Search the term “gay marriage” on Google and you’ll get 12 million results—all running the spectrum of being for, against, or neutral on the subject. Type that term into a search engine called SeekFind, and all you’ll find are articles arguing against marriage equality for gays and lesbians.
Why? Because SeekFind is part of a new trend among search engines reported on recently by NPR—offering built-in bias.
Shea Houdmann runs SeekFind, a Colorado Springs-based Christian search engine that only returns results from Web sites that are consistent with the Bible. He says SeekFind is designed “to promote what we believe to be biblical truth” and excludes sites that don’t meet that standard.
Houdmann says a search on his site would not turn up pornography. If you search “gay marriage,” you would get results that argue against gay marriage. And if you type in “Democratic Party,” your first search result is a site on Marxism.
But SeekFind isn’t the only search engine carving a niche market among religious Internet users. There is also Jewogle for Jews and I’mHalal, a Muslim search engine that started in the Netherlands.
As our world continues to fracture into so many camps of “us” and “them,” I find this trend very disturbing. The ultimate value of any search engine is that it will deliver—at the click of a button—all the views on any given subject. Sometimes those views are factually incorrect, and sometimes those views are just plain wrong or crazy, but they should all be gathered together in one place for the searcher to sift through.
I’m not a big fan of the rantings of Glenn Beck or any programming on FOX News, but I watch it from time to time because I want to know what they are saying. As the old wisdom goes, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” It’s wise to know what the other voices are saying about things in the world. If we cut ourselves off from other views that make us uncomfortable or may offend us in some way, we simply create a world with deeper and deeper intolerance for anyone considered “other” or “sinful,” or “sick,” or “profane.”
Biased search engines are just one more way that humanity is finding ways to deny one ultimate truth: human life is messy. Neatly dividing life up in a search engine to retrieve only views we like or agree with is to deny reality; and we do a disservice to ourselves, and others. Reading only views we agree with denies us the possibility of change, the possibility to experience cognitive dissonance and learn new things about people different from ourselves. We don’t have to agree with, or embrace, the other view, but we need to know it—and to learn how to appreciate its existence.
The truth is we are all different, but we are all the same, united in our biology if not our theology. As the Apostle Paul told the Corinthian in his first letter to them: we cannot say to the hand or the foot that we have no need of them. As one body—as one living, biologically human body on this earth regardless of race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, religious creed or whatever other boundary we draw between “us” and “them,” we cannot afford to cut ourselves off from each other in any way—not even when we use a search engine.
It is this continued “us” and “them” thinking that perpetuates the deep divides in our world. Unless we are willing to hear from those with whom we disagree, sometimes deeply, we will never learn how to be united as one body in this one world. It is these divisions and separations that will ultimately doom us as a species. Instead of searching for new ways to divide into “us” and “them,” let us take up author Brian McLaren’s challenge to dispense with “them” altogether because in our messy reality it’s “some of us for all of us.”