July 17th, 2012
07:00 AM ET
By Laura Koran, CNN
(CNN) – Ever wondered what it would be like to become ordained as a priest, rabbi or imam?
If you have an iPhone, you could be just a few screen swipes away from finding out.
That’s because Tony Jones, theologian-in-residence at Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis, Minnesota, has developed an application, or “app,” that allows iPhone users to experience mock ordinations in more than two dozen faiths. Solomon's Porch is a Christian ministry that began as a local church and today calls itself a "holistic, Christian, missionary, community."
The app, called Ordain Thyself, doesn’t confer any legitimate religious credentials to its users, but it does allow iPhone owners to see what they would look like wearing the religious garb of different clerics, and read a brief and humorous overview of various world religions.
Jones, himself an ordained minister, decided to create the app partly to combat what he sees as an inability of faith leaders to laugh about themselves and their religions.
"Religion is serious business to be sure,” Jones told CNN’s Belief Blog. “But it could use a little stand up comedy to lighten us up."
Jones, who is also the author of "The Church Is Flat: The Relational Ecclesiology of the Emerging Church Movement," says on the whole reaction to the app has been positive, but the technology is not without its critics.
One woman, a Lutheran minister, accused Jones of belittling the ordination process, which often requires years of hard work and religious study.
Jones, who attended a seminary for three years leading up to his own ordination, dismisses such criticisms.
He points out that while ordination can be an onerous process in many faiths, others allow practitioners to become ordained online with minimal effort and a small fee.
“Ordination, in a lot of ways, is in the eye of the beholders,” Jones adds.
Jones and his team also respond to their critics on the app’s website, telling users whose religious sensibilities are offended to “find an app that can deliver you a better sense of humor.”
The app is advertised as an entertainment product, but Jones hopes users will learn more about the world’s religions when they play around with it, a goal Johnnie Moore finds dubious.
“That’s a little stretch,” Moore, a vice president of Liberty University, told the Belief Blog, adding that the app contributes in many ways to the stereotyping of belief systems.
“I kind of wish that all of this effort had been put into something a little more educational,” Moore added, saying that Americans could really benefit from efforts to better understand world religions.
Yet despite his criticisms, Moore, who is an outspoken advocate of using technology and social media to reach out to people of faith, sees the app as “interesting for its purpose,” so long as it continues to advertise itself as an entertainment product.
“The contribution of this app and others like it is that they start a conversation, and that’s always valuable,” he says.
Ordain thyself allows users to explore 28 positions of leadership in many of the world’s largest religions, as well as several less common ones.
The app even explores several pop-culture faiths, such as the Klingon religion from "Star Trek," the “Dudeist” faith inspired by the film "The Big Lebowski" and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, which was created by atheist Bobby Henderson in 2005.
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.