Babylcat: Babylon Meets the CCC
What if the pagans of Ancient Babylon took the traditions of the Enuma Elish and compiled and edited their teaching for the instruction of their youth? I imagine the results would be something like the following:
The Most Sacred Catechism of the Third Plenary Council of Babylon
With references and notes for today’s youth
1. Who made the world?
A: The gods made the world.
2. Who are the gods?
A: Tiamat, Apsu, Mummu, Ea, Damkina are all gods, but Marduk is their King.
3. Why is Marduk worthy of praise?
A: Because he vanquished Tiamat and Kingu, and used their corpses to create the earth and men.
4. Why did Marduk make man?
A: To serve the gods as their slaves.
The fictitious BabylCat’s first four questions, comical as they are, present a cosmos vastly different from the world as it is known by the Judeo-Christian tradition. Although the points of departure are many, the BabylCat underscores the three most important differences between Christian and Babylonian thought. First, in the Babylonian account, a pantheon of gods pre-exists the creation of men. Second, the god Marduk must merit his right to be worshipped. Finally, Marduk makes men out of the flesh of the fallen that they may serve him as slaves.
The Hebrew belief in one God, perfect in goodness, set the Jewish people apart from the vast majority of ancient cultures. The one God is totally good: evil is not in him, nor is evil from Him. On the other hand, the gods of Babylon are both good and evil. They suffer temptations and succumb to passions just as human persons do. Thus in the beginning of the world, there was a great battle between clashing cosmic forces attributed to various deities. For Christians today, it may seem rudimentary to believe that God is one and completely good, but we do well to meditate on this momentous truth. The fact that God is one and good keeps believers clear of the creeping temptations of the Star Wars cosmology and the deification of evil.
The one, good God who reveals himself to Abraham, Moses and the prophets deserves praise simply because of who he is. By his very being this God is worthy of adoration. He is Lord of the Universe since all things depend on him for existence, from the very moment he made them until the moment they cease to be. The God of Abraham is the only necessary being, which is to say, He is the only thing that needs to be. Everything else comes from him, depends on him, and is subject to his rule. Marduk, on the other hand, must merit his lordship. Marduk becomes King of the gods by vanquishing a foe, by proving that he is the strongest of the gods in the Babylonian epic. The difference between God and Marduk stems from existence. There is an infinite gap between the transcendent and necessary existence of God and Marduk’s paltry existence as the Babylonian strongman.
Finally, when Marduk makes the world he molds it out of the flesh and bone of his vanquished enemies. Again, our God outdoes Marduk, since He creates all of creation ex nihilo, out of nothing. Whereas Marduk reforges things already in existence, our God gives the goodness of being to the world from its very inception. In the Babylonian conception, the world had to be refashioned in order to be made good, but in the Christian account, the created world is good from the beginning.
Ultimately, the Christian God bestows a great dignity on man, when He makes man in His own image. Like everything God has made, man is good by virtue of his creation, but as being created in the Imago Dei, man is called to an even more exalted participation in God’s own goodness. Human beings, from the start, resemble their maker and are called to participate in God’s own divine life. The whole point of a Christian’s life is communion with God. By the revelation of the truths of the faith, the grace of the sacraments, and the discipleship of the moral life, God calls each person to union with him.
The call to communion with the triune God is the great theme of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), upon which Pope Benedict has called the faithful to meditate anew during this Year of Faith. Within the first chapter of the CCC, we can already find the three main differences between the Christian cosmos and the Babylonian worldview. Having established the fundamentals of the Christian understanding of the cosmos, the Catechism then lays out in three sections the contents of the faith which we profess, the celebration of the Christian mystery (sacraments) and life in Christ (the moral life). The Catechism concludes with a final section on prayer, the foretaste of communion with God. For in prayer, even in this life, the Christian can have a living relationship with the Lord of all creation, who is goodness beyond measure.
Image: Assyrian Cuniform Tablet