If religious people ever found it difficult to express their faith in public, at least religious Apple iPhone users now have answers to their prayers. In its latest operating system update, Apple added new emojis—pictures, characters, or symbols sent via electronic communication—and among them are symbols for the world’s major religions, including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism.
Whether you’re attending synagogue services, worshiping at a Shinto shrine, celebrating Hanukkah, or praying at a mosque, there’s an emoji for that, making it simple for members of a particular religious community to share their activities and faith with just a click of a button. A generic version of praying—two hands pressed together—seems to be the only go-to symbol for faithful expression (surprisingly, religious texts such as the Bible or Koran do not appear to have emojis), though Apple caused a bit of controversy when an earlier operating system update removed the halo of light originally surrounding the two hands. (Some of us nonreligious Luddites—myself included—thought the new image represented high-fiving.)
Examples of religious emojis in Apple’s iOS 9.1
Whether you find them useful or silly, emojis are growing in popularity and make sending messages or expressing emotions quick and easy—no more QUERTY keyboard needed to slow you down. If typing LOL takes too much time out of your busy schedule, just click the laughing smiley face. Want to show pride for your country? Choose from among the many flag emojis. There are emojis for ants and elephants, archery and weightlifting, paperclips and pencils. There’s even two different emojis for a magnifying glass—one pointing toward the left and one to the right. (I suppose this makes leftie scientists very happy.)
But with all the new religious symbols being offered (a dove, a Buddhist Om, a menorah, etc.), where are the symbols representing diverse beliefs and nonbeliefs among the secular community? The closest symbol added in the recent update is the atomic whirl, largely recognized in the secular movement as the symbol for atheism. Incidentally, it’s similar to American Atheists’ official logo, however theirs includes the letter “A” in the atomic whirl’s center and leaves one of the orbitals open-ended because “though atheists rely on the scientific method for learning about the cosmos and increasing our knowledge about nature, we know that not all of the answers are in.” The atomic whirl emoji may simply represent one a pro-science stance.
Will we see an emoji depicting the Happy Human, the official symbol of humanism, anytime soon? What about progressive religious communities like the Unitarian Universalists’ flaming chalice or the Wiccan pentagram? Looking beyond religious belief, are there cause-related symbols that deserve an emoji—like the pink ribbon or the equal sign for human rights?
There’s no reason for humanists or other progressives to feel left out yet. As the number of religiously unaffiliated Americans continues to rise, young people will increasingly look to emojis that represent their beliefs (or lack thereof) to express their secular activism. It’ll take time, but if Apple can come up with a reason why America needs a smiling poop emoji, surely we can convince them we need a symbol that represents being good without a god.