A Digital Aid to Confession

Need help knowing what your sins are, or when to confess them?

There’s an app for that.

Inspired by the pope’s 2010 World Communications Address, which encouraged using new media to serve Catholics and God’s Word, Little iApps has released “Confession: A Roman Catholic App.” News reports say the app is sanctioned by the Catholic Church in the United States, though priests stress that it is not a digital confessional, it is only a aid to the sacremental process.

The app gives a step-by-step explanation of Confession and a “personalized examination of conscious” based on the user’s age, vocation and gender. “A priest won’t have the same examination as a teen girl or a married man. You will get something unique to you,” co-developer Patrick Leinen explained to the Catholic News Agency. Some users already claim to feel less anxiety over Confession after using the app.

If you’ve read Plugged In long enough, you might have heard us mention Shane Hipps, a man who echoes the late communications historian Marshall McLuhan and his “medium is the message” ideology. McLuhan believed that technology shapes the messages we hear and therefore, shapes what we think and believe. To illustrate this, McLuhan used to say, “The content or message of any medium has about as much importance as the stenciling on the casing of an atomic bomb.”

Hipps agrees, and he believes we often literally change the Gospel’s impact—and even its message—by sharing it via technology. He told a pastor’s conference at Mars Hill in Grand Rapids, Mich.:

You and I can have a little debate about whether or not Desperate Housewives is a good program or not, or whether or not you should watch the Gospel on TV or not. All the while we are oblivious to the fact that the flickering mosaic of pixilated light is re-patterning neural pathways in the brain, causing you to have a different experience, causing you to think in different ways, causing you to reduce your capacity for abstract thought, causing you to appreciate intuitive experiences. And that shapes the Gospel, radically. So if you come to this believing that you can simply change the methods and evolve them without actually affecting the message, then you’re not doing yourself or your community a service. So my interest is in waking us up, to see the hidden ways these things are shaping us. …

Christianity is fundamentally a communication event. God revealing God’s self to the world, that’s what God is doing, that’s the business of this religion we’re a part of. And God used an endless number of media to convey that very message: a burning bush, stone tablets, scrolls, pillars of fire, pillars of smoke, a donkey. And every one of those things conveys something about the nature of this God … Regardless of what’s spoken, each medium conveys something. Why does that matter for us? Because everyone of us … is called to communicate and reveal God to the world. You have an infinite number of media to choose from in order to do that, but the most important medium, the most powerful medium, is you. You are God’s chosen medium to incarnate the hands and feet of God in an aching world. …The more we understand it, the more we can learn to use our media rather than be used by them.

It was with some of those words ringing in my ears that I frist read about this new iPhone Confession aid. And I can’t help but wonder how an increasing amount of digital spiritual “aids” may be changing our view of God and faith.

Who wrote this?

Meredith has had two careers: one as a writer/editor for both Focus on the Family and The Navigators, and one as an English teacher trekking far-flung corners of Europe, Africa and Asia. She now rejoins Focus, but with souvenirs—including new eyes with which to better view American culture.

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