Kurt Vonnegut wrote "if I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph: 'The only proof he needed for the existence of God was music.'" Vonnegut died last week and while his epitaph seems a bit ironic coming from a notable religious skeptic, it resonates with me. I have felt a similar inclination when listening to Dvorak’s 9th Symphony. I also found some pretty remarkable proof for God’s existence this past weekend while watching Life in the Undergrowth with my boys. Who else but an omnipotent being with limitless creativity could possibly come up with 6-foot earthworms so delicate they break if you touch them, or centipedes that eat bats, or the bizarre mating ritual of the leopard slug? (strangest thing I’ve EVER seen, and the thought did cross my mind: “Should I be letting my kids watch hermaphrodite slugs get it on?”).
I was also wondering: what else but a divine plan could explain why humans even matter in a world where if our whole species were to vanish, life would continue on without us, completely undisturbed?
I love watching nature documentaries with my boys, especially the David Attenborough ones. We sit on the couch in awe together. Adult awe, child awe – there’s little difference. Nature baffles minds of all ages and the closer you get to it (this particular documentary uses unbelievably strong lenses to get right up in the face of tiny critters) the more incredible it seems. My favorite part of Life in the Undergrowth was the footage of the orb spider spinning her web. 60 yards of thread, anchor lines, hubs, radiating spokes, scaffolding, beads of glue: it sounds so utilitarian until you watch it being constructed (with a proper soundtrack of course) and then it’s spectacular. Sure a web is simply a glorified food trap made and re-made by spiders every single night of their lives, but I think it is nothing short of miraculous.
As luck would have it, the other DVD arriving this week from our Netflix queue was Charlotte’s Web so I’m surrounded by webs and their silken, symbolic messages. Also on my mind is a sculpture by Francesco Queirolo called Deception. The sculpture shares with the orb web a sense of the spectacular. How could Queirolo possibly have carved that intricate net out of marble? But he did just that and in the process created the illusion of delicacy – a lie about lies. The metaphor is an old one: deception is a net which entangles us. In this sculpture, the victim is struggling to free himself with the help of the intellect, symbolized by the angel to his side. Webs and nets are both used to snare prey and so both have become symbols of deception, even to the point of the cliché, thanks to our fondness for Sir Walter Scott’s line: Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.
So the net and the web represent deception and entanglement. How strange that they share another designation: nicknames for the same vast system of communication that brings me here today. The internet. The world wide web. Coincidence? I think not. Spreader of urban legends, rumors, pseudo science, pop-up “you are a winner” ads (lies! I won nothing), and just enough facts to make it dangerous, the internet is a tangled web indeed. The arachnida blogorus, also known as the weblog, spins a particularly insidious orb. Its threads are addictive and sticky, meaning once you get one of your little legs stuck to one, you’re a goner my friend. It will wrap you up tight, numb you with venomous flattery until you are puffed up with a false sense of self-importance, and then suck you dry. You may struggle to free yourself – vow to loosen its grip on your time, your mind, your furry little 6th leg, but instead you find yourself chatting it up with the other flies dangling around you. “Hey, how’s it goin'? Seen any good movies lately?”