Religious teaching straight to your iPod

"We have monthly listeners from probably about 35 different states, all the English-speaking countries of the world and even some non-English-speaking countries," he says.

SermonAudio.com, which also has foreign-language sermon podcasts, requires podcasters to affirm belief in a fundamentalist Christian statement of faith. But Christianity isn't the only religion being disseminated by podcasts.

Rabbi Eli Garfinkel, spiritual leader of Temple Beth El in Somerset, N.J., a Conservative Jewish congregation, says he draws listeners from as far away as Italy, Argentina and Israel on his podcast, RabbiPod.

"I've been working on teaching the Torah in an accessible manner for a long time, and when the podcast technology was invented, it just seemed like a natural," he says.

GodTube, a Christian alternative to YouTube that has about 2 million users a month, allows only Christian podcasts and screens all videos to make sure they're "family friendly." But it gives preachers plenty of latitude on their sermons, says Jason Illian, chief strategy officer in charge of content.

"A lot of people come on first of all because of what their church or ministry is doing, but then they also surf around to see what other churches or ministries are doing and see how they can be involved," he says.

In a month or two, GodTube plans to launch a program that will allow churches to set up their own social networking homepages and post slide shows and audio, he says.

The easy access to religious teaching from podcasts probably won't keep people from church, just as TV and radio didn't hurt church attendance, says Roozen, the Hartford Institution director.

The downside?

One concern, though, is that the religion at the flip of a switch could easily become self-absorbed.

"The fear is when religion becomes so totally self-centered, you run the real risk of self-interested biases creeping in that may destroy the religious tradition," he says.

In some cases, though, a good podcast might be better than a traditional passive church experience, says Don Chapman, who operates a website called WorshipIdeas, which offers tips for contemporary church worship leaders.

"A lot of people just go to church and sit there passively and listen to a talking head give a sermon and leave," he says.

"So in that instance, how is that any different than listening to a podcast passively?"

Barnett reports for The Greenville (S.C.) News.

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