Religious Search Engines: Enabled Ignorance with Surprising Results

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Yesterday, NPR had a story about religious search engines:

In a world where Google has put every bit of information at our fingertips, some people are now demanding less information when they surf the Internet.

Some Jews, Muslims and Christians are abandoning Yahoo and Google and turning to search engines with results that meet their religious standards.

Now let’s be very specific about the function these search engines serve.

Let’s say you’re a whackadoodle Christian from—I don’t know—let’s say Montana so as not to further negative sentiment about the South. Your worldview is very narrow. Jesus Christ is your savior, and that’s the only thing you need to know in life. You believe with such fervor that to even encounter an idea that is contrary to what you believe would automatically condemn you to Hell. How in the world will you ever navigate the internet and learn about the world outside Montana?

Well, since you’re so ridiculously naive and paranoid that you can’t use a regular search engine and just sort through the results for the answers you seek like a normal person, you might need to rely on a search engine that blocks out all that yucky content that goes against what Jesus taught. (Of course, you’re trusting that the programmer’s interpretation of what Jesus taught matches your own, but you know that the engine was made just for people like you, so any distinctions will be negligible.)

Enter Christian search engines like SeekFind. (Note: Due to the NPR story, SeekFind is currently down because it couldn’t handle the new surge of users. (Subnote: Prayer requests can similarly overload Jesus’s programming.))

Shea Houdmann runs SeekFind, a Colorado Springs-based Christian search engine that only returns results from websites 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.

Yeah, because Jesus never said a word about social change or egalitarianism. Ever.

But Christians aren’t the only ones who need specific search results! There is also Jewogle for Jews and I’mHalal for Muslims.

Now, I’m going to argue here that from what I can see, only I’mHalal actually does what it claims to, in that it searches the whole internet and excludes results that might not be appropriate. Both SeekFind and Jewogle seem to operate by searching only a limited number of included sites. This means that neither are actually internet search engines. SeekFind kept sending me to weird little Christianist sites that claim to have definite answers on worldviews (from a weird first-person perspective) and sites like ApologeticsPress and ChristianAnswers. You’d think a search for “ketchup” would take you to, but you’d be wrong. And Jewogle is more like a Wikipedia for Jews.

I’m proud to say that I’mHalal will actually pick up ZackFord Blogs in a search result, despite the presence of the words “gay” and “atheist.” Maybe that’ll change, but I’m actually impressed that it actually functions like an internet search engine should. There’s something deceptive about suggesting the others do the same. (It’s not the best journalism here, NPR; you can do better.)

Don’t get me wrong, folks. I certainly understand the challenge of trying to keep kids from finding explicit content. But that’s not what SeekFind accomplishes. In fact, if you’re sending kids to SeekFind, they’re going to find a lot of explicit, hurtful content about their sexuality that is just as damaging as porn, if not viciously moreso. Their science education will also be compromised.

I don’t think the NPR story quite parses out the distinctions:

But not everyone has been supportive of the idea. Some people call it censorship. SeekFind’s Houdmann disagrees.

“In a sense, I guess kind of what SeekFind does is a form of censorship, but I would more describe it as selective inclusion,” he says.

Houdmann’s quote didn’t make sense to me when I heard it on the radio, but it does now that I’ve tried SeekFind. Based on how SeekFind actually works, he’s not wrong in his description, forgiving the oxymoronic way that “selective inclusion” sounds in this context (as if it is anything different than censorship—it is the very definition of censorship).

Some who oppose such search engines argue that allowing people to only access material that they already agree with will lead to an intolerant society. But Gartenberg says he does not see it that way.

“It’s no more censorship than if I find something on television that I find offensive to me and I could change the channel,” he says.

Here is the big distinction, and Gartenberg’s comparison does not work. If I were to Google, Yahoo, or Bing, I would find a lot of results that were not helpful and probably some that were offensive to my own sensitivities. (LOS LINKS!) Like the TV, I could “change the channel” by ignoring those results. But there’s something important about understanding that content exists. It’s about exposure to the world. Religious search engines eliminate all the other channels. There’s no chance for escape; there’s no room for ideas. These are just tools to continue suppressing scientific literacy. (Top SeekFind result for “evolution”?

And let’s not ignore the fact that the Muslim search engine is incredibly more inclusive and uncensored than its Christian alternative. This could be because certain terms have not been tweaked yet, but at face value, it’s an interesting juxtaposition. I don’t think most Americans would expect something Muslim to be more open-minded than something Christian. Food for thought.

NPR seems to think these search engines are here to stay (no thanks to NPR for giving them a wide audience with very uncritical reporting). If all Christians are going to be told that being gay is a sin and Democrats are Marxists, we’re going to have a serious problem on our hands with how people are treated in this country.

Oh wait, we already do.

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There are 1 Comments to "Religious Search Engines: Enabled Ignorance with Surprising Results"

  • Ahab says:

    It’s amazing what people will do to protect their fragile, narrow-minded beliefs. Faith-based search engines such as SeekFind might set a disturbing trend.

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