Sunday, July 21, 2013

George Zimmerman and the Tower of Babel

This morning I read this article in the Huffington Post.

Then I read the comments readers left behind.

I was appalled, am appalled, by the amount of anger and cynicism and racism throughout. We surely live in angry times. But are people really that hateful? And did they realize their hateful comments essentially confirmed the gist of the article?

I guess the answer is yes. Yes, we are that hateful. My thoughts of the black/white divide illuminated by the George Zimmerman trial quickly expanded to republican/democrat, gay/straight, pro-choice/pro-life, immigration/anti-immigration, Christian/non-Christian and all the other variants of religious distrust and hatred.

We all seem to be so angry at each other. And not just angry but we don’t even know how to have a conversation or debate. We just yell at each other. It’s like we aren’t even speaking the same language.

And then it occurred to me. I know this story:

“They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves . . . a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name. . .” The Lord said, “Behold, …  this is what they . . . do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth. . .

That’s an excerpt from Tower of Babel story (Genesis 11).  Now some may read Genesis as history, some may read it as a collection of myths, or some a combination of the two. I sometimes read the Genesis stories and find them strangely contemporary, if not prophetic.

At one level the Babel story is one of human hubris. A desire to build “a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name.” You just know when God finds out about this it will not end well. Which it doesn’t.

I don’t want to turn this into a Bible lesson. But I do wish to point out a part of the human condition this story, for me, illuminates: When we turn our attention inward and seek glory and fame we tend to loose sight of that which is important. And I’ll offer that what is important is human love and compassion. In the Old Testament days love and compassion was measured more as obedience to a jealous god. But fast-forward a couple thousand years and the story shifts to a forgiving god with love and compassion as what is essential to life. And fast forward to today and I say that still holds, regardless of whether you believe in a god or not.

Yet our implementation of modern society seems to have crowded out love and compassion and replaced it with fear. And from fear comes things like Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. And from fear comes anger like the anger I hear on talk radio or read in Huffington Post comments. And with that anger we push away love and compassion. It’s hard to have room for both.

And yet that desire for love and compassion remains with us, unfulfilled, like a dark hole in our soul (or psyche). It must be filled. So we turn to food, and consumer goods, maximizing profits, and Fox News (speaking one language) or MSNBC (speaking another). These are our new loves, perhaps even our new Golden Calves (that's a different Old Testament story).

So what to do? I say it takes more energy and courage to stand your ground for love and compassion than to let fear take over. And it takes even more courage to stand in the face of fear with love and compassion and risk the consequences to life and property. A law like Florida's Stand Your Ground has deep roots in soil fertile with fear. Cutting it down and ripping out its stump will take more time and energy, I fear, then any of us would hope. Yet, that is what must happen next. But if we only uproot the law and don’t replace that soil of fear, more will grow from it.

We have a long way still to go.


  1. Did you and Leon talk at some point this week? :) Yes, we have a ways to go, but many of us will not stop until we get there. The only thing beyond fear is love, so we just have to keep walking through the fear (and uprooting it along the way, like you said). We seem to be polarizing more and more these days, yes, but it feels to me like an "always darkest before the dawn" moment. Things like today's sermon help me to keep hope alive. Thank you for your (as usual) thoughtful and insightful post!

  2. Thanks for the comment, Elissa. Yes, Leon and I talked ... AFTER his sermon! Yes, it's in the air we breathe. And I hope you're right - that his in the darkest moment.