Oh, that Damascus road!

caravaggio conversion of paul on road to damascus wAs the masthead of this weblog says, we all know that there are times when reporters just don't "get" religion. And then there are times when it seems that copy editors just don't "get" what some religious terms mean or do not mean. It's a puzzle. But reader Herb Ely sent the GetReligionistas a note this morning that, if you stop and think about it, seems to break totally new territory. What if the computers at a major newspaper have been programmed in such a way that they don't "get" religion? How's that for confusing?

I think I had better unpack that a bit.

One of the things that major newspapers have started doing in the digital age is adding content to traditional print stories through URLs that zip readers away, via search engines, to collections of background information about subjects included in the story. You know, weblog style.

Take, for example, the Washington Post story by reporter Michael D. Shear about the debate ("Republicans Debate Their Conservative Bona Fides") in Columbia, S.C., between all the GOP White House candidates. To no one's surprise, some of the candidates -- think James S. Gilmore III, Sen. John McCain, Rudolph W. Giuliani, etc. -- began jabbing at each other about various flip flops or non-flip flops on sexy social issues dear to the hearts of cultural conservatives.

In that context, we find this paragraph:

Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado also referred to his rivals' sometimes changing positions, saying, "I trust those conversions when they happen on the road to Damascus, not on the road to Des Moines."

Well, someone, somewhere in the Post news operation decided to highlight the word "Damascus" and link to a page of resources to help the reader understand the reference. Click here to see the somewhat comical results yielded by the computer search. Meanwhile, if your Google both "Damascus" and "road" you get this more accurate result.

The bottom line: I am 99.99 percent sure that the actual "road to Damascus" being referenced by Tancredo is the one described in the Book of Acts, chapter nine, where the man named Saul/Paul gets zapped in one of the most famous conversion experiences of all time.

As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"

"Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked.

"I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied. "Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do."

However, there may not be very many references to this Damascus road in the Washington Post digital archives. So perhaps we should resist from teasing the computer that did the search or the journalist who defined the borders of its search. You think?

Art: Caravaggio, St. Paul on the Road to Damascus

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