Sunday, August 9, 2015

Inside the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1-9)

The Tower of Babel.  Lucas van Valckenborch, 1595
Now the whole earth had one language and few words. And as men migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, "Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly." And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 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 scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth." And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the sons of men had built. 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. Come, let us go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another's speech." So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Ba'bel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth. (Gen. 11:1-9)
So what is the meaning of this strange account of a giant tower that reaches heaven? Why does it seem at first glance that God is against the people being "one"?

Let's rewind a chapter earlier:
Cush became the father of Nimrod; he was the first on earth to be a mighty man. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD; therefore it is said, "Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the LORD." The beginning of his kingdom was Ba'bel, Erech, and Accad, all of them in the land of Shinar. (Gen. 10:8-10)
Nimrod is the ruler behind this kingdom which included Babel. It is Nimrod who commissions the construction of the Tower. Let's look at a few characteristics of this ruler.

The ancient Jewish Talmud collects traditions by Rabbis who devoted their lives to studying Scripture. Much of the value in this work includes Judaism's understanding of the Old Testament, itself written through inspired Jewish authors. The Talmud sometimes elucidates on Scriptural stories with related oral traditions passed through the centuries. Some of these teachings expound on the life of Nimrod.
Cush, the son of Ham and grandson of Noah, married in his old age a young wife, and begat a son whom he called "Nimrod," because in those days the people were beginning to rebel again against the Lord's command, and Nimrod signifies rebellion.  ... 
And Nimrod dwelt in Shinar in safety, and gradually became ruler over all the world; and at that time all the people of the earth were of one language and of one speech. Nimrod in his prosperity did not regard the Lord. He made gods of wood and stone, and the people copied after his doings. His son Mordon served idols also, from which we have, even to this day, the proverb, "From the wicked, wickedness comes forth." (The Talmud: Selections, translated by H. Polano, 1876)
This sheds light on the Genesis account why God might break up this people who were unified in "one language." The language of their unity was a "language" opposed to God, a language including idolatry.

The early Jewish text, 3rd Baruch, conveys a tradition of crude slavery during the construction of the Tower:
These are they who gave counsel to build the tower, for they whom thou seest drove forth multitudes of both men and women, to make bricks; among whom, a woman making bricks was not allowed to be released in the hour of child-birth, but brought forth while she was making bricks, and carried her child in her apron, and continued to make bricks. (3rd Baruch, 3:5-6)
The earliest Christians also viewed Nimrod as a wicked man. 
In regard of this, he says, it has been written that [Nimrod] was a mighty hunter before the Lord. And there are, he says, many who closely imitate this (Nimrod): as numerous are they as the gnawing (serpents) which were seen in the wilderness by the children of Israel, from which that perfect serpent which Moses set up delivered those that were bitten. (St. Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies, 5.11)
St. Thomas Aquinas reveals Nimrod as the possible culprit to have invented idolatry.
Further, those things which have a cause in man are found among men at all times. Now idolatry was not always, but is stated [Peter Comestor, Hist. Genes. xxxvii, xl] to have been originated either by Nimrod, who is related to have forced men to worship fire, or by Ninus, who caused the statue of his father Bel to be worshiped. (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 2.Q94.4.O2)
Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, likewise includes Jewish tradition about the multitudes in that time and this character, Nimrod:
[T]hey, imagining the prosperity they enjoyed was not derived from the favor of God, but supposing that their own power was the proper cause of the plentiful condition they were in, did not obey him. ... Now it was Nimrod who excited them to such an affront and contempt of God. ... He also gradually changed the government into tyranny, seeing no other way of turning men from the fear of God, but to bring them into a constant dependence on his power. He also said he would be revenged on God, if he should have a mind to drown the world again; for that he would build a tower too high for the waters to be able to reach! and that he would avenge himself on God for destroying their forefathers! Now the multitude were very ready to follow the determination of Nimrod, and to esteem it a piece of cowardice to submit to God; and they built a tower... (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 1.4.1-3, ca 94 AD)
You notice in this excerpt an attitude in which God cannot "win." When things go well, the people take the credit. When things go bad, they give God all the blame.1

Understanding the prideful, powerful earthly character Nimrod makes greater sense of the rest of the Tower of Babel account. The phrases "Let us build ourselves...a the heavens" and "let us make a name for ourselves" (Gen. 11:4) reveal the godless orientation of a people turned toward themselves.
The family of man bands together to build a secular civilization that glorifies human achievement and the strength of social and political unity. ... [A]s the broader context of Genesis shows, the "name" coveted by the sinners at Babel is never acquired; rather it is Abraham and his descendants whom God promises to bless with a great "name" (12:2) ... 11:5 the LORD came down: Implies that man's attempt at reaching the heavens (11:4) has failed... (Hahn, Scott and Mitch, Curtis. Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: Genesis. Ignatius Press, San Francisco. 2006. p. 32)
Notice in the Genesis account, we are not quite told how God confused the language of the multitudes. Perhaps the best understanding is what Catholic theology would call God's "permissive will." (cf. Discerning God's positive and permissive will by Emily Stimpson, Our Sunday Visitor). God's "permissive will" is the idea of crediting God for an action even if He merely allows it. In the case of the Tower of Babel, the confusion of the multitude could be understood as the development of their own factions, languages, and loyalties due to their own free wills. The Old Testament writers appear to have employed this literary construct regularly, by attributing to God actions He merely permits, but are positively committed by another. If the OT authors wrote in accord with how they experienced God in their lives, then we must interpret the text in light of that understanding, culture, and modes of communication. 

The Navarre Study Bible hints at this idea in its commentary on the Tower of Babel story:
We have here an instance of literary devices being used to expound deep convictions––in this case the view that disunion in mankind is the outcome of men's pride and sinfulness. (The Navarre Bible: Pentateuch. Scepter Publishers. Princeton, NJ. 1999. p. 80
[I]t will be in the Church, the new Jerusalem, that men of all nations, races and tongues will join in faith and love, as will be seen in the Pentecost event (cf. Acts 2:1-13). There the phenomenon of Babel will be reversed: all will understand the same language. In the history of mankind, in effect, the Church is a kind of sign of sacrament of the union of God and men, and of the unity of the whole human race. (Ibid.)
Consider: "[T]he multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in his own language." (Acts 2:6b) Whereas at Babel, the multitude scattered unable to understand each other, at Pentecost, the multitude is reunited, able to understand each other. And, whereas the multitude at Babel sought to make a name for themselves, at Pentecost, Peter announces: "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38b)

Thus, the message of the Tower of Babel story is to teach the futility of man seeking to achieve some "heavenly" goal without the assistance of God. The story also emphasizes the underlying sin behind the world's confusion. And the antidote is Jesus Christ.

1This is an easy trap in which to fall. It is easy to attribute an act of nature, like a flood, to someone else. Yet, the multitudes did not attribute other features of nature, such as the very fertility of the soil or the resources of the earth, which enriched their prosperous condition, to God. Likewise, the story of the flood is one of theological value. In Christian thought, this account is understood as a cleansing from sin (cf. 1 Pet. 3:18-21). According to tradition preserved in the Talmud, Noah even warned others of the coming flood, shouting to those who did not make it on the ark: "For a hundred and twenty years I entreated ye to follow my words; alas, ‘tis now too late." Even according to the Biblical text, the flood was understood as a consequence of sin:
And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth. And God said to Noah, "I have determined to make an end of all flesh..." "For in seven days I will send rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights; and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground." (Gen. 6:12-13a, 7:4)
The "Nimrod interpretation" of the flood story denies any sin by the multitudes. It misses the theological message that sin leads to destruction. Both the Jewish and Christian understanding of the story uphold this view.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Replies to Planned Parenthood arguments

Recently, the Center for Medical Progress revealed undercover videos taken with Planned Parenthood executives and personnel revealing that the abortion-provider commonly sells baby body parts, allegedly for profit, and in potential violation of various laws. Since covered here on TCV, the Center has released more videos and has announced the release of more in the future. Evidence continues to mount that PP has been involved in trafficking baby body parts for much profit in some cases.

It should be noted, for the purpose of this thought exercise, the aborted victims, many of whose hearts, livers, brains, etc. were sold, will be considered human beings. Lest this article itself be accused of the fallacy of a False Premise, I welcome anyone to confront the question of when life begins and what rational basis can be used to identify that beginning (further reading: Human Personhood Begins at Conception by Dr. Peter Kreeft).

From radio, to the web, to social media, I have heard several common reactions to this PP scandal by PP supporters. Following are paraphrases of four arguments made in support of PP and responses to those arguments.

Studying aborted fetuses leads to cures for diseases, therefore it is a good endeavor.
  • This reaction is a Non Sequitur. It does not follow logically that if a "good" can be derived from any given action that the action therefore must itself be good. For example, it would be good if a random person, say Ted, does not rob a bank. Therefore, if we permanently chain Ted in a dungeon, we can achieve the good that he not rob a bank. However, the acquisition of the good in this case does not eliminate the moral violation inflicted on Ted. In the previous TCV post, we reviewed how Nazi laboratories made medical advancements by subjecting Jews to various tests that often resulted in that Jew's death. It razes the sensibilities to claim virtue in the subjection of unwilling subjects to fatal or maiming experiments.
  • If proponents of this argument suggest medical advancements can only be made by way of sacrificing babies, they commit the fallacy of a False Dichotomy. There are many ways to accomplish medical research without committing human sacrifice. Edit 8/2/15 to add: In unfortunate cases of stillbirths or miscarriages, this science could ethically find ground.
  • Proponents of this argument are essentially espousing the following maxim: the sacrifice of some is justifiable if we can advance medicine. As reviewed in the previous post, the Nazi scientists made this identical argument. However, these proponents are not willing to accept the role of the sacrificed person themselves. In other words, if it is "good" for a person to be sacrificed for the sake of medical advancement, why are these proponents not first in line to have their bodies destroyed and organs sold? It is a serious question. These proponents appear to be very willing to champion the destruction of a person for medical advancement as long as that person is someone else. The hypocrisy reveals that the original claim is not the "good" they claim it is. And there is no irony lost in the idea that the goal of medical advancements is to preserve life.
Planned Parenthood does a lot of good. If they were to close, we would lose all that good. Therefore, they should be left alone.
  • By "lot of good," those who espouse the above argument refer to things like cancer advice or STD treatment. (Some of what PP is alleged to provide, such as mammograms, are actually not provided by PP. For the sake of this reply, let's grant that some PP visitors do indeed receive "good" medical counseling or product of some kind.) Proponents of this argument commit the fallacy of the Halo Effect (or cognitive Splitting). This refers to a person whose psychology only allows himself to view a person or entity as "all good." The beholder is blinded to any evidence that contradicts the "halo" they have assigned to the person or entity. The slaughter of babies are not considered in order to uphold the "halo" assigned to PP. 
  • The argument likewise includes the fallacy of Appeal to Fear. Proponents of this argument also avoid confronting the human violation occurring by scaring listeners into thinking they will lose good medical service if PP's operations are jeopardized.
  • Finally, this argument contains a False Dichotomy. The availability of truly good medical care is not dependent on PP staying in business, nor continuing to provide abortions.
Planned Parenthood must be allowed to continue aborting babies because otherwise who will take care of all these children? There aren't enough adopters and we don't have money to put all these kids in orphanages.
  • Proponents of the "overpopulation" argument commit some of the same fallacies mentioned earlier. One is Appeal to Fear. We are to believe the destruction of babies is "good" because we can avoid the "frightening" idea of having to pay to raise them.
  • There is also here a False Dichotomy. Proponents of the argument assume the baby must be killed or sent to an orphanage/adopter. The option of encouraging the mother to raise the child does not cross their mind. There are at least three reasons why mothers should be encouraged to raise their children. First, is because children fare best in life when raised in a loving house by their mothers and fathers. Obviously, this is not always possible (which is one reason why the Church does not support extramarital sex and welcomes engaged couples to go through marriage encounters to properly prepare for marriage), but in many instances, it is a financially and stably viable option over abortion. Second, as evidenced by a February 2015 study by the Brookings Institute, "low-income women are less likely to...have an abortion once pregnant." This suggests that higher income women still have abortions despite the availability of financial resources. Third, even when the mother is in poverty, there exist a number of non-profits who help discourage abortion by helping those mothers pay to raise their children. For example, places like the Waterleaf Women's Center or Elizabeth's New Life Center help mothers with baby supplies, resources, and counseling.
  • Even in cases where children are adopted or raised in orphanages, it is also reasonable to encourage financial support for these options. It is not logically humane nor dignified to say to a person, "You're too expensive, so we're going to kill you." If money shouldn't be spent on life, on what should it be spent. Similar to the question posed above, should we not ask such proponents of this argument, if society can only afford x number of people, why do you not volunteer your own elimination? The question is provocative and intended as such to reveal that which they ask of the aborted child and to reveal the evil inherent in killing to save money.
The undercover videos are illegal!
  • This line of argumentation is a complete Red Herring from whether or not PP has committed atrocious crimes, whether illegal or immoral or both. Even if the recordings were illegal, it fails to address the morality or legality of what occurs within PP's walls.
  • But to address the Red Herring, the assertion certainly may not be factual. According to federal law:
It shall not be unlawful under this chapter for a person not acting under color of law to intercept a wire, oral, or electronic communication where such person is a party to the communication or where one of the parties to the communication has given prior consent to such interception unless such communication is intercepted for the purpose of committing any criminal or tortious act in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States or of any State. (18 U.S. Code § 2511)
To me, this suggests a real possibility that the recordings were federally legal since the undercover parties were aware of the recording.  
  • State laws vary. As of May 2014, according to the Digital Media Law Project, 38 states require only one-party consent to record conversations. This means one of the criteria for a legal secret recording to occur requires at least one of the parties involved in the conversation to consent to the recording. An article at Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press cites several case studies regarding secret recordings. Some of those cases seem similar to what has happened here in this PP scandal. One is Sussman v. American Broadcasting Co. in which an undercover reporter exposed the activities of "psychic" employees behind the scenes. Another is Desnick vs. ABC, in which ABC sent reporters posing as medical patients to secretly film interaction with a doctor. In both cases, the court found no legal consent violations in the undercover recordings. Even in some one-party consent cases, courts have accepted otherwise questionable recordings in a private home on the basis that the recording was not used to commit a crime or tort (cf. Cora vs. Weintraub LLP). In states that require all-party consent, such a recording may still be considered legal in court based, for example, on whether the conversation took place in public (such as the Dr. Nucatola recording in a CA restaurant). For their part, the Center for Medical Progress, with regard to a two-party consent state like California, said: "The recording was done in full compliance with the California recording statute."