US Catholic Faith in Real Life

e-Reading the Bible: Sustainable or regrettable?

By Elizabeth Lefebvre | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

A Bible in a bedside table is a familiar image to travelers in hotel rooms across the world. However, last week CNN reported that at least one hotel in England will be switching to an e-reader version of the bedside Bible, available on a Kindle that will be placed in each of the 148 hotel rooms in the Hotel Indigo in Newcastle.

Guests will be able to access other religious texts—up to an $8 value—for free, as well. And, over 15,000 free titles from Amazon will be available for download. (Before you think twice about walking away with the Kindle, know that you will be charged the full cost—over $100—of the device to your account if it goes missing.)

There’s definitely an element of environmental stewardship in the decision to go with an electronic version of the world’s best-selling book, as the elimination of paper and production costs seems to promote sustainability. But, many of the same questions that surfaced when e-readers were first introduced also apply here: Will people miss turning the pages of the physical book of the Bible? Does this make it harder to just open to a random Bible chapter or verse and begin reading? Will it be more difficult to locate certain verses if you can’t quite remember where they are? What if people just want to browse the chapters? Will a spiritual element of reading the Bible be compromised?

A spokesman for Gideons, who has distributed over 84 million Bibles worldwide, says of the decision to introduce the Kindles in hotels, "Anything to put the Bible in people's hands is a good thing. It is a fascinating idea, and I'm sure somehow, some way, its time will come for us. But right now just the paper version is the best for what we do."

Additionally, debates currently exist about if a tablet, such as an iPad, can be used in place of the missal. While advantageous for storing a large number of texts and for certain functions (such as being able to easily change languages or adjust font sizes, for example), some people have objected to their use in Mass because tablets have numerous other uses and thus should not be used to replace an object with a specific liturgical function. In May, the New Zealand bishops instructed their priests that officially, only paper copies of the missal could be used at Mass. They said, “The Roman Missal apps for iPad and the use of other tablets, mobile phones, and e-readers are excellent for study purposes, but their use in the Church’s liturgy is inappropriate.”

Do you agree? Is this a logical, sustainable, and modern practice that the church could adopt to gain relevance in a technology-obsessed 21st-century culture? Or does the symbolic, physical presence of religious books deem e-use inappropriate? Would it change your experience of Mass if the priest was swiping his finger across a tablet screen as he prayed?

Flickr photo cc by Sean MacEntee