THEISTWATCH FOR MAY 15, 1995 UNITED STATES - Religions Unite to Oppose Genetic Technology
THEISTWATCH FOR MAY 15, 1995
UNITED STATES--Religions Unite to Oppose Genetic Technology
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA--Packwood Switch Bolsters Foster Nomination
CALIFORNIA--Armstrong Church Losing Support?
WORLD--TheistWatch Short Shots
UNITED STATES-McMartin Pre-school 'Abuse' Case to be Subject of
New HOB Movie
RELIGIONS UNITE TO OPPOSE GENETIC TECHNOLOGY
Religions Want the Government to Ban the Practice of Patenting in Bio-
Technology. Critics Say that Amounts to Banning the Technology
by Conrad F. Goeringer
Leaders from nearly every major religion in the United
States are expected to issue a statement this week demanding that
the patenting of genetic material for bio-technology be outlawed.
According to the New York Times (Saturday, May 13), over 100
Roman Catholic bishops, along with Hindus, Buddhists, Moslems,
Jews and Protestant leaders want the practice stopped.
Their efforts were orchestrated in part by Jeremy Rifkin,
head of the Foundation on Economic Trends in Washington, and
dubbed by some as the "Pied Piper of Anti-Science/Technology."
Rifkin helped organize a "Peoples' Bi-Centennial Commission" in
the mid-1970s and became active in ecology and related movements.
He revealed the mystical-religious underpinnings of his evolving
philosophy in a number of books, including "Algeny." He is
described by Reuters News Service as "one of the biotechnology
industry's most persistent adversaries"
Although the religious leaders said they were not opposing
genetic engineering and other biotechnology applications on
religious grounds, they claimed to be doing so "in opposition to
the patenting of human genes or organisms which they say violates
the sanctity of life."
"One of the basic principles of our church is that life is a
gift from God," said Bishop Kenneth Carder, head of a United
Methodist Church group which studies genetic science.
Biotechnologists, however, say that outlawing the patenting
of genetic breakthroughs amounts to opposing the science and
technology entirely. Patent s allow the companies to raise money
Biotechnology has been heralded as a major growth industry
of the twenty-first century, with an enormous potential for
manufacturing newer drugs, foods and other substances.
Biotechnology today has resulted in new forms of insulin, anti-
cancer agents, and seems to be on the verge of a treatment for
"Sanctity of Life": a Religious Agenda
Ironically, the rationale of "sanctity of life" is also used
by two other movements, both with strong ties to religious groups
and philosophies. One is the anti-abortion movement which holds
that a human "soul" is implanted in an embryo at the moment of
conception. The other is the anti-euthanasia movements, which
claims that only "god" has the right to take life, not even the
person who may be suffering painfully as the result of
debilitating illness. (Of course, the answers to those illnesses
may rest in the future development of biotechnology!)
It is doubtful, however, that religion can stop the
biotechnology bandwagon. Too much is at stake and not just
corporate profits. Biotechnology promises to dovetail with
another exciting enterprise known as "nano-technology," described
by Eric Drexler in his book "Engines of Creation." The use of
"nano-machines" incredibly small molecular devices which could
stimulate or repair cell damage and perform other pre-programmed
tasks is an area with which scientists are just starting to come
PACKWOOD SWITCH BOLSTERS FOSTER NOMINATION
by Conrad F. Goeringer
The tide may be slowly turning in the battle to make Dr.
Henry Foster the nation's next surgeon general.
Since his nomination, the Nashville obstetrician has been
under attack from anti-abortion and other religious groups. Two
weeks ago, President Clinton's nominee was considered a long-
shot, his chances of being recommended by the powerful Senate
Labor Committee "all but dead." But Foster's performance in front
of the committee was impressive. Although Republicans have a 9-7
advantage, one GOP member, James Jeffords of Vermont supports
And yesterday, May 14, Foster picked up the support of
Oregon Republican Senator Bob Packwood, who predicted that any
attempt to block the nomination would ultimately fail. Packwood
is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. He said that
Foster's qualifications for the job are "excellent" and that he
would support him "short of some skeleton coming forth."
Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole had threatened to quash the
nomination of Foster from ever reaching the floor for a vote. He
has apparently moderated that stance, and promises to meet
personally with the nominee before making a decision.
Another obstacle for Dr. Foster is Texas Senator Phil Gramm.
Like Dole, Gramm is running hard for the GOP presidential
nomination, and is working overtime to shore up his credentials
with conservative religious groups, most of whom oppose the
Foster nomination. Gramm is promising a filibuster to prevent a
vote; he told "Meet The Press" that "I'm going to do everything
in my power to stop this nomination." Even so, there appear to be
more than the sixty votes necessary to stop a filibuster.
Meanwhile, Foster faces a May 24 Labor Committee vote. A
favorable outcome may let Dole off the hook; he could simply tell
right-wing supporters that he followed Senate rules in letting
the nomination come to a floor vote. But a successful Foster
nomination would be a set-back for the anti-choice
ARMSTRONG CHURCH LOSING SUPPORT?
Membership, Donations Are Down as Worldwide Church of God Shifts
by Conrad F. Goeringer
One of the wealthiest religious groups for its size is
losing membership and revenue as it struggles with doctrinal
reform. The Worldwide Church of God founded by former ad man-
turned-evangelist Herbert W. Armstrong was begun in 1934. Its
continuing theme of world war and armageddon attracted a growing
congregation, and the church reached a membership of 135,000
people in 1990, with revenues of $210,000,000. Its television
program "The World Tomorrow" was on several hundred radio
stations, and the group's popular magazine "The Plain Truth"
boasted a circulation of over 7 million.
Armstrong died in 1986. Eight years before, he had ex-
communicated his son Garner Ted, heir-apparent to the sprawling
religious empire, over doctrinal issues. Some reported, however,
that the son's fall-from-grace was for personal impropriety. The
younger Armstrong then established the Church of God
International in Tyler, Texas, which has 5,000 supporters. Among
Armstrong's teachings was the doctrine of "British Israel," the
notion that the Anglo-Saxons were descendants of the lost tribe
of Israel. Books such as "United States and Britain in Prophecy"
underscored the British-Israel theme and argued that American
history represented an unfolding of god's plan for the world. In
"Mystery of the Ages," Armstrong argued that there were two
personae of god, not a trinity. Worldwide Church of God reflected
other Armstrong doctrines, including a Saturday sabbath,
prohibitions on women wearing make-up, and belief that world
events, particularly in the Middle East, foreshadowed a nuclear
war and the events described in Revelations.
Under new leadership, the WCG has gradually softened its
distinctive interpretations of biblical scripture and become more
"mainstream." Tithing of income is no longer mandatory, and
restrictions on cosmetics, even visits to doctors, have been
ended. The church has also been engaging in a "dialogue" with
theologians of other faiths.
As a result, Worldwide has lost 30 percent of its income in
the first two months of 1995, terminated 180 employees, and
reduced the circulation of "The Plain Truth" by 50 percent. It
may end up selling its 56-acre headquarters-campus in Pasadena,
California, as well.
But that's all fine with some ex-WCG members, including
those following Garner Ted Armstrong. One splinter-group of the
Armstrong Church is the Global Church of God; that group has
7,000 members and annual revenues of $3.5 million. They expect to
double those figures in 1995, as people leave Worldwide in the
face of doctrinal shifts. "Christianity Today" magazine quotes
cult-watchers as predicting the demise of WCG, or possibly its
stabilization and absorption into the mainstream Christian
In any case, events such as this testify to the malleability
of the human imagination, especially when presented with
"evidence" of biblical prophecy as a confirmation of world
events. This was one of the great selling points in Armstrong's
message. With his penchant for quoting scripture and verse and a
willing audience even as a religious leader he was still a
success as an adman.
THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS
by Conrad Goeringer
On Friday, May 12, Ireland's Supreme Court ruled that
doctors could continue doing what they have done for years
giving information about overseas abortion to women. Due to
the efforts of the Roman Catholic church, abortion in Ireland
is illegal; women carrying unwanted fetuses travel to Britain
for abortion services. Three years ago, 65 percent of voters
turned down proposals to abolish the ban on abortion, but the
same amount approved measures which allowed doctors to
provide information to women seeking abortions outside of the
Republicans have introduced legislation which would move
the U.S. Embassy in Israel from its present site in Tel Aviv
to the "holy city" of Jerusalem. The move would cost $105
million and is seen as a strategy which strengthens the
fundamentalist-Jewish Likud Party. It also reaffirms claims
by right-wing Israelis who want to make Jerusalem the Israeli
capital and drive out Palestinians and non-Jews in the area.
The proposal also endangers the ongoing negotiations
between Israeli moderates and the Palestinians; two key
states in the peace process, Jordon and Morocco, now say that
plans to legitimize Israeli claims to Jerusalem may derail
Also on Friday, May 12, a federal appeals court upheld a
voter-approved Charter amendment in Cincinnati that denies
gay men and women protection against discrimination. Claiming
that sexual orientation was not "an identifiable class" which
could be covered in the city's human rights ordinance. Other
criteria, however, such as gender, religion, race, and age
are included. Cincinnati mayor Roxanne Quallsl, who opposed
efforts to restrict gay rights said that the court ruling "is
a disappointment to all who support equal rights and equal
treatment for all Cincinnati citizens."
It was been a sleazy week for gay men and women in
America. After being told that lesbians were wrecking the
golf game, and that they weren't worthy of human rights
protection in Cincinnati, they had to put up with the likes
of California Republican Duke Cunningham talking about "homos
in the military."
The Judeo-Christian fixation with homosexual
"abomination" seems alive and well.
Yesterday, Cunningham apologized ("sort of," said the
New York Post) for making the tasteless statement on the
floor of the House of Representatives. He had originally
dismissed the ensuing flap, saying that he had "used a
shorthand term for homosexuals." Democrats were quick to
excoriate Cunningham, though; Nita Lowey (D-
Queens/Westchester, NY) chided: "It's unfortunate that we
have to gather together so often to remind our Republican
colleagues of the limits of public decency." Come to think of
it, Congress IS sounding like a post-game locker room. In
January, GOP Congressman Dick Armey referred to openly-gay
colleague Rep. Barney Franks (D-Mass.) as "Barney Fag."
Whatever happened to issues like budget reform, anyway?
A one-fourth page ad in the May 8 issue of USA TODAY
warned that "Christ Is Coming 'Very, Very Soon' " and listed
eight reasons why he's bothering to make the trip. They are:
The rebirth of Israel, plummeting morality, famines, violence
and war, increase in earthquakes, explosion of travel and
education, cults/occult, New World Order, increase in "both
apostasy and faith." With news like that, you'd think the
messiah could at least afford a full-page spread.
McMARTIN PRE-SCHOOL 'ABUSE' CASE TO BE SUBJECT OF NEW HBO
The Costliest Legal Case in California History Established a
New and Questionable Paradigm in the Mythology of Satanic and
Ritual Child Abuse. But Was Real Justice Done?
by Conrad F. Goeringer
On Saturday, May 20, HBO television airs "Indictment," a
movie based on the infamous McMartin Pre School case which
captured the public imagination in the late 1980s, and
fostered hysteria over reports of alleged Satanic and cult
ritual child abuse.
It was the longest and costliest trial in the history of
the state of California. Despite $15 million, and nearly
seven years of investigation and legal proceedings, no one
was convicted, lives were ruined, and charges that the
nation's children were being kidnapped, abused and murdered
by a conspiracy of satanic cultists were popularized
throughout the media. Satanic cults became the new "bete
noir" of Christian fundamentalists eager to replace a
decaying Soviet empire with an even more horrifying and
It began on August 12, 1983, with a complaint filed by a
mother alleging that her two and a half-year-old son had been
sodomized by Ray Buckley, an employee at the McMartin
PreSchool in Manhattan Beach, California. Police began a
round of questioning which spread to 20 other parents and
their children who also attended McMartin, and all denied any
acts of abuse. In fact, the woman who had filed the original
complaint (who died in 1986) was a paranoid schizophrenic and
alcoholic, something which was apparently not known at the
time. There were no external signs of abuse, and no other
On orders from the district attorney, however, an
organization called Children's Institute International (CII)
was then brought in. Using a technique called "Play therapy,"
interrogators from the Institute began eliciting responses
from more than 300 children who had attended the pre-school.
A grisly tale of ritual abuse is said to have emerged under
questioning of the children, and in 1984 police arrested
Buckey, his grandmother (who owned the Pre School), Buckey's
sister and three female teachers.
Hopefully, the HBO treatment of this case will
accurately cover the ensuing events, including the public
outcry and hostility over fears of ritual child abuse. One of
the prosecutors in the subsequent legal circus was Robert
Philibosian, now a regular commentator for a network covering
the O.J. Simpson trial. When DA Ira Reiner inherited the case
from Philibosian, he was shocked by the weaknesses and
contradictions in the case, and after an eighteen-month
preliminary hearing ended up dropping charges against
everyone except Buckey.
One crucial fact that emerged at the McMartin trial was
the role played by "experts" who, deliberately or
unwittingly, led children into imaginative and false telling
of stories. "Do you actually believe children would make
something like this up?", asks a protagonist in the HBO
movie. We should now. Children appear to have been hammered
relentlessly by investigators seeking to confirm their own
biases which would support the allegations of child abuse.
Some suggest that a similar form of "leading" has been taking
place within the "Facilitated Communication" movement of
therapists working with severely autistic people; indeed, the
evidence is so overwhelming that it is therapists who are
doing the communicating when they guide an autistic patient's
fingers to a keyboard, belief in this technique has become
tantamount to a blind faith. A once promising tool in
unlocking the minds of those imprisoned by autism has been,
alas, exposed as a pseudo-science, and in some cases outright
The McMartin case involved claims so bizarre that they
are fit material for the production of a B-grade horror genre
film. Those claims also ended up being repeated and amplified
in the folk lore of "Satan's Underground." They moved beyond
the hysterical claims of certain fundamentalist Christian
groups intent on spreading the alarm over a nationwide
Satanic conspiracy, to the land of daytime TV talk shows,
questionable "Documentaries," and even police department
seminars (often conducted by self-proclaimed "experts" who
advanced a distinct religious explanation for this
phenomena). One police seminar, for instance, was told the
following tale: children were dropped off by their parents at
the day care facility. They were then transported by plane to
a remote ceremonial location where robed figures may them lie
in coffins. They were lowered into the ground and had dirt
thrown on them, then sexually assaulted by a satanic high
priest. They were then loaded back onto the planes,
transported to the day care facility, and picked up by their
Variations on this theme became progressively more
imaginative, and included stories of being buried alive for
several hours with a dead body alongside in a coffin, being
forced to kill newborn babies, drinking of blood, serial sex
including vaginal, anal and oral penetration and other
horrors. Despite the striking lack of corroborative evidence
in many of these accounts, many people in churches,
government and the media believed a number of such stories.
What finally did happen in the McMartin case? In the
first trial, Buckey's mother was acquitted on all 65 charges
against her. Buckey was acquitted on 52, and the jury
deadlocked on 13. In 1990, Buckey was again tried on nine
charges, and the jury once again deadlocked. Raymond Buckey
ended up spending more than 5 years in jail. The school was
shut down and even razed; investigators brought in earth-
moving equipment in an unsuccessful hunt for "hidden rooms"
and ceremonial chambers which, they had been told, wound
underneath the school in a labyrinth. On the final day of
that phase of the investigation, news reports told of parents
and others who still convinced of the existence of the
underground torture chambers scrambled over piles of dirt and
debris digging frantically and finding nothing of substance.
A POSTSCRIPT ON THE MCMARTIN CASE
One outcome of the McMartin debacle and subsequent cases
involving claims of "ritual child abuse" has been a re-
examination of techniques used in extracting information from
children. It has been found that not only do children LIE,
but that they often craft stories and responses which they
see as pleasing the investigator or authority figure who is
questioning them. There have been some cases where children
and even teenagers also conspired to "frame" a parent,
teacher, or some other person by concocting molestation,
rape, or ritual abuse cases.
The hysteria over Satanic cults has pretty much died
down. It is no longer primetime special fare, and many of the
self-touted "experts" on the subject have either faded into
obscurity or moved into other limelights. Charges like the
one that up to 50,000 persons each year were being kidnapped
and sacrificed by Satanic cults have been exposed as
groundless. In fact, J. Gordon Melton of the Institute for
the Study of American Religion observed that the overwhelming
percentage of documented, organized child abuse ritual took
place in crank fundamentalist Christian cults such as the
River of Life Tabernacle. Abuse in such controlled,
authoritarian religious environments ranged from starvation
and prayer atonement to "Bible discipline" whippings. But the
lives of many people charged with such offenses are affected,
often for life, and their numbers are still growing. Even
if the legal system brings a kind of justice, the lawyers'
fees, bankruptcies, personal disruptions, and community
ostracism that so often accompanies such events linger.
Hopefully, the HBO showing of "Indictment" will show us the
dangers of having police and the law run amok.
* American Atheists website: http://www.atheists.org *
* PO Box 140195 FTP: ftp://ftp.atheists.org *
* Austin, TX 78714-0195 *
* Voice: (512) 458-1244 Dial-THE-ATHEIST: *
* FAX: (512) 467-9525 (512) 458-5731 *
* Atheist Viewpoint TV: firstname.lastname@example.org *
* Info on American Atheists: email@example.com, *
* & American Atheist Press include your name and mailing address *
* AANEWS -Free subscription: firstname.lastname@example.org *
* 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. *
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank