Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Apples of the knowledge of good and evil

The latest buzz in the electronic world is a new Apple iPad/iPhone app that allows Roman Catholics to confess their sins.

Called, appropriately enough, "Confession: A Roman Catholic App," it costs $1.99 and is available online.  The app allows you to enter how long it's been since your last confession, then you pick a commandment and tick off the sins you've committed against it.  The app then takes into account a variety of factors such as the person's age, the severity of the sin, and whether the person has committed the sin before, and suggests an appropriate penance.

Amazingly enough, the Vatican seems to be generally in favor of digital repentance. A Vatican spokesperson, however, was careful to note that the new app should "not be used in place of face-to-face confession," and that "true absolution can only be given by an ordained priest."

Still, you know it will.  For your busy Catholic-on-the-go, it sure would be appealing to confess via iPad (two minutes) rather than taking the time to go to church, sit in the confessional, and tell an actual priest what you did wrong (thirty minutes minimum).  And after all, is it really any sillier than things like Tibetan Buddhist prayer wheels -- where prayers are inscribed on a cylinder that spins on a shaft, and turning the wheel is considered as good as actually reciting the prayer?

So, I've got a few suggestions for new uses of technology in the realm of religion.  I'm no software developer -- my technological expertise stalled out somewhere back in the Dark Ages -- so feel free to capitalize on any of these.  Remember that I'd like a cut of the cash if they catch on.

For Pentecostals, how about a Speaking in Tongues Translator?  I've heard a lot about the whole phenomenon of Speaking in Tongues, wherein a religious person is so filled with fervor that the Holy Spirit descends upon him or her, and the religious person begins to babble.  I use that word deliberately,  because the usual interpretation is that the speech thus produced is that which was used by all humans before the building of the Tower of Babel, that pivotal moment in the bible during which god taught mankind a lesson by inventing things like "i before e except after c," Greek asigmatic aorist past tense, and the Latin dative case, which causeth language students to toil by the sweat of their brows, lo even unto the present day.  So how about some sort of language-analysis software that could allow all of the rest of the congregation to understand what the Holy Spirit is saying through the person?  Instead of just frothing at the mouth and saying random syllables, the person could pick up his or her iPad and, well, Type in Tongues.  The app would then translate the message for everyone.

For any sects that are biblical literalists, you could have an app that was a Scientific Statement Truth Evaluator.  The way this would work is, your young religious person might be sitting in a science class, and hear his or her teacher make a scientific statement such as "the earth goes around the sun."  The young person could then enter the statement into the iPad, and the app would analyze it for truth against the entire bible.  The app would then respond, "UNTRUE!  Joshua 10:12 - "The Lord said unto Joshua, 'Sun, stand thou still over Gibeon.'"  It would then follow up with suggestions of what the young person could say to the teacher:  "Hey, teacher!  How could the Lord have made the sun stand still, if the sun isn't moving?  Huh?"  The only problem I can see is if the young person put in a statement like, "The father of Joseph, husband of Mary, was named Heli," because Luke 3:23 says that's true, but Matthew 1:16 says his name was Jacob.  At that point, the app could cause the iPad to crash.  So young people would have to be instructed to ignore any apparent self-contradictions in the bible, that those have no impact on its literal, word-for-word truth.  But that's basically what they're being told anyway, so probably no harm done.

Lastly, how about a fundamentalist Muslim Infidel Detector?  You can see how today's suicide bombers are kind of taking a broad-brush approach; wouldn't it be better to determine first if the people you're thinking of killing are actually Infidels Worthy of Death, instead of taking out the righteous and the unrighteous alike?  With a few taps on the touch pad, you could enter some information about the people in question -- gender, clothing style, amount of skin showing, presence or absence of perfume or jewelry, whether or not the person was wearing a Star of David -- and the app would calculate the likelihood that the person is an infidel, and suggest a possible course of action, from "cry out unto Allah against them" or "beat them with a stick," to "slay them like the unclean dogs they are!"  It would take the guesswork out of murderous religious mania.

So you can see that technology has a lot of applications to the religious world.  There is a danger, however, as with all of these things; the interconnectedness that this technology is bringing will inevitably lead to exposure to other ideas (unless someone develops a "Diverse Philosophy Filter" app).  And this could be dreadful.  Wouldn't it be tragic if a 21st century technology took these poor folks and dragged them into, well, the 21st century?

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