When Technology Tolls a Bell When Technology Tolls a Bell Occasional Bytes writes G Hari Kumar

Ask and you shall receive. Seek and you shall find – Bible.

Profound words that have guided many believers for centuries. But time breaks everything, and these words are no exception. The problem now is that the word “search” is inevitably associated with the Internet, and the first reaction of many people when they hear the word is to reach for their mobile phones.

Whether it’s finding a plumber or finding your way to a destination, searching for information on Google is the way to go for most. So it’s a natural extension that websites have sprung up to connect you with powerful deities. (Not without considering the websites of the Kerala Ministers recently introduced.)

A recent report said that the Malabar Devaswom resents sites that offer to perform pujas at temples in the region for a fee.

Explore the sites; it’s like searching for a delivery app that provides links to different restaurants in your area, each showing the full menu of what’s on offer. However, temple authorities in the Malabar region have come out strongly against this, clarifying that they have not authorized these sites to provide the service they offer.

The news report also claimed that some sites never kept their promise and collected the money sent by the faithful. If this is true, it is a scam and the victim can file a lawsuit.

But if site owners live up to their end of the bargain and the sites do what they’ve promised, there’s little room for action against them. Their activity could probably qualify as a new business model and a legitimate service. The claim that the temple authorities did not approve the service is weak as any follower of the Hindu religion can get a proxy to pay the agreed fee and perform the puja. Nowhere does it say that believers must personally do this.

So, all these sites offer is just a service, like a proxy, to perform pujas without being present at the remote temples. “With bookings possible at multiple temples for multiple people on multiple dates,” says one site.

A nagging point here, however, is the concern that such rituals are not always performed with due diligence.

So, at least one site assures, “Our team is doing a good job managing all the temples listed on the website. As a result, all pujas booked through us will be performed with the same zeal and emotion as if booked in person at the Temple counter.”

This confidence must be all the more encouraging to some people, given the emotions they evoke in their friends and relatives, often bordering on uncivilized realms. After all, a mail-in ballot is as good as an in-person vote and is equally valid and effective. So why discriminate against an absent devotee?

The claim that these sites are not directly associated with the temple administration is also shaky, as existing Internet business models show that there is no need for such a thing. For example, popular food delivery services like Swiggy and Zomato do not own or have a stake in restaurants, but deliver food for a fee.

Representative Image | Photo: AFP

Restaurants welcomed the new model and readily signed up for such delivery services as it increased their sales volume and revenue. Additionally, these apps offer an option to file complaints if the items delivered are not exactly the items ordered, are below par, or are excessively delayed. However, this can be problematic when it comes to sites offering to help you seek the blessings of supernatural powers.

Suppose a website user complains about not getting the desired result from a certain endeavor. Then it can get a little messy and lead to arguments in the courts about who is responsible for the lack of results. Such a situation can cause tangled problems, as depicted in the Hindi film Oh My God, in which a merchant sues God for his misfortunes. The court scenes of this film end up indicting the people spreading such promises, a position our temple authorities would do well not to get into.

Technological innovation and scientific progress have been in conflict with religion since Galileo’s time. And the advent of the Internet has affected almost every aspect of our lives. Religion is no exception. Many people now think that posting pictures of a deity or a prayer on their Facebook page is a substitute for prayer. And many who see such posts religiously post a greeting or whisper amen as if it is a place of worship.

The Internet, social media applications and high-tech gadgets find their place in religions. In the Middle East, for example, digital prayer counters are replacing the Subha, the traditional prayer beads. You click this widget instead of counting each of the hundred long Subha beads, and the screen will show you the total, saving you the burden of committing the numbers to your head. Just like health apps that tell you how many steps you’ve taken instead of you counting the steps. And predictably, some old folks frown on that.

However, not all religious authorities are Luddites. Some actively embrace change, and many gods and spiritual leaders have risen to celebrity status thanks to their social media following. A few luminaries among them are also keeping up with technology.

A church in Hong Kong said it is starting a church in the Metaverse, the virtual world the tech giants are now building. Worshipers can put on their headphones and visit the virtual church, and your avatar can sit in the virtual pew and listen to the virtual priest preach – no need to put on your Sunday Best and go.

This trend may spread to other religions, and soon you (No, your avatar) will be able to visit places of worship that pop up in the Metaverse by simply putting on your VR headset while lounging on your couch.

In Indian mythology, gods sent avatars to help the world when their mundane creatures were in trouble.

Technology is now turning things around in every field. At this rate, we could soon be sending our avatars to visit the gods.

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