Religion Today

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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Friday, August 05, 2016

King Herod: President of the Olympic Games

With the Olympic Games about to open, we can look forward to enjoying athletic competitions among the best of the world’s athletes. And in between the contests, we will hear about how much more expensive these games are than any before them and learn about different sponsors -- companies, taxpayers and governments -- who have contributed money to pay the cost. Indeed, sometimes it seems that the Olympics limps from games to games, trying to determine how to pay the bills. 
This is nothing new; more than 2,000 years ago, the Olympics were having the same problem. It was getting harder and harder to pay the bills, and the games were in decline. But then a financial savior appeared, in the unlikely form of Herod the Great, King of Judea.
The year was 14 B.C., and the citizens of Olympia, the city and religious shrine in Greece where the Olympic Games were held, were worrying about paying for the next games. Hosting the gathering every four years was taking a toll on the city’s finances, for not only did they have to cover the housing and feeding of many people, athletes and spectators, but they also had to pay for the sacrifices offered at that time. Olympia served as the central Greek shrine to the god Zeus, the king of the Greek gods. 
The Olympic Games were held as a celebration in Zeus’s honor. Indeed, the first and last of the five days set aside for the games were devoted to offering animal sacrifices to Zeus and his consort, the goddess Hera. In recent years, the Olympics’ leaders noted, the money had been getting tighter, and the lavish character of the games had been becoming noticeably more shoddy and worn.
King Herod of Judea heard about these troubles and decided to do something about it. Herod, at that time, was looking for a project in which to get involved. The previous year, he had finished rebuilding the central area of the temple in Jerusalem, which had taken him 15 years. It was so magnificent that six centuries later, the rabbis still said that anyone who had not seen Herod’s temple had never seen true beauty. Herod also was finishing up his other building project, Caesarea Maritima, a new city built from the ground up. With the largest harbor on the eastern Mediterranean Sea, it was designed to encourage trade and travel. 
So, needing a new project on which to lavish his money, Herod decided to pay for the Olympic Games of 12 B.C. He journeyed to Olympia for the games that summer and presided over them as president. Of course, Herod’s gift ensured that the games would go on in style. But, by granting Herod the role of presiding president, the Olympians placed Herod in a position where everyone, especially the elite, the wealthy and the rulers, would meet Herod and thank him for his benefaction. 
Indeed, even Caesar Augustus probably thanked Herod for honoring Zeus, Caesar’s patron god, when Herod visited Rome later that summer. Since the ancient Olympic Games were not a secular event as they are today, but a religious celebration devoted to Zeus, a good part of the money Herod the Jew donated must have gone to pay for the sacrifices to Zeus. Herod must have thus practiced the saying of the later Christian apostle Paul: When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
Apparently, Herod enjoyed his Olympics so much that he gave additional funds afterward to endow the festival in future years. For this further gift, the ancient historian Josephus records Herod had his name recorded as perpetual president of the Olympic Games.

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What are the Benefits of Being Saved?

From its beginnings some 2000 years ago, Christianity has claimed that it provides something for its believers not available in any other religion. That something is salvation, a new condition for believers that has been defined in a wide variety of ways across the centuries and the continents where Christianity has grown. Usually, salvation involves a resurrection after one’s death into an eternal, heavenly existence, but how one attains salvation and the other benefits it includes has been defined in many different ways.
            In American evangelical Christianity, achieving salvation is called “getting saved,” often referred to as being “born again” through a spiritual awakening likened to a second birth. Becoming saved can be long process that takes place over months, even years, or it can be a sharp, sudden experience that happens in an instant. In either case, the conversion comprises a life-changing experience in which the convert’s new character differs significantly from the old, at least in their own mind.
            It is common to say that being saved “transforms your life,” but what does that mean specifically? On the one hand, it is clear that salvation changes “you,” the individual who becomes saved. On the other hand, it is also clear that it does not alter “life” in any significant way. Life is a series of joys and tribulations, of enjoyment and boredom, of heath and sickness. Those events continue in their unpredictable way and salvation does nothing to alter it.
            Salvation’s effects center on the individual. First, there is a spiritual transformation within oneself, described in a variety of ways: a feeling of peace, inner security, or gaining a new spiritual perspective. This inner peace may improve a person’s confidence, give them an ability to persevere in a difficult task or circumstance, or enable them to shed damaging behaviors such as substance abuse.
            Second, one develops a new relationship with God. Since God is “saving” an individual, prayer to God takes on a new meaning. Some boldly claim to “talk to God,” others humbly say they feel someone is listening. For some, the relationship carries an emotional component (they “feel” their contact with God), but others claim such experiences only rarely, if at all.
            Third, saved individuals often join a church. This provides a social benefit, a welcoming community whose members include the saved individual in their activities, become concerned with the individual, and provide a social arena for them to express their talents.
             In contrast to an individual’s personal transformation, life’s travails continue as they will. Christian believers are plagued by illness and accidents just like non-Christians. Although occasional announcements of a miraculous healing occur, especially in the Christian press, these are news because of their rarity value. They are not everyday occurrences.
            Mental illness, depression and suicide plague believers as well just like non-believers. The former head of the Texas Baptist Convention, Phil Lineberger, took his life after battling depression for years. The well-known Pastor Rick Warren of the Saddleback Church had a son stricken with mental illness from his youth who finally shot himself at age 27.
            Even though churches provide social support for marriage, being a Christian does not ensure that one will avoid adultery or divorce. Billy Graham’s grandson Tullian Tchividjian resigned his pastorship at a Florida megachurch after both he and his wife admitted to affairs, even though they had been married some 20 years. Divorce followed. Sexual abuse can happen within evangelical churches and religious organizations, just as they do in Catholic and other churches.
            And salvation does not prevent the sudden calamities of life. Christians are just a likely to die, be injured or lose their property in auto wrecks, armed robberies, shootings, earthquakes, and tornadoes.

            The point is not that Christians are particularly bad off or that being saved makes one vulnerable. Rather, salvation does not alter the random events of life, whether positive or negative. Believing in Jesus is not magical; the “living Christ,” as he is often termed, does not miraculously protect his followers from bad things happening to them. Salvation affects the saved individual and perhaps makes them more prepared to deal with such events, but it does not change the events themselves.

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