In Genesis, God tells people to ‘Go Forth and Prosper’, and yet later he seems diametrically opposed to progress of any kind. When people start to live together and build bigger cities and make great towers like the tower of Babel, God says, “This is only the start of their undertakings. Now nothing they plan to do will be beyond them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language, so that they cannot understand each other.” (Genesis 11:6)
Yahweh is a god of shepherds and migrating tribes in tents, and represents their early suspicion with settling down in one place. He turns up his nose at Cain’s agricultural gifts. Even the making of bricks is scorned in the Babel story; God is clearly anti-civilization. (If you, 2,000 years later, now live in one place in a house of any kind, rather than traversing the open terrain – you’re already on God’s bad side.)
Incidentally – The Old Testament was being written by a bunch of exiled Jews living in the splendor of great cities like Babylon. They were jealous of the opulence and thought it must be evil – that God surely wouldn’t tolerate such economic prosperity from their godless enemies.
Obviously the Babel story is a mythological explanation of foreign language, but what if it weren’t? Why would God be so afraid of growth? Maybe he wasn’t quite sure what human beings were actually capable of. They said they were building a tower to heaven, maybe he was afraid that somehow they would accomplish that feat. At any rate, it seems that God got used to cities and realized they weren’t a threat: despite language barriers, the general historical trend of human civilization has taken the form of big cities. Therefore, either God changed his mind and decided to let us build our towers – which introduces the idea that God is adaptable and makes mistakes.
But there is another possibility. What if the story of Babel is actually a prophecy? We live in an advanced nation, a melting pot of cultures where everyone communicates in English. We experienced unchecked economic growth and prosperity until a terrorist attack involving “men of God” knocked out our largest towers, symbols of our power, humbling us. Was the 9-11 attack on the World Trade Center planned by the same mastermind behind the Babel conspiracy? I see no difference between Islamic terrorists and fundamentalist Jews or Christians who were anti-establishment; who routinely asked their God to destroy Rome, Babylon and other reigning powers in horrifically violent terms.
And let’s face it – if God was behind 911, he isn’t acting out of character at all; in fact there is historical precedent in Babel. I’d say he’d be an easy conviction. The truth is, we have outgrown the God of the Old Testament. To believe in him literally, to believe he is still with us, still spiteful, still jealous, and still angry, contradicts modernity on many levels. Either he needs to ‘grow up’ and adapt to us, or we need to sell our houses and start herding sheep again.
For most of us, the lure of wealth and success is too powerful. If you live in a big city and are trying to save up some money for your family and are generally in favor of economic progress – buy a small house. Otherwise God might burn it down.