The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” – Genesis 11:6-7
I was having lunch with my godfather, a semi-retired Presbyterian minister, recently, and the conversation turned (as it often does) to the stories we tell ourselves. It is something of an occupational hazard for pastors to speak in and of parables, and this particular conversation was not an exception to that tendency. As we sat there trying to make sense of the latest calamities to befall our society. it occurred to me that the Tower of Babel was an apt analogy to our current situation.
As the story in Genesis goes, the people of creation decided that they wanted to build a tower so as to reach Heaven and meet their creator. God, seeing this, was so concerned that they might succeed that he scrambled their tongues, simultaneously making it so the people could no longer communicate and creating the many languages of the Earth.
This is, of course, not a literal story, but a parable told to explain why there are so many different languages. As we sat talking about the current political, religious and pandemic issues facing our country, though, it seemed to me that we are simply no longer able to speak to each other. Considering that the majority (I think!) of Americans speak English, this is particularly dismaying.
My godfather, for example, is fond of saying that the Evangelical wing of the Christian church does “violence” to scripture with the way they cherry-pick the Bible. Leviticus is a particular favorite of the pickers, who ignore the laws about wearing cotton/polyester blends and selling daughters into slavery in order to persecute the LGBTQ community. Jesus, of course, was mute on the subject of sexual preference, though his mandate to love your neighbor as yourself and judge not lest ye be judged would seem to preclude the need to persecute anyone.
“God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” – John 3:17.
Oh yeah. There’s that, too. Thanks, John! That passage can be read many different ways, but I take it to mean that Jesus came to be an example for us to emulate. If we were to take that seriously it would greatly enhance our ability to talk with each other in terms of religion. As it stands, we seem to be too busy trying to make God fit our own agenda to take the lessons he taught through Jesus too seriously.
That brings us to politics. As I have discussed at length in other blog posts, Americans have successfully pigeonholed ourselves into one category or another and the “news” (infotainment) industry has made it easy to never encounter anything we disagree with…even accidentally. I can tune in to MSNBC or CNN and come to the conclusion that everything wrong with the world can be tied directly to Donald J. Trump. I can tune in to FOX News or listen to Rush Limbaugh and come to the conclusion that Trump is the second coming of Christ and is restoring our country to some mythological past when America was God’s kingdom on Earth.
Where might one go to find news that is not about Trump at all? I really don’t know, but I DO know there is much more that we need to be talking about as a species if we are to survive into the next century.
How about public health? Surely this is an issue where we can all agree. Well, not so much. Even as the world battles its first pandemic in over a century we find that we can’t even agree about this eminent threat to our very existence. It’s easy to find authoritative articles stating in no uncertain terms that wearing a mask is the 100% best way to stop the spread of COVID-19. Unfortunately, it’s also easy to find articles saying that none of the masks available are up to the job. There are also plenty of people out there who believe COVID-19 is a government conspiracy, that mandating the wearings masks is an unforgivable attempt to steal individual freedom, and all kinds of other crazy stuff.
I wear a mask when I go out in public, but I can’t honestly tell you whether it does any good or not because the flow of information in this country is entirely too subjective. I just figure it’s better to be safe than sorry. Besides, I have some cool Dallas Mavericks masks made for me by a friend and I don’t mind representing the home team.
As we made the rounds through these subjects, my godfather offered up the idea that, much like those mythical builders of the Tower of Babel, we who have been attempting to build a shining city on the global hill may also be on the verge of utter and absolute failure. When the members of a community reach a conversational and ideological impasse, the community can’t be sustained for long.
The COVID-19 pandemic may or may not spell the end of the American experiment, but if we continue to insist on creating our own set of facts and refusing to even listen to other points of view, the experiment will end one way or the other.