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Leaving benign behind

From Francis Schaeffer to Google

Leaving benign behind

Francis Schaeffer (Handout)

If your children want to scare someone on Halloween, have them dress up as a giant Google. You don’t know exactly what that costume should look like? Join the crowd: No one else does, really, because Google is not just a giant octopus. It’s the ocean we swim in: Google has an 88 percent share of the search-engine market, and most of the nation’s school kids are coming to rely on Google education apps.

If you and your children want to honor someone on Halloween, which is also the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation in 1517, dress them up as Martin Luther or Francis Schaeffer. You can read about Luther on pages 38-45. Here’s a morsel on Schaeffer, who from the 1950s into the 1980s put into practice the lesson of Isaiah 1:18—“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord.”

Schaeffer reasoned with the young people who came to his haven in Switzerland. He put his basic teaching into three books—The God Who Is There, Escape from Reason, and He Is There and He Is Not Silent—still worth reading. (All three are available in one Crossway volume, Trilogy.) He wrote, “If you follow true rationality and true morality so that you are truly human, you will turn back to God. … Isaiah and Paul tell us that a rational pursuit of truth will lead us to God.”

Most of Schaeffer’s teaching and writing was theological, but he emphasized that neglecting politics and law is “absolutely utopian in a fallen world.” Personal computers didn’t become common until the 1980s, but Schaeffer concluded his excellent survey of Western civilization, How Should We Then Live? (1979), with a look at how “the high-speed computer literally leaves no place to hide and little room for any privacy.”

‘The high-speed computer literally leaves no place to hide and little room for any privacy.’ —Schaeffer

This great Christian thinker died in 1984, the year made famous in the title of George Orwell’s book about totalitarian countries stomping out individuality, but Schaeffer presciently said the biggest problem is not “the use to which present totalitarian regimes will put the computer. The question is what will all these available manipulating techniques mean in our own countries?” And that brings us to Google.

Schaeffer noted that Luther through his Bible translation and teaching “opened the way for all the people to come directly to God.” In our secular culture, that’s what we thought Google and some other titans (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, PayPal) would do. People could enjoy a broad means of exchanging information, ideas, and money via neutral channels, with friends rather than New York Times editors curating our news feed.

We’re learning this year that those neutral channels aren’t so neutral. Google has forced critics to shut up, booted out right-wingers, fired an engineer who criticized “diversity” propaganda, and done other things we can see—but the real danger may be in what we can’t see. Former Google “design ethicist” Tristan Harris said, “If you control the menu, you control the choices”—and every time we do a Google search, a Google algorithm is controlling what’s on the first page that comes up and what’s on the 20th, which is online Siberia.

Google, far from being neutral, has bragged that it helped reelect Barack Obama in 2012: “Google Analytics provided the campaign a window into voters’ questions and concerns, and allowed them to deliver answers directly from the campaign through search ads. … The results from Election Day speak for themselves: a resounding victory, with nearly every battleground state falling into the President’s column.”

Google scratched Obama’s back and he scratched its. Journalist Franklin Foer notes: “Google executives set foot in the Obama White House more often than those of any other corporation—its head lobbyist visited 128 times. … Google managed to overcome the recommendation of staffers on the Federal Trade Commission who found Google’s monopolistic machinations worthy of a lawsuit.”

Much more than politicking and dominance by technocratic autocrats is going on here. Schaeffer’s A Christian Manifesto (1981) described how a man-centered view that material is all there is, and that we’re here by chance, leads to “an intolerance that gives less and less freedom in courts and schools for the view which originally gave the freedoms.” The more we let Google and its kin pick informational winners and losers, the less freedom Christians and other dissidents will have.

Time for a new Reformation.


  • Darillyn Flones
    Posted: Mon, 10/09/2017 02:15 pm

    So, what would you recommend in lieu of Google?  What search engine? 

    OR - to make a dent in this tech environment, how then shall we live? It is scary the way things have escalated in the google world - but how to get off the wheel?


    Posted: Mon, 10/09/2017 03:17 pm

    Yes, what are we to do? I use google to get here, so, what search engine? Is this supposed to say “don’t use google”?


  • Trumpetly Speaking
    Posted: Mon, 10/09/2017 04:01 pm

    That was my question as well.  Where do we go from here?  (Perhaps my next purchase won't be a google chrome book.)  How can we start redirecting our flow of information?  Is there a Christian google?  Would you recommend an alternative?


  • Dick Friedrich
    Posted: Mon, 10/09/2017 11:48 pm

    The first amendment to the Constitution prohibits Congress from making laws which abridge freedom of the press. It should be noted that this was not an excuse for other branches of the Government (such as the Executive branch through various machinations) to exercise similar constraints on this freedom. Yet we the people have not held our Government accountable in this regard. There will always be the temptation to misuse technology for purposes which undermine the spirit of the freedoms enumerated so succinctly in the Constitution, i.e. in this case intentionally undermining the free flow of information and ideas necessary for honest and sincere debate. Google and others deserve no special help from the Government (no matter the branch) if they intend to undermine the free flow of information.     

  • Midwest preacher
    Posted: Tue, 10/10/2017 06:39 am

    A few years ago all those on the "left" would have been appalled at any suggestion that "free speech" should be somehow limited.  Now in a flurry of definition changes and word inventions they are clearly advocating that certain speech may certainly be limited.  That would be speech that opposes their view.  This change in attitude is a direct result of what they see as a shift in power where they are the ones who hold the majority opinion.  The election of Trump sorta' was not on the radar and that has caused a lot of hand wringing and forcing of the issue.  These are extremely interesting times.  This war on the Bill of Rights is both scary and interesting.  While they fight to eliminate rights they tend to prove the Truth of the Bible.   

  • stephenc
    Posted: Tue, 10/10/2017 09:36 am

    Duck Duck Go ( is a search engine that is designed around keeping its user information private. It still involves advertising, because it is free to the users so it has to be paid for somehow, but it doesn't tailor results to individual users. So it's a little better than Google.

    Having said that, the larger problem is that people need to demand - and then be willing to pay for - privacy and control of their own information. We've gotten used to getting valuable services for free by allowing the service providers to have an enormous amount of control over the information we transmit over those services. The only way to change that is to pay for exactly what we want.

    As a final note, there's also a pretty significant extent to which people in a society with advanced information technology just need to learn to not be lazy when they're evaluating information. We all need to get better about asking a few simple questions - who wrote this? Could they have any motives besides pure altruism? Does this sound reasonable and believable, or is it a story that is "too good to be true" for my side and my preferred narrative? 

  • vantil
    Posted: Wed, 10/11/2017 08:40 am

    Another option to avoid Google search engine is good.

    Another option to consider is a VPN (Virtual Private Network) for even more privacy and protection.  I use CyberGhost.  They have a free and a fee version.  The fee version is $50/year and can be used on all of your devices (I think) - up to 5.  Chromebooks are problematic but everyother device I've tried works seamlessly..  Their website includes a good description of how it all works and why you should consider using a VPN.

    David Heinaman

    Posted: Wed, 10/11/2017 09:03 am

    Google may have political leanings, but to those of us who use the Google search engine for answers to our field it is the most reliable source of answers there is.  Even when I search for Biblical answers, it does a good job.  But one must check many of the selections Google makes to get a thorough answer.  Since the search answers come with the web address of the answer, one may go to the reliable source for the best answer.  Such as Ligonier Ministries, a very trustworth site.

  • DMClark
    Posted: Fri, 10/13/2017 11:27 am

    So, if Google "brags about helping get Obama elected in 2012" and their head lobbyist visited the Obama White House "128 times, more than any other corporation" then why isn't that considered election tampering? Far fetched I know, but what really is the difference. Someone is getting unfair influence by the company they keep. Whether it's placement of information during a web search, millions of dollars directed to certain people, places or causes or foreign countries dropping tidbits about your opponent. It all stinks.

  • Flying Goat's picture
    Flying Goat
    Posted: Sun, 10/15/2017 12:46 pm

    Gee folks I read Marvins commentary twice and Google didn't stick in my mind at all. Schaeffer and Luther did. Both of which shaped our families understanding of truth and it's orgins. Schaeffer, a deep thinker who was able to make scripture simple. Luther who after being truly converted opened up the world to grace. Google is kinda like you local electric power company. Either run a generator off the grid, of go along with the neighborhood. Except Google I don't actually need 24/7. But the benifits of Schaeffer and Luther go on for years and years, if you care to read them..Peace 

  • nevertheless
    Posted: Sun, 10/15/2017 08:37 pm

    Schaeffer also had the foresight to understand that it matters little whether a totalitarian government originates from the political right or left. Internet giants need to be regulated as monopolies; the only other option is that they become allies of big government.

  • nevertheless
    Posted: Sun, 10/15/2017 08:41 pm

    "Duck, Duck, Go" is a good search engine that doesn't track usage Bing is a very good alternative that doesn't have quite the footprint, reach or influence of Google. Don't forget that If you use You Tube, you are using (ie exposed t) google as well. I suppose using anything systemically other than google is subversive.

  • mjstrand
    Posted: Tue, 10/31/2017 11:44 pm

    While not providing a "solution", this recent podcast from Gartner, a leading IT industry analyst firm, clearly raises questions about our culture's uncritical acceptance of four tech giants.  The use of overt religious, even overt Christian, language from a non-Christian sources is quite notable. 

    A quote from the podcast:  “We now worship at the Altar of Innovation as opposed to character and kindness. And we have to remember that these companies, they have one mission, and that is to increase shareholder value. They’re not concerned with the condition of our souls, they’re not going to take care of us when we’re old. So we assign them these very positive attributes, and we’re generous with them, and we give them what I would refer to as the Mother of All Hall Passes, when in fact we should be treating them like any other company.”