Rational Religion


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The Symbol...

 

A religion needs a symbol; something superficially simple, easy to recognize, but subtly profound.† Most established religions have several symbols, representing various aspects of the belief, but there is always one which takes precedence.† It is the signature of the faith.

 

A good symbol has power of its own.† I expect a fair case could be made that a significant percentage of believers are attracted to the symbol, itself, without grasping any of the subtleties of the attendant dogma.

 

The best religious symbols are geometrically perfect.† The Star of David has six points, like many natural crystals and the cells of a honeycomb.† A little inspection reveals that it is actually two equilateral triangles, one superposed upon the other.

 

The Christians' cross is almost always symmetrical, even when it is ornately ornamented or has extra elements.† (A "modern" altar might have a Daliesque crucifix, the occasional exception emphasizing the rule.)

 

That cross, by the way, is an unusual choice.† Christianity, in its infancy, seemed - quite understandably† - not to want anything to do with the cross.† The original symbol was a stylized fish Ė two arcs of a circle, or limbs of an ellipse, joined to represent head and body and extended beyond for the tail.†† It didn't even have to be drawn very well to do its job:† something easy to scratch in the sand and scuff away with a sandal when the faith was a secret society, out of favor with the powers that were.†

 

The Crucifixion cross was a particularly gruesome instrument of torture;† hardly the sort of symbol one would hang a gentle, socially conscious religion upon.

 

But mathematically it is so compelling; just two straight lines, perpendicular.

 

After a few generations the powerful simplicity overwhelmed any lingering revulsion; just as the tolerant, liberal working-class religion slowly ossified into a bastion of conservative dogma and a tool of the ruling class.††

 

The fish was relegated to a million modern automobile bumpers, their attached vehicles driven by a class of the faithful who hope to demonstrate a direct connection to the origins of their religion.†† But even they would probably recognize the cross as superordinate.

 

I have given a lot of thought to the proper symbol for a Rational Religion.†† In the end, I always realized, my choice would have to be arbitrary; something which pleased my eye and intrigued my definition of profundity.

 

In keeping with my definition of the Ultimate Mystery:† everything we do not know and will probably not live long enough to learn:† I thought of using a Moebius strip...or the two-dimensional representation thereof which is called the ďInfinity Symbol.Ē††† But there is something too neat about infinity.† Itís too much of a cop-out.† If you donít want to deal with Whatever, call it Infinity; wrap it up in a lazy 8 and forget about it.†

 

I settled instead upon the geometric paradox which is commonly called "ying-yang", or yin and yang.†† It is based upon the circle; most nearly perfect and perfectly self-contained, yet mathematically enigmatic.

 

(All significant measurements are based upon pi, whose decimal places evidently spin infinitesimally on to infinity. A favorite mathematical pastime since the Middle Ages has been to see how far to the right one could calculate the intractable fraction.† With the advent of super computers the established decimal places are well into the billions...all without any discernable pattern or repeating sequences.†† But people keep on trying for still more decimal places.† This is not a surrender to the concept of infinity; it is a continual exploration of it, in the face of the very palpable likelihood that nothing much will ever come of the search.)

 

Into this incalculable perfection, yin/yang introduces another level of complexity.† There are several oriental symbols based upon tangent arcs inscribed inside the circle, most notably the three-lobed figure which is based upon an inscribed equilateral triangle.† I find this a redundant complexity.† Two inscribed figures, as in the classic symbol on the Korean flag, are quite sufficient to carry my message.

 

The yin/yang circle is perfectly divided into two equal areas, bounded by a system of arcs, which are precise derivatives of the larger figure.† Specifically, they are arcs of a circle whose diameter equals the radius of the circumscribed circle, and they are defined by being located upon a single one of the larger circle's infinite number of diametric line segments.† At the center of the circle the two arcs merge perfectly into one another.† Their opposite limbs end tangent to the inside of the host circle, at the outer ends of the diametric segment.†

 

Now it is a lot easier to divide a circle into two equal regions by simply drawing a diameter, but that isn't all that interesting and is no more mathematically complex than the original circle, itself.††

 

The yin/yang is wheels within wheels, so to speak, plus an added paradox.††††

 

It is easy to see that the two inscribed figures are equal and opposite.† One curves one way, the other curves the other.† Where one is most massive, the other dwindles away to nothing.†† ..† Except, not quite.† Because of that infinite series of pi decimal places it is impossible to define exactly where the small end of each figure actually peters out.† Theoretically, they go on, forever, infinitesimal upon infinitesimal --†

 

In one sense the arc is tangent to the circumference of the circle.† There must be a single point through which both the arc and the circle (and the attendant diametric segment) pass.† But in the philosophical sense, they never quite meet.†† So the big end of one figure only overwhelms the small end of the other.† It can never quite extinguish it.††

 

And we have pi to prove it.

 

Now, I ask you.† Is there a more nearly perfect symbol to define a religion whose central premise is the infinite complexity of the Universe?

 

The Unknowable Universe:† The Ultimate Mystery:

 

If you want to call it god, I donít mind.† I wonít; but you may find orientation in it.

 

Think of it this way.

 

The Great Whatever already possesses it all; has done or will do it all.†

 

Itís all there; all the dimensions; all the secrets.

 

And grudgingly, teasingly, it lets us get a glimpse from time to time.† But itís there for us to explore.† All we have to do is keep scratching away at the great, pitted doughy plastic face of it; plunging our hands and our minds as far as we can reach from where we stand, and building new† places to stand so we can reach ever farther.

 

We live so short and the mysteries are so vast.† We are assured of wonders opening up before us as long as we are a species reproducing in the Universe; for all practical purposes -- forever.

 

Accept it.† We are puny and not very bright.†† Individually, on the scale of time and space, we are just about ephemeral.† As a species we have been in constant peril of cataclysmically destroying ourselves for a couple of generations, now;† and if we donít do it something else almost surely will:† sooner or late;† with a bang or with a whimper; no matter.

 

But for now, we're here:† and we do interesting things when we try.† Weíre very good at beauty;† almost as good at making wonderful music and shapes and pictures and combinations of colors as we are at killing each other and laying waste to the neighborhood.

 

And we have our curiosity.† It gets us into trouble, more than occasionally, but it makes life intriguing.†††

 

The promise of a Rational Religion is that there will always be something new to learn: some next fragment of the Undiscoverable Universe to make our own.