Religion is nutty


I can't even come up with a joke in response to this: perhaps I should have more coffee. A cynic might think religion is just snake-oil, adept mostly at separating rubes from their rubles.

The God Delusion
“The God Delusion” (Richard Dawkins)

Cloudless Religions 93-12-08

Web Site to Holy Site: Israeli Firm Broadcasts Prayers for a Fee - On a recent wintry afternoon in the Old City here, Orthodox Jews in black coats and hats huddled at the Western Wall, bobbing their heads as they prayed at one of the world's holiest sites. Some wedged prayers on crumpled pieces of paper in the crevices of the ancient wall, a practice stretching back centuries.

Behind them on the ledge of a nearby building, a small Webcam carried the scene live on the Internet. Speakers inside the camera played the sound of prayers, mostly from people thousands of miles away in the U.S.

The camera is owned by a start-up in Tel Aviv called Pray Over IP (the IP stands for “Internet protocol”). It sells phone cards that allow customers to record their prayers, which are then transmitted to a holy site of their choice via Internet phone and Webcams.

“It's just $5 or $10, and you get eternal life,” says Hanan Achsaf, chairman of POIP. “With the lottery, you pay that amount, and what do you get? A piece of paper. This is much better value.”

The start-up is part of an explosion of technology being used for religious purposes in recent years. Churches in Brazil offer audio clips of services through cellphones. Ringtones using religious music are gaining popularity. A survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 30% of adults online use the Internet for their religious pursuits.

The 40-year-old Mr. Neumann, who has worked for several high-tech start-ups in Israel and admits he rarely goes to synagogue, says he got the idea for the company visiting the Western Wall about 18 months ago. He noticed people dialing their cellphones after praying, then holding their cellphones up to the Wall for the people on the line to pray.

To begin spreading word of the company, Mr. Neumann in September traveled through the Bible Belt in the southern part of the U.S., meeting with various heads of megachurches. He wants his cards placed in their gift stores, next to the piles of CDs, books and other religious materials. Now, they can be found at 7-Eleven convenience stores around the region.

“If we reach even a small number of these churches, the numbers are still huge,” says Mr. Neumann. The company expects to generate revenue this year of between $5 million and $10 million, he says. Much of that money will go into expanding the system, so the company doesn't expect to break even until the first quarter of 2009, he says.

In addition to selling the cards on the Web sites, the company sells them directly to churches, priced at $2.50 to $5. The churches then determine how much to charge their members, typically $10 to $25, sometimes higher for fund-raising purposes. The company plans to offer another service that allows users to access video of the holy sites on their cellphones, charging $1 for five minutes of viewing.

In November, the company caught a break. Yossef Azran, a prominent rabbi in Israel, endorsed the company. “After considering the distance between believers and holy sites and the desire to have their prayers heard, I am asking the guards of the holy sites to assist the POIP campaign,” he said in a statement.

A month later, the Sea of Galilee supervisors called Mr. Neumann and asked for another meeting. Service is now at the site, says Mr. Neumann. The service at Jewish sites must stop during the Sabbath, in line with rules that prohibit the use of electronic devices during the Sabbath.

“What we are doing is no different than what Pat Robertson is doing,” says Mr. Neumann. “We're just a one-way messenger to the Lord.”


I read Freud a long time ago. It seems there is a feeling, a yearning for a superior being and comunion with this being. It could be a feeling I had once, floating in the Atlantic, of being one with the ocean water, the sky. I think the feeling people may have and some don't is a different matter than the comercialization and exploitation of people. The latter is greed, not religion.

I don't know, maybe Freud is off base. I don't recall ever having a yearning for some bearded dude making sure I'm not doing something 'sinful'.

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This page contains a single entry by Seth A. published on January 25, 2007 10:24 AM.

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