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Monday, August 19, 2013

New App Uses Goat to Let Jewish People Atone Their Sins (Update)

Posted By on Mon, Aug 19, 2013 at 2:30 PM


Update, : Wait, hold up, guys. We got quotes from executive director Sarah Lefton on atonement and goats (and some user stats).

By now we can take it as an article of faith that there's an app for every banal chore in our daily lives -- including atonement. Among the latest Christian products for iPhone users are "Jesus Christ Whispers," which offers a personalized letter from Jesus every day, and iPray, which supplies daily prayers and "beautiful paintings of Jesus to meditate on."

But Christians aren't the only ones to carve out a swath of this increasingly glutted market. Last week the San Francisco Jewish nonprofit G-dcast unveiled a new app to allow devotees to unburden themselves of sin with help from an animated goat. The so-called "Atonement App" submits individual confessions to an @SinfulGoat Twitter feed, where they're posted anonymously. Thus, the app has turned private foibles into an intricate embroidery of public shame.

Needless to say, G-dcast isn't taking the product that seriously, says spokeswoman Edit Ruano, who says. It's supposed to be instructive in a wink-wink, nudge-nudge kind of way.

Atonement is actually the sixth app in G-dcast's smartphone technology line, following on the heels of a Leviticus app that allows users to play the part of a high priest slicing into cartoon animals -- but only kosher ones, says executive director Sarah Lefton. She adds that the goat idea spawned from an Old Testament story in which Aaron transfers the sins of the Israelites onto a goat.

"A year ago we had this idea: 'What if we brought the goat back to life personally?'" Lefton recalls. "It's a very compelling idea. You could lay your hands on this goat and send it around the internet."

"There's a story in the Old Testament about how people use a goat to atone for their sins," spokeswoman Edit Ruano says, adding that In other words, the app essentially uses new technology as a vessel to teach old religion. G-dcast timed its release to coincide, roughly, with the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur -- aka the Day of Atonement. A week since its launch the site has received about 300 confessions and 7,500 users.

G-dcast represents a new paradigm for religious institutions and nonprofits, which are increasingly using technology as a means to proselytize. Over the past year Christian and Jewish organizations have hosted a spate of hackathons to harness the talents of young software engineers, while Hindu developers have designed apps to promote such ancient texts as The Bhagavad Gita and The Ramayana. Muslims developers have introduced new lines of Islamic-themed wallpaper (for smartphones), and apps devoted to the Quran. Even atheists are trying to commandeer their own swath of the market, with such products as the Portable Atheist for Android, and the Atheist Pocket Debater, which provides sections on "humanism, historical arguments, and other threads of thought ... for the serious debater."

The religious apps marketplace has ballooned so much, in fact, that a recent New York Times piece compared it to a veritable arms race. Such terms might suggest a modern-day religious crusade, but according to Reverend R. Albert Mohler Jr. of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky, it's by no means acrimonious. He told New York Times reporter that competition between believers and skeptics in the software world has turned Android and Apple app stores into "our new public commons."

And G-dcast, for one, is taking its technology to the streets. Tonight (Monday) it will host one of several live events in SOMA StrEAT Food Park. Participants who have expurgated themselves of sin will receive discounts on falafel from the Old World food truck parked at 11th and Harrison Streets, as well as a chance to pet a real goat.

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About The Author

Rachel Swan

Rachel Swan

Rachel Swan was a staff writer at SF Weekly from 2013 to 2015. In previous lives she was a music editor, IP hack, and tutor of Cal athletes.


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