There is so much wrong in this video that it’s hard to find a place to start, or even one single point to critique. The things Barton says in this video are so patently absurd that it’s almost difficult to imagine anyone saying them with a straight face.
But, he does, and from what I know of Barton, I’m betting he’s sincere.
If you don’t want to watch the video, this is what he says in a nutshell:
The story of the Tower of Babel is actually a parable for the way God feels about socialism. How do we know this? The people made bricks. Those bricks were all identical, which violates God’s action of creating every human being unique. Therefore, God hates socialism.
There are so many glaring problems here; it’s laughable and hard to conjure up a rational response. Still I feel compelled to try (Why? Not really sure).
First is the obvious logic fail. If a society that creates lots of identical things in order to build an architectural structure is a parable of a socialist society that deserves God’s wrath, what does that say about the United States, the birthplace of the assembly line (or any number of other cultures and societies through history)? If God wishes to judge these types of socialistic societies in order to demonstrate God’s hatred of socialism, why not America? We’re literally the perfect target.
Second is the perplexing exegesis. Here’s the story, in its entirety.
Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.
They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
Most commonly, I’ve heard preachers use this story as a cautionary tale to evoke humility. We are not gods, and we should not aspire to be. But even that interpretation is specious if you simply take the story at face value. I can envision a tribal elder telling this story around the fire to young, inquiring minds who wonder why different groups of people speak different languages. Undoubtedly, this is what the story is – an explanation generated to make sense of the various languages of the Ancient Near East.
Barton, though, sees it as a parable for the evils of socialism. Pretty convenient given his political persuasions, no? Barton, as you can easily verify by perusing his website, is a biblical literalist, which means he should take this story literally (which ironically, I do above, even though I’m not a literalist). But he he does everything but take the story literally. Where is any mention of socialism in this text (or anywhere in the Old Testament? Nowhere – it didn’t even exist? Where is anything about God being “ticked off”? To my eye, God looks more afraid of what humanity might accomplish if anything. Where is anything that references humanity trying to “standardize” itself? The people in the story of attempting to reach the heavens and make a name for themselves, not become identical cogs in a socialist machine. In addition to being nothing more than hogwash, it’s completely self-serving hypocrisy.
Here’s the rub (and why I’m writing so much here): the religious right does this all the time!
They clothe and mask their conservative ideology in biblical stories by torturing and contorting the text so they can make it say what they want it to. Always? No, not always. But often enough that I would say this to all of my conservatively-minded friends (and liberally-minded, too!):
The next time you hear someone couch a political agenda in biblical terms, put that message to the most strenuous, critical test you can.