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How Apps Have Taught Us To Despise Religion


It has now been ten years since Steve Jobs stood before a large crowd at the Macworld Expo in San Francisco, said “We’re going to make some history here today,” and changed the landscape of personal electronics. It’s been ten years since he revolutionized how we interact with computers. For on January 9, 2007, he unveiled the iPhone, and nothing has quite been the same since.

Most of us now carry around in our pockets a computer more powerful than we could have imagined ten years ago. We now have all the wisdom of the ages within our reach, and all we’ve had to do was learn how to master it. So, over the past ten years we have seen more apps for organizing our thoughts and interactions.

Whether those interactions concern our hobbies, professional goals, or desire to be entertained, as Apple famously trademarked, “There’s an app for that.” They weren’t being facetious. There is an app for ghost hunting, cat painting, and even places you’ve pooped. There are apps for just about anything you could dream up.

‘Technology Giveth, and Technology Taketh Away’

It has been a fun ten years, but it hasn’t come without a cost. The great cultural critic Neil Postman famously wrote that all technology is a “Faustian bargain. Technology giveth and technology taketh away.” For all of the advantages we have reaped over the past ten years since the introduction of the iPhone, there have been some disadvantages, as well.

While we could easily spend pages delineating them all, I want to focus on one: distractions. With the world in our pockets through a touchscreen interface, we are constantly tempted with distraction. These distractions funnel through the convenience of apps, and we have more radically been able to compartmentalize our lives unlike ever before.

For instance, I can carry on a Twitter debate while sitting at the dinner table without ever telling any of my family what I’m doing. That conversation is in a private compartment that has nothing to do with dinner conversation with my children. We used to leave work behind at the office when we left for the day, but now we carry those important correspondences with us in a private compartment on our phone, ready to be accessed at any time boredom threatens.

The ability to compartmentalize our lives is nothing new. It’s just easier now and perhaps far more fluid. But the Christian church has struggled with compartmentalizing our lives long before teenage kids ignored their parents while scanning Facebook at the restaurant waiting for their appetizers to arrive.

The Church Compartment

In the church, people come through the doors on a Sunday morning, engage in the polite conversation expected there, fervently participate in the rituals and rhythms of the worship service, stick around for a cup of coffee afterwards, and then head off to their homes. For most the church is truly a sanctuary, a place to get away from the ebb and flow of the daily grind. There is a sense of a reprieve or even escapism that is part of the Sunday order. There, the gifts of God are given in Word and Sacrament. They recharge the batteries before Monday morning pounces once again and the weekly drain begins.

But there is a sense that church life often has little to do with the life lived Monday through Saturday. Oh, sure, it speaks against the sins of the week, or offers guidance in our struggles, and declares forgiveness for transgressions, but it isn’t really an ongoing reality. It is kept in a nice clean compartment in our lives.

Church is church. It’s not work, and it’s not our homes. For most of us, these things are kept distinct. In fact, we are encouraged to keep them distinct. The compartmentalization of our lives helps us to function as well-adjusted citizens. There is a time and place for church talk and work talk and home talk, and they are usually not the same place. Our smartphones have now helped us perfect this compartmentalization.

A Clean House Is Also the Lord’s House

If you read through the ancient book of Leviticus, you would find a peculiar section in chapter 14 about the purification of a leprous home. It comes right after the section on the purification of leprous skin diseases and before the section concerning purification from infectious genital discharges (no, I’m not making that up).

While the language may seem odd to our ears, there is a powerful beauty to the scene these chapters are setting. You see, all of God’s people were situated in such a way that the tabernacle stood in their center. The tabernacle was the place God could be located for his people. It was there that he met them in the blood of the sacrifices and in the proclamation of his blessings. The holiness of God in a given location established markings for what is clean and unclean.

Here’s the interesting thing: just as a person or an animal can be clean or unclean, so could a home. In these texts, we find a sanctity to a home that was not compartmentalized apart from the tabernacle. Where God’s children lived was an extension of where they worshipped. Just as a person could be declared unclean, so could a home, and a child of God could not long dwell in an unclean home. Church and home could not be kept separate.

In the ten years since Jobs unveiled the iPhone, we have become more practiced and agile in our compartmentalized life. But perhaps what happens on a Sunday morning actually has a lot to do with what happens in a home. We have kept the homes apart from the words and work of our Lord for too long.

A clean home, in this sense, has nothing to do with the floors being swept or dishes done. A clean home is a place where the word of God continues to forgive and strengthen his children. It is a place where the truth is spoken with love for the blessing of all who dwell there. It cannot be a compartment separate from faith and hope. It cannot be an app that we just check in with when we need to recharge.

In fact, such a compartmentalized life just might leave us with a leprous home.