Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth." 5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. 6 And the Lord said, "Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another's speech."8 So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confuseda] the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth. Genesis 11:4-9
Tonight is the second presidential debate of the 2012 election in the United States. It corresponds with where we are in this sequence of columns on what God says and does.
The building of the tower of Babel belongs to the epoch called pre-history; plenty happened, but events weren't written down as they happened. Instead they were preserved in the common memory of families, tribes, and communities called oral tradition. In some instances the oral tradition lasted for millennia.
Hebrew and Christian tradition both assign the "writing down" of the Book of Genesis to the time of Moses at the earliest, thousands of years after the curse of Babel fell upon the human race. The earliest recorded history in the ancient near east which can be connected without significant interruption to the present day is around five thousand years old. Moses lived around 3500 years ago or less. Five thousand years ago there were already developed civilizations in the ancient near east. (Egypt was a thousand years old, at least, before the family of Jacob came there, and it was hundreds of years more before Moses was born; Abram came from a civilization about as old as Egypt to Canaan a couple of hundred years before Jacob went to Egypt.)
Correlating the biblical account of Babel with what we know from other history, we conclude that all of human history as we know it has been under the curse of Babel. God had given words to the human race; after the curse they had to find their own words because the unity of the race no longer served the purpose of God and was hostile to it.
The curse came because our ability to communicate through language gives us the means to multiply evil. We have been working valiantly to restore a common language ever since the curse, but apart from the Word of God our efforts are depraved. As Merlin proclaims in That Hideous Strength: "Those who despise the Word of God, from them even the word of man shall be taken away."
The curse of Babel is upon all the nations, all the political parties, all the religions, all the professions. Wherever language is used, the curse is present. Because it is a curse, it's our responsibility to mitigate it whenever we can—to express the truth rather than to exploit and enlarge confusion.
We treat cancer as a curse and seek to mitigate its effects. Are we seeking to mitigate the curse of Babel in the public sphere, or are we rejoicing in it? Maybe we'll see tonight.