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THEISTWATCH for May 11, 1995 Texas--HEY, WHO'S TAKING RESPONSIBILITY FOR THIS? Virginia--GUIDANCE FROM THOSE IN THE KNOW (Pat Robertson quote) United States--EPISCOPALIAN GROUP WANTS INDEPENDENT PROBE IN EMBEZZLEMENT CASE Georgia (U.S.)--ART EXHIBIT SHOWS RUSSIAN RELIGIOUS WEALTH Utah--MORMONS AND MILITIAS (Part 1 of 2) ____________________ ____________________ HEY, WHO'S TAKING RESPONSIBILITY FOR THIS? You Can Blame Human Perdition Instead of God for Oklahoma City. But Who Takes Rap for Texas Hailstorm? by Conrad F. Goeringer It wasn't as devastating as the explosion in Oklahoma City, but it killed 15 people and injured nearly 100 others. In the media coverage over the bombing which killed and injured many more in the nation's heartland, everyone was trying to reconcile how the god they were busy praying to had allowed such terrible events. Everyone from President Clinton to Billy Graham showed up in Oklahoma City to pray for victims, for the possibility that someone may yet be found buried in rubble still alive, for the "souls" of departed kids. Some asked: How did "He," the almighty one, allow it to happen. Some of the religious leaders and preachers on the scene told media that it was a "mystery," something "beyond the comprehension of men," why god would "call home" the souls of mangled children and other innocents. Happens all the time -- war, plane crashes, famines. It's all part of the Cosmic Plan. Others took a more prosaic tact; "god" wasn't responsible for Oklahoma City, or Vietnam or anything else of that nature. That was "man's" doing, and "man" is cursed with original sin and evil, besotted with wrong-doing and in need of salvation. Tim McVeigh -- or somebody else, some other mortal -- bares responsibility, not "god." So, THEISTWATCH looked to the great state of Texas for something recent -- and grisly -- that "man," that vessel of original sin, definitely did not do. On May 6, a 70 mph storm swept through Dallas, pelting the landscape --and innocent people -- with softball-sized hail. Fifteen people died, and four were reported missing. Ninety people were treated for injuries at just one hospital, with everything from cuts resulting from flying shards of glass, to bruises. 2,500 were caught in the melee at a county fair. 600 people attending a Tommy Tune and Brooks & Dunn concert in Dallas were evacuated from a park. Then the flooding came. Two workers were killed and another dozen injured when a roof collapsed. Car windows were smashed, roads flooded, and patients already in hospitals had to be moved when water poured into the emergency room at Baylor University Medical Center. Planes were grounded at Dallas-Ft.Worth International Airport, and hundreds of commuters with scheduled to keep were inconvenienced. The American Airlines terminal lost power; so did 16,800 regular private customers. Hey, somewhere in the world, things like this happen everyday. Innocent people are killed, mangled, cut, bruised, at the minimum inconvenienced. Sometimes, it happens on a much larger scale -- involving hundreds, even thousands of casualties. But the Good Book -- and those who read it and live by it -- insist that it 's all "part of His plan." Really? Next time you hear that line, just think of a rainy and stormy day in Texas. ____________________ ____________________ GUIDANCE FROM THOSE IN THE KNOW "Feminism encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians." -- Rev. Pat Robertson ____________________ ____________________ EPISCOPALIAN GROUP WANTS INDEPENDENT PROBE IN EMBEZZLEMENT CASE Group is Not Satisfied With Bishop's Explanation in Scandal by Conrad Goeringer A reform movement known as Episcopalians United isn't satisfied with the explanation of Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning in connection with a $2.2 million financial scandal. Earlier, THEISTWATCH had reported that Ellen Cooke -- the church's treasurer -- had allegedly taken the money for personal use including jewelry and vacations. Bishop Browning claimed that Cooke "maintained absolute control of the auditing and reconciliation functions of the Treasurer's office," and had prevented others from seeing the account ledgers. But a press release from Episcopalians United says that it wasn't quite that simple. "Bishop Browning himself had increased Mrs. Cooke's autonomy by appointing her as treasurer not only of the Episcopal Church Center, but of General Convention, the denomination's triennial legislative body." The organization's paper, United Voice, also maintains that "Browning repeatedly defended Mrs. Cook throughout her tenure." Episcopalians United wants a full disclosure from the bishop's office, saying that "a failure of accountability created this scandal." But it is events like the Cooke scandal which often give the public a rare glimpse into the organization -- and extent -- of church finances. That someone could systematically divert such an amount of funds during a nine-year period (as Cooke is alleged to have done) raises questions about the sheer volume of cash moving through church accounts. And it suggests that even in the churches, the worldly consideration of money plays a leading role. ____________________ ____________________ ART EXHIBIT SHOWS RUSSIAN RELIGIOUS WEALTH A Ten-Week Show Opens This Saturday in Atlanta. The Fantastic Collection is Expected to Attract Thousands by Conrad F. Goeringer One of the consequences of theocratic governments has been the unfortunate merger of religious expression with artistic creativity. Religious motifs were often the only venue of expression for talented artists throughout the centuries, in part since churches and ecclesiastical authorities were the only sources of commission money. The weakening of that monopoly, along with the rise of industrial capitalism, gave artists more flexibility in terms of the subject matter and themes they depicted. In pre-Revolutionary Russia, a long history of alliance between autocratic rule and orthodox Church authority shaped and restricted the direction of artistic development. The Russian Orthodox religion was state supported, and received lavish support from individual tsars and landowners. In fact, the priesthood was considered a viable economic move upward for many Russians, even those in the middle-class. An exhibition opening May 13 in Atlanta promises to give insight into the extent of religious wealth and influence dating back to the 1300s. Titled "The Sacred Art of Russia From Ivan the Terrible to Peter the Great," the ten-week exhibition is expected to attract 300,000 people. The 375 works on display will include 59 ceremonial robes, along with decorated chalices, crucifixes and other items. Many are made from gold or silver, and accented with precious stones. USA TODAY quotes exhibit director Gudmund Vigtel as saying that the show illustrates "the incredible influence of religion on Russian history, art and culture." A number of exhibition items come from Novodevichy Convent outside of Moscow, which receive the largess of Tsar Ivan the Terrible; the convent became "one of the richest religious institutions in Europe." Interestingly, the decline in "sacred art" began under the reign of Peter the Great, the monarch responsible for bringing the Englightenment spirit to Russia. Peter was influenced by the major "Philosophes" of Western culture, and worked to curtail the social and political power of the Orthodox church. He even insisted that reactionary practices, including the wearing of long, untrimmed beards, be abolished. Under his reign, art began to focus more on the natural world and less on religious themes; the use of precious gems and rare materials became a statement of secular wealth rather than religious display. Unfortunately, exhibits of this nature fail to root the artistic works in a cultural and political context. The period in Russian history which saw the zenith of religious artistry was also a time of feudal oppression for nearly 90 percent of the populace who were considered peasants, and eked out a precarious existence working vast estates. A small class of "Boyars" ruled the countryside, holding most of the land and considerable wealth. The Russian Orthodox church legitimized this rule, acting to buffer tensions between peasants and landowners, and provide a soporific ideology for masses of people. Despite the impoverishment of the countryside, regal palaces, sprawling estates and magnificent churches dotted the Russian countryside. To fully appreciate the meaning of Russian ichnographic art and other sacred works, a political and social narrative should be presented to provide a contextual comprehension for viewers. While we can certainly appreciate the craftsmanship and artistic excellence that went into these creations, we must never forget who ultimately sacrificed and sweated to make them possible. The exhibit will take place at Cobb Galeria Centre in Atlanta. ____________________ ____________________ MORMONS AND MILITIAS (Part One of Two) Conspiracy Views of History and Politics Are Deeply Rooted in Mormon Tradition. In the Land of the Saints and Elsewhere, the Spiritual Heirs of Joseph Smith Are Doing More Than Singing in Temple Choirs; They're Getting Ready for The End of the World. by Conrad Goeringer Millenialism -- the belief that the world will end according to a cataclysmic holy prophesy -- is alive and well in the twentieth century. There are indications that a number of groups throughout the world look with anticipation to the next five years as we approach 2,000. For some it will be the unfolding of events foretold in the Bible. Others, such as the Aum sect in Japan believed responsible for gas attacks in the Tokyo subway, jazz up Christian doomsday scenarios with New Age mysticism and Eastern Buddhist occultism. And for thousands -- perhaps millions -- throughout the world, "something" is about to happen. Jesus Christ will return. Aliens will land. Human beings will "evolve" in some strange planetary evolution, similar to the storyline in the best seller "The Celestine Prophesy." Or there could be the collapse of civilization, and the emergence of a new order. The tapestry of apocalyptic thinking often contains the threads of conspiracy theory views about history and current events. For many fundamentalist Christians, the end of the world pits the faithful and saved against the pernicious minions of Satan and his worldly flunky, the antichrist. With luck, some fundamentalists say they will be chosen as the "saved" and be flown up to heaven in an event called "Rapture" before the devil is turned loose on earth for 1,000 years of mischief and evil. Others believe that even those chosen will undergo persecution and torment to test their faith. And others see this an opportunity -- it will be the big shoot-out with the forces of antichrist as foretold in the Book of Revelations. Maybe it will happen in the Middle East. Some predict the American midwest. And they're getting ready. Many of those subscribing to fundamentalist Christian scenarios of the "end times" gravitate toward apocalyptic social movements such as militias and fringe church-groups. The Oklahoma City bombing has focused public attention on the self-styled militias, groups of men (and sometimes women) who train in shooting and survival skills, accumulate guns and ammunition, and often distrust the government. Federal investigators suggest that Oklahoma bombing suspect Timothy McVeigh had ties to the militias, but so far that evidence seems circumstantial and flimsy. McVeigh moved in the militia subculture, but the camouflaged world of right-wing survivalists is far from monolithic, and many militia groups have denounced the Oklahoma City terrorism. Some militias reflect the peculiar politics and theology of what is known as Christian Identity. The best known Identity group is the Church of Jesus Christ Christian, also called Aryan Nations. Founded by Richard Butler, the organization is based in Idaho, but has active presence in dozens of states. Christian Identity teaches that the White race is the lost tribe of Israel, the true "chosen" people, who must do battle with Jews, blacks and other "mongrels" and establish what it terms a White Bastion in the Pacific Northwest. The modern racist Skinhead movement is influenced by Identity politics, especially with its appeal to violent resistance, guns and racism. Like many larger, fundamentalist groups, Christian Identity preaches that we are in "end times" and that an apocalyptic event is about to occur. But whereas most Christians believe in a conflict between god and satan, Identity prepares for a race war. Latter Day Militias But miles south of the Pacific Northwest bastion is the State of Utah, base of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, known as the Mormons. Mormon theology is based on the writings of Joseph Smith, who claimed to have uncovered golden tablets telling a religious history in the new world, America. Skeptics like to point out that Smith was a spinner of tall tales, that the Book of Mormon bears a curious resemblance to the mythos in the Old and New Testament, and that the doctrines of the church reflect Smith's penchant for mumbo-jumbo ritual and outlandish narrative. Ten million people consider it to be gospel today, however, and the Mormon religion thrives in Utah and throughout the American west. It owns the single biggest concentration of capital in the Rocky Mountain region, including real estate, newspapers, TV stations, and other businesses. Politically, the church has been conservative. Mormon leaders have served in important government posts. The late billionaire recluse Howard Hughes surrounded himself with a Mormon security squad, thinking that they were "incorruptible," and placed Mormons in administrative positions throughout his business empire -- including gambling casinos. Former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had an "affinity" for Mormon agents according to biographers. A disproportionately high number of Mormons in the ranks of the Central Intelligence Agency has been noted as well. (Some contend that Mormon agents in the field do not function well in the fleshpots and back alleys of foreign countries where much intelligence and blackmail material is gathered.) The Mormon church is "establishment," with a strong streak of conservatism. The church opposes homosexuality, abortion, and courts the political conservatives of the Republican party. But Mormon history is replete with incidents pitting the church against local, even national authority. And distrust of established institutions, mixed in with prophetic apocalypticism and conspiracy thinking runs deep. Joseph Smith formed what he called the Nauvoo Legion in 1840 to defend the church. Anti-Mormon writings warned of the "Sons of Dan," a Mormon terrorist group acting as a kind of church- mafia. Another label -- Avenging Angels -- has surfaced from time to time in connection with Mormon activity. And there were confrontations with the federal government concerning the admission of Utah into the county as an official state. The church altered its teachings on polygamy, a practice which outraged the Christian blue bloods on the East coast and in Washington, D.C. Today, a number of Mormons still hold to their older traditions, and live in polygamous communities. But while early mistrust of the government gave way, millenialism -- belief in the immanent "last days" -- thrived. That traditions lives on today, in part, through the existence of Mormon militias scattered throughout Utah and the west. According to news reports, they call themselves names like Culpepper Minutemen, Sovereign Freemen, even the Mormon Battalion. The Salt Lake City Tribune (4/30) quoted Becky Johns, a communications professor at Weber State University and an expert on ultraconservative Mormon groups in Utah: "They literally believe they are in the last days. They are very cognizant of time, and believe things happen in an order and that somehow there is an end . . . the end is always close." (End of Part One) __________________ __________________ TheistWatch is a regular news survey on religion and religious belief, and the foibles and follies of religion, as reported from an Atheist standpoint. TheistWatch originates from the headquarters of American Atheists, Inc., in Austin, Texas, as a service to members and potential members and all Atheists concerned about the problems created by organized and unorganized superstitions. Unless otherwise noted, articles appearing in TheistWatch are contributed by the staff of American Atheists. *********************************************************************** * * * 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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