This entry is not part of the podcast series. This post originally appeared on Facebook as a status update.
I have a friend from college who remains a staunch, fundamentalist, Southern Baptist preacher, despite strongly disagreeing with the functions and activities of the denomination, especially their embattled North American Missions Board (NAMB). His name’s Bobby and he has his Facebook profile security settings preventing me from tagging him in this rant, which is probably a good thing, so I’m going to address him publicly not so as to embarrass him in any way, but because I know his opinion as stated in his status update of June 4 is held by others who are not as vocal.
Here, before I start, let me turn this on: <rant>
Bobby’s Facebook post was composed of a meme sourced from ifunny.co, a meme aggregate site. The meme shows a version of the pride rainbow with the text, “Rainbow. A promise of God, not a symbol of Pride.” Bobby’s comment with the meme is, “God did this. He’s got my vote 100%!”
Dear misguided friend(s), please allow me to explain the three most obvious ways in which you are wrong in supporting that statement. These statements are meant as information, all sourced by reputable third parties, so please take them in that spirit. We’re not attacking you.
- Let’s Talk About Where Rainbows Come From
National Geographic has one of the more concise explanations:
A rainbow is a multicolored arc made by light striking water droplets.
The most familiar type of rainbow is produced when sunlight strikes raindrops in front of a viewer at a precise angle (42 degrees). Rainbows can also be viewed around fog, sea spray, or waterfalls.
A rainbow is an optical illusion—it does not actually exist in a specific spot in the sky. The appearance of a rainbow depends on where you’re standing and where the sun (or other sources of light) is shining.
The sun or other source of light is usually behind the person seeing the rainbow. In fact, the center of a primary rainbow is the antisolar point, the imaginary point exactly opposite the sun.
Rainbows are the result of the refraction and reflection of light. Both refraction and reflection are phenomena that involve a change in a wave’s direction. A refracted wave may appear “bent”, while a reflected wave might seem to “bounce back” from a surface or other wavefront.
Light entering a water droplet is refracted. It is then reflected by the back of the droplet. As this reflected light leaves the droplet, it is refracted again, at multiple angles.
The radius of a rainbow is determined by the water droplets’ refractive index. A refractive index is the measure of how much a ray of light refracts (bends) as it passes from one medium to another—from air to water, for example. A droplet with a high refractive index will help produce a rainbow with a smaller radius. Saltwater has a higher refractive index than freshwater, for instance, so rainbows formed by sea spray will be smaller than rainbows formed by rain.
Rainbows are actually full circles. The antisolar point is the center of the circle. Viewers in aircraft can sometimes see these circular rainbows.
Viewers on the ground can only see the light reflected by raindrops above the horizon. Because each person’s horizon is a little different, no one actually sees a full rainbow from the ground. In fact, no one sees the same rainbow—each person has a different antisolar point, each person has a different horizon. Someone who appears below or near the “end” of a rainbow to one viewer will see another rainbow, extending from his or her own horizon.
Physics. Go figure. There were rainbows before there were humans.
- That whole Noah thing is a myth
When the meme infers that the rainbow is a sign from God, it’s making reference to the Biblical account of Noah and the flood, at the end of which God allegedly places a rainbow in the sky as a sign he will never flood the entire earth ever again. Here are just a few reasons why accepting that account as fact, while popular among a certain group of carnivores, is likely wrong.
First, let’s start with an older flood account, the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh. The cuneiform tablets are the oldest known written story. While there were certainly myriad verbal tales predating it, putting any trust in a centuries-old game of telephone is dangerous intellectual nonsense. Utnapishtim, like Noah, built a boat, filled it with animals, and rode out a flood. In the end, he released birds and there was a rainbow. The biggest difference? Utnapishtim’s boat was round.
There are similar flood stories in almost every ancient civilization, from the Indian myth of King Manu, to the Aztec story of Tata and Nena. While the minute details change, Tata and Nena were in a hollow log with two ears of corn, the flood myths permeate ancient cultures along with their equally varied creation myths. Noah’s account is neither unique nor unusual.
This raises the subsequent question of whether a flood happened at all. Many archeologists find evidence of a flood somewhere in that 3000-2500 BCE era that ranged from the Black Sea to the Tigris river, encompassing what would have been much of the known world at that time. The flood myth is noticeably absent from Asian histories so one safely assumes they were not affected.
Irving Finkel, the Assistant Keeper of Ancient Mesopotamian script, languages, and cultures in the Department of the Middle East in the British Museum and a bit of an expert on flood myths offers this explanation:
There must have been a heritage memory of the destructive power of floodwater, based on various terrible floods. And the people who survived would have been people in boats. You can imagine someone sunbathing in a canoe, half asleep, and waking up however long later and they’re in the middle of the Persian Gulf, and that’s the beginning of the flood story.
But then, there’s the possibility that there was no historical flood at all. Géza Róheim was a Hungarian psychoanalyst and anthropologist whose work is influential in psychoanalysis even today. His take? Ancient humans, sleeping with full bladders, dreamed of the flood, as humans often do, and told the story of their dreams when they woke. Stop and think about that for a moment. This whole mythology about a flood may have started when an ancient human wet the bed.
Given the preponderance of evidence, taking any of the mythological accounts as factual is preposterous, even as a matter of religious faith. It’s a nice story for bedtime, but make sure the child has plastic sheets covering their mattress.
- The Origin of the Pride Flag
I’ll let Encyclopedia Brittanica tell this one:
The artist Gilbert Baker, an openly gay man and a drag queen, designed the first rainbow flag. Baker later revealed that he was urged by Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay elected officials in the U.S., to create a symbol of pride for the gay community. Baker decided to make that symbol a flag because he saw flags as the most powerful symbol of pride. As he later said in an interview, “Our job as gay people was to come out, to be visible, to live in the truth, as I say, to get out of the lie. A flag really fit that mission, because that’s a way of proclaiming your visibility or saying, ‘This is who I am!’” Baker saw the rainbow as a natural flag from the sky, so he adopted eight colors for the stripes, each color with its own meaning (hot pink for sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, turquoise for art, indigo for harmony, and violet for spirit).
There you go. It has nothing to do with usurping physics or religious myth but has everything to do with telling one’s Truth, the Truth about who you really are, regardless of how you appear. Now really, Bobby, are you sure you want to come down on the side of opposing Truth in any form? Careful where you stand. Lightning, you know.
Here’s the thing: too many people I love and care about find themselves in various places along the spectrums of gender and sexuality. The Pride flag and all the related flags one might see this time of year give them a way of letting others know who they are. An attack on those flags is homophobic at best, and dehumanizing, dismissive, and disenfranchising to the entirety of the human race because like it or not Bobby, you’re just as represented on that flag as anyone else. The Pride flag is a lot more inclusive than your religious posturing.
I know, the requisite response here is, “But the Bible…” That’s fine. You’re welcome to hold to your belief system, but if we’re going to even marginally consider as evidentiary the account of a canon that is grossly mistranslated, misinterpreted, and largely fictionalized, we have to consider its own account of its alleged author. The God in which you believe claims to have created everything, including spectrums of every kind. When he/they finished, he/they declared everything made to be good. Trying to make your God an exclusionary being that denies the humanity of a significant portion of their creation is heretical and traitorous to the very foundation of your belief system.
Physics. Mythology. Pride. The meme, like many before it, is wrong. It’s also hurtful, derogatory, inflammatory, and inappropriate for anyone whose occupation is centered on the power of an omniscient love. Maybe you want to consider taking that one down. An apology wouldn’t be a bad move, either.