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One could certainly imagine a post on the Tower of Babel and Jews, but where do Progressives and Conservatives fit in? Recently I ran across two pieces, one an essay and the other a book, that demonstrated to me in a thoughtful manner that a second Tower of Babel is being built and we are seeing more evidence that not only this country, but the world, is in trouble.
If you are unfamiliar with the story of the Tower of Babel, it is quite short, only 11 verses in Genesis, Chapter 11. G-d determines that the building of the Tower must be stopped, since it bodes a catastrophic future for the people. Those building the Tower intended to reach heaven, and in one sense, bring heaven down to earth. These efforts suggested not only a challenge to G-d’s power, but an arrogance of the builders: they believed with their creativity and prowess they were capable of living a secular existence without G-d’s guidance. Rather than obey G-d, they only needed to pursue their own desires for progress and they would be successful in their efforts. Leon Kass, in his book, The Beginning of Wisdom, explains the emptiness of their goals:
Power and technique are ethically neutral; they can be used both justly and unjustly. Worse, technical prowess, precisely because of its transformative power, creates the illusion that one can do without justice and morality. The omnicompetent city lacking in justice is a menace, both to itself and to the world. Even assuming that the inhabitants wish to be just, where will be builders of Babel find any knowledge of justice, or indeed, any moral or political principle or standard?
G-d recognized the dangers and said:
If , as one people with one language for all, this is how they have begun to act, then nothing that they propose to do will be out of their reach. Let us then, go down and confound their speech there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech!
The source of their problems would have been not only their arrogance, but also in their shared language, which allowed them to unite in their efforts to build; ironically, the closer they came to heaven, the more distant they were from G-d. In the meantime, the people also ignored G-d’s direction to populate the world, and chose instead to stay where they were, to seek comfort and to pursue their own self-serving aspirations.
So how does this story speak to today’s Progressivism? Progressivism claims many goals, but for the purpose of this post I am focusing on its insistence on an uncontested universal state. From the time Progressivism began, a major goal has been to eliminate nation states and unite in a world government. The European Union is a prime example of these efforts. In today’s world, I would suggest that a “shared language” refers to the common ideology that Progressives share.
In a First Things article, the author, Shalom Carmy, gives a few examples of the dangers of a universal vision for the Jews in particular, and the advantages of a disunited world. He describes the reasoning of 14th Century scholar, Rabbi Nissim of Gerona who explained how a national lack of unity saved the Jews:
…the lack of unity among the nations of the world has allowed Jews to escape persecution, going sometimes from Muslim countries to Christian ones, and vice versa. The desire for political unity is not inherently sinful, but its consequences in a corrupt world are deplorable. God was acting benevolently when he fragmented the human race into many languages and peoples.
He also shared how a universal government would harm the Jewish community, explaining the ideas of Rabbi Naftali Zyi Berlin, head of a Yeshiva in 19th-century Lithuania:
For R. Berlin, the desire for unity is itself the cause of persecution. Universal government can’t permit individuals and groups to remove themselves from the collective. There can be no tolerance of loyalty to ideas at variance from those propagated by the central government. Thus the drive toward unity necessitates persecution and ultimately justifies murder.
In recent years we have seen attacks on Jewish requirements for slaughtering animals to observe kosher laws, as well as protests for the ritual slaughter of a chicken at Yom Kippur. Regulations have also been proposed for outlawing infant circumcision, which would essentially render Jewish practice illegal.
Finally, Mr. Carmy adds another concern:
Then there is a broader worry. Progressivism has a strong universalistic trajectory. It also tends to be hostile to traditional religion. Here, R. Berlin’s worries come to the fore. It’s not hard to imagine a tightly knit European polity undertaking aggressive means to secure the universal triumph of progressive ideals. Jews and others whose religious practices are deemed “unprogressive” are likely to feel the pressure.
Judaism is not the only group at risk. We have seen Christians being attacked on many levels as well. And since the most Conservative communities within these religions are the people who are most sharply focused in the sights of Progressives, Conservatives (religious or not) are high on their list for condemnation. Anyone who doesn’t conform to Progressive practices and ideals are at risk.
So Progressivism continues to strengthen as it builds on its arrogance, exclusivity, intolerance and hatred in a modern ethic of the Tower of Babel. Who or what will stop them? As more freedoms are condemned and more restrictions are enacted, will their Tower continue to grow? Are these continued efforts signaling a slow, laborious but continual construction of a modern Tower of Babel?
Is there no one who can bring them down?