Thanks to the Internet, the forgetful and overextended have a new way to incant their prayers every day.
Launched last week as a "prayer supplement," InformationAgePrayer.com uses a text-to-speech program that gives subscribers, according to the Web site, "the satisfaction of knowing that your prayers will always be said even if you wake up late or forget."
Pay 7 cents a day, and the site makes sure a computer somewhere in the country recites a Hail Mary for you. Pay $3.95 and you get the Lord's Prayer or a religion-neutral prayer for peace. Eventually, the company hopes to open an office in the Holy Land to give the prayers an extra sacred sheen.
The fledgling service has received mixed reviews from the blogosphere and religious leaders. But it is the latest addition to an ever-expanding universe of faith-based Web sites that are changing the way people worship, along with online bar mitzvah classes, the pope's YouTube channel and various religious-themed, social-networking platforms.
"Religion in general, but Christianity, specifically, has always embraced technology," said Michael Kress, a managing editor at Beliefnet.com, one of the largest multifaith online resources. It has always been the case "to use the latest technology to deepen your faith, to share your faith," he said.
For the past few years, sites like Beliefnet, MyJewishLearning, Muslimspace and, yes, even FaithBook, have given people opportunities to learn about new faiths, deepen their devotion and forge religious communities not limited by geography.
Now, as the Internet continues to give worshippers unprecedented power to direct their own spiritual journeys, religious leaders have joined the social-networking stampede, too, and have started to change the ways they guide their congregations.
"I think we're just beginning to see [social networking] change the world and change faith," Kress said. There's "a huge amount of individual choice and individual decision-making that wasn't there a generation or so before. That aligns perfectly with the social-media phenomenon."
Now that people can follow the sermons of a pastor or rabbi half a world away, or listen to a service on a Wednesday afternoon instead of a Sunday morning, the resulting communities aren't as dependent on pastors and churches, he said.
"The individual is really in control in a way they weren't in the past , in terms of what is meaningful and authentic to them," Kress said.
Recognizing that something akin to a religious revolution may be afoot, Jason Illian relaunched the video-sharing site GodTube (once the fastest growing Web site in the country) last month as Tangle.com, a global faith-based social-networking site.
Billed as a movement and not just a Web site, the company said it already has more than 500,000 registered users and more than 2 million unique visitors each month. Illian said more than 12,000 ministries (churches and other faith-based groups) have signed on as partners, including Focus on the Family, the Fellowship for Christian Athletes and Potter's House, one of the largest churches in the country.
"At the end of the day, church isn't about a building, it's about a community," Illian, CEO of Tangle, said. "This is a platform to build a community in very meaningful ways."