What’s the Web without God?

We all wish we could block out some things we see on the internet. No matter how carefully you try to tailor a search query, you’ll often find yourself with stinging eyes at the various dreadful things that populate the electronic collective consciousness. And often those examples of violence, sexual degradation, bigotry, and racism come from the religious among us. Who doesn’t sometimes wish they could filter it out?

Enter GodBlock, a supposedly soon-to-be-available web filter that will, according to the website, “block religious content”: scripture, names of religious figures, and something it calls “religious propaganda,” an ill-defined but somewhat useful catchphrase when making light of religious ideas and trying to show how religion has been used to propagate all manner of human ugliness. GodBlock’s tagline is “Protect your children.”

Though not advertised as such, this would be a useful tool for the religious as well. Christians could customize the software to filter out references to Mohammad, Buddha, paganism, and those dirty hippie wiccans. Whatever your flavor of faith, you could be certain to protect your children from any opposing or alternate idea, belief, or mythology.

Whether such a piece of software will ever actually be made (there is currently a download button but nothing to download), GodBlock is a piece of satire, offering a corrective to the overly literal and overly zealous aspects of religious expression. It’s also a glimpse of what a practical extension of the New Atheism would look like.  Those loud and intellectually vigorous polemicists such as Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, and Richard Dawkins have made an important critique of what often appears to be a science-ignorant, gay-hating, war-mongering religious culture in America. But what if GodBlock does become a real downloadable filter you can install on your computer?

One of the problems people first encountered when using web filters to block sexual content was that the programs were too sensitive. Folks at public libraries, for example, would find Web resources on breast cancer, birth control, and even educational information about the human reproductive system unavailable. Teenagers at home hoping to learn about safe sex were simply blocked from any sexual discussions. For something like GodBlock, the ramifications of blocked content, when you get down to it, are unexpected. It asks us to pretend that an idea of God or gods has not formed and breathed life into almost every aspect of art, music, literature, and philosophy.

What would an algorithm designed to filter out “religious propaganda”  use as criteria? It would have to include Audubon’s declaration that watching an eagle led him to an “admiration of the sublime Creator of all.” Even Martin Luther’s King “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” written on the margins of old newspapers and slipped through the bars, includes such sentiments as, “We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights.” What else? The stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer? The life and music of Johann Sebastian Bach? The paintings of Michelangelo? The fiction of Flannery O’Conner? The writings of Isaac Newton, Louis Agassiz? A report for school on the Civil Rights Movement based on internet research would be a fluff piece at best. What about an essay on the art, architecture, and mythology of Egypt and Greece using material from museum internet sites? The origins of the civilization in the Fertile Crescent, the history of the Jewish people, the entire story of Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism? The notion that religious expression is something we could, or would even want to filter, is possibly more naive and closed-minded than the ideas than those expressions can often be.

The web is fast becoming the repository of human knowledge, of human history—our own virtual Library of Alexandria, but not nearly as vulnerable to ravages of war and time. But it is vulnerable to those who would oppose safeguards like net neutrality, and even more so, from those that believe particular aspects of human civilization should be purged from the record. The New Atheists fail again and again in responding to one of the essential truths about culture and history, a failure that GodBlock—even if it is merely satire—makes readily apparent: human civilization is indebted to, and woven through with, religious “propaganda.”

Peter Bebergal is the co-author with Scott Korb of The Faith Between Us and writes regularly about religion, science fiction, and music. He blogs at mysterytheater.blogspot.com, and his next book is forthcoming from Soft Skull Press.