Babel and Pentecost
The story of the Babel Tower (Gen. 10) is usually understood
as a punishment of God towards a human and proud project: reach
to the sky by building a tower. To stop this insane project,
God disperses them and confounds their languages. A more careful
reading allows a different look to this text. Dispersion on the
entire surface of the earth is not a punishment by God in the
Bible but often a blessing; it is the case of the sons of Noah,
after the flood and the alliance with God, they separate and
repopulate the earth. Noah's sons are considered as the founders
of the various races depending on their settlements and languages.
On the contrary the inhabitants of the city of Babel fear to
be dispersed. They shelter under a concept of unity that is only
a tensed merging toward identity. It is the real meaning of this
desire for a unique city, a unique tower, and a single language
using the same words to express oneself. In this kind of concept,
there is no place for a dialogue, for receiving, for a search.
It is the inability to relate to the other, when he is different,
a foreigner, to understand the truth of the other. The truth
is unique and imposes itself to every body with the very strength
of God; the truth becomes the property of the builders of the
tower that should reach the sky.
Facing this danger of a unique truth, dispersion and diversity
of languages are they really a punishment or a safe guard against
a monolithic behavior and the will for power? God does not fear
the competition with humans; they have been created to become
similar to Him. He is worrying about selfishness, the rigidity
of identity, and the unique language that becomes a language
with no meaning. He fears the exclusion of differences, the persecution
of those, men and women, who are not like the others because
the way they look, speak or think. God interferes to re-introduce
diversity, to break the totalitarism of the unique thinking.
In fact the inhabitants of Babel stopped to build the "city"
and being dispersed all over the earth they were able to build
In the Pentecost event one sees the same opening and movement
(AA 2, 5-12). Sometime one opposes Babel and Pentecost, in reality
it is the same movement towards the diversity. The door of the
room where the disciples were assembled opens and they go out
and begin to speak: "there came from the sky a noise like
a strong driving wind, they gathered in a large crowd, but they
were confused because each one heard the other speaking his own
language". It is the triumph of diversity, it is not about
speaking only one language but it is to understand the other
languages. It is to open up to some one else to understand what
he says and to make us understand of him. From the difference
between his truth and mine, we are able to build a truth more
complete and more related to reality. From this initial momentum,
the apostles effectively will go to the "extremities of
the earth" that is for them, Rome, Greece, the Mediterranean
Isles to announce the Good News of Jesus.
The Spirit opens the heart of the believers to prevent them forever
to be trapped on a single idea, a single concept of God, a single
image of the other or of oneself. The same momentum applies to
Institutions, which often tend to live by themselves. So our
Churches seem at times at risk of sclerosis, but an underground
action is going on and one day will explode a new Pentecost.
When a society, an organization or a church starts to retreat
on one unique language, a single correct thinking, it shows fragility
about its identity and on a longer term it will be on the road
to ruin. Each system that does not accept exchanges that it needs
will die. The active presence of the Spirit that Jesus promised
for his Church should save it from such a drift to open it without
fear to other cultures, to a dialogue between religions, to divers
theologian researches and to new ways of living together.