Have We Built This Tower on Sand or Rock?

“The one who listens and does not act is like a person who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, it collapsed at once and was completely destroyed.” (Luke 6:49)

Woodcut of the Duomo of Pisa and its leaning campanile.
Woodcut of the Duomo of Pisa and its leaning campanile. (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

On Aug. 9, 1173, the foundation stones were laid for a freestanding bell tower, known as a campanile, for a cathedral in Italy. By 1178, during the construction of the second floor, the tower began to sink because of a shallow foundation on unstable subsoil. Due to the tower’s movement and outside political factors, construction was put off until 1272. By the time it was completed, in 1319, the tower was leaning significantly.

The tilt only got worse as time went on, and it came to be known as the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Numerous efforts were made to stabilize or correct the tower’s tilt, but none of them worked, and some only made it worse. In 1964 the government of Italy reached out to the international community asking for help. A task force of engineers and mathematicians from all over the world was assembled. Weights were added to one side and the bells were removed. Cables were attached. Eventually, 70 metric tons of soil were removed from below the tower, and that was enough to stabilize it.

The moral of the story is this: no matter what was done during the assembly and construction of the tower, nothing was going to keep the tower from eventually falling over unless the foundation was addressed.

The true story of the Leaning Tower of Pisa is a parable for each person individually and society in general. As a matter of fact, Our Lord used that very metaphor. Build on a bad foundation, and the building is unstable. Lead a life oriented by a faulty philosophy, and spiritual ruin is inevitable. Assemble a society on metaphysical mayhem, and the resulting societal mayhem is unavoidable.      

In Lost in the Cosmos, medical doctor, writer and philosopher Walker Percy wrote, “You live in a deranged age — more deranged than usual, because despite great scientific and technological advances, man has not the faintest idea of who he is or what he is doing.” We know more and more about the measurable characteristics of the outside world, but we know less and less about ourselves. And if we do not know ourselves, then we do now know what society is or its purpose.

Every action is directed toward some perceived good. Without knowing the nature of the human person and, thus, the nature of society, we cannot know their true good. A blind man with a gun is dangerous not because he is blind or has a gun, but because he does not know where to aim. Sound philosophy and theology is the only way to come to an understanding of what and who we are.

We are currently witnessing an all-time high in addiction, suicidal thoughts, depression and anxiety among our youth. Instead of fabricating band-aids to support the structure from outside, this should be a wake-up call to the architects and engineers to reexamine the foundations. Small mistakes in the beginning result in large mistakes in the end. Unfortunately, as Plato pointed out, the most damaging thing about stupidity is its self-satisfaction. When the building we have constructed on the foundation of our world view is our very selves, the soul itself is out of balance and cannot judge rightly.

I cannot tell if the building will fall, but in this I trust: that the foundation of the solid rock will not be broken. Christ has promised that even the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.