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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Building Our Own Tower Of Babel

Genesis 11 contains the story of the Tower of Babel. The people were wandering and had decided to build a city and tower as a tribute to themselves. In the midst of their building, God saw what it could lead to too power and thus He stopped them by causing them to speak in different languages so that people could not understand each other. This limited what they could do together.

Part of this story of the Tower of Babel is currently relived everyday. We constantly build edifices as self-praise to an imagined sense of significance. We are forever building tributes, idols to worship and bow down to, that reflect our magic mirror image. But there is one difference between today's Towers of Babel and the original. That difference is whereas with the first Tower of Babel, confusion came with the onset of different languages. In contrast, our confusion is found in a revised, self-flattering history.  

Two recently built Towers of Babel can be found in the Pentagon's observance of Martin Luther King. According to the speakers, outgoing Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, and Air Force retired Major General, Marcelite J. Harris, Martin Luther King's contributions came from his fight against racial inequality and how he inspired people to reach their potential. What was absent in any mention of King during these speeches is his fight against economic injustice and militarism--both of which he found linked to racism. There is good reason for these omissions. These omissions would be damning to the images of the nation and institutions the speakers belong to.

For those who think that King opposed racism only, please consider the following. At significant risk, Martin Luther King publicly opposed the Vietnam War effort. For this, he was not only further criticized by his opponents, he was suffered a certain alienation from some friends and allies. In addition, he was told that he was hurting the cause of racial equality.

Also consider when King was assassinated, he was confronting economic injustice; he was standing with the Memphis garbage collectors and their quest for fair pay. That is when King was assassinated. And to bring this point out would again discredit the institutions and nation that retired Major General Harris and then Secretary of Defense Panetta serve.

Thus neither Secretary of Defense Panetta and retired Major General Harris were only able to pay homage to the Martin Luther King who did not exist, to the man who opposed racial inequality only. This is because to fully honor Martin Luther King would mean to draw a critical eye on those whom they serve. To fully honor King, they would have criticize the military for taking more than its fair share of our nation's budget and resources. And to fully honor King, they would have to criticize their country's economic system because of the inequity it promotes. But because their real masters meant more to them than Martin Luther King and his passions, they used King to serve their masters rather than to challenge them.

We see a furthering of our problems in this year's State Of The Union Address (See here). According to that speech, the only faults that President Obama could see in our nation is that politicians put political party interests above national interests and that too many people and things are in need.

The problem here is that pursuing divergent party interests could be seen merely as disagreements by different groups who are trying to solve our nations problems. Never is the admission made that many of our elected leaders have no interest in solving our nation's problems outside of those troubles experienced by their major campaign contributors. In other words, the fault that President Obama should have spotlighted here is that too many of our elected leaders put self-interest and the interests of their corporate sponsors ahead of the interests of people.

We might also mention that outside of putting party interests ahead of, undefined but assumed, national interests, our nation has only needs and struggles; we have no moral failures or sins. And it is this working denial of the true causes of our problems which only ensures that our struggles will not only persevere, they will grow.

Nothing illustrates this more than the increase in our military interventions during Obama's Presidency. When President Obama campaigned for the presidency in 2008, his criticisms of Bush's war policies never included any moral judgments. Rather, his criticisms were based on business criteria. He saw Bush's use of our military as being inefficient and ineffective. This led some on the Left to speculate that Obama could engage in a plethora of new wars so long as he saw our involvement as being business smart. Never mind that we sided with terrorists in Afghanistan in fighting Al-Qaeda and the Taliban as well as violated the Nuremberg Principles when invading Iraq. So now we are stealthly involved in Africa, possibly sided with terrorists in the Libyan revolt, and assume the right to use drones to assassinate anyone in nations like Yemen and Pakistan with legal impunity. And our involvement in the Pakistan is only serving to destabilize a nation that has a significant stockpile of nuclear weapons.

Like the people from Genesis 11, our leaders are building our Towers of Babel as a self-tribute to themselves. Unlike the people from Genesis 11, they do this with words and the more we respond with silence, the more we become as complicit in building those towers as those who laid the brick and mortar in the  first Tower of Babel. And another difference is that while God sent confusion on the original builders while they were in the middle of their work; our towers of Babel start on a foundation of confusion and lies. The above contains only a partial listing.

The lie we must confront is one that says, though we have faults, we do not sin. That is because our motto follows the theme of every State Of The Union address--we must be praised. So if we must be praised, we cannot admit to sin. But the rub is that while we cannot admit to sin, we can't start solving the problems that so gravely threaten us. Another lie we must confront says that America is exceptional and is thus above the moral judgment of all other nations. Claiming to be special is normal. And the list of atrocities committed by our nation is long and known to the rest of the world.

We have one more problem that acts as the final nail on our nation's coffin. That problem is that those who should know best, our nation's Christians, are too busy reveling in patriotism and pride to speak the truth that some nonChristians have already discovered. That truth is that much of our nation's wealth has been built on the back of others and that our exceptionalism is seen more in our power than our principles. Thus, we will eventually be the cause of our own demise and the only advantage that our own Towers Of Babel will serve is that at least we will go down singing.

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