Category Archives: God

An Open Letter to My Children

Dear Nathaniel and Hannah,

I am sorry that my generation has failed you.

We have bequeathed you a world that has too many problems, too much fear, and too much hate.

Dad and I tried to raise you to see the good in people, to understand others’ perspectives, to argue for fairness in the face of injustice, to respect the earth, to treat others with respect no matter the god(s) they worship or the size of their bank account or the shape of their bodies or the origin of their passport, and to feel hopeful about the future. Our nation has just elected a man who embodies the opposite of all these principles. He will set the tone from above–but in the end, he’s just one person.

As Bertolt Brecht once wrote, “Because things are the way they are, things will not stay the way they are.”

Our nation is, like all others, a work in progress. Right now, it feels like we haven’t made any progress at all. With Trump’s election, we’ve set back the clock on women’s rights, minorities’ rights, environmental protection, civility, predictability, respect for science, and the acknowledgment that (like it or not) we all inhabit a globalized world.

But it’s not the end of the story. There’s always a next chapter to be written, and your generation will write a very different chapter.

Your generation understands the urgency of combating climate change. Your generation embraces difference of all sorts–sexual, religious, racial, you name it–because your online engagements show you every hour how diverse, and how interconnected, the world is. Your generation absorbs knowledge because you know how easy it is to find your way to facts, and, with a little research, to separate facts from fiction.

Dad and I so wished that today could have been a day to celebrate. Instead, it’s a day to reflect on the work to be done. It’s a day to dig deep and strategize about how to create the world we want to inhabit. With a president who revels in abusing his power, mocking his opponents, and ridiculing the disabled, the disenfranchised, and the poor, the rest of us will have to work harder than ever to protect the vulnerable and oppose the bullies.

If Dad and I raised you to be optimistic, we also raised you to be resilient in the face of setbacks. I apologize that those skills in resilience will be called for more than ever in the next four years. But we are confident that you have what it takes.

I love you.


Digital Deities?

A new study by economist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz tells us that Internet searches for “God” are way down. He notes that this is true even in cases of catastrophe:

Stephens-Davidowitz “looked at the war in Ukraine, the civil war in Syria, the tsunami in Japan, and the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict. In every instance, in the affected country, searches for news increased by between 90 and 280 percent. The top religious searches, be they the ‘Bible,’ ‘Quran,’ ‘God,’ ‘Allah’ or ‘prayer,’ tended to drop or stay about the same.”

I’m pleased to see that his search term for “God” wasn’t limited to English, and the “Bible” wasn’t the only sacred text he Googled. Of course, the world has many more religious traditions than Christianity and Islam, and many more gods than the postulated monotheistic one, so the cultural biases embedded in the relatively narrow search terms he sought remain a methodological restriction.

But Stephens-Davidowitz himself recognizes another methodological restriction that is even more interesting, and far less correct-able:

“Does this mean that when tragedies strike, people focus on getting information and spend little time praying? I have to believe this is a limitation of search data, that actual prayers rise during tragedies, and that searches just do not capture this behavior. If nothing else, it is a puzzle, as everything I thought I knew about the world and search data led me to expect the opposite.”

Clearly, Internet browsing doesn’t reveal everything. Facebook and Instagram may have cajoled us to put a lot more of our inner lives and previously private thoughts into a public space, but they haven’t cajoled us to publicize ALL those thoughts. Until engineers create a way to probe our silent ruminations and blast them onto a (digital?) billboard, some things still remain sacred–and only we may still know what those are.

We may have produced a visual way to represent a quiet thought in the form of a “thought bubble.” But we still don’t know the contents of anyone’s “thought bubble” but our own.
Thought Bubble
Still, the sociology of Internet browsing histories offers a fascinating source of data for what it DOES reveal.