“Why are there so many songs about rainbows,” Kermit sings, “and what’s on the other side?” Then he answers, “it’s probably magic.”
That mystical magic, the beauty of this natural phenomenon, touches our hearts. In many cultures, rainbows symbolize faith, love, vision, hope, peace, serenity and other positive yearnings. Judeo-Christian tradition elevates the rainbow to a symbol of God’s promise to Noah, a sacred covenant never to leave man alone.
Might Noah’s flood even be the first recorded instance of climate change? Perhaps we need a spiritual change of climate, a sea change in attitude. How about something that changes the atmosphere, dispels the climate of separateness that engulfs us?
In the 1960s, the rainbow stood for a kind of unified diversity. The Rainbow Coalition of that era sought to join forces with “various radical socialist groups and community groups.”
Unfortunately it also advocated confrontation as it attempted to unite ethnic minorities against prejudice and persecution.
More recently the rainbow’s been used by the LGBTQ community, often with the same results. June, traditionally LGBTQ Pride Month, commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, “a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations by members of the … LGBT community against a police raid” in New York.
The first rainbow flag was designed in 1978 by Gilbert Baker, a gay artist, to portray the rainbow as a “natural flag from the sky.” Each stripe of Baker’s flag has its own meaning. Colors reflect “both the immense diversity and the unity of the LGBTQ community.”
This rainbow of unity in diversity mirrors a fulfillment of God’s promise, his love for all humanity. But this message is still divisive, despite its hoped-for unity.
Let’s explore more closely what a rainbow actually is. Picture a chalice of pure light shining through crystal prisms that contain it. Wavelengths emerge from that chalice, refracted into rainbow hues according to their differing speeds. To the naked eye the colors are beautiful. A closer look reveals they blend inseparably. Instruments can detect boundaries on wavelengths, but the source comprises the full electromagnetic spectrum – light visible and invisible, radio waves to gamma waves.
Now consider parallels between that spectrum and the human genome. The spectrum is clearly defined and thus limited. Current science depicts the genome as a variety of DNA pairs with the potential to express an infinitude of human characteristics.
It’s obvious. Like it or not, we are all one humanity, varying infinitely in every characteristic: color, height, gender, weight, intelligence, features ad infinitum. Rather than dividing us, those infinite differences provide the social richness and stability that diversity produces in natural ecosystems.
What divides us is fear of what we don’t understand. Racism, sexism, and other isms follow, stoked in part by irresponsible media. These attitudes permeate our collective conversations. We elevate ourselves by putting each other down. Our flags and slogans divide the whole by unifying exclusive subsets.
When my wife Jolie and I moved to Beijing, we feared the unknown. The people, culture, and environment were strange. Of necessity, we walked dark alleys which in America we would have skirted. But we entered those alleys with their pedestrians and found them safe.
From their stygian blackness, we viewed stars, pinpoints of light containing unseen rainbows. Elsewhere, city lights obscured starlight,
People of many colors, shapes, and sizes shared those alleys with us. From alley to planet, humankind is one. Our genome provides evidence that we are all one people sharing a single earth. Like the colors of a rainbow, our rich diversity is our strength and beauty. It’s probably magic.
Pete Haug’s eclectic interests and several careers drew him across the U.S. and into China with his wife, and sometimes draconian editor, Jolie. They retired south of Colfax. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.