Subject: AAFWD: TheistWatch for 3/3/96 (THEISTWATCH is a service of AMERICAN ATHEISTS, a n

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From: Subject: AAFWD: TheistWatch for 3/3/96 (THEISTWATCH is a service of AMERICAN ATHEISTS, a nationwide movement founded by Dr. Madalyn Murray O'Hair for the advancement of Atheism, and the total, absolute separation of government and religion. It is distributed to members and supporters on the AAFWD list - our thanks to Rich Daniels for operating this list. Edited and written by Conrad F. Goeringer.) *************** THEISTWATCH SHORT-SHOTS In the "Who Cares?" department, consider the case of retired Episcopalian Bishop Walter S. Righter, who is being tried on a heresy charge for signing a statement favoring ordination of homosexuals for the priesthood, and his ordination of a gay man as a deacon. On one hand, does it really make a difference if the person behind the pulpit babbling about the efficacy of prayer and other religious clap-trap happens to be gay, or female, or black, or something else? There is an interesting history, though, behind the nasty charge of heresy. Protestants were long considered heretics to the Roman Catholic Church; even before the Protestant Reformation, the charge of heresy was used to combat any sects which challenged the political and theological hegemony of the papacy. In the early 1200's, for example, Pope Innocent III led a vicious campaign against the Cathars, a cult which taught that two gods -- one good, the other evil and in control of the material world -- existed. In Southern France, the sect became so popular that it displaced the establish Catholic institutions. The Vatican counter-offensive against the so-called Albigensian heresy lasted over a decade; tens of thousands of victims were murdered; property was forfeited, and handed over to those who supported the Pope. In some cases, heretics becomes heroes. Not so long ago -- about 30 years -- the present dean of the Divinity School at Vanderbilt University was branded a heretic for wanting to allow blacks into the congregation of a Virginia church. But if we change our thinking about the righteousness of heretics -- and if heresy is "time bound" as some have suggested -- what does this say about the alleged role of "Divine Revelations"? Like the texts of the bible, or the competing holy books of the world's religious sects, the issue of what is judged sacred or profane is very much in the bias of those who sit in judgment. ************* In New York, a fundamentalist Christian couple are continuing the fight to keep their 5-month old baby on artificial life support, although the child is "brain dead" and legally a corpse under state law. The case involves Malcolm and Jois Scoon of Jamaica, Queens; the pair are under investigation for possibly causing the damage to their daughter, named Mariah. But if Mariah is no longer a viable human being, legally a corpse in fact, why the continued use of expensive and unusual life support? One reason is a State Health Department regulation that requires doctors to make "reasonable accomodation" for those with peculiar religious beliefs; according to the New York Times, this exceptional standard is allowed only in New York and New Jersey. Jewish groups originally demanded the special treatment, but the case has attracted interest from various "pro-life' advocates. It becomes part of the heated, at times murky debate over "life", when it begins and when it ends. According to George Anmas, professor of health law at Boston University School of Medicine and Public Health, the case of Mariah Scoon has implications for social policy, including organ donation, will, even life insurance. Anmas notes that doctors consider brain death to be just that, death. Other definitions, however, including those advanced on religious grounds would allow corpses to be kept in an artificial state indefinitely, with pumps circulating blood, or other devices maintaining the beating heart. Anmas calls this something "bizarre and arguable a violation of basic human dignity." "The definition of death clearly has moral and religious dimensions," he notes, adding that "neither courts nor legislatures can restore life to Mariah." He calls on society to abandon even the notion of using phrases like "brain dead." Victims of such tragedy are just dead. There may be parallels in those who insist that a "soul" enters clumps of fetal tissue or even cells forming at conception, and those who believe that our "soul" lingers on, ensconced in bodies of those whose brains display no measurable activity. This phantom serves as a basis for stopping abortion (for some, even to save the life of a mother), or declaring that those suffering in agony from terminal disease have no right to end their life. Should this peculiar doctrine, though, be granted the status of law? Dr. Anmas is right when he declares, "Just as we separate church and state, we must separate religious beliefs from medical facts." **** The upcoming elections in Iran are sure to be tainted, at least if charges by the Human Rights Watch-Middle East division are true. The group charges that a government-sponsored gang of Muslim clerics known as the "Council of Guardians" has devised a series of parliamentary election rules so cumbersome that over 2,000 of the 5,121 candidates who wanted to run have been kicked-off the ballot. And if the rules weren't enough, the Council -- which scrutinizes candidates for the allegiance to the Islamic religion -- is not required to even say WHY a would-be contender is blackballed. Talk about "One Nation Under God"! ******************* THEISTWATCH has reported on the religious turf wars which have erupted in the former Soviet Union. New age cults, the Catholics, Protestant evangelists, fundamentalists, Pentacostalist -- all are scrambling to recruit new followers. The new Russian government has fueled the hysteria by spending money to "re-build" churches, mostly those claimed by the ruling Russian Orthodox Church. But just as Red Army divisions enforced doctrinaire communism in neighborhing countries, now the Orthodox hierarchy is trying to re-assert control over straying sheep in places like Estonia. The problems started in 1940 when Soviet troops occupied the Baltic nation, and Josef Stalin allowed the Russian Orthodox hierarchy (which had ties to the Soviet secret police) to take control over the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church. When the Soviet Union crumbled, though, the Estonian church's independence from Moscow was restored by the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The Russian priests don't like that arrangement, insisting that they should maintain control in Estonia. How this latest squabble will be decided is anyone's guess. But in this argument, TW suspects that neither side makes much sense! ********** Speaking of Russian Orthodoxy, the current Patriarch, Alexi II, may have something to gain if either fascist nationalists or aging communist party oligarchs seize power in the next Presidential elections. Western Christians -- especially evangelicals and Pentacostalists who are pouring considerable effort into recruiting followers in the former Soviet Union -- are now worried about the "dim outlook for religious freedom" in that country. The magazine CHRISTIANITY TODAY reports that the recent elections, which tripled the number of communists in the legislative duma, may be a prelude toward restricting the activities of foreign religious groups. The publication quotes a former Deputy in the Duma, Gleb Yakunin who says that "those who would limit freedom of religion may seize their opportunity to change the law." But even Yakunin notes that "the next attack...will come against Protestants and Catholics who disagree with powerful Orthodox Patriarch Alexi II," noting that half of Russia's 150 million people are reportedly Orthodox. The Russian Orthodox Church has actively campaigned against liberalized laws which open the door to religious activities by competing sects, demanding that these groups be legally registered with the government and "invited" in by the church. Meanwhile, there is a small scandal over the death of Vitali Savitsky, president of the Christian Democratic Union. Savitsky was killed in a "suspicious" car accident days prior to last December's election; he had been combatting attempts by the Russian Orthodox Church to alter existing laws and clamp down on religious proselytizing by foreign groups. ********** Maybe it's the hot lights, or the pace, or the money, or something. Over the years, Hollywood has produced more than its share of weirdos, cranks and zanies. John Travolta, Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman and a slew of others are into Scientology -- the sci-fi cult that talks about e-meters, intergalactic wars, and some cosmic bad-guy named Xemu. Shirley Maclaine has done her share of damage to the world's tree supply with her endless stream of new age books on channeling, reincarnation and other delusions. Now comes Demi Moore (who we used for admire for her guts in baring so much for Vanity Fair much to the outrage of prudes and zealots), who happens to be the world's highest paid movie star. She is now on the stump for new age guru Deepak Chopra, and showed up in India last week for some words-of-wisdom which pretty much speak for themselves. Says Demi, "We're all on a journey, and the journey is actually the destination." She made the remark to a group called the Young Presidents Organization which, we hope, if elected will display some critical thinking toward Ms. Moore and other pop-culture vendors of modern obscurantism. *********************************************************************** * * * American Atheists website: * * PO Box 140195 FTP: * * Austin, TX 78714-0195 * * Voice: (512) 458-1244 Dial-THE-ATHEIST: * * FAX: (512) 467-9525 (512) 458-5731 * * * * Atheist Viewpoint TV: * * Info on American Atheists:, * * & American Atheist Press include your name and mailing address * * AANEWS -Free subscription: * * and put "info aanews" in message body * * * * This text may be freely downloaded, reprinted, and/other * * otherwise redistributed, provided appropriate point of * * origin credit is given to American Atheists. * * * ***********************************************************************


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