Century Marks

Century Marks

Olympic gods

A 600-foot footrace was the only athletic event at the first Olympics, a festival held in 776 BC and dedicated to Zeus, the chief Greek god. For the next millennium Greeks gathered every four years in Olympia to honor Zeus through sports, sacrifices and hymns. The combination of Greek sport and worship led the Roman emperor Theodosius I, a Christian, to ban the Olympics in 393 AD. The London Olympics this year tried to accommodate religious athletes with 193 chaplains, a prayer room in every venue and a
multifaith center in the Olympic Village. Muslim athletes faced a particularly difficult choice, since the Olympics fell during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims refrain from eating and drinking during the day (ENI).

Hard place

Christians make up about 10 percent of Syria’s population. Daoud Rajiha, the recently assassinated minister of defense, was a Chris­tian, drawn into the government led by  Bashar el-Assad, which is dominated by Alawites, another minority group in Syria. Many Christians privately express support for the rebel opposition to the Assad regime. However, the growing appearance of Islamists among the rebel ranks and the ascendancy of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt have given the Syrian Christians pause. “I’d rather have this regime than chaos or Islamists,” said a Christian teacher in Damascus (Economist, July 21).

About face

Professor Richard Muller of the University of California, Berkeley, a global warming skeptic, assembled his own research team to study the evidence. The study was partly funded by lobbyists opposed to action on climate change, including foundations operated by the far-right Koch brothers. At the end of the study, Muller confessed to a total turnaround: “Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct,” he said. “I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.” One team member still refused to be part of the final report (BBC News, July 30).

Spirituality of play

The physical benefits of sport have long been known. Some people argue that sports also help moral development. The spiritual benefits are less acknowledged. Sports psychologist Mark Nesti argues that sport ideally involves the mind, body and spirit. Sport as a spiritual activity is best realized when it is seen as a form of play, a way of losing one’s self in the process and not focusing on personal gain alone. Sport also involves sacrifice and suffering, which Nesti doesn’t see as contradicting the notion of sport as fun. “Play can be serious—indeed it should be serious or it’s not really play” (Third Way, July/August).

Tower of power

Cell phone companies are having difficulty finding places to build new towers, so they are looking to church buildings, which means that many churches may get a new source of income. The Catonsville Presbyterian Church in Maryland, for instance, has struck a deal with a cell phone company: the company is allowed to put three antennas in the steeple, in return for which the church is paid over $1,000 a month for each antenna (NPR, July 26).