A few days ago I wrote about the new confession prep app developed by two priest and approved by the Bishop of Fort Wayne.
While I thought the tool could be a terrific aid in the examination of conscience, I also worried that — despite repeated declarations that the app did not constitute a confession, or dispense absolution, that it did not preclude the need to go to confession — some would go through the app process and decide that, click, click, click, they had pretty much taken care of confession. That worry was supported by my informal survey of two young Catholics, one of whom said he could see precisely that circumstance arising.
A few friends and emailers told me I was stupid to worry about such a thing, because “common sense should tell people that it won’t replace confession.”
Oh, yeah? Tell that to people who have heard CNN’s Kyra Phillips say — stupidly and erroneously — “this replaces confession; priests aren’t needed and the Vatican has signed off on it!”
Okay, so much for common sense. A better take on the app comes from NPR, where Barbara Bradley Hagerty’s report makes a point of leading with “designers say it’s not meant to replace the priest but to help believers prepare to bare their sins.” Hagerty talks to a few people as they peruse the app.
The verdict? Well, listen to the report. It seems some felt immediately encouraged to follow-up with confession, and some were horrified at the idea of actually discussing their failings with a priest, or — for that matter — even getting too icky-in-introspection. One 22 year-old respondent was adamant that she would not be heading to confession. Seeming to find the examination of conscience intrusive (we have catechized our young so poorly) she declared, “I feel like I got it over with by doing this!”
There is something kind of ironic in the notion of people being “taken aback” by probing questions, privately considered. The culture is crazy for psycho-babble, and approving of psychotherapy (which is, um…baring your thoughts and actions to the scrutiny of another human being) and we are continually being prompted to “look inside yourself” and otherwise obsess over ourselves, but when the spiritually sound and profitable idea of deeply examining one’s conscience comes up, there is this “ewww…seriously?” sort of reaction.
So, do we actually mean it when we gas away about “finding” ourselves or make resolutions to “be a better person,” or is it just the superficial jabbering of the moment? An examination of conscience is a valuable tool to aid in those efforts. And in that respect, I really like the idea of this app.
I just worry a lot about that “I got it over with by doing this” response, which I think will be the route taken by those of us who are accustomed to that path of least resistance. Sigh.
For Protestants and Evangelicals, who don’t have to consider following-up with a sacramental absolution, this app may prove to be a very helpful too as we all gear up for Lent and Easter!
Like most people, John Mark Reynolds, a professor of philosophy at Biola University and co-editor of The New Media Frontier, initially thought that the app allowed users to confess and receive forgiveness through the iPhone. He told The Christian Post that his first reaction to the app was, “Arghh, another example of failing to understand that physicality matters.”
But after looking more closely at the tool’s features, he said evangelicals should take a cue from their Catholic counterparts on the practice of confessions and checking their “spiritual temperature” with the Ten Commandments.
“A checklist like that is totally compatible with evangelical traditions. Someone like John Calvin or Martin Luther would want you to go through the Ten Commandments and reflect thoughtfully on how you may have broken them,” said Reynolds.
As digital confessors tap their way through the app, they are asked questions like: “Do I not give God time every day in prayer?” “Have I been angry with God?” and “Have I encouraged anyone to have an abortion?”
Daily and thorough introspection is a good thing, according to Reynolds.
Over at Busted Halo, Phil Fox Rose puzzles it out some more:
The problem is that when you get this specific, then you’re going to include some things some people won’t agree with and leave out some things some people think are essential. For example, one question is whether you’ve prayed daily. I myself do, and it is most decidedly a good thing, but if you fail to do so, is that something you have to bring to a confessor? There are also unnuanced questions concerning highly charged issues like homosexuality and contraception.
Well, let’s face it, when it comes to our faults, failings, sins, it’s never been about nuance and the app — if it is to reflect the reality of the church — must reflect the teachings of the church. It cannot be expected to shy away from delicate or politically incorrect questions, not if it wants to facilitate an objective examination of conscience. Anything less would be a denial of itself, and how can any tool help you to become more aware of who you are, if it is not first being fully being what it is supposed to be? It’s one thing to say “I disagree…” it’s another thing to say, “and because I disagree you must change and conform to my view.” A Catholic app must represent the Catholic Church’s views, or the whole exercise becomes pointless. The app must be allowed to be what it is, as a church (or “belief system”) must be allowed to be what it is, too.
But then again, that is the very heart of the real practice of “tolerance,” and personal liberty, is it not? Being able to disagree without compelling another person’s (or institution’s) conformity to a point of view he/it finds abhorrent?
Come to think of it, it’s at the heart of the battle between truth and the dictatorship of relativism, too.
We’ll keep following this story. Perhaps tonight, if I can find five minutes, I will download the thing onto my iPad and try it out!
Meanwhile, Deacon Greg is following up on the new missal translations.