Do we live in Babylon?
This post is me trying to express the sadness I feel seeing litter everywhere, increasing, imagining the beauty Manhattan island once held before we paved it over; seeing how doof covers over beauty of the human body with disease and excess.
My sadness runs deeper than that lost beauty. I lament the abdication and capitulation of responsibility. At least half the people I see walking the streets of this city are carrying something disposable. Nearly everything they put in their mouths comes with poison packaging it.
They act as if they had no choice, as if it was normal that every thing they eat or consume comes with pollution. They’ve given up on nature. They don’t know what they’re missing. They act as if not polluting is privileged luxury, available only to lucky few when it’s the exact opposite: privilege and luxury create the pollution.
I struggle to put into words how sad this abdication and embracing of this loss makes me. Our collective empty hearts . . . how can I express what we’ve lost, filling the gap with flights and doof, accelerating the loss.
Lately, a song has expressed that feeling. I think it frequently while seeing litter and garbage levels increase, as well as human capitulation levels.
Babylon and Rastafarianism
Listening to Revelation led me to look up Babylon, which led me to listening to The Rivers of Babylon, which turns out to be one of the few songs whose words are just biblical verse (Turn, Turn, Turn is another). Here are some of the lyrics (I’ll quote Psalm 137, which the song quotes, below).
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down. Yeah, we wept, when we remembered Zion. By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down. Yeah, we wept, when we remembered Zion. There the wicked carried us away in captivity. Required from us a song. Now how shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?
The song and psalm express sadness at a loss of paradise, taken away from it by force, then forced to act like everything is fine and sing of that paradise. I knew the original first:
But found the more popular version (150 million views, compared to nearly 700,000) expressed the emotions of loss and longing more, so have been listening to it (warning: it’s catchy and will stay in your head):
I started learning the Rastafarian meanings of Babylon and Zion. Obviously, I’m scratching the surface from an outside perspective, but their meaning, as I understand it, resonates with our world. From Wikipedia:
In Rastafari, “Zion” stands for a utopian place of unity, peace and freedom, as opposed to “Babylon”, the oppressing and exploiting system of the materialistic modern world and a place of evil.
This page, What Is Babylon For Rastas?, describes it more fully:
a city that wants to impose itself on others, terribly proud and authoritarian . . . Babylon has become the very image of human depravity . . . Babylon is not just an image of human depravity . . . As a symbol of human corruption and pride in the Bible, the city is also the image of a rich land where gold abounds. The sacred text even though it denigrates the city at the same time makes its apology since it displays its prestige and domination over other empires. It is the very image of man’s power over nature and over other men.
Meanwhile, this site, The Metaphysical meaning of the term Zion in RasTafari, describes Zion:
Love’s abode in the phase of the subjective consciousness where high, holy thoughts and ideals abide (clear, i.e., unobstructed, sunshine, set up, monument, fortress, landmark, a fortified hill, which later became a part of Jerusalem).
These meanings ring tragically true to our polluted world. I feel enslaved to a polluting system. I can’t escape the poisons. Most people around me embrace that system and call me extreme, as if not polluting cost more. They lecture me about how powerless they are to make a difference and how privileged I must be, by which they really mean naively and ignorantly stupid, for accidents of my birth. Then they buy coffee in disposable cups, fly to birthday parties in Cancun for friends who live driving distance away, and complain about others polluting and their own powerlessness to stop buying plane tickets and doof.
Are we in Babylon?
I ask you, have we paved paradise and created the land of depravity that scripture has warned us against for millennia?
Psalm 137 New King James Version: Longing for Zion in a Foreign Land
By the rivers of Babylon, There we sat down, yea, we wept When we remembered Zion. 2 We hung our harps Upon the willows in the midst of it. 3 For there those who carried us away captive asked of us a song, And those who plundered us requested mirth, Saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” 4 How shall we sing the Lord’s song In a foreign land? 5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, Let my right hand forget its skill! 6 If I do not remember you, Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth— If I do not exalt Jerusalem Above my chief joy. 7 Remember, O Lord, against the sons of Edom The day of Jerusalem, Who said, “Raze it, raze it, To its very foundation!” 8 O daughter of Babylon, who are to be destroyed, Happy the one who repays you as you have served us! 9 Happy the one who takes and dashes Your little ones against the rock!
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