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The Camel’s Nose Principle

It was a cold night in the desert, as most desert nights are, but Ahab the Arab was not concerned.

He was quite comfortable in his tent, with its waterproof goats hair outer covering (not that it often needed to be waterproof out there!) and its rich tapestry hangings lining the walls and ceiling. The desert sand of the floor was covered with a thick carpet, over which were strewn huge, soft cushions.

Ahab was curled up on these, his blankets pulled about him, when he felt a slight draught from the direction of the tent door. Funny, he thought, for the double flap was heavy enough to keep out even the strongest desert winds.

Turning, he saw in the flickering light of his lamp that something was intruding through the tent door. What was it?

Unable to discern the shape, he reluctantly threw back his blankets, and dragging himself from the comfort of his cushions, padded over to take a look.

As he came near the door, he suddenly realized what it was: a nose! A camel’s nose, to be precise!

Ahab was cranky enough at having been forced to leave his bed: now he was really mad. He slapped the camel hard about the nose several times, all the while yelling at the top of his voice, “You mangy camel! You flea-bitten son of a desert dog! Who do you think you are? How dare you stick your nose in my tent? Get out! Get out! GET OUT! Back to the dunes where you belong!”

The camel shook his nose sharply to escape the slaps, then spoke in a low, pleading drone.

“Please, Master,” he drawled, “have mercy. You are comfortable here in you tent, but the desert night outside is freezing. It is so cold that my poor nose is developing chilblains!

“I knew that you are a good, kind master, and that you would not wish your poor, faithful camel to suffer in this way, so I was sure that you wouldn’t mind me sticking my nose in here where it can be warm. Please, Master, it’s just my nose! It will take up such little space! Please, Master!”

The camel was making Ahab feel bad. Besides, it was late, he was tired, and his bed was beckoning him. He really didn’t feel like arguing with a determined camel.

“Oh, all right,” he grumbled. “I suppose just your nose won’t hurt. But just your nose! Nothing more! Is that clear?”

“Of course, Master. Thank you so much. You are indeed a wonderful Master.”

“Hrmph!” grunted Ahab as he shuffled back to bed.

Just as the mists of sleep were beginning to swirl about his mind, he felt it again. He raised one arm out of the blankets to be sure.

Yes, there was that slight draught coming from the tent door again. Groaning, he rolled over and looked toward the door.

This time he didn’t need to get closer to see what it was – the camel’s whole head was sticking through the flap. Springing out of bed, her rushed to the door and began to buffet the camel around the head.

“You lousy bag of jackal food! Didn’t I tell you, your nose and nothing else? Didn’t you agree to that? How is it that now your whole head is in my tent? Don’t you know that your nose is just the part on the end of your head? Out, fleabag, out!”

“Oh dear, kind Master,” pleaded the camel. “Surely you would not deny your faithful servant this one thing!

“You see, Master, my ears are very sensitive, particularly the tips. And the desert night is so cold! They were really burning with the cold, Master! In fact, they were in grave danger of falling off! It would not be good for my master to be seen riding a camel with no ears!

“In your great kindness, Master, let me keep my head in the tent!”

“Oh, all right,” muttered Ahab, unable to think of anything to say in reply. “But just your head, hear me! Nothing else!” He turned and stomped back to bed.

Not a great length of time had passed before Ahab felt that slight draught. With a sigh, he again lifted his head and looked toward the door.

Sure enough, there was the camel with his front legs inside the tent.

Ahab jumped up and ran to the door, where he kicked the camel hard in the shins. However, he had forgotten that he had bare feet, and it hurt his toes far more than the camel’s leg.

After hopping about on one foot for several minutes, he turned on the camel.

“You vermin-infested apology for a beast! Is this you head? I told you, nothing but your head! And now your legs are inside my tent! Get out, before I use your hide as a rug for the new camel I shall buy!”

“Wait, Master. Do not let your anger hide your kindness, for you are a good master who would not wish his faithful servant to suffer. You see, Master, it’s my knees. I have arthritis, you know, and this cold does effect them so. Sometimes it gets so I can hardly bend.

“My master would not want his faithful camel to be unable to kneel for him to climb aboard. So I knew that my master would not mind me keeping my knees warm in his tent.”

Ahab spluttered and fumed, but finally agreed. “Very well, but just your legs. Hear me, you no-good camel! Just your legs!”

Time passed, and Ahab was again drifting into sleep when again the draught came – this time a little stronger. Without even looking first, Ahab staggered to the door, where the camel was standing with his hump inside.

He didn’t bother hitting or berating the camel this time, but simply stood with his hands on his hips.

“These four times you have disobeyed me, camel. What is it this time?”

“Well, most good and kind master, it’s my hump, you see. As you well know, Master, my hump holds many days’ supply of water, and in the cold of this desert night it has turned to ice. Have you any idea, Master, what it feels like to have a hump full of ice?

“I knew my good master would not wish this for his faithful servant and companion…..”

“All right, all right, ALL RIGHT!” sighed Ahab, cutting him short. “But not one centimetre more! I mean it this time, camel. If you disturb me again, and I find any more of you in this tent, I will take my faithful sword and slit your no-good throat from one flea-bitten ear to the other.”

Quite some time passed without disturbance, and Ahab sank into a deep sleep. Then he began feeling cold. Really cold.

This was far more than a draught from the door. He tried to pull the blankets closer around him, but there were no blankets. When he reached down and patted around to find them, his hands met not the smooth plumpness of his cushions, but rough, cold sand.

His eyes sprang open. Above him was not the dark warmth of his tapestries softly lit by the flickering of his lamp, but a black sky studded with millions of stars.

He looked around. He was lying, minus both cushions and coverings, in the open desert. Some metres away he could see his tent.

Picking himself up, he hurried to the door and peered through the opening. There, lounging on his cushions and covered by his blankets, was the camel.

He had just enough time to take in the scene before two large hooves hit him squarely in the chest, sending him flying back out into the desert

As the sand settled around him, he heard a hoarse, mocking voice from the tent: “AND STAY OUT!”

For too many years, the devil has used the Camel’s Nose Principle against the Church in every area from art to science, from music to politics, from education to public morality, and the Church has resisted him with all the effectiveness of a sleepy Ahab.

Isn’t it time we reversed the process?

This article was originally published in Australia in On Being magazine in April 1989, and was reprinted in Singapore in Impact magazine in October/November 1989.

Find more articles here.

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