Genesis 11 — A bunch of Babel
It’s actually almost funny to read the story of the Tower of Babel now as an atheist. It seems so obviously fake that I wonder how many people truly believe it happened. I don’t know if I ever did or not, I don’t think I really thought about it a whole lot, although I do remember us going over it in Sunday School.
Now though, for some reason, it seems even more fake to me than the Noah and the Ark story, maybe because this one is so short and to the point. I just envision a kid asking his dad, "Why do people speak different languages?", and the dad just makes up a story on the spot. And then somehow it ended up getting in the Bible and being taken for real.
But let’s look at the story itself. People all speak the same language. They start moving east. They decide they want a tower to reach up to the heavens. They give two reasons for this: to be famous, and to not be all spread out from each other.
The first reason is what is normally emphasized, from my recollection and understanding. Those uppity humans got too proud and wanted to be like God, so God had to do something about it. But even if we pretend God exists for a moment, what is wrong with us humans trying to "make a name for ourselves" (NIV)? It doesn’t say humans were trying to be better than God, that we were trying to usurp him or outdo him. I don’t think it even implies it. If anything, they were trying to get closer to God. (Like The Police song "O My God") But even if they were trying to show up God, certainly God would know that they could never build a tower high enough to reach him.
Maybe humans were just trying to be like God, like a son follows his dad around and tries to be like him. God created the universe, so humans were trying to do something great, too. What’s wrong with that?
But I don’t think people focus on the second part of the story here. The folks building the Tower of Babel wanted "not be scattered over the face of the whole earth." (NIV) No Google Earth or Street View back then, so building a tower so they could see everyone apparently sounded like a good plan. So basically, humans were spreading out, but didn’t want to be isolated from each other. What’s so wrong with that?
God’s apparently mad and/or threatened that humans would dare to try building a tower that could reach up to him, and jealous and/or threatened that humans would want to stay as one big family instead of being scattered into little groups. So he destroys the tower, makes humans all speak different languages, and spreads them out over the planet. That’ll teach them.
This brings up an interesting thing I had never thought of before. Let’s again pretend we’re in a Christian world and the Bible is true (for the second time in this post; it’s getting scary!). The Bible says it was God’s doing that people are spread out and speaking different languages. So when all the people living in the Americas and other lands unknown to Christians were being sent to hell because they didn’t know Jesus, it was God’s fault. If he hadn’t have taken down the Tower and scattered humans, they would have all kept nearby and in touch. There would have been no American Indians and Chinese thousands of miles away that God would have had to send straight to hell. They would have quickly heard of Jesus’ death-defying feat and at least have been able to be saved!
In his infinite wisdom, God certainly could have chosen a different punishment than ensuring millions of people would be sent to hell for thousands of years just because he spread them around the planet. I wonder what response Christians would have to this, other than we all deserve to die anyway because of original and continuing sin, so the unsaved deserve to die anyway. I think if most Christians took the time like I’m doing to actually go through the Bible and see how everything fits together (or rather doesn’t fit together), there would be a lot more agnostics or atheists.
PS Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. All rights reserved.
Archive for November, 2008
Election commentary—Not out of the woods yet
So Palin was not elected VP after all! That is reassuring on a number of fronts, but especially as religion goes. She very well may have been the most openly religious VP ever had she been elected. And I truly believe she thinks the end of days is upon us and God is calling the shots to get us closer to Judgment Day. Scary that someone with religious views that extreme could get so close to being elected VP.
This presidential election was, as far as I can tell, the most religious in American history. McCain and Obama had a religious debate *before* the official debates, and the candidates’ religions came up frequently during the primary and general election campaigns. This is very dangerous. Our founders got a lot wrong (slavery most notably), but their decision to keep religion separate from government was a milestone in human history after millennia of bloodshed in countries around the world over whose god is better.
While I think Obama has the potential to do a good job as president, his change on a number of positions (most notably campaign finance) worries me. What else will he change his mind on? He seemed, according to a number of observers, to be mostly pandering when he would talk about the importance of faith in his life, the continuation of faith-based initiatives, and other religious matters. He may have been exaggerating or fibbing about his religion because he thought it would help him get elected. But this worries me, because I wonder: will he become "more" religious if it becomes politically expedient for him?
He seemed to be trying to please everyone. He has openly said his father was an atheist, and he claims his stepfather wasn’t very religious. But he claims his faith is very powerful for him. This would appeal to the religious: despite the faithlessness of his parents, he "saw the light" and become Christian. This would also appeal to atheists and the mildly religious, who would see him as being open-minded and exposed to ideas his father or stepdad may have exposed him to.
Some people, both religious and non-religious, say Obama used churches more as a way to get things done than actually representing his beliefs. Some freethinkers might find this to be a relief after 8 years of Bush in office and the risk that Palin would have been a heartbeat away from being president.
But I almost think it would be worse if it turns out Obama truly is not very religious or is areligious. What does that say about him that he would lie about his faith to get elected? A "necessary" compromise of his values? I certainly would understand on some level, being a rather secret atheist myself, but I’m not running for public office and do not lie to hundreds of millions of people about my beliefs. He either should not have commented on his religion (reminding people of the no-religious-test clause of the Constitution) or should have been upfront with the American people. If he’s a true believer, then I guess we’re getting what was advertised.
Whether he is a true believer or not, I don’t think we’re out of the woods yet regarding the increasing intrusion of religion in the public sphere. Religion is still likely to play a big role in the foreseeable future here in the US, and there is nothing in what I read or heard in Obama’s speeches that gives any indication that he would do anything to start working towards fighting the increasing presence of religion in our political system. The fact that more and more atheists and agnostics are coming out does give me some hope though.
Genesis 10 — Family tree, very silly
I’ve been gone for a while (hard to believe it’s been almost a month) due to being busy again. I’ll try to be able to post quickly at least once a week in the future. If I take a month in-between posts, I may never get through the Bible!
Genesis 10 is an easy one to knock off. It’s mostly a family tree of Grandpa Noah, that great guy God chose as the father of humanity. I guess if you’re trying to keep a play-by-play history of the Israelites, this might be vaguely useful, but what it’s doing in a Holy Book meant for the whole world I’m not sure.
I guess if we had any way of knowing whether or not these people were real and what they did, and the significance of the places they allegedly went to, it could be an interesting footnote. I guess I’ll find out how many of these people and places actually play a role in the rest of the story, but my hunch and recollection is most of them will not. Once again, God could use an editor to cut out all the bloat in this book.
One interesting thing to note is that it talks about people having different languages. We haven’t yet heard the story of the Tower of Babel yet. Is it possible different languages developed *before* God allegedly did so? Houston, we have a problem!