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A Cool Look at Religion and Technology

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Gizmodo Australia recently published a post about tech and religion – our two favorite subjects. It mostly centers around some new (and somewhat controversial) apps, from simple prayer reminders to one designed to streamline the process of Catholic Confession. Writer Ashley Feinberg also explores some of the challenges churches are facing as the world becomes more tech-friendly.

According to Cheryl Casey, Assistant Professor of Media Communication at Champlain College:

When a new technology, such as the printing press or the Internet, unleashes massive cultural change, the challenge to religion is immense. Cultural developments change how God, or the ultimate, is thought of and spoken about.

There’s another, perhaps less often vocalised issue. Religious institutions rely on their devout followers to stay afloat, but if everyone’s fulfilling their own spiritual needs in between rounds of Words With Friends, they might find that those institutions are no longer necessary.

That last bit probably overstates the issue, as is common when any new technology has the ability to disrupt the status quo. In some cases (like manufacturing) the fear is justified – there are definitely far fewer factory workers now thanks to robotics. Most times, however, it isn’t. Microwave ovens didn’t purge us of our collective desire for and knowledge of high-quality foodstuffs, and far from killing the publishing industry, e-readers have ushered in a new renaissance of sorts.

Religious leaders probably shouldn’t worry too much about their flock abandoning the church to instead worship at the altar of the iPhone. A church is, by definition, a matter of community. If it were only about God’s word and the scripture, the humble printing press would have rendered church leaders technologically irrelevant centuries ago. And yet, here we are. People rely on churches because the shared support, interpretation and guidance found within are a tremendous source of comfort, strength, assurance and (most importantly) love.

If anything, technology can help make faith and the church much more important parts of people’s lives. Modern life is unavoidably hectic, and we increasingly find ourselves pulled in several directions. Anything that makes it easier for faith to find a permanent place in people’s schedules should be welcomed, not feared. That’s what motivates FaithStreet, and it’s why we help churches and their communities connect online, and why we’ve made it possible to give online as well. When applied thoughtfully, new technology can actually help old traditions survive.