Wed 27

Making Sense of Babel

What Max Reckons Atheism seems to be on the rise lately. I say this as someone who has examined no studies nor historical data, but who reads a lot of web sites. I see more people more comfortable with declaring their atheism than ever before. I think it’s at least partly because of the internet, which provides a meeting-place for sharing and reinforcing ideologies: that’s something new for atheists, whereas people of various faiths have always had churches, plus, in many places, pervasive support from their community.

And the internet is not only good at uniting geographically dispersed but like-minded people: it’s also disproportionately popular amongst people with technical and scientific backgrounds, who in turn are disproportionately atheist. So, on balance, the web seems to me to be a net negative for major religion.

Which got me thinking of the Tower of Babel*. According to the Bible, a great tower was built long ago in the city of Babylon; the builders of said tower were a little too pleased with themselves and their achievement, at least for God’s liking. There’s a whiff of the Titanic about this story: arrogance so great that it practically begs for comeuppance.

Which God delivers, of course. It didn’t take much to set God off in the Old Testament; he’d smite you for a backward look. But here, he reacts in a way that at first seems a little odd: no smiting, no plagues; he doesn’t even—stop me if I have this wrong—destroy the tower:

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.

Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.

God is not concerned about the tower itself, or even the arrogance of its builders. That makes sense to me: you can be arrogant in any language, just look at France. God’s issue is with the ease of global communications.

So, as a story about the internet’s role in the decline of organized religion, the Tower of Babel makes perfect sense. I think that’s nifty.

(* Note: Religion is one of those touchy subjects you can’t write about without people looking for hidden agendas. Which is a shame, because religions are crammed full of stories that are interesting and meaningful regardless of how true you consider them to be. In the interests of full disclosure, I personally don’t believe the Bible to be a non-fiction work, but I hope that doesn’t bother you too much, and we can still be friends.)