The Ant and the Falling Sky: An Atheist Parable


And as the Irish Atheist was sitting at the local Starbucks, a great crowd did gather around him. And there were many, both old and young, male and female, conservative and progressive, Evangelical and Catholic and of all manner of denominations. And there was also Oprah.

And the Evangelical Christians did hurl much abuse towards him and did say, “Thou art not an atheist! For there is no such creature as a ‘true’ atheist, for one cannot prove with utter certainty that there is no god!”

And the Irish Atheist did roll his eyes and return to eating his panini, ignoring the smug looks upon the faces of the mob.

And Oprah did say, “Thou art not a ‘true’ atheist, for thou can feel wonder and awe, and in Oprah’s opinion that is not what atheism is.”

And lo, the Irish Atheist did ignore her also, and did glare at her camera crew and twelve personal assistants.

And the progressive Christians did go on to say, in softer and more dulcet tones “Thou cannot be a ‘true’ atheist, for even thou hast said that there may be mysteries and forces that we do not understand or know, and therefore the term ‘agnostic’ is more appropriate.”

And so the Irish Atheist, with much eye rolling and sighing, did turn away from his laptop, and face the crowd that had gathered around him, and began to speak.

And when the Evangelical Christians did hear him speak in a strange dialect, they demanded to know whether he was in the country legally, and to see his green card, and whether he was taking jobs from real Americans, and if he was on welfare.

And after he had finally managed to control the derisive laughter, the Irish Atheist did begin again.

“There was an ant who lived in a large anthill, and his name was Jono.

“And Jono the ant did work hard, and raise his family with love and good discipline, and he always paid his taxes.

“But one day when Jono the ant was working in the fields, a mighty force did descend upon him and crush him, and his body was greatly broken, and he died.

“And many were witnesses to this event.

“And immediately many of the ants were sore afraid, and they believed that the great expanse of the sky was collapsing upon them. And they did fall upon their faces and cry out in loud voices for mercy. And they did smear mud of pleasurable scents upon their exoskeletons and did offer up berries and roots and the carcass of a small fly as offerings to the vengeful sky, so that they would not suffer the fate as Jono.

“And yet more ants did perish in the same manner as Jono, and there was great lamenting within the ant hill.

“After a time, there came to the ants a spider, who claimed that he alone could speak to the angry sky and prevent Jono’s fate from befalling the entire anthill. And the ants, being greatly fearful, did bring the spider into their home. And the spider forbade the offerings of roots and berries, insisting that they be given unto him so that he may better serve in his duties as the chosen messenger for the angry sky god. And the ants gave him all manner of food and drink, and did serve him with devotion, and even gave up their own children to be his sustenance.

“For the spider had assured them that Jono and all the rest who perished had gone to a mighty anthill deep within the earth, where every ant is a Queen and the berries were as large as boulders. And soon, all the ants were in thrall to the spider, and did worship and fear and love him as they did their own Queen.

“And yet more ants did perish in the same manner as Jono, but there was less lamenting than before, for the spider had reassured them and given them comfort, even as he devoured their food and their children.

“One day, an ant named Gally did see the mighty force, and did hear the prayers to the spider. But Gally was of a different sort of ant than the others, more curious and filled with wonder of the world, and not fear. And long had he chaffed under the rule of the spider and did long to bring freedom to his people.

“So Gally went out and did speak to many ants who had witnessed the great force. And he wrote down their accounts in the manner of ants, and did compare them. And he gathered a few other ants of similar mind around him and they did argue and debate and support each other. But it was not until Gally climbed a hill and saw the great force from afar that he and his companions were able to make a crude drawing and bring their findings before the Queen.

“They did tell the Queen that they had found that the great force was not the falling sky, nor was it the angry force that the spider claimed. Rather, they speculated that the force was another living being like themselves, much larger and more complex, but with no malice or ill will towards their community.

“And the spider was filled with wrath and did fall upon the ants, and consumed all of them. And only Gally escaped.

“But Gally was determined, and he did gather other ants around him, ants who had suffered at the hands of the spider and were eager to see him gone. And they did build a watchtower of twigs and pebbles and grass, a wonder unlike any that before had been seen. And in this way they were able to see the great force coming from afar and warn their friends of its coming. And in this way many ants were saved from the fate of Jono.

“And when the Queen and the ants saw how they had been deceived, they drove the spider from their hill in anger. But many of the ants followed the spider, for they did love him and they kept him fed and nourished and vowed that he would rule under the earth once again.

“And Gally was revered among the ants, for he was the first to discover the existence of the human being. And many ants did follow in his footsteps and learned much more about the humans, even able to discern their entire shape.

“But there was much that the ants would not and could not ever know. They would never understand that Jono had died because a human named Jon was rushing to the airport. There, he would ask the love of his life to marry him. And his act would give her the will and courage to fight through a terrible deployment in Afghanistan and return to the family who needed here. The ants cannot discover this, for such things as human love, and airports, and deployments, and Afghanistan are far beyond the capacity of knowledge that evolution has given to an ant.

“For you see,” said the Irish Atheist, “so am I like Gally and the ants. For there are mysteries that I cannot know, and wonders that are beyond my capacity. There may even be forces of knowledge and power that all human discovery has only borne a glimpse of. But lo, I am still an atheist. For even though there is much that I do not know, I have climbed the watchtower and learned that ‘gods’ are the creation of spiders.”

And the progressive Christians did say, “We do not agree with you, but we will except your labeling and not contest it.”

And Oprah did say nothing, for she had rushed off to prevent Tom Cruise from leaping upon her new upholstery.

And the Evangelical Christians did say, “Though shalt burn in hellfire and Satan shall roast your sinful flesh!”

And the Irish Atheist did turn away, for he had much work to do and he had tired of speaking in such pretentious and archaic tones. And he did find that his panini had grown cold and he was sorely irritated.

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