Friday, January 26, 2007

A new way of praying?

Today I found an item on the CNET news blog entitled 'A new way to pray -- over IP'
IP for the uninitiated is 'Internet Protocol' and refers to the burgeoning new technology which permits free phone called to be made worldwide using broadband internet connections, properly called VOIP (Voice over internet protocol).

An Israeli startup company called POIP - you've guessed it...Prayer over Internet protocol - enables people to say a prayer anywhere in the world and have it broadcasted at one of eight holy sites in Israel, including the Wailing Wall, the Sea of Galilee, and the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, and be linked by live webcam video to the place in question for the price of a special phone card.

"We provide your soul unlimited access to holiness," reads the company's website. "It's just $5 or $10, and you get eternal life," POIP Chairman Hanan Achsaf said: "With the lottery, you pay that amount, and what do you get? A piece of paper. This is much better value."

The people who launched this startup company have invested their money time and creative intelligence in launching this product. It's worthwhile taking note of what they consider prayer and spirituality to be.

1. Prayer is an action (thought and speech) which is more effective in historic religious places than anywhere else.

2. The essence of prayer is the appropriate words delivered to the appropriate place with the appropriate intent. To whom it's delivered, and for what purpose is up to you to decide.

3. Being there is 'holiness'

4. If you can't get there, technology enables you to see the place and have your voice heard there.

5. Access is unlimited, or to be truthful, limited only by what you are prepared to pay.

6. What you pay gets you eternal life.

7. For the price, this is more of a worthwhile experience than buying a lottery ticket.(Which doesn't pretend to get you eternal life.)

The entrepreneural genius that developed indulgences in mediaeval times lives on, and the marketing appeal crosses all sorts of cultural and religious boundaries.

It's an amazingly magical, materialist idea of what prayer is all about. As far as you can get from the mainstream understanding of prayer as intimacy in relation to the divine life held in many religions.

I wouldn't mind betting that their trade is successful however, as their perception is not far at all from the understanding of many a pious soul, no matter what their religion of origin.

I bet the Ship of Fools will lap up this one.

When I was on holiday recently, we checked the weather websites, and then the webcam of the place we hoped to ski, to see if the local scenario was consistent with regional forecasts. Just imagine having a remote voice link to the snowy slopes, to allow you to say loudly in the right direction "Damn lousy weather, let's just go to the bar.", and then turn around and pour yourself a drink without budging from the comfort of your workstation.

What if churches had webcams and loud speaker links? You don't have to go in for the illusion of internet prayer at all. You could just use it to make live excuses to the Vicar as he greets people at the door before or after the service, for not having made it for the Sunday service, and you could see from his/her face whether or not he believed you. Now that'd really screw up Anglican attendance statisticians wouldn't it?

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