Beyond Babel


By Frank Wessling

Anyone looking around at human behavior through history has to conclude that something went very wrong way back at the beginning. We have so much trouble behaving well both personally and communally. The doctrine of Original Sin seems obviously true.
If everything God made is good, then we seem easily attracted to the lesser goods, like children who prefer the surface sparkle of cheap jewelry to the deep light of a fine diamond. And we fight over possessing lesser goods.

Another biblical story, the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1-9), points to another breakdown early in the human story. At Babel, a reach beyond human limits results in a loss of free and easy communication; a kind of Original Confusion that explains why we have such trouble finding and sharing the truth about things in the world and, most of all, about each other.

Our ability to communicate is weak, requiring constant care. But that is hard, often delicate, work requiring patience and humility all around. And we’re not good at that (refer to Original Sin).


An Iowa court case arising from the legalizing of same-sex marriage is an illustration.

Two Des Moines women, married under Iowa law after that became possible, want to have both of their names on the birth certificate of a child one of them conceived by use of an anonymous sperm donor. This had been denied. Since parentage requires a male and a female, birth certificates historically contain the names of the mother and her husband, the presumed father. In this way the child’s maternal and paternal ancestry can both be traced.

Polk County District Court Judge Eliza Ovrom last week ordered the state Department of Public Health to issue an unusual birth certificate naming both women as parents of the child. There was a change of direction in the case after the attorney for the women pointed out that the state lists married men as parents on birth certificates even when it is impossible for them to have been the biological father.

With modern technology enabling women to conceive at will, without the involvement of any man they know, and raise children alone or in combination with any male or female companion or companions they may take on either serially or long term, confusion should grow about ancestry, genetic history and familial relationships.

Birth certificates may avoid the full truth in the interest of political correctness, but reality will bite in some way, sooner or later, no matter what confusion the state tolerates or encourages.

Christianity, the Catholic Church in particular, and most religious traditions have had a better way of living with the human reproductive instinct. Instead of accepting it only at the level of instinctual attraction and coupling, we see a greater possibility. We really are meant to become like God, as Adam and Eve tried and the people building the tower of Babel tried. But their mistakes led them away from enduring, sustaining, self-revealing and flourishing relationships. They got isolation and a wandering lifestyle instead.

The proper way to reach for Godhood is to fully respect what we’ve been given in human nature, especially the desire to find good in personal relationships. That natural desire will settle for lesser goods, as we know from experience, unless it is continually drawn to the greater good. A fixed attention to the greater good will lead us beyond singular selfishness toward a new self-in-union. This is love, the kind of love modeled in Jesus and the new creation way of marriage, child-bearing and world peace. We must allow ourselves to be continually drawn upward and outward into this reality.

That’s why the Church says the norm for the human race is children produced naturally as a result of love between a man and woman who have pledged their lives to their common good, a faint intimation of the Trinitarian life of God.

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