Google vs. God

In the Wall Street Journal, Christine Rosen recently asked whether Google is replacing God.  Someone who holds the position of “Future Tense Fellow” at a foundation is certainly poised to pose such a query!  Her essay focused on a recent report in MIT Technology Review that posits a negative correlation between Internet use and religious affiliation.

In the conclusion to her essay she asks:  “In relying on the Internet to answer questions that religious institutions used to answer – crowdsourcing faith, in other words – do we risk losing access to some of the answers data can’t provide?”  The answer to that one is obvious:  YES, it’s a risk if, indeed, our reliance is (singularly) on any technology.  The answer to the title question is also obvious:  NO, Google will never replace God.


The latter question makes for popular diversions, such as the nine proofs that Google Is God, offered by “the Church of Google” or the series of sermons on Vantage Pointe asking questions of the Google God.  Enjoyable as the supposed proofs may be to ponder, Google gives no grace.  Google may point a searcher toward answers, but clicks give no conviction.

Still, the popularity of the world’s most powerful search engine leads to interesting speculation.  More interesting still is that so many are searching for something quasi-divine, which reveals the never-ending quest of humanity for meaningfulness.  That this quest might be fulfilled digitally is an enticing, yet ultimately empty, proposition, for the digital can never substitute for the personal and relational.

If religious affiliation is limited to the profession of a particular set of beliefs or traditions, it may indeed decline with the advent of greater access to diverse information.  But faith in God is so much more than propositional.  In Christianity, that God is a Trinity of persons eternally and perfectly united in a relationship that issues from and communicates love, grace, and fellowship (cf. 2 Cor 13:13).

Only in a lasting relationship will people find the certainty and security they seek.  When what they seek are ultimate answers, only absolute truth will suffice.  As St. John Paul II once wrote,

Thanks to the inherent capacities of thought, man is able to encounter and recognize a truth of this kind. Such a truth—vital and necessary as it is for life—is attained not only by way of reason but also through trusting acquiescence to other persons who can guarantee the authenticity and certainty of the truth itself. There is no doubt that the capacity to entrust oneself and one’s life to another person and the decision to do so are among the most significant and expressive human acts (Fides et Ratio, no. 33).

The new world of Google and other Internet technologies facilitates the search.  Social networking makes possible a wider array of possible encounters, which Pope Francis would have us cultivate.  We can and should make the most of these new opportunities.  But the choice to entrust myself to another – and ultimately to the Other – should be reserved for the person, fully human and fully divine, who alone “fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear” (Gaudium et Spes, no. 22).

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