The significance of the diversity of language and the rejection of any sacralization are the two teachings of Babel. Today, however, everything has become immovable except what does not fall under our judgment
The deep fragmentation that characterizes our society almost spontaneously refers to the famous biblical episode of The Tower of Babel. The language of social media, their virulence, the so-called echo chambers, our disorientation, the crisis of truth, the growing difficulties of understanding each other, abolishes the culture itself, everything seems to provoke the “confusion” of Babel. and the Lord’s terrible punishment: “Let us therefore go down and confuse their language, that they may no longer understand one another’s language”.
The verdict seems, in fact, unequivocal: a kind of tombstone that has fallen over the possibility of understanding among men, a shocking legitimation of that world as a will without truth that characterizes today’s culture of annulment and the hysterical use of the identity theme. its protagonists. For them, it is only what they “feel” as a group that counts, certainly not the reasonableness of the arguments. Feeling discriminated against, violated or under attack is enough to put in place the most incredible strategies of intimidation and annulment. Incredible, because unfortunately they seem to be successful, creating mistrust, contempt and insurmountable divides in society. In short, the spread of Babel’s sin seems to be dancing its triumph. But I think this episode can also (and should) be interpreted in a different way.
If we literally stick to the biblical account and consider diversity of language as a consequence of divine punishment, we risk not only endangering one of the cornerstones of our liberal culture, pluralism, but also getting the wrong one. idea of God God can not punish in that way. Unless, as I believe, the spread of language he operated does not represent a kind of restoration of order: the order of plurality in which, to use the title of one of my librettos, “The Order of Babel” exists. In this sense, God’s “punishment” might become more plausible, and pluralism would have the positive connotation it deserves.
As has been noted by several scholars, the plurality of languages already existed before men decided to build the famous tower. Noah’s sons had already given birth to those nations “scattered over the islands in their territories, each according to his own language” (Genesis 10: 5). But then the Lord God was there to guarantee unity among all peoples and all nations. Therefore, when it is said in the biblical text that “the whole earth had one language and the same words” (Genesis 11: 1), it probably refers to the harmony that the different languages found in the spirit of God. in other words, it still did not affect the unity of the human family; it simply enriched it. But the context changes when one says in Babel, “Come, let us build a city and a tower, the top of which touches the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we spread it all over the earth.” Here the unity is broken, the pride of touching the sky clearly prevails, of becoming like God and thus bestowing his plan. The desire to “make a name for oneself”, to give oneself “only one language” that is no longer God’s, in short, generates the true sin of Babel: a wrong, exclusive way of confirming one’s own identity, let’s even say to sanctify his own language, which God seems to punish with the aforementioned “spread,” precisely to restore an order that does not allow secular sacralizations of any kind.
Therefore, if this punishment is also a restoration from God of the right order of things, then it means that pluralism, the comparison between different languages, the obligation of a mutual translation / understanding even becomes a kind of theological imperative, let us also say state, thanks to which languages and cultures can be enriched. Thus, two important indications seem to come from Babel: First of all, the plurality of languages and confidence in their difficult translation are restored; Secondly we are warned against any kind of sacralization of our language, whatever it is.
To return to what I said at the beginning, at the very bottom of the fragmentation we are experiencing in our society, there is precisely a sacralizing attitude of this type, not pluralism. It is the progressive destruction of the common (humanity, truth, language, reason) that generates the sense of identity that prevails on social networks, with all its disruptive effects on our liberal democracies. When the conditions of our coexistence failed, we began to sacralize everything: our culture, our sexual tastes, our patriotic ideals, our reference group. And woe to those who do not fall within our standards of judgment, mostly emotional. Hatred, harassment, exclusion, cancellation are the order of the day in our political, moral or religious debates. But unbelievably, we pretend not to notice. Nor can we see a God on the horizon coming down to punish us for restoring some order.