No King But Cesar

It was one of those modern moments that would be impossible to parody. On Easter Sunday, visitors to Google’s main site were greeted with a unique doodle portraying a solemn-faced figure. Robed all in white and gazing meditatively towards the far horizon, he looked positively Messianic. Had Google, for the first time in the company’s history, decided to tip its hat to triumphant Risen Christ? Of course not. The man pictured was the late Cesar Chavez, who also happened to be born on March 31. When asked to explain this odd choice, the company explained that “it’s difficult for us to choose” which event to commemorate on a given day. In other words, they had actively considered the options, and decided that Chavez was more worthy of notice than Jesus Christ.

What exactly were the Google executives thinking? They could have let the day pass unmarked, and nobody would have minded. Instead, they chose to pay tribute to an obscure cultural figure on a day when hundreds of thousands of their users were celebrating the holiest day of their liturgical year. It’s tempting to see the gesture as an intentional insult to Christians, but personally I think the real truth may be more pathetic than twisted. On a day when Roman Christians are rejoicing in the salvation of mankind, forlorn Google executives may have felt a yearning for some festivities of their own. Conveniently, Barack Obama had in 2011 designated March 31 Cesar Chavez Day, so Google lifted its eyes to the mountains and beheld an inspirational figure of a sort that they could understand.

In many ways, Google’s ridiculous antics were revealing of a more familiar trend. Humans have always been apt to ignore the divine drama of human salvation, looking instead to the tawdry and ephemeral narrative of the political sphere. (I can almost picture them patting themselves on the back for honoring a person who “really did something” instead of the semi-mythical founder of a religious cult.) God’s ways can be frustratingly inscrutable, and he doesn’t always give us the answers that we want. By contrast, the political realm is (or often seems to be) ours to command, and it provides, at least for a short while, a passable substitute for the true human story, namely, that of our fall and redemption. The Jews made the mistake of seeing a political leader in their Messiah. Since that time, countless others have made the parallel mistake of making a Messiah out of one who was merely a man.

When we appreciate the quasi-eschatological significance that progressive unbelievers attach to the political sphere, we may better understand the zeal with which they seek to defy God and nature by blessing unreality with the sanction of law. Recent events have provided us with a clear example in the fight over “marriage equality.” Biology, psychology and centuries of human experience resoundingly affirm that man and woman are ordered to one another in a way that two men or two women can never be. Properly understood, homosexual marriage is not so much a travesty as a misunderstanding; it is not possible for two people of the same sex to marry. Nevertheless, nothing currently prevents homosexual couples from imitating the time-honored arrangement of conjugal marriage to the best of their ability. The zeal and belligerence with which progressives now pursue legal marriage for homosexuals (refusing even to be satisfied with an equivalent package of benefits and protections awarded under a different name) reveals a desire for something more than legal benefits. Progressives want law to bestow on homosexual relationships the normativity that nature herself has denied them. Having put their faith in politics, they are confident that politics can deliver whatever their hearts desire.

We find a slightly more complicated case in the Obama Administration’s HHS Mandate, which was shocking not just for its audacity, but also for its gratuitousness. The administration is intent to see that contraceptives and sterilization be provided free of charge in every health insurance plan. But contraceptives are already ubiquitous, inexpensive, and medically unnecessary. (Or, insofar as they are needed to treat an actual medical problem, Catholics have no moral objection to providing them.) Why trample the religious freedom of thousands in order to solve a problem that, to all appearances, did not exist? The measure seemed even more ill-advised given that (as demographers darkly warn) our society is in no danger of being overrun by babies. From a social standpoint it would make more sense to subsidize those who are producing and rearing the next generation.

Clearly, to the authors and proponents of the mandate, more was at stake than simple expedience. In their minds the measure was not gratuitous, because the problem being addressed was a moral one. Justice, not practicality, was their object. Against whom, though, the charge of injustice be levied? Fertility is bestowed on humans by God or by nature, not by the decree of the Roman Pontiff. It seems, then, that nature herself must stand accused by the agents of progressive justice. To them, nature’s decision to make the exercise of sexuality fruitful (whether or not the human agents wish for it to be), and to assign to women a disproportionately burdensome role in childbearing, is intolerable. An outrage of this magnitude requires a firm response. By enshrining contraceptives and sterilization as an entitlement, the Mandate seeks to trump the normativity of nature with a new, politically manufactured normativity. Henceforth, no woman shall be fertile against her will.

Having witnessed these ludicrous attempts to litigate away basic natural facts, it’s easy to understand why Christians might decide that political involvement just isn’t worth the effort. Democratic governance is meant to encourage citizens to reason and debate together, but the far left seems to have unmoored itself from reality in such a way as to stymie any serious conversation. At such a time, our own parishes, communities and homes may seem to provide a much-needed refuge from a world that is descending rapidly into madness.

Of course, we may soon find that even these safe havens are soon besieged if we give up the fight. But also, in the spirit of the Easter Sunday that even Google troubled (albeit somewhat perversely) to notice, we should consider that, in the end, it is we who possess the real goods that these progressive crusaders crave. Like all people, liberal unbelievers yearn for love and marriage, absolution and redemption, inspiration and hope. They will not find them in the places where they are currently looking. But if they tire of searching then we, who have been so graciously favored, must be ready to point them away from the barren wasteland of progressive politics, and towards the Lord of Life.

Rachel Lu


Rachel Lu, a Catholic convert, teaches philosophy at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota where she lives with her husband and four boys. Dr. Lu earned her Ph.D. in philosophy at Cornell University. Follow her on Twitter at rclu.

  • FernieV

    Thank you, Rachel. Great article!

  • Scott Waddell

    They should change the motto on U.S. Currency to

    non habemus deum nisi Caesarem

  • Reets46

    Yes, nice to see this article. I was disappointed in the Google Easter choice, but not surprised. However, I just read the Crisis article The Passion of Cesar Chavez by Christopher Shannon, and gained a deeper understanding of who Chavez was. He was pretty much co-opted by the Marxist left and his deep Catholic faith has always been overlooked, if not deliberately suppressed. Having said that, he wasn’t the Risen Lord Jesus! I would have preferred flowers and colored eggs and bunnies to a substitute messiah.

  • poetcomic1

    Chavez was a fierce defender of America’s Hispanic farm workers against against the big growers’ tactic of bringing in cheap illegals and temporary workers from Mexico to break the migrant union. We are at the point, however, where history is being ‘manufactured to order’.
    I don’t need Google to affirm my faith – one learns to just shrug off a million little slights and concentrate on the big things – such as trying live a decent life in the middle of this 24/7 Porn Palace Freak Show.

  • Rachel Lu

    I expect Chavez himself would have been just as bewildered by the doodle. Clearly, it was not his faith that Google intended to honor!

    • alex

      Cesar Chavez was partly inspired by a close Catholic priest of his, so I bet even Chavez himself would have been disappointed at how Google employees/execs are using him as a tool to promote secularism. Shame on Google.

  • Caroline

    Google can do whatever it wants on its main site. Who is looking to Google or any other corporation for spiritual guidance. We don’t get to make decisions about spirituality or religion for Google. Google doesn’t do the same for us. Why worry about it?

    • Scott Waddell

      Who’s worried about it? The article is meant as a kind of A Man for All Seasons where More says, “I show you the times.” The Christian’s attitude and mission shouldn’t change, but it is important to wake up to the fact that the treasury of goodwill Christians have enjoyed for a long time has run dry.

      • Teddy

        “…the treasury of goodwill Christians have enjoyed for a long time has run dry.”

        Gee, why would that be? After 2000 years of lies, distortions, inquisitions, misogyny and outright insanity, maybe humans have had enough of your voodoo.

        • Scott Waddell

          This is the branch rebelling against the tree-trunk. Success means your own destruction.

  • Bono95

    Did Cesar Chavez proclaim a national Barrack Obama day, and if so, what day is it? :-/

  • Julie

    “..assign to women a disproportionately burdensome role in childbearing, is intolerable.” It is sad that our society has turned what is beautiful, childbearing, into a burden. I always looked at it as a priviledge to carry a baby and give birth. Giving and nurturing life is such a wonderful gift from God. I often feel sorry for men that they cannot. I think it is good God gave the priesthood to men since He gave women the gift of child bearing.

    • Rachel Lu

      I wouldn’t hesitate to call childbearing burdensome. But burdens can be blessings and vice-versa. Love is burdensome; it lays heavy, and sometimes almost unbearable, demands on us, but I certainly wouldn’t choose to do without it. Rationality is burdensome. How much easier to be one of the lilies of the field! But, it’s in shouldering these burdens that we realize our nature (which is much greater than that of a lily.)

      • Bono95

        They say nothing worth having ever comes easy, and children are certainly no exception.

  • joe

    Good to see article by a prof from my alma mater. Philosophy dept there was excellent when i attended (late 80′ s early 90’s Prof’s Degnan/Berquist Etc. many now prob. retired) Hope to see future articles from Ms. Lu.

  • Tony

    Greetings, Rachel! Excellent essay. I do wonder when we have to say, “Our politics are quite mad — and there is no point engaging in arguments with madmen.” When you have writers of news articles referring to a confused boy as “she,” because he “identifies” as a girl, then it’s time for laughter, and reconstruction of some community life among the ruins.

    • Rachel Lu

      Yes, I fear that “trans-genderedness” may actually be the next frontier for progressive justice. I mean, it really was terrible of God to violate our autonomy by making us all one sex or the other without any consideration for our personal preferences. We’d better rectify that.

  • What this article doesn’t reveal is that Google has NEVER promoted anything having to do with Easter or Christ since it launched. It was just pure coincidence that Cesar Chavez’s birthday happened to be on Easter this year. It is not a conspiracy against any religion. To write that Google “chose” Cesar Chavez instead is a complete lie and a shows a lack of research on the topic. It only serves to get people to think this was a deliberate slight, which it was not.

    • Rachel Lu

      Actually, Google did an Easter doodle in 2000. Haven’t done one since. But, a couple of things. First of all, even if they’ve decided not to observe a particular occasion, it’s not up to Google simply to negate its cultural relevance. Observing a ludicrously obscure cultural holiday (one that most people weren’t even aware of) on Easter Sunday is absurd and very conspicuous. It’s entirely natural for people to read it as a snub.

      Second of all, please note that Google’s own explanation of the incident is anything but conciliatory. They might have said, “You know, we generally don’t celebrate religious holidays at Google, and we were just so excited to celebrate Cesar Chavez Day that we decided it would be okay to go ahead even though it happened to fall on Easter Sunday. We’re sorry that some people saw it as a slight to Christians, but we certainly had no such intention.”

      A statement like that would have been at least moderately exonerating. That’s not what Google said, however. What they said was that it was “hard to choose” which day to commemorate. Indicating that, yes, Easter was in the running, but the Google execs had just decided that it was less worthy of notice.

  • Tony Esolen

    I haven’t used Groggle since. There are other search engines.

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  • Charles Clarke

    Dr. Lu, I appreciate your take on your article, but ” Instead, they chose to pay tribute to an obscure cultural figure” you apparently have no insight as to who Cesar Chavez is. He was a very devout Catholic who fought a pitch battle with the powers to be at the time to establish the United Farm Workers Union to better the lot for the farm workers who are continually abused by the farm contractors and farmers in California’s central valley. He is considered a Saint by some and a Devil by others. He is anything but an obscure cultural figure. Blessed Dorothy Day is somewhat better known but would it be fair to label her an obscure cultural figure? Cesar Chavez worked his entire life in pursuit of social justice as did Dorothy Day. Whether or not Google exercised good judgement is a different matter. Cesar Chavez is worthy of honor.

    • Rachel Lu

      I suppose “obscure” is debatable. I do know who he was, but I suppose I just figured that a person could reasonably be called “obscure” if every story covering the Google bit felt it necessary to explain who Chavez was at some early point in the story. I certainly wouldn’t have hesitated to call Bl. Dorothy Day “an obscure cultural figure” either.

      I mean no disrespect to either of them, of course. But the point, so far as I’m concerned, is that no one could possibly have thought Google remiss for not celebrating Chavez’s birthday. It would never have occurred to anyone to expect it. That being the case, it’s reasonable to question their motives when they put up the doodle on Easter Sunday.

  • GrahamCombs

    In fact Christmas Day was not acknowledged by Google either — instead they offered links to the ancient history of the greeting “Happy Holidays” going back yea even unto the 1970s. Google is anti-Christian of that there is little doubt.

  • Ronk

    Who the Hell is Cesar Chavez?

  • Alex

    I can’t wait for the day when every knee (including those of the secularist Google employees & militant atheists) will bow to the name of Jesus.

  • Alex

    Mark my words today the homosexual crowds with the support of godless secular crowds want to steal marriage today, but the next step (if they succeed) tomorrow will be to steal Holy Matrimony in churches.

    • mally el

      They may try to steal marriage but two of the same gender do not a marriage make.
      They may try to steal Holy Matrimony but if God is not present there is no sacrament.

      • alex

        mally el, that’s not the point of my post (of course Holy Church will always defend true Holy Matrimony as instituted by Christ Himself). My point was to show how the godless/secular/homosexual crowds will never be satisfied in their quest for everybody to legalize, recognize, & celebrate their sins. They don’t realize that sin (which means to go against God’s will) cannot be changed (even if man pretends to do so by legalizing sins) because God alone Revealed to us what goes against His will (sin) & in God’s eyes a Sin will remain a Sin forever as He revealed to us through Jesus (the Truth embodied Himself) that Truth (unlike man-made deceits, idols,lies, greed, arrogance, disobedience, etc.) is Everlasting & God cannot change the status of a sin because it goes against the Divine Nature of Truth which is to be unchanging & everlasting. Everything else fades. So those supporting, promoting & practicing Same-sex “marriage” or homosexuality (acts) are in grave mortal sin & in desparate need of repentance. Accept Christ’s forgiveness from sin (to be reconciled with God) & the Holy Spirit (which is meant to give us the God-given strength to sin no more) to follow Christ’s own comand after forgiving sins to “go, and sin NO more” (Jn 8:11).

    • Teddy

      Trust me, there isn’t a Gay person alive who wants anything to do with your church.

      • Mike

        Yes, in fact there are many. I humbly recommend that you get outside of your comfort zone and improve your bigoted perspective.

  • Wthoma01

    For those interested look up No I don’t work there, I found them when I wanted to get away from google and bing. They support conservative principles, may or may not be political I don’t know. Either way I’m trying to make an active effort not to provide funding to those that fund anti catholic principles. Thought I’d pass on to my brothers and sisters. God bless.

  • Tim

    “It seems, then, that nature herself must stand accused by the agents of progressive justice.” Add two additional areas legally allowed because we are victims of our nature. One, free access to inappropriate adult material, in our TV programs, well just about everywhere. Why? People can’t control their nature and must be allowed an outlet, no matter how destructive to the culture. Two, euthanasia. Found more in Europe but slowly coming to the USA.

  • sanfordandsons

    Google is a dangerous organization much like where the Comedy Show is the source of news for the uninformed, thusly Google is the source of information for those same folks, well not everybody, but you get my drift. I abhor anything Goooogle and stay away from their products although DISCUS uses your Google mail address information which essentially keeps track of everything I write on Discus. Sigh.

  • Tim

    “It seems, then, that nature herself must stand accused by the agents of progressive justice.”

    A Wall Street Journal opinion piece from yesterday “A Conservative Case for Gay Marriage” 100% confirms your argument but from the conservative side.