Friday, February 24, 2006

Foot and mouth: The poly disease

Australian politics is never dull with its unique mix of hic and hex. However more recently the true blue redneck attitude of a “Whites only” immigration policy re-emerges in political rhetoric. Treasurer, Peter Costello in a recent speech likened entering Australia, to visiting a mosque. He reminded his audience when Moslems worship they remove their shoes before entering the holy place. By the same token Costello has asked that all immigrants to Australia should leave anything considered un-Australian behind before entering the big brown land. Needless to say his lack of sensitivity as expressed within his comments has brought a tirade of protest because his statement appears to have singled out Muslims living in Australia which is hardly “fair dos”. Despite protests against the xenophobic outburst, Prime Minister Mr. John Howard said Mr. Costello's comments were "fundamentally accurate". Mr. Costello later told the Nine Network
"If you don't want to take your shoes off, don't go into a mosque. If you want to come into Australia, you will be asked respect for its values. If you don't have respect for those values, don't ask to come into Australia. This is what we ask of people. We have to preserve a way of life which makes us the greatest country in the world."
All very nice and simplistic but hardly realistic expectation in a pluralist society which prides itself on freedoms. However I am not a politician just a mused citizen who anticipates with frustration a citizen’s charter. Even civil rights in Australia would be a start. Meantime, Treasurer Costello might like to know about shoes and worship. In Islamic tradition, culture determines feet occupy the lowest rung in the bodily hierarchy and shoes are considered unclean. Hence it is commonplace to remove shoes before entering a place of worship; the gesture is to maintain the purity of the place of worship. The same custom is extended to entering a private home because the sole of the shoe is considered the contaminated. Barefoot worship is also referred to in the Old Testament but only symbolically acknowledged in Judo-Christian belief with foot washing. In Biblical times shoes were made from animal skins, and these were difficult to clean. This may explain why shoes in the Old Testament, an agricultural society came to represent all that was unclean. The emblems of filth were left outside homes and considered quite unsuitable for holy places. Feet encased in footwear required to be purified and this responsibility usually fell to the lowest house servant. Foot bathing signified the status of an honored guest and put them at ease and comfort. It also kept the floors, clean. Foot washing was viewed as an honor or service and became a common Jewish custom at formal banquets and took place either on arrival or before the feast. Foot washing, when undertaken by anyone other than the lowest servant in the household, took on significant symbolic importance. Most authorities recognize this humble action as deliberate act of humility, a mark of respect or deliberate self-humiliation. Ceremonial feet washing often involved marking the toe with blood or oil to symbolize either consecration or the cleansing of the entire person. This type of ritual was considered important before entering God's house. Bathing feet in oil was also taken as a prospect of wealth. When Mary Magdalene washed the feet of Jesus with her tears and dried them with her hair, she also anointed them with expensive ointment. For this token of devotion, Christ forgave her sins then proceeded to remind his host that he had not been extended the same courtesy as would be appropriate to a welcome guest. Jesus then subverted the symbolism by washing the feet of his disciple’s feet at the Last Supper. Despite protestation he reminded his devotees the significance of foot washing, which is celebrated to this day.
'I have done this to give you an example of something that you should do.'
Christ's action demonstrated that service rather than status represented greatness in the Kingdom of Heaven. This action prepared his disciples (and their converts) to walk in the path of righteousness. Christians adopted the Hebrew foot washing ceremony and in some religious faiths this is still considered as one of the three ordinances (sacrament) i.e. baptism, the Lord's Supper, and foot washing. Foot washing acts as a renewal of baptism and commitment to living God's way of life.

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