The days of the tower

This article was published in a slightly abridged version in La Verità on April 2, 2021 with the title "The global idea of ​​the new tower of Babel. Use science to impose dogmas".

During his apostolic journey to Iraq , on the morning of March 6, 2021, Pope Bergoglio participated in an interreligious meeting with some Jewish and Muslim leaders at the archaeological site of Ur dei Chadei.1 The ancient Sumerian city of Ur, abandoned for millennia for the desertification that has hit the area is located in the vicinity of Nassiriya, about four hundred kilometers south of the Iraqi capital. Among its remains, the imposing base of the ziqqurat stands out, the typical religious tower construction of the Mesopotamian area, dedicated to the moon god Nanna. According to biblical scholars, the patriarch Abraham was born here, and from here he left with his family following his father Terach towards the "land of Canaan" (Gen 11:31). Settled in Harran, today on the Turkish-Syrian border and formerly the devotional center of Sin / Nanna (like Ur), he was enriched "with gold and silver and a lot of cattle" (Judith 5,7-8) and then received the order divine to continue the journey towards the promised land, the "land that I will show you" (Gen 12: 1), starting the adventures of the Jewish lineage from which the three great Abrahamic monotheisms will spring.

The place chosen by the Catholic pontiff appears symbolically perfect for reaching out to " brothers and sisters of different religions " in the sign of a common paternity. Nor should the linguistic suggestion of the toponym be neglected, identical to the German prefix Ur- used in many languages ​​to identify a primitive and distant origin. The Indo-European theme ṛ indicates "arising", hence also Lat. or-ior , or-iens and, indeed, or-igo , the origin. However, it is also difficult that this wish for fraternal unity in the shadow of a Mesopotamian tower does not suggest another and more famous tower, the one erected "on a plain in the country of Sennaar" and handed down to posterity as the "Tower of Babel" ( Gen 11: 1-9). Identified by historians with the majestic Etemenanki, the ziqqurat of Babylon (today al-Hilla, a hundred kilometers below Baghdad) was instead dedicated to the solar god Marduk and its first construction dates back to the reign of Hammurabi or, according to tradition, to the mythical king-hunter Nimrod , grandson of Ham (Gen 10, 8-12).

The biblical story is well known. "Emigrating from the East, men" then united by a single language settled in the Sennaar, the region between the Tigris and the Euphrates, and there they proposed to build "a tower whose top touches the sky" with the intent to acquire fame and "not to scatter [s] i over the whole earth". But God, seeing their work, decided to confuse their languages ​​so that they did not understand each other and were forced to interrupt the work and then divide to colonize every part of the world, as he had commanded them on the day of creation ( Gen 1:28).

If interpreted literally, I would say unequivocally the divine antipathy – or more secularly, the inappropriateness, according to the experience and judgment of the ancients – of the ambitions that we would now call cosmopolitan and "global", to unite all peoples under to enslave them to a common earthly "agenda". On this point, some commentators have also emphasized the concept of brotherhood recently dear to the Argentine pontiff, which in the short speech given in Ur recurs fifteen times, in the wake of the Declaration on human brotherhood of Abu Dhabi and the encyclical Fratelli tutti . In the past there was no lack of warnings on the risks of pushing the meaning of the term beyond the perimeter of the Christian following and thus bringing it closer to the secular and revolutionary fraternity whose realization, we read in a comment from the Grand Orient of Italy to Fratelli tutti , would be «From the origins the great mission and the great dream of Freemasonry». Saint Pius X reminded the French bishops that "there is no true fraternity outside of Christian charity" and considered civil and religious syncretism

a purely verbal and chimerical construction, in which the words of freedom, justice, fraternity and love, equality and human exaltation, all based on a poorly understood human dignity, will be seen glittering in bulk and in a seductive confusion. It will be a matter of a tumultuous agitation, sterile for the proposed end and which will benefit the less utopian agitators of the masses ( Notre charge apostolique , 1910).

For Joseph Ratzinger "unlike Stoicism and the Enlightenment, Christianity calls only the co-religious by the proper name of brother … for whom one is the brother of the Christian and not of the non-Christian", because "the affirmation of a universal fraternity without Christ, crush the mission "( The Christian brotherhood , 1960). In more recent times, Msgr. Athanasius Schneider polemically remarked that "true universal fraternity can exist only in Christ, that is, between baptized persons". 2 On the divisive character of the Christian message one could also quote the words of its Founder: "do not believe that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword "(Mt 10:34).

Less literal, but more widespread, is the allegorical interpretation according to which the unfortunate attempt of the Babylonians would be a Promethean repetition of Adam's sin, to aspire to become "like God" (Gen 3: 4) by rising to the heavenly see by the technique. Dante places Nembrot / Nimrod in the well of the giants guilty of having challenged the divinity (If XXXI, 58-81) and illustrates his undertaking among the examples of pride that adorn the first setting of purgatory, "at the foot of the great work almost lost , and look at the peoples who proudly stand out with him "(Pg XII, 34-36). In De vulgari eloquentia he clarifies the instrument and the goal: humanity "incorrigible, instigated by the giant [this was defined in the Alexandrian lesson of the Seventy, known to Dante through Augustine ] Nembrot, had the presumption to overcome not only nature with technique , but the same naturante, who is God "(VE I, VII, 4). The interpretation is common to much of the patristic and rabbinic tradition and has one of its oldest attestations in the Antiquitates Iudaicae of Josephus , written in the first century AD, in which it is said that Nimrod would have become a tyrant to induce his subjects to "To insult God and not care and […] not to grant God to be the author of their fortune, but to believe it derives from one's own strength". For this purpose he would therefore have ordered the construction of the tower, to "take revenge on God" and save himself from another flood (I, 109-121).

Especially with the advent of trade, wars and politics on a planetary scale, cosmopolitan "sin" returns to the fore and relives in continental and supranational government mechanisms, whose megalomania declines the same will to power that agitates technological development frenzied to whom moderns entrust the "passing of the sign" (Pd XXVI, 87), of his own nature and therefore also of his "naturante". In 1916 Stefan Zweig published in his magazine the essay Der Turm zu Babel , where the interrupted construction site of the tower became the metaphor of a possible unity of the European peoples under the same flag. In accepting the traditional reading, the Austrian writer overturned it in bono to give his appeal a clear Promethean accent, if not really blasphemous, of an envious god who "saw with terror grow" the work of "immortal" humanity, he was afraid of it and understood that "it could not have been stronger than humanity if it had not sown discord again". Thus the genius of the new builders should derive "sense and bliss from the struggle against their own creator " (my italics). More recently, the journalist Stefano Feltri took up Zweig's theses in the book Populism sovereign (2018), in whose last chapter ("Rebuilding the tower") we read that "those ideas, a couple of generations later, became the building blocks with which the Tower of Babel of our Europe has been built ”.

Returning to the sacred text, in both cases of punished arrogance, the cognitive one of Adam and the Babylonian technopolitical one, God recognizes the ability of men to carry out their wicked purposes. "Behold, man has become like one of us in the knowledge of good and evil", he comments before chasing the progenitors out of Eden so that they do not take "even the fruit of the tree of life, eat [no] and live [no] forever "(Gen 3:22). With the same formula, in the second story he records sin ("lo, I am one people"), prefigures its outcome ("now nothing will prevent them from completing what they intend to do") and intervenes to avert it. The folly of these gestures therefore does not lie in their impracticability, but in refusing the divine filiation of men, thus condemning them to the irredeemability of demons. The same passages, however, also fed certain Gnostic and Neognostic representations of a jealous demiurge who fears the competition of men and therefore frustrates his successes and attempts to rise to the divinity of the pleroma (see for example The truthful testimony of Nag Hammadi). Perhaps aware of these dangers, Bergoglio also reminded the public of Ur that "man is not omnipotent, he cannot do it alone". He can't do it.


Whether you read it as a message of faith or as a timeless archetype, the parable of the biblical ziqqurat depicts a temptation of individuals and civilizations of every age, but it reveals itself more clearly than ever today, in this last glimpse of modernity where the erosion of political and cultural boundaries merges with an equally boundless trust in technology that raises, redeems and alludes without pretense to the semi-divinity of the "posthuman". The centralism of "global policies", the interdependence of production and consumption, the succession of emergencies and planetary remedies and, above all, the telecommunication systems that were first discretionary, then useful and today obligatory substitutes for any interaction, under any pretext , have brought to unmatched levels "the work of destructive homologation of all authenticity and concreteness" that Pier Paolo Pasolini attributed to television fifty years ago . "Behold, they are one people" whose "one language and the same words" are not an idiom, but the messages, thoughts and formulas photocopied in every corner of the world, always identical litanies of the global temple being built. The way and the chain of this adaequatio ad unum is the "network" – information technology, government, economics, health and so on. – which connects information, judgments, everyday objects, assets and bodies of every atom of humanity to a few vertices, molds them and makes them manageable with the instantaneity of a click.

In order for this to be possible, however, the artifacts are not enough, they must be imposed in order to impose the reasons. Everything must become mandatory, everyone must participate in the Great Construction Site. Throwing away the mask of the philanthropist and the livery of desirable progress, even today's Nimrod must "gradually change government into tyranny, seeing no other way of distracting men from the fear of God" (Ant. Iud., I, 113) and commanding to all the same language, the same thought, the same new cult. Knowledge too must therefore be homologated and become dogmatic and imperative. For the first time since it exists, science renounces the Galilean statutes, rejects doubt and empirical reservation and instead wants us to "believe" in what it "says". The ab auctoritate fallacy becomes a system, faith in studies and data that no one can personally verify are excused as antidotes to an uncritical belief, one trusts in boasting one's distrust, one obeys to mark one's independence. The overturning is total. Scientific uncertainty then becomes wisdom and revealed certainty, precisely gnosis, the bitumen that mixes the bricks of the tower with which one goes to conquer the sky.

The works are well underway and the pace on the scaffolding is accelerated, the reflection gives way to the frenzy of those who glimpse the goal. There is no time to argue. Whoever doubts must be silenced, whoever hesitates chained. The philosophers are silent, the churches queue up, the newspapers magnify the works and the political leaders, indistinguishable Gauleiter of the master builder, beckon the workers in turn. Everywhere "one language and the same words" resound, the unanimous chorus of builders. So far, fidelity to the biblical script is also perfect in the lexicon. However, the epilogue is missing, the one in which the cracks denied angrily by the architects below and a desire for salvation at the top will accentuate the tensions so far repressed by the laws and sweetenings of the media spell. There will then be a lack of harmony to complete the work and each group will find its own language and will disperse according to its own history and thoughts, each towards a destiny that God has wanted us free to embrace (Dt 30:19), brother with brothers, close to the neighbors, away from the distant The collapse will not be painless but, since there is no going back, it is the best outcome we can hope for, the only one we have to prepare for.

This is a machine translation from Italian language of a post published on Il Pedante at the URL on Sun, 04 Apr 2021 14:36:37 PDT.