On 7 January 2016, I requested Google, ‘what faith is Barack Obama?’ After contemplating the issue for .42 seconds, Google supplied greater than 34 million ‘outcomes.’ The obvious reply was on the prime, accentuated by an oblong border, with the big phrase ‘Muslim.’ Beneath that one phrase learn the road, “Although Obama is a training Christian and he was mainly raised by his mom and her Christian dad and mom…” Thanks, Google.
Google is a treasure trove for spiritual historians. This search and the outcomes alone might gas days of dialog for my lessons. What does it imply to ask an digital aggregator to reply a query about particular person values (perception) that can’t be bodily discerned? How can we account for the difficult preliminary reply (Muslim … training Christian … her Christian dad and mom)?
The Obama reply got here from a Wikipedia web page, a website hosting web site that enables customers to switch the contents. Multi functional, Wikipedia is democracy and anarchy, the perfect of knowledge sharing and the worst. Whether or not you settle for it as a supply for quotation or not, effectively, that’s as much as you. On this case, we now have the Obama faith wars in black and white print … err… in coloration on a display.
I scrolled by means of a number of the pages containing these Google ‘hits.’ There have been articles from lecturers, newspaper reviews, and weblog rants. Many occasions, the identical tales or snippets of knowledge have been ‘shared’ (is it plagiarism if it’s on the internet?) It appeared that there have been as many angles on this one matter – the faith of Obama – as there have been voters within the elections he gained.
I’m as within the course of by which people seek for and find solutions to our questions because the solutions themselves. Within the case of Obama’s faith, this strategy of in search of and discovering could also be as informative because the solutions Obama offers himself,or the church or mosque or synagogue he attends, or what some pundit or tutorial has to say about him. The fact is, when most of us wish to know one thing, whether or not it’s about faith or anything, we ask web site aggregators. Years in the past, ‘he’ could have been humorously named ‘Jeeves,’ however these internet providers play the position of priest, librarian, pal, and even god. Once we wish to ‘know’ one thing, we flip to the collective of human- and cyber-created info by means of serps like Google.
On the subject of faith and politics, this new god of Google offers and offers and offers. That is significantly true for one matter that has run by means of my analysis in the course of the previous fifteen years: the query of “Was the US established as a Christian nation?” Obama handled this explicitly in 2008 earlier than he was elected president. Quite a few historians have written brilliantly on the subject. However one textual content that has been largely uncared for was a petition from African People in Massachusetts in 1777 for his or her freedom. In it, they described the land as a “Christian nation.” These looking for ‘Christian nation’ could not discover the piece due to the slight (is it slight?) distinction between ‘nation’ and ‘nation.’ Due to Google (and a few diligent librarians and archivists), we are able to find not solely transcriptions of the petition, but additionally scans of the unique doc.
However sources like this, as is the case with anything positioned and located on the World Huge Net, should not with out their very own set of issues to think about. First is how the paperwork are introduced. One group presents the petition for example of American love for freedom and Christianity. One other units it as a sign of white supremacy. Past such content material framing, what would the materiality of the supply inform us that we can’t see or really feel on the pc monitor? Was the paper perfumed or scented at any level? Does capitalization (or lack thereof) matter? Have been or are there every other items of information or info surrounding the web page which were eliminated? How heavy or effective was the paper?
All of those seemingly little issues could matter, simply as our capacity to seek out greater than 30 million outcomes to the query of Barack Obama’s religion. One dilemma of the Data Age is learn how to take care of the entire info we now have. One other is to take care of what info we expect we now have, when in actual fact we could not.
So in terms of the faith of Obama, neither I, nor Google, nor any of us will ever ‘know.’ As as to whether the US was, is, or shall be a ‘Christian nation’ (or ‘nation’) is one other query we can’t ‘know.’ However that’s the fantastic thing about faith and maybe the Web itself: the purpose isn’t at all times to know. It’s to consider.
Featured picture credit score: President Barack Obama and First Girl Michelle Obama attend a church service at Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., on Inauguration Day, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013 by Pete Souza. Public Area through Wikimedia Commons.