Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏹️

'Tower of Babel', chalk drawing by Tobias Mayer, imposed on a photograph of Gaza, Palestine

And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. / And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. / And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. / So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.
Genesis 11:1/4/6/8

This story brings to mind hostile takeovers. We live in a world where big companies eat smaller companies, becoming huge and bloated, subjugating individual cultures and imposing their own. One language, one speech. This is simply the latest chapter in a generations-long history of invasion, conquer and subjugation, the corporate equivalent of the "civilising" carried out by powerful countries on the less powerful, and often unwary.

It's interesting to note that at this point in the Biblical narrative (assuming chronology) the whole earth was not of one language. In Genesis 10:5 we read, in relation to the descendants of Noah, "By these were the isles of the Gentiles divided in their lands; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations." So seventy tongues, but by Genesis 11:1 just one tongue. This rather implies some kind of hostile takeover. Researching further I found Rabbi Jonathan Sacks's fascinating take on this, and I quote:

"The neo-Assyrians [the conquering race of the time] asserted their supremacy by insisting that their language was the only one to be used by the nations and populations they had defeated. On this reading, Babel is a critique of imperialism."1

This story, just a few short verses, in some ways encapsulates the whole scripture, which theologian Walter Wink describes as "a fundamental conflict between the Domination System and the rule of God".2 More specifically Babel warns us to beware of monolithic culture, and the consequent loss of individual thought, values and even history.

Closer to home, we might ask ourselves in what areas of our lives do we try to dominate. What towers of conceit and self-admiration are we building? What subjugation are we inflicting on others—and equally important, what hostile takeovers are we vulnerable to ourselves, where that which we hold dear may be compromised?

Today the whole world appears to be speaking in one language—a language of very few words, "mask", "isolate" and "vaccinate" being the primary ones. I must wonder where I am in this monolith, and hold on to my values and faith, lest I get wholly swallowed up.

1 Individual and Collective Responsibility, Jonathan Sacks, 21/10/2016
2 The Powers That Be: Theology for a New Millennium by Walter Wink, Bantam Doubleday Dell, 01/06/2000