One of my closest and oldest friends  is a Catholic priest. He’s pretty confident that he has a job for life. I hope for his sake he’s right, but computers and the internet have disrupted a lot of industries and I wonder if the Church might also be vulnerable to change.

It strikes me that a lot of the activities that priests carry out are quite repetitive. You might perhaps think of them as rituals. Saying prayers; reading passages from the Bible; conducting mass. Perhaps a digital recording of such things could be used instead? I don’t know, I’m not religious after all. Maybe there’s something I’m missing.

But if not, then maybe the church could go a step further and supply standardized liturgies, prayers and readings as MP3 downloads or podcasts to the faithful, thereby making enormous savings on human resources, and arguably providing a superior experience. In fact, why not allow people to worship in their own homes or other places at a time of their choosing? The Church could then sell off its obsolete buildings and make a killing in real estate.

After all, church attendance is falling. Businesses that are losing market share need to pay close attention to their customers’ needs and tailor their services to fit busy 21st century lifestyles. And making good use of technology is the way to do this.

Smartphones could be key to the success of this project. Everyone’s looking for a personal god these days, one that matches their requirements and, ideally, fits in a pocket and can be accessed 24/7.

There could be apps for prayers, masses, even confessions. As there are just seven deadly sins, a simple menu could be used for users to select the relevant one and receive a penance. (Select 1 for Pride, 2 for Gluttony, etc.) The app wouldn’t need to record any personal data, so I don’t see any privacy issues here, although building a Database of Sin might be an interesting project.

Anyway, I advised my friend to review his options and make sure that he keeps his transferable skills up to date, just in case something unexpected happens. I don’t think he took my advice half as seriously as he should have done. Perhaps he thought I was joking.

21 responses to “iConfess

  1. That’s all very well, but does Jesus have an internet connection?

  2. If I can always do something, it often doesn’t get done. There is something to be said for having a set time and place for worship every week. I don’t think people would ever feel accountable to a machine either.

  3. Ellen Morris Prewitt

    My favorite part of this is the Google comment above

  4. Setting aside the fellowship thing, Catholic priests and some other denominations have an ace up their sleeve. Someone needs to consecrate and distribute the wine and unleavened bread.

  5. I think you’re on to something, but wait! There are plenty of televangelists that have likely converted to the internet. And you may remember what happened in 1517 when the church was pushing indulgences for pride, gluttony etc? Penace at a price is just not sustainable. Posting a prayer, visiting the Sistine Chapel (in 3D!),,watching the Pope give mass, well that’s what Vatican.com is for. But.,still, your concept is compelling. What about an online computer game that you play with the rest of the world, doing good deeds to gather pious points, and whomever has the most points at any one given moment, that person, and that person alone gets to be the Pope. Yes, I think you’re on to something. Do a kickstarter…?

  6. Your ideas are great and someone should do that. Imagine being the person who was officially the most pious in the world? Awesome!

  7. I’m sure some of what you say will come eventually. Prayer apps already exist. There’s a smart phone version of the Rosary that walks you through the whole ritual. But I think part of the appeal of religion is having a human connection with your priest and congregation. Religions of the future will have to be a mix of the old and the new.

  8. Those candles you can light in churches were a first step in this direction. They’re surely a kind of DIY automated prayer system for when there’s no priest around.

  9. Douglas Adams created the idea of the Electric Monk – basically a robot monk. His idea was that in the future nobody would believe in God, but they would create robots to believe for them, just in case.

  10. Fan of Dickens

    The Electric Monk was a brilliant creation, one of Adams’ best, don’t you think, with his blind, arbitrary beliefs; although the above is incredibly well thought out, it does sound as sterile and soulless the monk’s programming – presumably you are at least half joking?! Sometimes it is the holistic experience that people need: the beautiful surroundings, the calming rituals, the music and the peace. There are some elderly people for whom church is a rock and who don’t even possess a mobile phone; it is hard to imagine how they would cope with apps and so on. That said, maybe the faithful could have the best of both worlds, with greater use of technology for such things as online sermons that were missed or found particularly useful.

    • I am at least half joking. I know that this is very important to a lot of people. And I’m a big fan of religious architecture and music. It’s all that faith that irritates me.

  11. Fan of Dickens

    I thought you must be a fan of religious architecture and music, given that lovely choral piece you posted recently. Is it faith itself or the various ways it is expressed which irritates you? In descending order, I cannot abide: that mirthless smile (which is supposed to be blissful) one sees on the face of those allegedly filled with the love of Jesus; gormless lyrics sung in happy clappy churches; and using religion to justify sexism, racism, homophobia or any form of abuse. Sorry, going off topic – rant over!

    • What makes me unspeakably angry about religion is the way it denies reason. This is what religion looks like to me:

      I decide that there is an invisible elephant following me around. I cannot prove it exists because I cannot see it, but by the same coin I argue that nobody can prove it doesn’t exist. The elephant sends me messages that only I can hear, and the messages tell me [insert arbitrary belief system].

      I tell everyone I meet about the elephant and its messages, and instead of people telling me to get a grip on reality, they believe everything I tell them about the elephant and dedicate their lives to following the rules I have told them. Some of them claim they can hear messages from the elephant too, so that even after my death belief in the elephant will go on and on.

      One day I meet a person who claims to be followed around by an invisible kangaroo. I tell him he is wrong, because there is no such thing as invisible kangaroos, only an invisible elephant. He tells me that the kangaroo instructed him to kill all non-believers, and a war begins between followers of the invisible kangaroo and the invisible elephant.

      Some people say that this is ridiculous, and that the invisible kangaroo and elephant simply do not exist. History tells us that in the past some people believed in invisible cows, lions, ostriches and goats and nobody believes that any more, but the followers of the invisible elephant and kangaroo dismiss that as irrelevant, and carry on with their wars and their belief systems.

  12. Fan of Dickens

    Superb analogy. The fact that no one knows where the ten golden plates that Joseph Smith was supposed to have been given are kept; or how the contradictions in the Bible can be explained; or the problem of suffering or indeed anything that may bring into question the existence of the sacred elephant, kangaroo or whatever are similarly dismissed as minor matters and will, of course, be explained at a vague time ordained by the deity of choice to the chosen few.

  13. I feel that religion, much like science and art, is an avenue to reconnect with the wonder of life. I appreciate religious ritual much like I appreciate mythology. Things become a little problematic when personal epiphanies (being followed by an invisible kangaroo sounds great!) become dogmas–every religion claims it has exclusive access to the truth. As epiphanies go, they’re personal and should remain so. There is no room for a third between man and his maker. Whatever that last one may be. But evangelists are a bit like life coaches, no? You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting one.

  14. Life is wonderful, and so are science and art and rituals and music and people. The imagination in particular is a wonderful thing, and is literally unlimited.

  15. I kind of thought he was everywhere, a bit like Google….Ha ha ha..

    Lovely post as always

  16. Pingback: Mary, Mary, iConfess | fall of the fishman

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