July 8th, 2010
01:25 PM ET

Do smart phones produce dumb worshippers?

If this hasn’t happened already, I’m betting it will.

A pastor delivering a sermon will look up from the prepared text one Sunday morning to see rows of parishioners burying their heads into their smart phones as they check their e-mails.

The pervasive use of mobile devices has changed the way people interact with one another. Who hasn’t seen someone pull out a smart phone on a dinner date or ignore the checkout person at the supermarket counter as they yack away?

Are these same devices causing people to ignore God as well?

That’s the premise of an intriguing article on LiveScience.com.

It says that smart phones have revolutionized religion - for better and worse. Hundreds of iPhone apps allow people to sign up for anything from the Dalai Lama’s Twitter feed to Torah-chanting practice.

Some religious leaders, though, also wonder if smart phones will cause distracted people to pay even less attention in worship, according to TechNewsDaily staff writer Stuart Fox, whose article appears on LiveScience:

Some religious leaders worry that the inherently isolating and attention-diverting nature of smart phones has created a generation of worshippers unable to fully engage with the sublimation of self and quiet meditation that underlie both the Eastern and Western religious traditions.

Dudley Rose, associate dean at Harvard University’s Divinity School, challenges that notion. He said smart phones can enhance religion by helping people circumvent society’s attempts to move religious observance out of public life.

It’s an interesting debate because the issue isn’t going anywhere. The article says that a new generation of worshipers may be losing their ability to “be still” and actually listen to an entire sermon or even a prayer.

The article said that even participating in “quiet, paper-text based religious ceremonies” may seem off-putting to a new generation that bombards themselves with constant stimuli.

Will smart phones make us dumber worshipers?

- CNN Writer

Filed under: Culture & Science • Houses of worship • Science

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soundoff (26 Responses)
  1. Hand Car Wash

    mobile devices are always great because they always come in a handy package ,;~

    December 20, 2010 at 1:52 pm |
  2. Metal Brake :

    we would definitely see some new mobile devices this year and of course in the first quarter of 2011...

    October 24, 2010 at 3:18 pm |
  3. Accent Chair 

    there is a great demand for mobile devices these days:~:

    October 13, 2010 at 4:12 am |
  4. Lauren Stewart

    i am always on the lookout for new mobile devices. i am sort of a gadget addict.`-"

    July 26, 2010 at 12:48 pm |
  5. Silver Light

    I personally love having my smart phone at services with me. I have a complete copy of my scriptures – plus the Sunday school lesson on there. The app I use lets me highlight, bookmark, and even annotate as I go along. What I really love though, is the search function. So yeah, in that regard it is making me dumber. In my scriptures on my phone I can find things so much easier. In the book, I'm left thumbing back and forth long after the topic has changed.

    Oh and I can sync it up with my computer for later study.

    I can see how for some people the phone at services could be really distracting, but for me it is a very useful tool, and lets me focus more on the lessons and topic at hand than trying to find the right page.

    July 12, 2010 at 12:26 am |
    • Smashingly

      I agree Silver Light. I, too, use my phone in service to lookup scriptures. I find it much faster than paper shuffling and less noisy. However, I can see how others might ASSUME that I'm checking my facebook or watching the World Cup.

      July 12, 2010 at 11:24 am |
  6. Doug

    Ok...now that I've sorted through the usual ill-informed, anti-religous bigotry from the trolls and read the substantive comments, I have to say that I'm torn on this question. Technology makes us more easily connected to information, but seems to make us less connected to each other. It provides the illusion of connectedness, but is, in fact, helping us to avoid actual face-to face time with each other.

    July 10, 2010 at 12:54 pm |
  7. Nevaeh Green

    i am always fond of getting the latest mobile devices, it is some sort of an addiction for me to get the latest mobile stuffs`~.

    July 9, 2010 at 3:11 pm |
  8. Eerye

    I have a smart phone. I would say two things, one, the smarter my phone gets, the dumber i get. that has been proven beyond all shadow of a doubt when it crashed and i lost the numbers to everyone but my inner circle. Secondly, half the people "looking at their phone, presumably texting" were not texting but reading the bible. Tons of people at my very tech savvy church have their bible loaded on the iphone and are simply reading the bible. It is on my droid phone as well. I use it to read the bible when an appt runs late, or when trapped in line for car pool or waiting on people to arrive. I also know that my attention span has shortened dramatically over the years, my phone isnt the blame, and i struggle with this in service, if it gets the least bit slow or dull i am literally forcing myself to pay attention. Strangely enough it has never been a problem with praying.

    July 9, 2010 at 2:56 pm |
    • David Johnson

      Even if it happens when praying, its okay. Prayer doesn't work anyway.

      July 12, 2010 at 9:40 am |
  9. MM

    One text per worship service is enough–and the minister has first rights.

    July 9, 2010 at 1:13 pm |
    • David Johnson

      Ahhhh... Put an extra dollar in the plate. He'll be happy. That's the real reason he is afraid of you losing interest anyway. Cheers!

      July 12, 2010 at 9:39 am |
  10. Sir Craig

    "Dumb worshippers" sounds rather tautological, but that is beside the point. Mankind has always been impressed with shiny objects, be it the trappings of a religious service or the chrome and plastic of an iPad. It seems a bit dumb to bring one of those into a church, although understandable if the ones bringing them are not the ones going there voluntarily but are dragged there instead.

    What's truly amusing though is the notion that an all-powerful, all-knowing "god" is somehow threatened by the technological capabilities of a species that, on a cosmic scale, rank somewhere less than dust in terms of importance to the natural order of things. The reality is, people have found something new to play with and religion is once again coming in second, losing its ability to cope with reality and hold the public interest. (And if Apple products can speed the demise of religious nonsense, maybe I'll complain less about bright shiny chrome and plastic tech toys.)

    July 9, 2010 at 9:15 am |
    • Doug

      Of course...because anyone who dares to disagree with your personal worldview MUST be dumb! 🙂

      July 10, 2010 at 12:56 pm |
    • David Johnson

      Love the way you think man! God bless!

      July 12, 2010 at 9:37 am |
  11. Christine

    We like to use our phones with our worship service.

    Our church uses youversion for delivering outlines and allowing us to take notes as well as reading passages under several different translations rather quickly.

    Moreover, I always have my Bibles with me. It is the first app on my home screen, always.

    July 9, 2010 at 1:17 am |
    • peace2all

      @Christine.......Well, I guess you are a possible counter-example to some of the statements in relationship to the topic above.

      Wow.. the Big Guy is going high-tech..........

      So, my question to you is......with all of this technology in your church, do you find it more useful or more distracting...? And secondly, in general, are you the anomaly here if it does work for you....? I mean, what about everyone else in your congregation, do they all find it better and more helpful/useful too.....?


      July 9, 2010 at 2:09 am |
    • David Johnson

      WoW! You are so me! Even my screen saver constantly flashes: "What Would Jesus Do?".

      I have found a small wagon is a nifty way to carry all my bibles, chick tracks, stone tablets etc. Just passing along a tip!

      July 12, 2010 at 9:35 am |
  12. trinity1926

    At a very nice restaurant this spring I saw a cute little prom looking couple. They were all matching and totally dressed up with the wrist corsage and boutonniere, the girl had the works done to her hair, nails etc. The girl was completely involved with her cell phone and the guy looked miserable. It's not the first time I've seen that and I guess it will be much more common.
    I have heard if your church has a choir loft, you see tons of texting going on during the service.

    July 9, 2010 at 1:16 am |
    • David Johnson

      When I'm in church, I am focused on the sermon and the baby Jesus. I have no time to be looking to see what the choir is doing.

      July 12, 2010 at 9:29 am |
  13. peace2all

    Being able to put the cell phone, laptop, iphone down......whether it is in the context of some worship service or virtually 'any' social environment with others is just common sense. Delaying of gratification, and.....just being polite.

    Not to mention the ability to focus and concentrate on whatever 'event' is going on. For some, it is hard to 'double and triple track, for others.....maybe they can make it work.

    As for the issue of 'worshipping' in general......another topic for another day...


    July 8, 2010 at 4:25 pm |
  14. TheRationale

    Perhaps if they ignore God they'll learn more about reality.

    July 8, 2010 at 3:28 pm |
    • David Johnson

      Why don't people just stay home? The minister could e-mail them sermon. It would arrive as junk mail.

      July 12, 2010 at 9:26 am |
  15. Reality

    The gods were being ignored long before i-Phones!!!

    July 8, 2010 at 2:37 pm |
    • David Johnson

      Yep, and if there is a god it gives him the opportunity to e-mail us.

      July 12, 2010 at 9:20 am |
    • Commandmentman

      Yeah, a mass email from a god sure beats carving 10 rules in stones that get misplaced over time!

      July 12, 2010 at 10:08 am |
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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.