Thursday, January 20, 2005

Day Sixteen. "Infinity is an infinity of infinities."

Day Sixteen.

I mentioned infinity.

Infinity is an imaginary number in common use by mathematicians and physicists. Don't ask me what they do with it once they have it, but I do know they use it.

In fact, infinity is an infinity of infinities.

Think about it.

There are an infinite number of prime numbers, and yet each prime number is the start of an infinite sequence of multiples. One is the start of all the multiples of one. Two is the start of all the multiples of two. Three is the start of all the multiples of three. Five is the start of all the multiples of five. Seven is the start of all the multiples of seven. Eleven is the start of all the multiples of eleven. And so on, and so on, ad infinitum, to infinity.

My prime number is one hundred and thirty-seven. One hundred and thirty-seven, too, is the start of an infinite sequence on multiples, on and on, ad infinitum, to infinity..

The reason my prime number is one hundred and thirty-seven is because I woke up one morning from a dream with the words "there are one hundred and thirty-seven ways of interpreting the oracle" resounding in my head.

Don't ask me why I should have dreamed this particular number, nor what the sentence means. I have no idea. Nevertheless I have adopted the number as my own. This is the one hundred and thirty-seventh time I have thought about it today.

I guessed straightaway that it was a prime number, and this was confirmed to me one day when I struck up a conversation with a teenager on a train.

He was one of those speccy, nerdy types, doing sums in his exercise book as a way of passing the time. He wasn't doing his homework. He was doing sums for fun.

I asked him what he was up to. He said, "I'm looking at prime numbers."

I said, "is one hundred and thirty-seven a prime number?"

And he paused briefly, while he worked it out in his head.

"Yes," he said, after only a moment of time, "it is."

After which he went back to doing his sums.

You may ask what this has to do with God?

Only this.

Infinity is an imaginary number which is useful to mathematicians and physicists as a way of understanding the Universe. And God is an imaginary friend who is useful for secular priests and philosophical ramblers such as I, as a way of understanding our purpose.

The problem with the Judeo-Christian concept of God is this:

Why did he only make himself known only to one people, once, at one time in history?

Why only to Hebrews?

Doesn't he care about Chinese people, or African people, or North American Indian people, or Aboriginal Australian people, or Polynesian people, or Asian people?

I asked one of my Christian friends about this. I said, "so, are you telling me that God is a Christian, and that if a Muslim or a Hindu or a Sikh says a prayer to him in all sincerity, that he won't listen? You have to be a Christian before he'll be bothered to listen?"

And my friend said, "it's because they've got his name wrong. If I call out to you on the street, and I call you Paul, you won't respond will you?"

Which is tantamount to saying that God only speaks English (or Hebrew, at least). In other words, this Universal God, this juggler of time and space, who gave birth to the constellations, and to every animate and inanimate thing in the Universe, who roars in the furnace of the stars and who numbers every hair on your head, somehow never got round to learning Chinese.

So when a Chinese person, or a Polynesian, or an Australian, or an African, or a Native American person tells us about his God, we are free to ignore what they say.

They speak a different language.


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