Confession? There's an app for that
The user enters personal data such as sex, age and marital status, and is presented with a list of check-boxes to describe their sins and who, if anyone, they've offended. A second page allows the penitent to enter a list of lapses. Pressing the “finish” button brings up a random spiritual quote from a Catholic saint. The app also displays lists of prayers and the Acts of Contrition.
The makers have stressed that the app isn't supposed to replace attending confession in person, and senior members of the Catholic Church in America and the UK have approved the program. Its makers say they were inspired by a recent speech by the Pope in which he urged Christians to use new digital and social media.
Is this app a good idea and could it be a benefit to believers? Or does the idea of “confessing” to a piece of software devalue the sacrament and trivialize its importance? Are there any other similar religious rites that you'd like to see appear on phones and computers?
Why not? All prayer is good. If this keeps prayer in front of people, then I’m all for it.
I doubt it will replace, or ever be seen as replacing, confession in person to a priest. The whole beauty of confession is that while we know intellectually that God forgives us, sometimes we need to hear it said out loud by a real live person. I think the iPhone app is more along the lines of intellectual knowing, and people will still seek out the real live person when they need to hear the love.
In the Episcopal tradition, more takes place during confession than the absolution. It’s really more like spiritual direction, where there’s some dialogue, some comfort, some advice, maybe a recommendation for how to free the soul further. You can’t really get that from an app — at least not yet.
And actually, there’s something to be said for the not-in-person form of confession. In the olden days (10 years ago) some churches set up dedicated phone lines that went to answering machines. People would call and confess their sins anonymously to the answering machine. It just helped them to say it out loud and get it out of their system without the intimidation factor of dealing with someone’s response.
“My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:8-11).
Apparently, God’s latest mysterious ways have gone digital. Who knew?
The Rev. Amy Pringle
St. George’s Episcopal Church
La Cañada Flintridge
I am very uncomfortable making negative judgments about the rituals others employ in the practice of their religious beliefs, as long as no one is being harmed. Nor would I want others to feel called upon to disparage the ways in which I practice my religion, with the same caveat about harm. I believe that once we begin making critical remarks about the religious practices of others, we are just one short step away from devaluing their religions in toto.
The formal ritual of confession such as the one in the Roman Catholic Church is not a usual part of Unitarian Universalist practice. Because we believe that all people are born good rather than with original sin, there is no expectation that we would have a regular habit of confession to remove offenses against God. That is not to say that we never do anything wrong. It is simply that expiation for sin is not a part of our ritual.
But I think the larger question for this discussion is how we can express our regret for having done something that is harmful to ourselves or others, actions that we cannot seem to avoid as human beings. I am convinced that for each of us, that expression of remorse is important if we hope to live with integrity. The problem is how we can most effectively bring about reconciliation and restitution for the wrongs we inevitably do.
That being said, the ways in which we can atone for our misdeeds may be as varied as the people who practice them. If applications created for the iPhone or iPad can bring about a sense of relief for Catholic and other people, who are we to say that there is something wrong with that? The important thing for me as a person of faith is that we should live in ways that express our best selves. I am not sure how a means to accomplish that end can be seen as wrong.