Reflections on the Tower of Babel, pt. 2
“And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down there and confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth. And from there the LORD dispersed them over the face of all the earth.” Gen. 11:6-9
Why would an almighty God fear the works of His lowly creation? Could he really think so highly of men—the same He had, only a few generations earlier, nearly destroyed by way of flood—as to believe that “nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them”? What sort of men were these Babelites?
What sort of minds did we possess before our languages were confused?
Remarkably, I believe that those were one and the same as the men who build our towers today; who get themselves elected to public office; who clog the laboratories and lecture halls of the world’s most prestigious institutions. We are one and the same, and as I wrote before, our towers are one and the same, even if they look a bit different. Man has realized that there are no foreseeable limits to what he might accomplish with his hands, but the struggle for societal achievement—the striving after an earthly utopia—remains beyond our reach, the one thing we continue striving toward year after year.
Few are unfamiliar with the saying “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Of those familiar with this maxim, surely fewer still would disagree in sentiment if not in absolute fact. What the Christian knows—and what makes him a radically different animal from many of the other religions of the world—is that this maxim, and likewise God’s admonition at Babel, are not intended as outward judgments, but rather inward convictions. The warnings against man’s haughtiness and self-righteousness are not only true of and applicable to “the other guy,” but to ourselves. The warning against the corrupting force of power is not a thing to be held true only when speaking of someone else; it is a clear and accurate statement about the heart of every man, and no amount of biological or sociological evolution will ever render it antiquated. It is indeed to be applied toward all men, but toward our own hearts with far more fervor.
The truth of this is also, I might add, a thing that some Christians tragically have yet to learn. The Christian ought never to think that the world will be made perfect and righteous if only Christians are put in charge. He ought never to think that the leaders of the church will prove any less corruptible. He ought never to assume that he himself is above the tendency to create something that might supersede his own need for God.
We alternate between ecstasy and agony as our selected political leaders rise and fall, as if we truly believe that an election might be a means of transforming our nation at last into that place we have oft dreamed of—the place of universal peace and universal justice, of equality for all, of love between all, of hope by all.
Malcolm Muggeridge offers hope when our utopias fail: “After all, no more terrible disaster could befall us than that one or other of the twentieth century’s nightmare utopias should come to pass: that men should veritably prove capable of constructing one or other of their kingdoms of heaven on earth, with abundance ever broadening down from gross national product to gross national product; with motorways reaching from pole to pole; with eros released to beget a regulation two offspring, like a well-behaved child at a party eating just two cakes; with all our genes counted and arranged to produce only beauty queens and Mensa IQs, the divergents thrown away with the hospital waste; with the media providing Muzak and Newsak around the clock to delight and inform us; with the appropriate drugs and medicaments available to cure all actual and potential ills.”
The list of potential Towers we have built, even in the past century, is staggering. It is somehow simultaneously extraordinary and cause for great shame. The 20’s saw the vast and unprecedented growth in America turn almost at once, as with the turning of a knob, into a Great Depression. The Third Reich arose, seeking to cleanse the world of those they presumed unclean, and instead only succeeded in murdering their countrymen and cleansing Germany of all wealth and power, while at the same stroke robbing Europe of its security, and robbing humanity of faith in itself. The Soviet Union followed the utopia-making playbook, step by step, and destroyed itself in the Gulags and the food lines. China sought to cure itself of overpopulation by murdering its female children while America, not even saddled with overpopulation, has taken to murdering its own children for reasons that have yet to be fully discovered or understood.
It is a stark reality: a perfect society, a utopia, of almost half of our nation today would include the law whose fourth decade is being commemorated this very week—a law that has succeeded only in littering our hospitals with the stillborn corpses of the unwanted “growths” so mercifully cut out of our women. That in the name of justice! That in the name of creating for ourselves a world to be proud of!
I can only pray that God is as merciful toward us as he was to those ancient tower-builders; I pray that He looks at the things we build, the things that we hope will make us into our own gods; and casts them down, destroying the things themselves and casting us into confusion. I can only pray that He extends as much grace toward those who twist their own consciences in order to excuse mass infanticide as He did when He cried, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” on the occasion of the greatest injustice of them all!
God, we pray that you have mercy on us as we make every effort to undo the immense act of mercy that was the confusion of Babel. May we continue to be scattered, hopeless in and of ourselves, unblinded by the fog of human achievement and personal glory, and hopelessly reliant on You alone—the One who alone can free us eternally from ourselves and give us hope for the future.