“A man without God is like a fish without a bicycle.” ~ Found on the men’s room wall, Larry Blake’s Pub, Berkeley, 1977
The Sufi’s say that every story has seven levels of meaning. The above quote is from a book I have been reading again, Robert Anton Wilson’s Cosmic Trigger 1. Thanks to what I have learned from RAW over the years, I tend to try and look at things from as many angles as I can (when I can remember that this is a good thing to do.) From a RAW perspective, the Sufi wisdom about every story having seven level may be an example of sneaky reverse psychology. Perhaps it’s not so much that every tale has seven meanings, but rather that we are always free to look at thing in many ways.
Upon initial reading, the quote above could seem like nothing more than the type of humorous dig used by modern militant atheists to make fun of religious belief. As far as it goes, this meaning isn’t bad. It gets its point across rather well. A bicycle is a dry land conveyance, and not very effective in water. At best a bicycle would serve as something interesting for a fish to swim around.
What happens if we dig a little deeper? What if the locale was reversed and we look at the metaphor from where the bicycle is designed to work? In this version the fish is on land. Land is a place of death for a fish. So, we are dealing here with a fish in the land of the dead. This is a ghost of a fish. A fish who has passed on.
There are at least two activities which a bicycle can be put to, and so here our metaphor splits. The first use to which a bike can be put is for fun. In this version of looking at the quote the bicycle might be God providing fun for the deceased fish, a chance to enjoy their afterlife.
The other activity a bicycle can be out to is getting somewhere. A bicycle is a mode of transportation, and one that’s faster and easier than walking. So, where might one want to travel in the afterlife? The obvious answer is that the deceased will want to travel to whatever their final reward is. Getting there faster would certainly be a great boon, especially for a fish on dry land. In this interpretation of the quote God is the one who makes the way easier, the one who helps the fish get its just rewards in a timely manner.
These are three possible meanings for the above anonymous quote. According to the Sufis there must be at least four more. However, I don’t think the point is to see if you can get all seven. Like many Sufi devices, this one is not an instruction for a process, but rather a suggestion of a game. If you can get into the habit of always seeing things more ways than one, then life takes on added depth, and it is sprinkled with more opportunity.
RAW suggested this very thing in many of his talks. It’s a way to avoid getting stuck in dogmatic thinking. When someone tells you the way something is, or what something means, always try to come up with three, or four, alternative perspectives, answers, or solutions. That way you don’t get stuck in things as they are presented. You also get to enjoy the possibility of choice, and therefore a reinforcement of your free will. Because sometimes a fish is not a fish, and sometimes a bicycle is not a bicycle, and very rarely is God a god.