A few months ago, I was invited to read a tale at Story Club, the monthly comedy storytelling night at Sydney Uni run by Project 52. As a Jaws tribute, the theme was “we’re going to need a bigger boat”. Which immediately got me thinking about Noah’s Ark.
‘Dad, I’ve been doing some thinking, and we’re going to need a bigger boat,’ said Noah’s eldest son Ham. The two of them were watching the animals boarding the ark two by two, displaying an understanding of the principles of queueing never before seen in the animal kingdom. ‘Or a second boat. Or a whole flotilla of boats. And even that probably won’t be enough.’
Noah sighed. With the whole earth about to be flooded, the last thing he needed was for his son to be a douche as well.
‘Why’s that?’ he replied, not really wanting to know the answer. Ham was a scientist, and often irritated his father by bringing up these things he’d recently invented, which he liked to call facts.
‘Do you know how many species of animal there are, dad?’ Ham asked.
‘I don’t, but I’m placing my faith in God. He’s the one who told me to build this ark.’
‘Well, the total number of species in the kingdom Animalia is 1.25 million,’ Ham replied. ‘And you want two of each. That’s more animals in one place than on New Year’s Eve.’
‘Okay, well, let me think.’ Noah stroked his beard and stared across at the ramp, where his two other sons were trying to load giraffes onto a boat. How on earth would he get several million animals in there?
‘Look, I’ve tried to be as practical as I can about this,’ Noah replied. ‘For instance, because of the obvious OH&S issues, I’ve refused to take any dragons on board. And I’ve put the termites on notice – one nibble of our deck, and they can consider themselves extinct.’
‘Okay, but I still don’t see how every animal fits on the ark.’
‘Some of them are just going to have to re-evolve. Like the zebras, for instance. We don’t really need horses with stripes, do we?’
‘Well, I’m glad you’re starting to think scientifically about this. So here’s my next question – what about food?’
‘I was thinking pot-plants on the deck,’ Noah said. ‘Watered by the rain.’
‘The soil would wash out of the pots in a day or two. And an adult elephant eats around 200 kilos of plants a day. How on earth do we supply that?’
‘I’ll have to get back to you,’ he replied. ‘But I’m sure God’s thought it over.’
‘Well, I hope he has, because I’m not seeing a whole lot of intelligent design here, frankly. Here’s another food question. If there are only two of each animal, we’ll need every pair to breed successfully. But a lot of our animals are carnivores. What are they going to eat if they can’t eat the other breeding pairs?’
‘Look, you have to trust God to provide for us.’
‘But how? Everyone else will be dead! We can’t exactly dial for pizzas! Come to think of it, what are we going to eat?’
‘I was thinking fish.’
‘Fair enough. But let’s talk about them too. All the saltwater amphibians are about to have an absolute ball, that’s fine. But the thousands of animals that live in freshwater rivers and so on are about to have their habitat entirely flooded by salt. How’s God intending for us to save them – fish tanks? And what about the plants? They’ll all have drowned after 40 days under salt water. The only plants that’ll survive the flood are seaweed, and I don’t much like Japanese food.’
‘These are all good points, son.’ Noah would just have to talk to God again. He wasn’t looking forward to the conversation.
‘It’s not as though there aren’t going to be benefits, though, the patriarch continued. ‘Our family is the only one that will survive! I’ll be king of the world! And literally, not like in Titanic.’
‘Well, that’s another problem,’ Ham said. ‘My kids will have no option but to marry their cousins. The whole of human civilization’s about to become massively inbred. Again, just like with Adam.’
‘True, but again – every cloud has a silver lining. After this flood, everyone left alive will be Jewish. Middle Eastern politics will be so much less complicated.’
‘Sure, they’ll all be Jewish – and have two heads.’
Just then, Noah’s second son Shem joined them. He was the union rep for the family’s shipbuilding business.
‘I suppose you’ve got objections, like your brother,’ Noah said.
‘I’m wondering how we stop the animals from killing each other for forty days and forty nights,’ he said. ‘I’ve already had to explain to the pythons that they can’t carry the budgies aboard the ark in their stomachs.’
‘I explained the whole thing to them,’ Noah said angrily.
‘Has it occurred to you that we wouldn’t have to even have this flood if the union took action?’
‘Yeah. See, God’s the boss, we all acknowledge that. We’re just workers, right? And we think he’s all powerful. But if all of us told him no – we’re not building an ark, no way, then he couldn’t flood the planet, because the whole of life would be eradicated. One out, all out, see?’
‘But someone else would just build it,’ Noah said. ‘It’s a pretty compelling offer – build an ark or die.’
‘Nah, the bosses always want to make it seem like you don’t have a choice. But you do,’ Shem said. ‘If the jobs go elsewhere, that’s when we picket, and don’t allow any scab labour onto their ark, see? It’s called solidarity. And then we put through a change to the award, right? I’d have to get together with the other shipwright’s union reps, but I’m sure we can all agree that no global inundation should be added to our minimum working conditions.’
Noah’s third son walked over to the three men. His name was Japheth, which he hated, because whenever he introduced himself to someone, it sounded like he had a speech impediment. Japheth had an MBA, and tended not to help with the shipbuilding and animal-loading aspects of Noah’s business, preferring to focus on what he called ‘the big picture stuff’.
‘Are you cats telling dad the implementation issues we’ve identified with the flood strategy?’ Japheth asked. ‘It’s such a bummer, seriously.’
‘I don’t see that we have an alternative here. God’s going to flood the entire planet, and he’s given us the chance to survive.’
‘This was the only solution set the big guy explored? Has he looked into maybe a scolding, or a light spanking? Maybe ground us all for a few days?’
‘He definitely said a flooding.’
‘Look, I just think you and the G-man need to whiteboard this, dream up together a few different alternatives, maybe convene a few focus groups, y’know? I just don’t think the market’s going to buy the ‘being drowned’ option.’
‘Look, I can talk to him, but he’s God. There’s not all that much room to negotiate.’
‘I don’t know about that,’ Japheth said. ‘We’re in a situation where the major threat to our company – God – is also a business partner with us on this ark project. That’s an ideal scenario for negotiation in my book. Instead of designing such a complicated solution, why can’t he simply remove the threat? I can put together a few PowerPoint slides, sketch out a presentation you could give him if you think it’d help. I think it’d be compelling.’
‘I’m happy to organize a rally too,’ Shem said. ‘Bit of marching, a few chants. I’m thinking “the workers, united, will never be flooded in a planetwide deluge”. Once the proletariat demands a complete moratorium on flooding, God will be powerless to refuse us – or at least as powerless as an omnipotent being can be.’
‘I’ll talk to him,’ Noah said. ‘But despite what his PR reps say, he doesn’t always answer prayers.’
‘I’ve had an idea,’ Ham said. ‘I’m not entirely sure God would go for it, but it’s worth a try. What if the whole flood thing was a parable?’
‘A parable?’ asked Noah.
‘Yeah – see, that’s when you tell people a story to make them realize something. It’s, like, a teaching method.’
‘Can you give me an example?’ Noah asked.
‘Well, imagine there’s this good Samaritan… actually wait, hold that thought for a couple of thousand years. How about this… imagine if instead of actually flooding the world, we just tell people that God did, and that makes them re-think their own wickedness? The net rate of wickedness would go down and he wouldn’t need to, y’know, kill everything.’
‘I like it,’ Shem said. ‘It’s like creating false consciousness – the bourgeoisie do that all the time to keep us workers oppressed.’
‘Cool,’ Japheth said. ‘I can only see one problem. What if someday in the future, people read this story, and think that it actually happened? That God did literally flood the earth?’
‘Nobody would be that stupid, surely?’ Ham said. ‘I mean, we all know that story of how God created the world in six days, yeah? I mean, none of you actually think it was six regular days, do you? Not given evolution and everything we know about science.’
‘Comprende,’ Shem said. ‘Opiate of the masses, and all that.’
‘I don’t believe in anything,’ Japheth shrugged. ‘Except my bonus.’
‘What’s with all this doubt?’ asked Noah. ‘Why couldn’t he create the earth in six days? He’s God!’
‘Look dad – you and God need to have a talk. Because, here’s the thing – sometimes people tell other people elaborate stories to get them to believe something. Just tell the Almighty that the flood should be one of those stories,’ Ham said. ‘Trust me, God will know exactly what you mean.’