Of towers and false unities

Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, ‘Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.’ They used brick instead of stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.’ But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 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. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.’ So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel– because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

Genesis 11 is a classic passage that we were taught in Sunday School. Humanity was getting way too big for its boots in building a tower and God decides to slap them down.

Jose Miguez Bonino, however, has a rather different and, in my opinion more coherent interpretation. Instead of the one language being the original human language, he proposes that this was an imposed language of Shinar, the forerunner of Babylon. The Incas and the Spanish used this policy of social control in Latin America. There was only one language allowed to be used and so people and things can be monitored.

The tower itself was a symbol of the power of the empire to dominate the peoples around. So when God comes down, first to look and then to mix up the languages, this is an act of liberation from the dominance of empire.

The language and the tower are false symbols of unity, which God destroys.

There are so many false unities in the world today. These false unities are things like capitalism, democracy or even the fight against “terror”. In the church their are false unities such as denominations, traditions, styles of worship and conferences.

All true unity should be unity around that which liberates not that which enslaves. The true unity is Jesus Christ.