Babel: What is the story really about?

The story of the tower of Babel in Gen 11 is a conspicuous one. Chapter 10 gives Noah’s lineage, then out of nowhere, we’re told a story about how humans were all together and decided to build a city to remain together. After this brief interlude, the lineage of Shem continues all the way to the death of Terah, Abraham’s dad.

Interestingly, in the Babel story, Yahuah comes down to see humanity’s great city. Yahuah inhibits their communications and collective efforts by giving them different languages. Therefore, they eventually split up according to their languages, abandoning their utopian dreams of a forever united humanity.

Why wouldn’t our creator want us to be united?

On one hand, we might think unity is the ideal state of humankind – one world, one people, one language, one mind. Everything we are naturally inclined to do as human beings foster a one-world order. For example, we tend to want others to believe what we believe, hence we form groups, churches, clubs, etc. Contrarily, we seek to understand or identify with others’ beliefs. We are drawn to people like ourselves. We also relentlessly believe in and fight for unity or comradery, even if only with groups we identify with – people within similar religious beliefs, culture, race, economic class, or educational background.

One the other hand. We rally for diversity, discussing its value – believing that our differences make us a stronger and better humanity.

But can we have both?

Could we have evolved in a single culture to be uniquely individual? Would we have the value of our collective differences if we evolved in a single tribe? Could we even evolve, if we all did and believed the same things?

I answer no to all these questions. It’s obvious to me that we could either be the same or different. We could either have the values and challenges of unity or of diversity. A single tribe with a single belief, ideology, and culture could not produce an adequate human experience. That is, we could not learn and grow from our interactions with people who are different, live differently, and speak differently. We would lose the value of the effects that our exposure to different cultures, ideas, and beliefs have on the expansion of our thinking and our compassion.

Think about it… What benefit did the children of Israel experience from being nomadic and enslaved repeatedly throughout history? Abraham learned how to be a Godly husband from the Philistine, Abimelech. Perhaps, his descendants’ journey was to become an anti-Babel – a people whose identity is tied to the whole world. A people whose experiences with different cultures overtime built a distinct culture of its own.

The other truth about Babel…

Although we have the collective power to do great things, it’s not always in mankind’s best interest to do them. One would think that humanity working together to build a safe place for them all to dwell is a good thing. But in many cases, if we knew the whole story and could see the big picture, we wouldn’t think that all seemingly great things are so great.

If you’ve ever left an okay job for a terrible one or an okay situation for an unbearable one, you know what I mean. As they say at home, “the grass ain’t always greener on the other side.”

Thinking about Babel…

In the babel of religious dogma, the message of this story is lost. Humanity tried to build a tower to heaven and it made god mad… Is that the story we’re still going with? Or can we safely say that it was in this moment that, despite their human instinct to belong, be similar and be together, diversity was forced on our ancient ancestors because it is a necessity for human development? I believe it was then and is now!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *