“Brexit” Shocks the World
“And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:4).
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In The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914, historian Barbara Tuchman wrote, “England’s traditional tolerance was outraged at last.” This observation of England in the time just prior to World War I has new meaning given the recent vote in Great Britain to exit the European Union (EU). While many even in England were surprised by the results of the popular vote, it should be noted that Great Britain never committed to a full European union. It kept its own currency, the British pound, opposing the one-size-fits-all monetary policy adopted by the Central Bank. Additionally, unlike in Spain, Greece, and Portugal, there is no deep attachment to Europe as a political identity.
The Treaty of Paris in 1951 proposed to create “United States of Europe” with six countries integrating the coal and steel industries. It became known as the Common Market. Additional countries joined in 1957 and formed the European Economic Community. With the end of the Cold War and the signing of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, the European Union was born. England was in economic distress when it joined, but not so today. Major urban areas such as London supported the EU, but much of the vote favoring exit came from the depressed northern area, where refugee immigration breeds anxiety. While a small number of radicals can wreak havoc, England has taken in just 126,000 asylum seekers, less than 0.2 percent of 64 million people living in the UK.
Economically, the Eurozone (19 countries that adopted the euro) has not grown as expected. Many countries have lower GDP growth rates now than during the crisis of 2007. Harsh monetary policy dictated by the European Central Bank (ECB) has increased disparity between countries. Countries which previously devalued their currencies to make exports more competitive cannot do so with the euro. This has especially hurt Greece and Italy, two countries experiencing great economic weakness. EU countries such as Germany, with strong economies and no restrictions, enjoy robust export markets.
Past Efforts to Unify Europe
Rome was the first empire to unite the continent of Europe. Starting with the unification of the Italian peninsula in 218 BC, the Roman Empire expanded for about 400 years (218 BC-198 AD). After the collapse of the Eastern Empire in 610, all remained stable for about 200 years. Then, in 800, Pope Leo III crowned the Frankish king Charlemagne “emperor of the Romans.” Charlemagne unified a significant part of the continent, including northern Italy, France, most of Germany and the Netherlands. Contemporaries called him Europae Pater, or “father of Europe.”
The Holy Roman Empire (800-1806), together with Papacy, was the dominant pan-European institution of the Middle Ages, controlling what was known as the Kingdom of Germany and northern Italy, but its alliance with the Pope gave it preeminence. England and France led a dispute to Germany’s claim to the “Holy Empire,” igniting a debate over European leadership that continues even today. Still, by maintaining a connection with Rome through the Papacy and the kingdom of Charlemagne, the Holy Roman Empire kept the idea of a unified Europe alive.
Napoleon came closer to unifying the European continent than any one person. In 1799 he declared himself “first consul,” a reference to the dual elected leaders of the Roman Republic. In 1804 he invited Pope Pius VII to crown him emperor at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
Adolf Hitler invaded Russia, as Napoleon did more than a century earlier, and his obsession with dominating Europe, invited parallels to Napoleon. Germany’s Italian ally Benito Mussolini referenced Roman history, but Hitler looked to the German-controlled Holy Roman Empire as his inspiring precedent.
In each of the historical precedents, the desire for political and economic power failed to produce benefits for the subject people. Today’s European Union is now at a critical juncture. The impact from the withdrawal of the UK remains to be seen.
The Tower of Babel
Early in man’s history attempts were made to unify mankind. Following the flood, people organized to build a tower as a center for a global community, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” (Genesis 11:4 NAS). The builders wanted to make a name for themselves rather than obey God’s commandment to multiply and fill the earth (Genesis 9:1). They wanted one united government that would rule over all. God confounded their language so they could not understand each other, and eventually they scattered. Interests became diverse, unique manners and customs developed, color of skin changed through genetic concentration, and cultures diversified.
Genesis 10 contains a Table of Nations, documenting 70 nations / language groups migrating to fill the earth, prodded by their inability to communicate with each other. Archeology confirms the basic details, identifying major people groups, though some are obscure or lost in time. Work documenting world languages is done by missionary organizations (such as the Summer Institute of Linguistics, SIL International), interested in translating the Bible. The most extensive authoritative catalog of languages is found in Ethnologue (an SIL publication). Its detailed classified list as of 2009 includes 6,909 distinct languages.
The Linguistic Society of America (LSA) says most languages belong to a family, a group of languages genetically related to one another. Of Ethnologue’s 6,909 languages, only 230 are spoken in Europe, while 2,197 are spoken in Asia. Ethnologue suggests about 136 distinct families of languages. Going beyond the major languages — English, Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, and a few others with millions of speakers each, a vast number of other languages belong to many genetically distinct families. LSA says a surprising proportion of world languages are disappearing.
The apostle Paul indicates that the dispersion of the people at the Tower of Babel was for a purpose, “And He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation” (Acts 17:26 NAS).
The separation of populations was useful during the past 4000 years. Nations guarded themselves against each other. Language barriers kept people close to those of like tongue. With the advent of mass transportation, national barriers began to break down, and in the past two centuries many barriers have been removed. Zephaniah prophesied of this, “My determination is to gather the nations, that I may assemble the kingdoms” (Zephaniah 3:8).
In this prophecy, Zephaniah says this gathering of peoples precedes the trouble that will consume governments replacing them with a beneficial world government established by Jehovah through Christ and his Church. The confusion that has existed since Babel will be removed. Attempts to establish a unified society will be superseded by a truly beneficial world-wide rule.
Whether literal, figurative, or both, Jehovah says that in the kingdom, all will learn a new language, “Then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the LORD, to serve him with one consent” (Zephaniah 3:9). The message of divine grace and truth then promulgated will be pure. It will bring rich blessings to all who receive it. Let us look forward to that day of true unification!