“How Can You Hear God With The TV On So Loud?”

The question comes from an interfaith coalition that seeks to get the faithful to switch off the screens this week. Giving up tech for Holy Week and Lent is well on its way to becoming a religious tradition of its own.


Breaking: The Pope has declared that technology cannot replace God. Fast Company readers should adjust their worldviews accordingly.

Also emerging today is word that one interfaith group, the So We Might See coalition, is calling for a “media fast” during the run-up to Easter Sunday, Holy Week. They’ve even put together a list of 101 screen-free activities, so you have a response ready as your dumbstruck child looks up from his game of Angry Birds. “Let’s paint a mural,” you are supposed to say. “Let’s learn to use a compass.”

It’s a new twist on a (relatively) old story. Each year brings a new religious call to give up something quintessentially modern and addictive. A group of young Christians swore off Facebook (and MySpace, apparently–how quaint!) back in 2007, for Lent. “Some of my friends think it’s silly, since people usually give up food,” a 16-year-old Christian MySpace enthusiast told CNN. “I wanted to give up something that’s really hard for me.”

In 2009, the AP reported, Roman Catholic bishops in Italy urged a “high-tech fast” for Lent. The Turin diocese urged the faithful to shun TV during that period, too, while the Modena diocese called for a “no SMS day,” partly to raise awareness of conflict in the Congo around coltan mines, which figure in the production of cell phones.

Last year, it was the same call, this time from England: give up your iPods, said a pair of bishops there–yet this time it was a matter not of frivolity, but of green living. The reduction of electronics use amounted to a “carbon fast.” Said one of the bishops: “Instead of giving up chocolate for Lent, why not fast for justice … to help those suffering from the effects of climate change.”

That people agree is a tacit admission that many see the use of technology as a contemporary sin or pecadillo, to be given up along with sex, chocolate, or meat. Climate, conflict, the melting of our brains, and withering of our relationships–is there any class of evil our gadget habit doesn’t apparently contribute to?


Which religions feel the most guilt over media and electronics use during the spring holy season? We’ve reached out to AT&T and Verizon to learn if there are any consumption spikes or troughs this time of year, particularly in more densely Christian areas, since many of these calls come from Christian groups. So far, AT&T responded, through a spokewoman, to say, “We simply don’t track that kind of data.” But even if they did, that data would presumably be very difficult to parse. The spring season happily brings other obvious benefits that tend to get people out of doors and away from the television or Internet.

So We Might See, for its part, is very ecumenical. Not only Christians see something harmful in technology. Its site also features a contribution from Michelle Strucke of the Islamic Society of North America. “Wasting time is among the gravest sins,” she writes, “because time is a special gift from our Creator and must be treasured and used according to His will…How we use our time is an illustration of our faith, and when we are questioned on the Last Day, we will be asked how we spent our time.”

Hey, are you even listening? Put down the Angry Birds!

[Image: Flickr user maskedmalayan]

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About the author

David Zax is a contributing writer for Fast Company. His writing has appeared in many publications, including Smithsonian, Slate, Wired, and The Wall Street Journal.