When the human animal developed an ego our species began a long, slow separation from Nature. What was once a guilt-free ride in the unconscious maternal matrix where instinct ruled, unchallenged, became an arduous trek through the tangled jungles of guilt, self-torment, and self-doubt. For the first time we reflected on the consequences of acting on our obsessive urges. We discovered the value of planning ahead and self-restraint. And we bowed in respect to the rare members of our tribes who demonstrated the benefits of living with these new skills.
Something miraculous was happening to us. No longer were we merely crude vessels whose only aims were procreation and survival. We were evolving into consciousness.
This is the metaphorical meaning of the Old Testament story of the tower of Babel (Genesis 11: 1-9).
At that time all mankind spoke a single language. As the population grew and spread eastward, a plain was discovered in the land of Babylon, and was soon thickly populated. The people who lived there began to talk about building a great city,with a temple-tower reaching to the skies—a proud, eternal monument to themselves. ‘This will weld us together,’ they said…But when God came down to see the city and the tower mankind was making, he said, ‘Look! If they are able to accomplish all this when they have just begun to exploit their linguistic and political unity, just think of what they will do later! Nothing will be unattainable for them! Come, let us go down and give them different languages so that they won’t understand each other’s words!’ (The Living Bible Paraphrased. Carmel, New York: Guideposts Associates, Inc. 1971, p. 8)
In this story people are hoping to re-create the golden paradise of unity in which they luxuriated before they became self-aware. But the jealous Old Testament God has a very different perspective. He sees their wish as prideful and self-centered just as he sees Eve’s desire to know the difference between good and evil as selfish and disobedient. So he punishes them by separating them from all that feels familiar and safe and cursing them with the confusion and mistrust that naturally arise between different cultures.
But who is the “us” God refers to when he says, “…let us go down and give them different languages so that they won’t understand each other’s words”?
An even more problematic question is,“Why would God want to confuse humanity?” Could this really be the intent of an authentically benevolent deity or has another, unconscious force been shaping our ideas and stories about God?
Let’s begin with my first question. In Biblical, Apocryphal and Gnostic traditions, Sophia symbolized God’s Wisdom. In Judaism the Shechinah was God’s female persona.
Feminine wisdom was the partner of the God of logos from the beginning, but we saw less of her as the ego grew stronger in its grand march through the ages. The reason for this lies in the natural development of our psyches. If consciousness was evolution’s gift to us, dualism was its curse. Recognizing our choices gave rise to conscience and moral responsibility, and we became conflict-ridden crucibles of transformation. What had once been a unified, albeit unconscious psyche, was changing into a house divided against itself. And as we changed, our God-images changed.
This was the situation at the stage of the ego’s growth represented by the story of the Tower of Babel. We’d long been banished from Eden’s paradise of childhood innocence and had grown into conflicted teenagers. One part of us yearned to return to the comforts of unconsciousness, the other wanted to push on to express our individuality. To the young ego, both choices were profoundly attractive, and both were intolerable.
Was it a jealous God who wanted to confuse and separate humanity? Or was this God-image the creation of a confused adolescent ego? In fact, dualistic thinking was separating us from our original sense of unity and part of us wanted to preserve it by “erecting a monument” to it. But to the other part, returning to the unconscious state it associated with the maternal matrix felt like death!
So the fearful, ambitious part of our ego took the lead and aligned itself primarily with “masculine” values like toughness, goal-oriented striving, separating, clear thinking, and individuating, and projected these values onto a masculine Sky God of logos. Correspondingly it disowned “feminine” values like softness, relatedness, nurturance, tender feeling, pleasurable sensation, an understanding heart, and a restful diffuse awareness in which one is vitally present and connected to the whole. And to escape its guilt about abandoning Great Mother, it assumed “God made me do it!”
Next time, Mandorla Consciousness, Part II.
Note: This post and the next one were originally published by the Center for Action and Contemplation under the title, The Mandorla Consciousness. Radical Grace, Summer 2012, vol. 25, no 3, p. 18.
Image Credits: Google Images, Tower of Babel, Pieter Bruegel the Elder