Genesis 11 tells us the fascinating story of the tower of Babel. Humanity was setting itself up against God and as part of that decided to build a skyscraper. God's means of frustrating this is revealing – "Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other." The plan worked. Humanity was divided and scattered.
Melvin Tinker, an Anglican vicar, uses the imagery of the tower of Babel, together with that of CS Lewis's brilliant and prophetic That Hideous Strength, to demonstrate the particular route our culture is going down. Tinker's book, The Hideous Strength, How the West was Lost, is an important and essential work of for understanding our culture. It is just being republished in an expanded edition.
He shows how the tower of Babel remains a pattern for human rebellion against God. Chronological snobbery (the latest is the greatest etc) can blind us to insights from previous generations. Tinker argues that communalism (where group rather than individual identity reigns), constructionism (using language to deconstruct God and create our own gods) and connectivity (using one language to connect to one another and enable their rebellion against God) are typical of that rebellion.
I think this statement does need some qualification, however. There is a communalism (the church) that is good, a constructionism (building the Kingdom of God and caring for the earth), which is constructive, not destructive, and a connectivity (the tongues of Pentecost which proclaim the Gospel of Jesus rather than the tongues of Babel) that is positive. But Tinker is right to argue that Babylon tries to imitate Jerusalem.
"What we have in the Tower of Babel episode is in effect a rival cosmology to that of God's; it is an unmaking and a remaking of the world, a blasphemous human 'let us' over and against the Holy 'let us' of the Triune God," he says.
I thought of this when I saw the BBC's latest propaganda for school children. In one question-and-answer session a young boy asks: "What are the different gender identities?" He is then praised by a head teacher for asking a "really, really exciting question". The film cuts to a PSHE teacher called Kate Daniels, who explains to two other young children: "We know that we have got male and female, but there are over 100, if not more, gender identities now."
Why does this matter? The temptation is to shrug it off as more PC madness – no one really believes that young boys in sex education classes have the different gender identities as their main question. And no one really believes that that there are over 100 genders....that is just a made up number and yet it is taught to children as truth. And therein lies the problem. The BBC are teaching queer theory as scientific fact when it isn't. They are dismantling the whole idea of truth. But it is also inhumane and harmful to children. Why?
When we lose belief in God we also lose any rationality for belief in humanity. We are created in the image of God. When we try to remove or replace that image we end up creating a distorted humanity. Yes there are people who suffer from Gender Identity Dysphoria and have a disconnect between body and mind. They should be treated fairly and with compassion. But we should not use them to try and reconstruct both God and humanity in our own image. That way there is only confusion. My colleague Steve MacAlpine summarised it brilliantly:
"Perhaps there are eight billion genders and each of us is simply an atomised, lonely individual, floating ever further from other people, cut off from the possibility of ever knowing what is solid and where to stand on anything. That's the way it's going at least.
"And of course, that's the picture of hell that CS Lewis paints in The Great Divorce, a town in which the inhabitants move further and further away from each other, doomed to the splendid isolation of their own interiority for eternity.
"Lewis, that prophet whose work is even now coming into its own, broadcast an introduction to The Great Divorce on that self-same (but completely different) BBC back in 1948. I wonder if he could even imagine that the very institution that allowed such searing wisdom to flow over the airwaves would reduce itself to such pitiful foolishness some seven decades later?"
What is God doing in this? I think he is letting us follow the way of Romans 1, where humanity thinking it is wiser and better than God, just decides to go its own way. God then lets us have it our way. And the chaos, confusion and disorder are a disaster. The biggest threat facing humanity just now is the hubris and hypocrisy of those who are seeking to recreate humanity, using that hideous strength, in order to have a Brave New World.
But Christians should not despair. There is One who came down to earth as a human being in order to recreate humanity in his image – in knowledge, righteousness and holiness. No matter how much humanity seeks to destroy itself – God is here to redeem, restore and save. We are being constructed into the new Jerusalem and do not need to go the destructive way of Babylon.
David Robertson is Director of Third Space at the City Bible Forum in Sydney, Australia. He blogs at The Wee Flea