Monday, May 28, 2007

Babel

No, this isn't about Alejandro González Iñárritu's 2006 film. I haven't even seen it yet, but it's on my list.

Rather, this is à propos the one thing Freud knew for certain, which got me to thinking eight days ago about the Old Testament story of the Tower of Babel (Genesis, Chapter 11). I know that the surface story told there is that God "confused the people's language" and "scattered them abroad over the face of the earth." But whoever wrote the story was more likely promoting a myth to explain why there were, in fact, so many different languages.

What struck me about the myth of the Tower of Babel is that it could be a symbol not only for man's tendency to believe what he wishes to believe, but also for the rich mix of contrary wishes (or, in Freud's words, "judgments of value") that there in fact are on the face of the earth.

The very multiplicity of languages seems to reflect this diversity of values. In terms of the major religions (and speaking roughly, as a blogger does in his blabble, or blog babble), Hebrew is the language of Judaism, Greek and Latin (and the descending European languages) of Christianity, and Arabic of Islam—each intent on believing what it wishes to believe. The Christian believes Jesus was the Χριστός (the Messiah). The Jew believes he was no Christ. The Muslim believes that Jesus, far from even being the Son of God, was neither divine nor a Messiah but just another Messenger (and not even the last one, which honor is the Prophet Muhammad's).

And yet...and yet. "The world's just mad enough to have been made"...by a Creator who did, in some sense, scatter a diversity of wishes-to-believe and values over the face of the earth. Maybe the diversity is even something to celebrate rather than to try to homogenize for the sake of globalization, or spreading democracy, or enforcing religious fundamentalism—to celebrate, but to celebrate while continuing to look for overarching common wishes and values encompassing our diverging ones and enabling us, as a wise young woman put it to me, to "agree [amicably] to disagree."

Celebration may be an individual's choice and prerogative, but societies and cultures seem indisposed to celebrate. They seem to be swept up in the inertia of those global forces that threaten to engulf and destroy us.

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