Parable of the Ants: Reflections on Development of Doctrine
plus
Comparison with the Way of Myth

1.  Parable Of The Ants: Part One -- Relationships

Theos

to

humans

to

ants

        We are a long distance from the ants -- that is the distance between our species and the species of ants. We seem vastly superior in comparison to ants. Ants seem an alien undeveloped lifeform to us. What a gulf separates us! And yet if the gulf between us and ants seems enormous,[the human-to-ants" gulf] how much greater is the gulf between Theos and us -- between the kind of reality Theos is and the kind of being we humans are. The "Theos-to-humans " gulf is between
an" infinite reality" and a "finite lifeform."

        If we ask what it would be like to be an ant, the question is almost incomprehensible. We should have to dim our consciousness to a darkness where we might well wonder if it should be called consciousness at all.

        Could an ant imagine what it would be like to live a human life? Such a task no doubt would be harder still.

        The ant would be using its highest powers to infer something about a way of being far above it.

        With respect to Theos [That which creates and sustains and receives all things],
                                                            are we not worse off than is the ant who tries to understand a human?

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            To continue this analogy, let us construct a fantasy adding only what is needed for the parable. We shall add another four "C’s" : Consciousness, Communications, Culture and Creation.

First, we need in our ants some form of consciousness however primitive.

Second, we need in our ants some form of communication -- a form of language.

Third, we need to add culture -- the capacity for discovery and transmission of discovery.
        Thus, we are imagining a colony of ants such as we have never known -- a colony
                                of ants with culture and tradition and hence history.

Fourth, we need to add "creation by us" -- add the (untrue) assumption that
we humans created the ants and their world. We imprinted on the ants their initial programming.

        Let us suppose that a genius ant came to the insight that the ordered world of the ants was created by the Great Ant Gods.

        The Great Ant Gods, he might say, implanted in the ants the capacity to create colonies.
        The Great Ant Gods did for the world what ordinary ants do -- made the world a place in which to make colonies.
        To create such a place, the Great Ant Gods must be very large.
        Perhaps he would add that the biggest and strongest worker ants were most like the Great Ant Gods and so most favored.

        WE KNOW, however, that it was we who created the ants and their world. We, in fact, are what they refer to as the Great Ant Gods. But they are mistaken about the kind of being be are. Yet we love the ants and especially the best of the ants and so we wish to help them. We decide to tell them about ourselves; to reveal ourselves to them. How will we do this? Only in the language of the ants -- born of ant tasks in an ant world. Only in a way suitable to their dim consciousness.

        How shall we tell them of our way of life -- of love, of care, of truthfulness, of joy, of peace, of creativity and beauty? In trying to adapt our message to their communications and consciousness, we are in a worst position than when we speak babytalk to infants of our own species!

          Perhaps we can at least correct their "ant-o-pomorphic" picturing of us.

We might say our name is not Great Ant Gods but Guardians of the Ants
                                                (though we realize they will still think of us as ants!).

We might command them to form no pictures of Great Ants
                                                for that is not the best way for them to think of us.

We might say that we are NOT as ants with ant-legs and ant-bodies and antennae and the like.

We might tell them that if we the Guardians stood before them, we would fill the range of their vision.
                                                We would appear to them like the night -- a blackness and a void.


    Taken together, the method is one of NOT,                                          not = the tilde ( ~ );
                                                              NOT LESS THAN,                  not less than = ( ~ < ),
                                                                            MORE                        more = ( > )

     We might tell the ants that they should take the highest of ant qualities as starting points.

    That they should take these qualities down the path of NOT and NOT LESS THAN and down the path of  MORE.

    When they speak of us -- the Guardians, they should use
            (a) the Path of NOT and NOT LESS THAN (Not like ants yet not less than ants) PLUS
            (b) the Path of GREATER (rather say, whatever ants are, the Guardians are MORE than ants).

[In this parable, those with some theological knowledge will recognize the medieval doctrine of predication of attributes to the Infinite called the Via Negativa (roughly our Path of Not and Not Less Than) and the Via Eminentiae (roughly our path of Greater). In the East, such a move is known as the Way of Neti, Neti -- and is even more radical in its systematic denial of creaturely attributes than the West is.  "Neti, neti"  goes so far as to say Theos/Tao/Brahman neither exists nor not exists.].
        Surely there will be those among the ants who will say that such so-called "Guardians of Ants" who are not ants do not exist! For indeed such "ant skeptics" will say: all you believer ants ever do is say what these so-called "guardians" are NOT. You believer ants tell us that the "guardians" are not as we ants are. You tell us the "guardians" are not less than us ants. You tell us the "guardians" are -- in some unspecified way greater than we are. Gobbledygook and nonsense!

[We the Guardians love the skeptical ants as well for they are closer in their denial than are some of the believer ants who smuggle back Great Ant qualities in their prayers.]

        Now, let us return to our human situation with respect to
                                   Theos/Tao/Brahman/Dharma/Ground of Being/Structure of Reality, etc.

        We stand to the infinite as the ants stood to us. We are paltry, finite creatures, dark of understanding. Perhaps a man or woman genius among us might have inspect the order and meaning in the world and reasoned that all this wondrous universe must have been created by a wondrous intelligent being. That would be a great step (even though whe we speak of a "being," we smuggle back more "thing"-talk.) Still it would tell little of what the life of such a supreme "being?" was like.

        Indeed, even at our most respectful, we could not (it seems) talk about such a "being" without making that being "the Great Mother Goddess" or the "Great Man God" and speaking of this one as mother, father, king, etc. Speaking of her heart and his strong arm. Speaking of her as giver of birth and him as Great Warrior and them as Strong Lovers. Perhaps we too must take the Path of Not and Not Less than plus the Path of More, the path of Greater.

        We must keep saying that the Great One is more unlike us than like us. The Great One is not a man or a woman such as we with heart and mouth and arms, etc. Still all of our words are earth words -- words born of human activity and experience. We are in fact in a situation more difficult than the ants are with us --
                        for Theos is the infinite uncreated "Not One, Not Two" while we are creatures --
                                                        finite, limited to space and time and material modes of perception, etc.

        The One (we fall short again!) might "say" this: "I am not material like you are. So you must choose qualities least dependent on matter. Do not say I run for I have not legs like humans. Do not say I cry for I shed not tears like humans. Rather take the qualities like wisdom and kindness and justice and love and use these to try and get a glimmer of who and what I am. Furthermore, as you keep learning and developing, continue to refine your images and notions about me. Apply Sullivan’s Law: ‘Whatever Theos is, Theos must be greater than the best that humans are -- certainly not less.’ This is simply using the Path of Not, Not Less Than and also the Path of More. Take your wisest and best persons. If they are good and wise, understanding and forgiving, then say to yourself that your God must be more, not less, than these -- your wisest and kindest. As humans grow, you must allow your inadequate notions of Theos to grow as well. For I [Theos says] am not outdone by you men and women. Do you think that if you humans are understanding, I am less? Do you think that if you are seekers after truth, I hold less regard for truth? Do you think that if you are fair,  tolerant and forgiving, I am less so? Must I continually send prophets and sages and those you call saints and saviors so that you will keep you notion of me larger than the best of you? If your image of me is less than the best of you, the true seekers among you must either become unbelievers (my cherished atheists) or get a bigger god. If your god-image is less than the best of you, it is surely an idol and you are engaging in idolatry!

        Notice that the situation of  human-divine communication is the same
                                    whether we are seeking to reach Theos or
                                        whether Theos is seeking to "reveal" its nature to us.

The problem is on our side of the divide -- with our weak language and our slowly evolving consciousness. As the baby grows, as the child matures, we can speak differently together. As human evolve and the best of our kind expand their consciousness, our speaking of Theos evolves and expands.  Our way of speaking of Theos becomes a way to open insight and compassion into all existence.

2.  Parable Of The Ants: Part Two: Telling a Tale of Moral Development

        Recall that what we call religious or spiritual seeking longs for the TRUE (or REAL), the GOOD and the BEAUTIFUL. Alternately put, our relating with all our being (body-mind-heart-spirit) to the ALL is
                                        insight-seeking,
                                            good action-seeking and
                                                beauty/love/union-seeking.

In the Hindu tradition, there is Jnana Yoga (the insight way), there is Karma Yoga (the way of action) and there is Bhakti Yoga (the way of love and devotion).

Here, I will only give an example based on action or moral development (or in the Hindu tradition, Karma Yoga).

A. The Black Ants at Stage 1

        Let us suppose that at stage 1 the highest virtue of the Black Ants is to protect the queen ant. Their greatest threat is an attack by the Red Ants. For a worker trained to recognize the red menace, bravery means wiping out all possible red ants. Such is the code of the black ants. To be brave is to kill as many red ants as possible. To flee or spare red ants is cowardice. The Guardians are good and hence brave. Therefore the Guardians are enemies of all red ants. To say differently is blasphemy -- it is to assert that the Guardians are cowards. The image of the Guardians at Stage 1 is still an image of Guardians as fierce warriors -- destroyers of red ants.

B. The Novel Response

        Suppose that at this stage some intellectual ants begin to have different ideas. The story is told of a radical black ant who saw a red ant injure a black ant. The radical black ant did indeed kill the attacking red ant but spared the red ants companions whom he scared away. And the intellectuals praised him. He was "just" they said. To be just is not to kill as many red ants as possible but simply to take a life for a life and then stop. But if this is a higher view of justice, then how could the Guardians be more bloodthirsty than this? In fact the intellectuals refused to believe in the traditional image of the Guardians who were said to kill many red ants whenever a black ant was killed. Such Guardians are bloodthirsty. If this was what the gods were like (killing many for one), the intellectuals asserted that they could no longer believe in such gods. Surely a god must be more just and not less just than an enlightened ant. At first, the intellectuals were exiled and cursed as cowards.

C. Stage 2: the Ethical Development integrated; the older images rejected or reinterpreted

        Stage 2 comes into play gradually. Little by little, many came to accept this new notion of justice. As a result of this ethical shift, the image of the Guardians shifted. Now it was said that indeed the Guardians were good and brave and just but now to be just meant to only repay an eye for an eye. This, it was finally agreed, was a more enlightened view. Punishment should be proportioned to the offense, even with enemies. The old stories in the old scriptures of the Guardians as filled with vengeance were rejected or reinterpreted. A new image of the guardians replaced the old.

        From our vantage point, we see the ants as still very far from a full notion of justice. The code of an eye for an eye is an advance over the code of unlimited vengeance. But neither notion of justice truly describes our own idea of what full human justice requires and our own ideas are still in progress.

        Perhaps full justice goes beyond reward-punishment to see the deep causes of violence. Perhaps full justice will come to acknowledge Yeshua’s non-violent "turn the other cheek."  Perhaps all our thoughts of justice are only baby-steps compared to what we will think and speak if and when we eveolve for another thousand years.

        We are like the ants. Our notion of God comes from the highest values we hold. As our notion of human justice advances (for example to see the injustice of slavery), then our notion of divine justice advances.  We can no longer say that God is in favor of slavery. [Think of Sullivan's Law]  When new positive values emerge, we apply -- through the Way of Not, Not Less Than and More -- the new values to God.

        In early times, there was no real notion of person. There were simply individuals of higher and lower classes. Gradually we came to see that even a slave was a person. To be a person and be treated as a person became a value. Then we may speak in an enriched sense of God as a person and one who values all persons. We apply our evolving concepts to God. Likewise, as tolerance became a virtue, we began to include tolerance in our image of God. Today, change, if not yet seen as a full virtue, is seen as a positive quality. What is dynamic appears "better" thanwhat is simply static and unmoving. It is no wonder then that today as we are coming to a process view of the person, theologians are beginning to speak of a dynamic, changing God or at least coming to think of both a changing and unchanging aspect and an impersonal and a personal aspec of Ultimate Reality.

        No doubt we still remain as far from understanding the nature of an infinite Ground and Goal as the ants remain far from understanding the nature of human love and joy and understanding. Even our best images of Theos are drastically imperfect. No doubt, future ages will see our efforts and images as hopelessly crude. Nevertheless, as we can be understanding toward the ants, so Theos, I believe, is understanding toward us. Perhaps we are coming to see that we need all the revelations from all the times and places in order to understand the Ultimate under various guises. Perhaps we need to see revelation as continuous and even what has been revealed needs to be revisited and seen in a deeper fashion. Hopefully, in our process of increased understanding, we will avoid the conduct of the early ants who insisted on old images and forced the seekers to think that they could no longer believe in God when it was only an old image of God which they rejected.

Two Corollaries:

1) Believers may always distinguish between X and our image of X, i.e.,
                        between Theos and our image of Theos, between Tao and our image of Tao, etc.

2) We are picturing a sequence of images of the Ultimate (or alternately a series of WURTs-- Ways of UNDERSTANDING and RESPONDING TO [The Great Mystery, the Structure of Reality]):

   Image1 ----> Image 2 ----> Image 3 . . . . . . . . . . . . . ----> Image n .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .--->     the limit -- call it "OMEGA" (God's self-understanding of God)

        such that later images are more adequate than earlier -- or less inadequate than earlier ones -- that as in calculus we are moving toward a limit. We can get ever closer yet never achieve -- in earth language -- full adequacy of our image of the Infinite One.]

3) Note:  Remember Sullivan's Law --
        "Whatever "God" is, God must be "larger and better" or "greater" than the best of humans.  If your God is smaller, then you have two choices: 
                    Become an atheist or find Bigger God."  In accordance with Sullivan's Law, it is SOMETIMES possible to rank images of God as more expansive or more inclusive (or, more modestly, as less inadequate).  Thus, Cruel Warrior God  is a less adequate representation than Kind and Loving Parent God.  However, Parent God is also a limited way to speak and will need correction.  On the other hand, not all images of God can be ranked.  Some may be variants at the same level of development.  Thus, t a certain level of understanding to speak of Father God or Mother God may be two variants of the same image.

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Comparison with Jay Williams’ Way of Myth:
(The Way of Myth is NOT equivalent to the Way of Greater)

   A. Purpose:

        The way of Myth is a way of reading scripture as a set of stories or symbols that
                                                    are intended primarily to foster deep insight and expanded compassion.

          The Medieval teaching about the Way of Analogy (via negativa +via eminentiae) has as its purpose how to speak of Theos less inadequately.

   B. Type of Language: Symbolic:

The Way of Myth consciously is employed, in the words of the Zen tradition, as "a finger pointing to the moon." The way of Neti, Neti is brought to bear. Metaphors state that X is like and unlike Y. This is even truer when the discourse is pointing to the Ultimate. Theos is NOT this yet story read in a mythic way suggests something of what the Great Mystery is -- for the purpose of awakening awareness -- stillness and service -- growth and love.  The symbolic, metaphoric, poetic, paradoxical, archetypal, parable-like -- these are the forms of language favored by a spiritual discourse from the heart to the heart meant to awaken the heart.
   C. The Way of Myth always points to T-N-T = Theos -- NOW -- Transformation.

          NOW:  The way of Myth is "about" the mystery unfolding in us here and now -- moment by moment.  Though the story -- the world story or the Christ story or the Buddha story -- can be read in a literal manner, when we so read, we think of the story as about events in the past (for example, the creation as happening a long time ago) or events in the futur (for example the Last Judgment as an event in the future.   Yet, when we read them in a mythical way we think of every event as happening NOW -- at each moment the world is being created in us, at each moment the Christ is born in us, at each moment the judgment of wisdom and justice is rendered to us. 

        THEOS:  The Yeshua story is about Yeshua, yes.  However, in the mythic way of understanding it, the story is about Yeshua as Every Man and Woman, the Yeshua story is about Yeshua and about us -- you and I.  And the story is about Yeshua and about us in such a way that it is also pointing (off screen, as it were) toward the mystery -- toward Theos/Tao -- toward thatwhich is source and sustainer and goal, that which is as vast as the universe and as intimate as our deepest sense of ourselves.  God or the Great Mystery, it has been said, is "a circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere."  The story is  thus points to the mystery that is inside the inside of everything and at the same time the horizon  of everything. 

        TRANSFORMATION:    This hearkens back to the first point above. The purpose of reading scripture in the mytical or mystical mode is to encourage transformation of ourselves and our world.  The purpose of scripture itself is not to convey information, but to produce transformation.  So reading scripture in this way is to bring the mystery of Yeshua into this moment -- to see it as happening here and now -- to be invited to live the Christ-life (or Buddha-life, etc.) more fully and deeply moment by moment.  To have that mind in us which as Christian scriputre says is in Christ Jesus.  "I life, now not I, but the Christ lives in me." [and through me as I come to see all as coming from and being in and moving towards the Great Mystery.]

   D. The Way of Myth has similarities to the Medieval Teaching on Fourfold Meaning of Scripture

        The early Church fathers (such as St. Augustine c. 350-430 C.E.) and the medieval theologians and mystics
        (such as St. Thomas or St. Bonaventure or Dante in the 1200’s C.E.)
        interpreted scripture according to the fourfold method:

Litera res gesta docet -- The literal (sense) teaches "res gesta" -- what happened = the plot.

Quid credas allegoria -- The allegorical (or faith-story sense) [teaches] quid credas = what we
                                                                                                                                    believe.
Moralis quid agas ------- The moral sense [teaches] quid agas = what we ought to do.

Quo tendas anagogia -- The anagogic or mystic sense [teaches] where we are tending --i.e.
                                                the journey of the soul.

(For more on this, see my enrichment material under my Dante course.)  The point is that long before we had literalism, scripture was interpreted in such a way that the moral and archetypal and mystical meanings were seen as primary -- for they moved our hearts to deeper trust and hope and love, to the great cwisdom that is also the great compassion. 

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