Google Doodle Easter Dustup Portrays Faithful As Feckless

Owing to the fact that I use the Google Chrome extension to do all my Web searching, I rarely have occasion to visit Google's main page, and consequently, I miss out on all of the fun and whimsical Google "doodles" the search company regularly places there. Unless, of course, those doodles "make news." And over the Easter holiday, one of those doodles did, diddling the domes of conservative Twitter trawlers, outraged that the Easter Sunday doodle celebrated the birthday of labor leader Cesar Chavez, as opposed to, I guess, something Eastery.

And so now we have this whole "Google's War on Christianity" thing, even though as far as I can tell, everyone who visited the Google home page was mere seconds from being able to visit, you know ... the Bible.

The whole kerfuffle was like an early version of the annual "War On Christmas," in which we are led to believe that faithful Christians are somehow being attacked or maligned during the Yuletide season. It really does a disservice to people around the world -- including many Christians -- who suffer at the hands of actual persecutors. In reality, those who are privileged enough to live in America get a month of celebration in which every piece of media -- from television shows, to the music at the coffee shop, to the lights on the street -- inevitably leads back to the Gospels and their telling of the birth of Jesus Christ. This includes an enormously popular children's cartoon called "A Charlie Brown Christmas," in which the Gospel of Luke is recited aloud on network television.

If there's one thing that the Christmas season demonstrates, it's that American Christians enjoy top cultural standing among their peers in other faith traditions. And yet, the central notion that governs the so-called "War On Christmas" is that this seemingly unshakeable firmament of religious privilege can be destroyed utterly the moment a single clerk working the Target checkout line utters the words "Happy Holidays," instead of "Merry Christmas." Given that Christmas is the most successful branding campaign in the history of the universe, I find all of this deeply puzzling.

But I'm doubly puzzled about this whole Easter Sunday Google-doodle contretemps, because all of those angry at Google seem to be implying that Google is specifically obligated to provide Christians with a helping of validation that they shouldn't actually need. Don't get me wrong! It's a really interesting irony -- Google is, first and foremost, an instant-gratification engine. We are literally trained to expect it to provide us with "The Answers," and to do so in a way that's not laborious or time-intensive. But there are more things in heaven and earth than are trawlable by Google's search spiders, folks. And as near as I can tell, churches were open on Easter Sunday, providing a venue for that sort of contemplation. So why on earth did a drawing of Cesar Chavez anger people so much? What did it matter?

Well, the truth is that it didn't matter to 99.9999999999999999999 percent of Christianity's 2.2 billion adherents. Rather, it seems to have mattered most to those who worship at the altar of Tribal Political B.S., the great Golden Calf of our civic discourse. And to that flock, Google's sin was not actually ruining the Easter holiday (the Easter holiday was not ruined, after all), but honoring the birthday of a labor rights activist traditionally associated with the left. (At least, that was the second round of braying, after they all realized that the doodle was not, in fact, of former Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez, a matter that took more time than was otherwise necessary to sort out, given that they could have Googled it right then and there.)

I'll give the complainants this: it's entirely possible that they were victimized by a neat bit of "trollgaze" -- something on the Internet designed to engineer outrage. But the more realistic possibility is that Google opted to celebrate Chavez's birthday ... on Chavez's birthday. It's a weird concept, I know! Naturally, I am open to suggestions as to alternate days on which Google could have run the "Happy Birthday Cesar Chavez" doodle, but I have this strange feeling we're just going to keep on coming back to March 31 as the ideal date.

When you get right down to it, what Google did has nothing at all to do with a drawing that they ran on a religious holiday (that didn't end up interfering with the holiday in any material way for its celebrants). This is simply a debate in which you either believe that Cesar Chavez, who died in 1993, is worthy of some tribute in the public sphere (even one as fleeting as a Google doodle) or you believe otherwise. In all likelihood, if you oppose Chavez's labor activism out of a sense of political tribalism, you're going to lower the boom on Google, even if Easter isn't somehow implicated.

But it's a pity that the Doodle Rage has, in this instance, accorded Google more power in the public sphere than it actually has. Google is, God knows, a powerful corporation. I've no doubt that there are people on its campus with messianic pretensions. But the company isn't a countervailing force, rising in opposition to religion, any more than the Target checkout clerks at Christmastime.

And it's deeply weird to suggest that Google is. The whole concept of "faith" involves a firm, indefatigable belief in matters beyond the material sphere. And faith communities give those faith muscles regular workouts, by offering adherents the opportunity to pursue rigorous spiritual contemplation, participate in meaningful sacraments and traditions, and participate in fun and rewarding fellowship with other believers. The bottom line, I think, is that when you invest in these practices, it's supposed to prevent you from completely falling to pieces when fate occasions a moment where you do not receive immediate, perfect validation of your beliefs.

Look, Cesar Chavez was about as perfect a human being as the rest of us, which is to say, not at all. His embrace of the Marcos regime in the Philippines caused a rift within the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee, and latter-day immigration reformers may not find his legacy entirely suited to the forging of alliances. Nevertheless, at the root of Chavez's career as a civil rights activist, imperfect as it may have been, is a guiding principle that anyone who has spent any time in deep contemplation of the Christian faith may be familiar with -- Matthew 25:40 -- which reads in part, "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."

So when you really think about it, for Christians on Easter Sunday, everything eventually led back to the Gospels. Even Google's doodle.

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