It's another Sunday morning at Rick Warren's Saddleback Church in Southern California. But some congregants are holding more than just the printed page, thanks to their iPhones. That's because they have access to the entire Bible on the device.
Technology is producing a new form of religious interaction. There are over two dozen Bible apps for smart phones. And beyond Scripture, people are using gadgets for devotional purposes.
Dave and Jackie Brown had been reciting the rosary in their daughter Isabella's hospital room. But her cancer treatment made her sensitive to light.
Virtual Prayer Beads
"So we looked at these iPhones in our hand and we said. 'Gee, wouldn't it be great if we could put the rosary right on here so we wouldn't need a light on during the night while we're sitting there in Isabella's hospital room?' " says Dave Brown.
So the Browns created the iRosary, combining on-screen beads with a prayer book.
"We believe that technology can bring people closer together and closer to God," says Bobby Gruenewald, a pastor at Lifechurch.tv. The Web site brings worship services to approximately 60,000 computer screens each week. Gruenewald tries to allay fears of social and religious isolation by pointing to earlier concerns about telephones and VCRs.
"When they were invented, people made these bold predictions that people are no longer going to need to meet with each other," Gruenewald says. "But we have this history now to look back and say that humans are actually pretty capable of integrating technology into their lives."
Religious Jews have long experimented with ways to maintain their observance despite the advent of technology. Chabad Lubavitch's AskMoses.com allows visitors to chat with a Jewish scholar every day except on the Sabbath and holidays. Rabbi Simcha Backman says the Web site is a form of outreach.
"We don't claim to replace human connection or human interaction," Backman says. "Our claim is that we're another level that can actually help a person reach a goal that otherwise may be impossible without this."
Whether it's an application that sounds the Muslim call to prayer or a podcast of your favorite preacher, observance and community are quite literally at your fingertips.