oriented app and proclaim themselves a devotee on this basis alone.
It’s just that the more mature, more religious people I know wince at the modern day treatment of Christianity, for example, and with good reason. Whether it’s Lady Gaga’s ‘Judas’ or the ubiqituous crucifix necklace, often referencing only Elizabeth Duke to the wearer and little else. For them, I know that apps like this will be seen as simply window dressing their faith, feeding into a trend that belongs to those who don’t really care rather than promoting any sort of engagement with religion.
Please, I really don’t want to come across as pious; I’m as confused about everything as the next man. All I know is for sure that people’s faith is incredibly important to them, so I try and respect that. That, and Sunday School used to terrify me.
My only hope is that, as Singapore’s Central Christian Church appoints Teo Yig Zern – it’s first Technical Director – to help fight the good fight over social media channels, these software developers stress that an app is only a convenient portal into learning and not a means of becoming a card-carrying Buddhist or Muslim or Christian or whatever’s available on the android market. It’s got to take more than that.
Just because Jane Fonda tells you you’re doing a ‘great job’ on her exercise video, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re not sat on the sofa eating a Chocolate Orange.