I have just been inspired to write this piece by an arguably throwaway comment on my YouTube channel in response to a recent video on the Tower of Babel. Sometimes, comments that are intended as light-hearted jest actually contain some theological or philosophical punch. I found this with my book The Little Book of Unholy Questions [UK], which I really enjoyed writing.
The comment went something along the lines of this: Since God was angry with humanity and scattered them about the Earth giving them separate languages, he must be really annoyed with Google Translate.
The point is, this is pretty much spot on. God really must be rather angry with Google Translate.
Let’s imagine that the obviously mythological/aetiological story of the Tower of Babel is literally true. In the
story historical account, God appears to be angry with the haughty intentions of those humans working together to build a high tower. So God punishes them by scattering them about Earth and giving them different languages.
Since then, however, humanity has come together to work incredibly well to achieve amazing ends. And we have done this by welcoming great minds through our borders (think Einstein and others), and by working across borders through understanding each other.
Not only this, but we understand each other very well with the help of technology (designed by multinationals) such as Google Translate. Is Google Translate doing Satan’s work (which, as I have argued, defers to being God’s work anyway)?
Why bother even trying to understand the evolution of languages over time when the Tower of Babel perfectly explains it?
But all this is done in defiance of God’s desires and intentions. God wanted us to be separated and not to understand each other. So how do Christian literalists square this circle? How do they understand humans defying this divine desire in the modern world?
There are really only two options (given the original story is true) for such a theist:
- Such cooperation and language understanding really is still sinful or problematic in the eyes of God.
- Such cooperation and language understanding is no longer a problem for God. He’s got over it and has changed his mind.
They could see international cooperation and teamwork as being sinful. That would be really weird, but they could do that, I suppose. The problem is, those Christians would have to live by that reckoning, which is not to go on foreign holidays, not to work for multinational corporations or organisations, not to support international missionary organisations (overcoming language barriers and utilising teamwork), not to use technology derived from international cooperation, so on and so forth. (Maybe Trump supporters have got it right…)
That might be hard.
It’s also patently nonsense (in rather the same way that the original story is patently nonsense).
God appears to be anti-immigration, anti-assimilation, anti-linguistics, anti-technology, anti…
Second, the idea that the story somehow no longer applies to modern humans is pretty nonsensical, too, because modern humans have surpassed what God was getting angry about with the people of this story – by orders of magnitude. If he was angry then, he should be furious now, but he seems really rather chilled. And God would have known all this anyway with his divine foreknowledge. He would have known he would not be upset with it in the future, even though it was much worse, at the tie he was getting upset with it in the Bible. Yet again, this is all such a hot mess.
If Christians are to take this story seriously (they shouldn’t whatsoever), then they need to be honest and deal with what God supposedly desired and intended. Either God is incredibly irate with Google Translate and international cooperation because it is still morally problematic but he is for some reason not doing anything about it (and yet did back in biblical times), or God has changed his mind about the whole idea and is rather fickle, and not omniscient.
Or it never happened.
It never happened.
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