From ‘Faith at your fingertips’, 7 Feb 2011, article by Yen Feng, ST Home
…Over the past year, faith-based smartphone applications – or apps – have emerged as the latest worship tools for people on the go.
(Pia Yan Beng Sin, buddhist minister): …Mobile phones are not conducive to the kind of ‘refined thinking’ needed for religious study. The attention-diverting nature of phones – SMS alerts, for example – may prevent followers from fully engaging in quiet meditation. You can’t answer the questions of life with just a few lines – you need knowledge – but you also need wisdom…On a smartphone there is no structure, no discipline, no assessment to know how much you’ve learnt. It is a mutitasking tool – good for religious people with busy lifestyles, but it is not a perfect replacement.
(Mrs Tan): …The apps are useful but unlikely to replace the real thing – going to church and praying with other Christians…The hugs – that’s what I miss most when I’m away (on weekends). I don’t think there’s an app for that. Is there?
Having a pocket bible or Quran in the form of an iPhone app is probably a nifty idea, not just for Christians and Muslims who need some discreet daily inspiration while on the train without being labelled as fanatics by people who associate the Good books with electric chairs and kamikaze airplanes, but also useful at cocktail parties where people trade quirky Judgement Day trivia like which passage in the bible has the most people slain by the hand of God. Not sure what ‘refined thinking’ means, if there’s any ‘thinking’ in the usual sense involved in meditation at all. In the first place, deeply religious people would refrain from downloading such apps, or even own a smartphone at all, preferring instead the tranquility of a remote enclave relying only on the natural ebb and flow of their bodies to empty their mental recycle bins. So these apps, specifically those paid ones, are really intended for people with an already piqued interest in religion, and want to sample some ‘Religion Lite’ before embarking on serious study. They’re not surrogates for the real emotional rush of religious ecstasy that can only be experienced alone in rags under a Bodhi tree or with a whole bunch of whirly-eyed, teary congregates who channel lost languages that our ancestors probably spoke while they were straddling the evolutionary gap between chimpanzee and Neanderthal.
Still, it’s interesting how Buddhists and Christians differ in what they deem optimal environments for religious experience. The former involves some form of tutelage, regime and personal training, even some suffering along the way. Christians like Mrs Tan above, on the other hand, go to church for hugs and other touchy-feelies typical of any charismatic flock, which is sort of irrelevant here as the apps were never designed to deliver something so viscerally warm and fuzzy as a group hug Teletubby style, but merely to deliver bitesize nuggets of info like where to find the nearest synagogue, or play hip hop praise songs that go ‘Jesus is in the House, yo!’. So yeah, Buddha would never have attained Nirvana if he had an iPhone (He would have been too busy playing Angry Birds) and Jesus would never walk on water (in fear of getting his iPhone wet), and if we were ever to invent technology to elicit any form of physical affection be it a hug or a handshake, we would be applying them first to apps along the lines of boob wobblers. We are not merely creatures of habit, but of technology as well, and really, there’s no point fighting something that will permeate everything we hold sacred in life, be it sex, marriage, religion, or burning hell notes for dead people.