Religion Today

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Three Monotheistic Religions: Children of One Father

The three religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam readily fit the definition of monotheism, which is to worship one god while denying the existence of other gods. But, the relationship of the three religions is closer than that: They claim to worship the same god. While Judaism gave that god a name, “Yahweh,” both Christianity and Islam simply refer to him as “God” -- in Arabic, Islam’s founding language, “Allah” means “The God.”

The three religions trace their origins back to Abraham, who, in Genesis, had humanity’s first relationship with God after the failures of Noah’s flood and the Tower of Babel. Judaism and Christianity trace their tie to Abraham through his son Isaac, and Islam traces it through his son Ishmael.

If Abraham represents a point at which the religions diverge, they are unified up to that moment. That unity goes back to Adam, the first human being, and his creation by God. Each of the three religions reveres Adam and honors him as the first person, centering key theological elements on God’s creation of humanity through Adam. God is the father of humanity and the father of each religion.

Unfortunately, the mythology of being children of the same god as father does not lead to harmonious relationships among members of the three religions. They have become squabbling children rather than a harmonious family. The Middle East, and indeed the world, continues to be rocked by political controversy, forceful oppression and violent attacks stemming from members of these three religions, both against each other and against groups within their own religion.

To be fair, the religions themselves do not organize the violence and oppression. Indeed, they usually deplore it. Instead, the problems come from political or governmental authorities as well as from self-appointed (often illegal, immoral and highly violent) groups in the name of a religion. Terrorist killings and destruction, civil war and deprivation of human rights thus become identified with the names of religions -- and are regularly reported on the news.

Into this difficult moment comes an exhibition of nearly 50 paintings called “The Bridge.” The paintings are by artists of Middle East origins representing all three religions. They are on display during September at the University of Wyoming Buchanan Center for the Performing Arts, at the Lander Arts Center, at Western Wyoming Community College in Rock Springs and at Northwest College in Powell.

The theme of “The Bridge” is to visualize how members of the rival religious communities can cross the divide between them, moving from conflict to peace. The artists have no illusions that by themselves they will end the violence, oppression and other difficulties of the Middle East, but they hope to inspire thought and action through their visual conceptions.

Several paintings focus on the bridge itself. A bridge by definition carries a person over a dangerous place: a rushing river, a deep gorge, a highway of whooshing cars. One must trust the bridge to carry him or her safely over the danger. Lilianne Milgrom highlights this by presenting a yellow road sign indicating “Narrow Bridge”; in red graffiti, she has written “Fear Not.”

A different take comes from Isabelle Bakhoum, whose painting features a man walking a tightrope (quite a narrow bridge!) holding a long pole. At each end are symbols for three religions. If the religions remain quiet and still, then he will keep his balance and cross successfully. If the religions move, jump about and cause the pole to jiggle, then he will find it difficult to stay balanced. What might then happen?

Several paintings feature an Adam and Eve theme. My favorite is Yasser Rostrom’s “The Tree.” Here, the bridge is a branch from which grow a male and female figure. Their four arms become branches reaching upward toward the hand of God reaching down toward them (a la Michelangelo). Each of three arms holds a symbol of a monotheistic religion, while the fourth remains empty to symbolize other religions.

The hands stretch out from each other, forming a polygon, yet God’s hand comes down into the middle. The painting thus suggests that on their own, they cannot reach God, but only by coming together in the center. Can they? Or, having been born from the same father, have they grown so apart that they have become permanently separate?

“The Bridge’s” paintings exhibit a wide variety of styles and visions, all enjoyable to view and thought-provoking to contemplate. I encourage you to visit one of the exhibition sites and spend time with them.












































Lilianne Milgrom’s “Narrow Bridge” provides encouragement for crossing the divide between religions. (Copyright Caravan.org)
































































Yasser Rostrom’s “The Tree” symbolizes Adam and Eve as the birth of humanity and the monotheistic religions as they reach toward the hand of God. (Copyright Caravan.org)


The Three Monotheistic Religions: Children of One Father

The three religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam readily fit the definition of monotheism, which is to worship one god while denying the existence of other gods. But, the relationship of the three religions is closer than that: They claim to worship the same god. While Judaism gave that god a name, “Yahweh,” both Christianity and Islam simply refer to him as “God” -- in Arabic, Islam’s founding language, “Allah” means “The God.”

The three religions trace their origins back to Abraham, who, in Genesis, had humanity’s first relationship with God after the failures of Noah’s flood and the Tower of Babel. Judaism and Christianity trace their tie to Abraham through his son Isaac, and Islam traces it through his son Ishmael.

If Abraham represents a point at which the religions diverge, they are unified up to that moment. That unity goes back to Adam, the first human being, and his creation by God. Each of the three religions reveres Adam and honors him as the first person, centering key theological elements on God’s creation of humanity through Adam. God is the father of humanity and the father of each religion.

Unfortunately, the mythology of being children of the same god as father does not lead to harmonious relationships among members of the three religions. They have become squabbling children rather than a harmonious family. The Middle East, and indeed the world, continues to be rocked by political controversy, forceful oppression and violent attacks stemming from members of these three religions, both against each other and against groups within their own religion.

To be fair, the religions themselves do not organize the violence and oppression. Indeed, they usually deplore it. Instead, the problems come from political or governmental authorities as well as from self-appointed (often illegal, immoral and highly violent) groups in the name of a religion. Terrorist killings and destruction, civil war and deprivation of human rights thus become identified with the names of religions -- and are regularly reported on the news.

Into this difficult moment comes an exhibition of nearly 50 paintings called “The Bridge.” The paintings are by artists of Middle East origins representing all three religions. They are on display during September at the University of Wyoming Buchanan Center for the Performing Arts, at the Lander Arts Center, at Western Wyoming Community College in Rock Springs and at Northwest College in Powell.

The theme of “The Bridge” is to visualize how members of the rival religious communities can cross the divide between them, moving from conflict to peace. The artists have no illusions that by themselves they will end the violence, oppression and other difficulties of the Middle East, but they hope to inspire thought and action through their visual conceptions.

Several paintings focus on the bridge itself. A bridge by definition carries a person over a dangerous place: a rushing river, a deep gorge, a highway of whooshing cars. One must trust the bridge to carry him or her safely over the danger. Lilianne Milgrom highlights this by presenting a yellow road sign indicating “Narrow Bridge”; in red graffiti, she has written “Fear Not.”

A different take comes from Isabelle Bakhoum, whose painting features a man walking a tightrope (quite a narrow bridge!) holding a long pole. At each end are symbols for three religions. If the religions remain quiet and still, then he will keep his balance and cross successfully. If the religions move, jump about and cause the pole to jiggle, then he will find it difficult to stay balanced. What might then happen?

Several paintings feature an Adam and Eve theme. My favorite is Yasser Rostrom’s “The Tree.” Here, the bridge is a branch from which grow a male and female figure. Their four arms become branches reaching upward toward the hand of God reaching down toward them (a la Michelangelo). Each of three arms holds a symbol of a monotheistic religion, while the fourth remains empty to symbolize other religions.

The hands stretch out from each other, forming a polygon, yet God’s hand comes down into the middle. The painting thus suggests that on their own, they cannot reach God, but only by coming together in the center. Can they? Or, having been born from the same father, have they grown so apart that they have become permanently separate?

“The Bridge’s” paintings exhibit a wide variety of styles and visions, all enjoyable to view and thought-provoking to contemplate. I encourage you to visit one of the exhibition sites and spend time with them.



   

Yasser Rostrom’s “The Tree” symbolizes Adam and Eve as the birth of humanity and the monotheistic religions as they reach toward the hand of God. (Copyright OnCaravan.org)

Lilianne Milgrom’s “Narrow Bridge” provides encouragement for crossing the divide between religions. (Copyright OnCaravan.org)

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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Coming Soon to a Beach Near You

Thanks to the mayors of French Riviera beach towns, the burkini has received international attention, and sales are skyrocketing. They banned Muslim women from wearing this three-part (four-part?) swimming costume at their beaches but, after photographs of three, large French policemen making a Muslim woman take off her outer tunic (to the accompaniment of her crying children) went viral, women around the world are seeing the burkini as a possible fashion choice for beachwear. After all, if it is too hot for the French Riviera, it must be cool. [Note: The woman in the photos in a third-generation citizen of France.]
The name “burkini” comes from a combination of the words “burka” and “bikini,” and it is actually a brand name that becomes synonymous with a new type of clothing. A burkini looks like a snorkeler’s wet suit with a tunic and hoodie, often brightly colored. It is the fashion creation of an Australian Muslim woman named Aheda Zanetti. Her company has been slowly garnering international market penetration for several years, but sales have spiked since the French controversy started several weeks ago.
Zanetti designed the burkini to enable Muslim women to enjoy beach and ocean activities like other Australians while keeping their modesty. It was quickly taken up in Australia, not without controversy, but that country’s Surf Rescue society adopted the burkini as one of its official uniforms, with the international shipping company DHL sponsoring it. And, if you think that burkini style can’t be fashionable, just google “burkini surfer.”
The point of the burkini is to provide women with another option for action wear. Zanetti says that about 40 percent of her customers are non-Muslims; some are women with health issues such as cancer, pale skin that burns when exposed to the sun or other body issues. Burkinis also are purchased by members of other religions, from Mormon women to Buddhist nuns.
For women with a strong sense of modesty, the burkini enables them to participate in water sports. Most just swim, play beach games and have a good time. But others pursue activities requiring more dedication, such as surfing or snorkel diving. The number of Southern Californian Muslim surfer girls is on the rise; after all, that’s what Southern Californians do, right?
So, what’s going on? Unfortunately, this is another instance of men telling women what to wear and trying to shame them into conformity with the use of morals. In the 1950s, the two-piece bikini was banned in Italy. Male officials told women they were showing too much of their bodies. They sent out policemen to fine women and eject them from the beaches. Young women needed to be more modest, the authorities said.
Now, the mayor of Cannes, David Lisnard, says that women in burkinis cannot enter beaches, because they are “wearing improper clothes that are not respectful of good morals and secularism.” In his view, apparently showing lots of feminine skin is “good morals” and that proper secular women wear bikinis. Talk about a turnaround!
To be fair, the mayors are responding to fights erupting on beaches over women wearing burkinis. There have been several incidents where burkini-wearing women on a beach have been harassed by young men for being “anti-France.” One claimed purpose of the ban is to prevent such “incitements” against public order. In other words, authorities address male behavior by telling women what to wear.

The French mayors’ ban and its aftermath have blown this matter out of proportion. French beaches are not about to be overrun by women in burkinis. There are rarely more than one or two women on a beach in a burkini, and often not even that. They stand out because they are so rare. It is more common to see nuns in full costume dipping in the sea.

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