Was the Cesar Chavez Google Doodle an Insult to Christians?

Only if Christians forget the example of Easter Sunday itself.

If the Easter story is true—and I’m an agnostic, so I neither confirm nor deny the truth of what I’m about to discuss—something really amazing happened roughly 2,000 years ago. The Romans put a Jewish preacher up on a cross, killed him, and buried him … only to see him leave his grave a few days later, visit some friends, then rise to heaven with a promise to return.

If the Easter story is true, at the very least it represents an astonishing event in the history of our natural world: A man dead three days came back to life. And if the Easter story’s underlying purpose is also true—that he sacrificed his life to absolve humanity for its sins—then it also represents the most astonishing act of moral heroism known in our history. If the Easter story is true, it is nothing short of stupendous.

Either that, or it’s just another stupid reason to argue on Twitter.

At this point, I’m leaning to the latter. Why? Because when dawn rose on Sunday, some of the folks who didn’t find their way to a pew for sunrise services flocked to the web instead and found—much to their shock and chagrin—that the day’s Google doodle honored Cesar Chavez. Chavez, you may have noticed, is not the risen Christ. Conservative Christians (the same folks who worry constantly about the non-existent “War on Christmas”) expressed rage that Google would honor somebody besides Jesus on Easter.

The rage apparently began at Michelle Malkin’s outrage-generator site, Twitchy, and quickly grew from there, egged on even by non-Christian conservatives. The topic trended throughout the day. The normally thoughtful Rod Dreher, a socially conservative writer, compared the offending Google doodle to a recent “Jesus stomping” incident.

“It cannot have been an accident that Google decided to honor a relatively obscure cultural figure instead of observing the most important Christian holiday,” Dreher wrote, “a day of enormous importance to an overwhelming number of people in the United States, and to an enormous number of people around the world.”

It wasn’t an accident. Google doesn’t really honor religious holidays.

Here’s how a member of the Google team put it a few years back, in a letter to a Muslim asking to have her holiday honored:

At Google, we do not celebrate religious holidays in our homepage doodles. This is mostly a matter of practicality and fairness, as celebrating one such occasion would lead to the obvious and irrefutable expectation that we should celebrate all such holidays.

Instead, our logos generally focus on national holidays (U.S. Independence Day or Bastille Day) or on commonly observed holidays without a concrete religious linkage (Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Mother’s Day, Chinese New Year, and Shichi-go-san). Some of these holidays may have roots in religious beliefs but have become secular celebrations.

So, no, there was no particular anti-Christian animosity going on here. (The policy is born out by a history of Google doodles found here.) A-religiosity is not the same as anti-religiosity. Except, of course, for that not-insubstantial portion of American religious conservatives who aren’t content to live and let live—but are so ready to be martyred for their faith that they’ll take a corporation’s silence or disinterest as an insult. Only tribute will do.

That’s chauvinistic. And, I think, tremendously un-Christian.

If the Easter story is true—if Christ didn’t attempt to dominate the world, didn’t attempt to become king, but instead washed the feet of his followers and hung out with the poor and ended up saving humanity by allowing himself to be held in contempt by the greatest empire of its age—then the goal had to be something greater and more meaningful and more noble than celebrating that moment by turning his followers all into mini-Bill O’Reilly outrage machines.

“You shall know them by their fruits,” the Bible says in Matthew 7:16—and if that’s the case, what are we to make of all the willful, hair-trigger sourness?

As an agnostic, I leave the door open to re-adopting faith. Really. This is not where my faith journey started; I do not know where it will end. But I do know there’s little attractive about a faith whose most vocal adherents spent its most holy day griping about the lack of a Google doodle tribute. God help us all.

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  • TrueAmerican56

    Since there are almost no Christians in this country, it really doesn’t matter. There are people that go through the motions, but almost none that follow the beliefs of Christ.

  • Mark Powell

    To the Agnostic who wrote this article… I am a fairly liberal minded christian who respects what Cesar Chavez represented. A great man, perhaps even saint like… But you miss the point by a freakin’ mile… I don’t want google doing ANY religious doodle tributes, none, nada…. But maybe a “moment of silence” out of respect… would have been nice… just Google’s usual generic home page, what it is most days… Sorry, but I think it was an unnecessary blunder on Google’s part… Oh, and you will find me more often watching MSNBC, not Fox… but then again, I’d rather be listing to the Grateful Dead…. LOL… And bing is my new search engine.

    • Except that Chavez (a devout Christian, btw) was born on March 31 which is also the date of the state holidays in his honor, so it would be pretty silly to recognize at some other time. And it’s pretty clear from the tweets on the subject that half of those complaining don’t know the difference between Cesar Chavez (American labor leader with state holidays in his honor) from Hugo Chavez (anti-American Venezuelan president). Complaints from ignorance aren’t worth recognizing.

  • Pensive

    It’s completely false to say there are no true Christians in the U.S. There’s only about oh, close to 2 billion self-professed Christians around the world. How they practice their faith or how devout they are is up for debate. However, there is no question that Easter is a major holiday – even for those that aren’t religious. I mean, even you take offense to the cross – who could hate the Easter bunny…unless you’re Google.

  • I am Christian, liberal and consider myself open minded, but I it seemed that by using Cesar Chavez’ image on Easter Day, Google was trying to send a message. What the message was is unclear. If their policy is “At Google, we do not celebrate religious holidays in our homepage
    doodles. This is mostly a matter of practicality and fairness, as
    celebrating one such occasion would lead to the obvious and irrefutable
    expectation that we should celebrate all such holidays.” then they should not have a “Happy Holiday” doodle. The “Holidays” in Happy Holidays are Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanza with New Years thrown in. Christmas and Hanukkah are definitely Religious. I think they should have just left the regular Goodle Logo up and not addressed Cesar Chavez this year, but instead, waited until his birthday and Easter do not coincide.

    • Under this standard, the only appropriate expression by a-religious people on a religious holiday is pro-actively religious. Any expression that merely ignores the religious observance of the day gets to be deemed an insult. I think that’s an oppressively low standard, imposed by people who want to get their nose out of joint.

      • Mark Powell

        Um, Joel… If Google simply wanted to “ignore” Easter, then their generic home page would have done quite nicely… Sorry, but I don’t buy it… Their doodles are not always random and if they can doodle an appropriate celebratory memorial for certain dates…. then a moment of silence (plain homepage) might have been a more thoughtful way to mark Easter, and therefore I don’t buy this whole random thing…. And, BTW, Easter is not just any religious holiday, not in a country that is 73% christian… in a world with 2.2 billion of them… Nope, don’t buy it, not for a second.