Have you seen Prometheus? It’s a contrived, confusing jumble of a film, but beautifully packaged in lush starscapes, vaguely sensual tight-fitting space-suits and obscene HR Giger sets based around the reproductive organs of adult human males and females. Basically (and as the name suggests) it’s a creation myth, but with added gratuitous violence and a sexy bit. I enjoyed it.
Chatting with my classicist/archaeologist brother about the film and Greek, Roman and Abrahamic creation stories this morning, I remembered this thing that I wrote three or four years ago when I had a lot of time on my hands and needed to look busy at work despite not actually having anything to do. It’s not very good and it kind of stops before it really gets started, but reading it again now made me laugh, so here it is.
(Edit: My archaeologist brother has written about Prometheus on his blog as well, with more insight than I have, but also with more errors in grammar and usage.)
Boredom is a killer.
Imagine having such vast quantities of free time that they spread before you, filling your future in the same gaping, black, vacant way a meteor crater fills a mountain scape. Imagine spending an eternity waiting for something fun to happen. But nothing ever does happen. Nothing ever will happen.
Having a hobby can help. Passing the time by taking the train into vast expanses of countryside, using a long-poled net to swipe butterflies from the air, taking them home, gassing them and pinning their lifeless bodies to ply-board. Making a collection of them.
Or perhaps some kind of project. Buying up a plot of wasteland. Clearing it, levelling it, ploughing it, planting clover or potatoes or runner beans.
Good for long weekends, or perhaps a nice plan for one’s retirement.
But what if your black hole of free time is so inexpressibly vast, so unimaginably eternal, that you have already exhausted every possibility of every conceivable hobbies and projects? You have mastered the bassoon, fixed up that run-down Georgian country house, created perfect twenty-centimetre replicas of spreading maple trees, perfected your backhand topspin, learned Sanskrit, solved every possible sudoku puzzle, written a novel. And still your holiday lasts eternal. What next?
And so, at a loss for anything else to do, God created the world.
Before going into how He went about doing so, first it is important to have some background information on what God is. Not some guy with a long white beard squatting on a cloud, occasionally answering the odd prayer while sorting saints from sinners and banishing each to the appropriate post-life eternity. To understand something of God, first go somewhere where utterly silent. No passing traffic. No gurgling stream. No birdsong. No wind in the trees. Total silence. Then, close your eyes and let your mind go blank until it’s numb. This could take a very long time. Next, think about everything your know, and imagine everything else, all at the same time – in the same instant. The action should give your numbed brain pins and needles.
That feeling, pins and needles in your brain, is God. Well, that, multiplied by eternity.
To put it another way, there is the mathematical explanation. Any school child knows – or at least, would have heard at least once (provided their teacher was at least vaguely competent) if they had been paying attention in class – that any number divided by itself equals 1. Zero divided by any number equals zero. And any number divided by zero equals infinity. So, in a single mathematical equation, God = zero divided by zero. In other words, God is nothing, everything, and one, all at the same time.
Before anything else existed, before time began, all there was, and all there ever had been, was God. And He was bored. Left alone for an eternity in nothing, with nothing but His imagination. Well, work with what you’ve got, He thought, so He imagined a world.
Being a bit of a sports fan, the first thing He thought of was a football, and so the world took the shape of a sphere. And then, being fond of botany, He decorated His creation with bonsai maple trees, miniature pines, and cross-bred roses, with a smattering of sweet cherry and plum trees.
His first attempt, however, was unsuccessful. The trees had no water and no light, and so they soon withered and died. God was not to be discouraged, however – especially as He had nothing else to be getting on with. His second attempt, He started off by fixing up a decent light source. As an afterthought, He decided to kill two birds with one stone by having it provide His world not only with light, but also with heat. He tried to set up a complicated harness that would allow the light to float in a constantly moving orbit around His world, so that every part would be lit and heated equally, but found that it had a tendency to blow out its bulbs when moved. So instead, he fixed the world up so that it would move around the light, finding, after some trial and error, that a fixed orbit was not only easier from an engineering point of view, but would also create a variety of climate across the little world that on second thought was actually rather charming. Putting the world on a tilted axis would ensure that almost all parts would experience some variation – warm when tilted towards the light, cool when tilted away – rather than some parts staying constantly too hot while others were constantly too cold. Next, He began again on his football, this time adding a good deal of water covering the surface, just to be on the safe side. With painstaking attention to detail, He began to add his trees and shrubs. When He found He had more tiny pines and firs than He could fit on the football, He decided to increase his work area by raising some parts of the surface. When He had finished, He stood back to admire His handiwork.
He felt very pleased with Himself for a little while, but soon became listless once again, and began to wonder if there wasn’t anything else He could do with his little project. He thought, “Maybe I could make some kind of musical box out of it?” And so He filled the little trees with tiny birds, which sang constantly, and for a while that kept Him happy. But there was something lacking from the sound. What was it? Perhaps the pitch was too limited. Yes, that was it. So God added larger creatures below the trees, things whose roars and bleats and growls added a satisfying bass-line to the birds’ melody. Having an extensive knowledge of music, he knew that altering the shape of the creature would alter the sound it produced, and so he made large, long-nosed animals which were capable of uttering deafening trumpet-like calls; ugly, squat little things that made percussion-like cackles; long, thin, legless things that produced a constant hiss, almost like the crackle of static. He found that differently shaped creatures would flourish in certain areas of the world but perish in others, so he tried to adapt each new creation – something with a thick coat for the cold areas, something with a thin skin for a hot place. Also, occasionally different types would kill or eat each other. A piece of engineering genius allowed the creatures to reproduce themselves, so that he could concentrate on making new types.
The more He experimented, the more He became engrossed in the task. When He felt happy, He would make beautifully coloured beasts with elaborate patterns; when He fancied a challenge, He built tiny things with many legs and detailed eyes. If He felt angry, He experimented with vicious teeth and sharp claws; when sad, He gave his creations friendly woolly coats or soothing liquid eyes. Occasionally He would make something out of pure whimsy. A bird that could not fly. An animal that could. An animal that looked ferocious but was in fact harmless. A tiny bug that looked fragile but could cause great harm with a single bite. If He created something especially beautiful, He would place it in pride of place in the most luxuriant forest, or atop a high mountain. If He made something physically repulsive, He would bury it underground, or deep in the sea. Thus absorbed, God escaped the drudgery of eternity.
But what He really wanted was someone to talk to about His work. He though it such a good idea, such a piece of innovation, that He felt a burning desire to have it admired, to hear it complimented. But the problem with being everything and nothing and one all at the same time is that there is no-one else to talk to. So He hit on a piece of genius – He would make a new creature for the world – one that would chat to Him, appreciate His handiwork, rely on Him for advice and instruction.