Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Reflections on Babel

Does God punish progress? Would He prefer that we live like the Amish without technology and modern conveniences? Does He long for the days when we dwelt in caves and foraged for our food in the woods?

If God does not punish progress, then how do you explain the story of the Tower of Babel? They wanted to marshal their abilities to build the greatest city ever featuring a tower that would pierce the clouds. But God is offended by their efforts, confusing their speech to frustrate their ambitions. Shouldn’t God as a loving Father take delight in the initiative of His children rather than place obstacles in their way?

We were made in God’s image and likeness and we must strive to be like God in every way. However, while the good man seeks to be like God in His mercy, the evil man schemes to be like God in His power. The good man strives to be like God so that he can live in peace with his Maker and his fellow men. The evil man strives to be like God so he can replace Him, have no more need for Him, and then exercise dominion over his fellow men. The story of Babel ends in confused speech because, when we seek to replace God, human community is destroyed in the process.

The story of today’s world is the story of Babel. We have made great strides in technology, medicine and the sciences. We live longer and healthier lives. But our society is breaking down. Our minds have traveled faster than our spirits, and we have lost ourselves in the journey. We have debunked every myth, reduced every mystery, split every atom, but we can find no meaning in it anymore.

G.K. Chesterton wrote that in a universe without God, there is no room for man. By trying to write God out of the equation, we find ourselves in a situation in which we cannot explain why humans are superior to animals, why we should not experiment on and destroy human lives at their initial stages and we why should not kill off the sick. What seemed self-evident just a generation ago - the dignity of every human life - is indefensible and even offensive to many.

What kind of progress is that?

God does not punish progress. He gave us our intellects so that we could unlock the mysteries of nature and benefit from them. But when the pursuit of progress becomes an end in itself, when, for the sake of progress, the poor are exploited, innocent lives are sacrificed, and the voices of conscience are silenced, then we have made no progress at all. We have simply slid back into tyranny.

The gift of the Spirit poured out on Pentecost shows the way to another type of progress, a progress that leads to community rather than disunity, to remembering rather than dismembering. The Spirit points us to a law written in our hearts which is greater than the law of survival of the fittest or the law of supply and demand. It is a law that recognizes the innate dignity of each person, a dignity that cannot be reduced to dollars and cents or to convenience and expediency. When I recognize the face of God in my fellow human beings, I cannot turn my back on them in their need or exploit them to satisfy my own needs. I cannot treat them as objects for my pleasure or material gain. They are persons like me, and more importantly, in the likeness of God.

To see one another in terms of empathy rather than competition - that is real progress. And real progress is what God rewards - progress directed toward enriching us rather than diminishing us.

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