Wednesday, July 16, 2003

A Metaphor for our times

And the earth was of one tongue and of the same speech.

And when they removed from the land of the East, they found a plain in the land of Sennaar and dwelt in it.

And each one said to his neighbor: “Come, let us make brick and bake them in fire”, and they had brick instead of stones, and slime instead of mortar.

And they said: “Come, let us make a city and a tower, the top whereof may reach heaven: and let us make our name famous, before we be scattered abroad to all lands.”

And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of Adam were building.

And He said: “Behold, it is one people and all have one tongue, and they have begun to do this, neither will they leave off from their designs till they accomplish them in deed.”

“Come ye, therefore, let us go down and there confound their tongue, that they may not understand one another’s speech.”

And so the Lord scattered them from that place into all lands, and they ceased to build the city

And therefore the name thereof was called Babel, because there the language of the whole earth was confounded and from thence the Lord scattered them abroad upon the face of all the countries.


Most of the time, I think of this story in Genesis as ‘The Abbreviated History of Secular Humanism.’ We start with a civilization where every one shares a common tongue (Christianity) and are of one speech (Catholicism). Over time, we use our talents to create new technologies. This is how life should be.

Then we make a monumental mistake! Rather than employing our talents and our technologies to glorify God, we use them to glorify man. Our orientation has become distorted. Sooner or later, the fruits of our labor must reflect that distortion.

If our love of neighbor is premised on our love of God, we can serve our neighbor (and ourselves) both wisely and well. However, if we base our service purely on love of man, it degenerates into self-deification. Although we may have noble goals, such as the universal well-being of man, our actions will inevitably bring us to a contrary condition.

In the parable, God takes note of our deviance. To save us from ourselves, He confounds men’s speech. If you imagine that I am putting too benign an interpretation on God’s action, consider for a moment where our ‘humanist’ bio-ethics and biotechnology are taking us. Remember, God’s act is based on the reality that men will not ‘leave off from their designs till they accomplish them in deed.’

Personally, I don’t imagine that this Godly act requires direct intervention in history. It appears more likely that it is one of the natural consequences of our reorientation from God to man. …And it is happening now.

Just look around us today. Although we appear to share the same language, we are attaching increasing divergent meanings to the words we employ. In addition, we are moving farther away from each other in terms of our initial assumptions and underlying values. This is occurring even as we attempt to build bridges between us.

Historically, in an effort to maintain a ‘public square’, Christians moved their dialogue from one based on a personal God to one based on Deism. As that consensus broke down, the shared premise became Humanism. Today, even that consensus is not broad enough to include all the secular viewpoints being aired. The atomization within secularism is proceeding at an even greater pace than it has within Protestantism.

Perhaps it is an act of God. More likely it is a natural outgrowth of distorting our human nature. Either way, our humanist paradigm has confounded our speech. I suspect that it is high time we return to our original language. Possibly the alternative is that we risk being scattered into quite primitive and antagonistic tribes.

Of course, one could always take the attitude that the Tower of Babel was written by primitives thousands of years ago . What could they know of the Modern Age?

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