THEISTWATCH FOR MAY 15, 1995 UNITED STATES - Religions Unite to Oppose Genetic Technology

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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 Altogether. 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 for research. 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 Alzheimer's disease. "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 to grips. 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 Foster. 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 movement. ARMSTRONG CHURCH LOSING SUPPORT? Membership, Donations Are Down as Worldwide Church of God Shifts Doctrines 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 religious movement. 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 country. ********** 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 peace talks. ********** 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 MOVIE 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 homegrown threat. 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 corroborative evidence. 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 fraud. 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 parents. 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: avtv@atheists.org * * Info on American Atheists: info@atheists.org, * * & American Atheist Press include your name and mailing address * * AANEWS -Free subscription: aanews-request@listserv.atheists.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. * * * ***********************************************************************

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