A few weeks ago after a long day at work, I sat down to take in a episode of Build it Bigger on the Science Channel. Now, before you make any judgments, let me just say I am a Science Channel junkie. That particular evening Build it Bigger was doing a special on the Burj Khalifa Tower located in Dubai of the United Arab Emirates. The Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world peaking out at a mere 2,722 ft. tall. Seriously, that means this building is over half a mile high. As far as buildings go, this structure is one of the most impressive structures I have ever seen. Not long into the program that evening, the project manager of the site build made a statement that caught my attention, “There is nothing we can’t accomplish!” Similar to many great engineering projects of history, such as the Colossus of Rhodes, the Lighthouse of Alexandria, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Great Pyramid of Giza and the Tower of Babel… once created, those who took part seemed to believe all is possible by their own hands. In doing so, a sense of buffered identity from the divine occurs.
This past week while reading A Secular Age by Charles Taylor I was struck by the concept of the buffered identity. A buffered identify occurs when humans seek a personal safety through the creation of comforts, machines and modern conveniences. Through these creations a subtle disengagement occurs creating what both Burke and Kant describe as the sublime. This sublime serves as an appeasement to the difficult reality that we control very little in life. The following are three key concepts which emerged from the sublime.
A Distancing… Once the sublime has captured ones perspective, a natural distancing occurs. In the creation of comforts, one’s overall need for God and the divine are distanced. Removing pain, hurt, poverty, death and disease from proximity causes a false reality to be born. In this sublime reality, decisions are made for self preservation as well as upholding the pseudo world comfort.
A Lifting Up… Builders of great structures often take on reflective attitudes of the structures. An employee of the White Star Line, just prior to the launch of the RMS Titanic declared, “Not even God himself could sink this ship.” Not long after, this great engineering marvel rested at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Yet for many involved in these great projects, a subtle but lifting of position occurs. Is it possible that through the creation of these sublime objects, that humans quite often mistake the creation talents given by God for their own attempts in becoming like God?
A Lack of Need… The sublime blurs, creating a softer gentler reality. In the creation of our objects, we have less need for God. Subtly the created object becomes what holds our attention. Maybe even our heart and our money. The more we add in life, the more consumed we are by complexity. A few years ago a remember watching the opening game in the new Dallas Cowboys Stadium. One of the announcers said, ” Being inside makes all forget about the reality of this land outside, which is currently 115 degrees Fahrenheit.” Our objects stand as monuments of our own achievements often creating a lack of need for the divine.
When I heard the project manager for the Burj Khalifa make his statement with such emphasis, I couldn’t help but think of Genesis 11:3-6 – They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 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.”
5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 6 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.