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THEISTWATCH FOR JULY 17, 1995 ____________________ ____________________ Contents: United States--DIVISIONS GROW AMONG CHRISTIAN CONSERVATIVES Illinois--HOUSECLEANING FOR THE LORD? World--THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS ____________________ ____________________ Moderator's Note: This mailing of TheistWatch was delayed because of mechanical problems. DIVISIONS GROW AMONG CHRISTIAN CONSERVATIVES by Conrad Goeringer There are growing splits within the ranks of American Christian conservatives, at least judging from last week's meeting in Philadelphia of the Republican National Committee. Still high from the resounding November 1995 elections which gave the GOP control of the U.S. Senate and House, Republicans are nevertheless starting to hear the feared A-word during their informational meetings -- and that "A" stands for abortion. Media also reports grumbling within some party circles about the growing influence of the religious right. One GOP strategist told the Philadelphia Inquirer that GOP Chairman Haley Barbour "is trying to put a mask on a growing headache" and that "you're going to have a fight in this party on (abortion) choice." Analyst Kevin Phillips said that both the GOP and the Democrats are victims of complex social changes and that "the system is becoming undone in ways that affect them, too." Phillips, who predicted the conservative landslides of the Reagan and Bush, pointed to disenchantment with the major parties and the popularity of third-party candidates like Ross Perot. He also noted the threat of Pat Buchanan, the conservative commentator who is perhaps the most right- wing of those vying for the GOP presidential nod. Even William Bennett, former secretary of education and "Kultur guru" of the religious conservatives, accused Buchanan of "flirting with fascism," adding "This 'fortress America' stuff, this 'you the people' stuff -- I think it's tricky." Phillips also had tough words for Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole, who has taken up the "family values" baton from former Vice President Dan "Can't Spell" Quayle. "Bob Dole is in the process of marrying Pat Robertson and Ralph Reed," he said, referring to the dynamic duo of the Christian Coalition. "Clinton is going to portray Bob Dole as a doddering old man in the thrall of these preachers," said Phillips. Meanwhile, there is background worry at this meeting over the insistence of far-right religious Christians who control many state GOP organizations that the party run a "family values"-style campaign opposing abortion. Strategists worry that many Americans, while enthused about economic policies on taxation and free trade, will nevertheless vote for Clinton because of the president's pro-choice stand. They also blame the Christian right for the defeat of President George Bush in 1992. Although Bush enjoyed popularity following Operation Desert Storm, women left the party ranks to cross over to the Democrats -- mostly due to the abortion question. HOUSECLEANING FOR THE LORD? The Name "ServiceMaster" Has a Double Meaning for This Growing Christian Business By Conrad Goeringer Read the financial section of the daily paper, or watch the business report on television, and you quickly realize that corporate names frequently seem to have little or no connection with what the corporation actually does. Ok, there are exceptions like "Tandem Computers" and "Phillips Petroleum." But what about "Unisys"? Or "Chemical Banking" (do they stockpile toxic waste?). And what about some company with a name like ServiceMaster Co.? What do they do? Trying to find out exactly what ServiceMaster does is a bit of a problem, even if you're the Chicago Times. The paper recently had one its business-beat reporters drop in to the company's annual stockholders meeting in Downer's Grove, Ill, and found that this is a "firm with a distinctly different sort of business attitude." The 1,200 or so stockholders first listened to a choir singing the national anthem, then "America the Beautiful," followed by a corporate vice president reading from the Bible, and all of this followed by a prayer. Check out the corporate headquarters, and there is a stone carving stating the company's four goal -- "To honor God in all we do; to help people develop; to pursue excellent; to grow profitably." And, reports the Tribune, "Even the company name has a double meaning: One of them is service to the Master." While this is all well and good for some of the stockholders, others are apparently concerned with the focus on religion. During the meeting, one stockholder asked "Why does ServiceMaster Co. have such a strong penchant for bringing God and religion into the company's regular business?" But the corporate president and CEO insists "We are not a religion." And just what does ServiceMaster do to "service the Master"? "In fairness", notes the Tribune, "it is difficult to describe briefly what ServiceMaster does, except to say it does what others are unable or unwilling to do themselves -- including housecleaning, groundskeeping, laundry and plant operations, and maintenance of hospitals, schools and businesses." Whatever that entails, it seems to be paying off; corporate net for ServiceMaster was $140 million, up 21 percent from the previous year. It boasts 5.6 million customers in 28 countries, has 36,000 employees and 200,000 "service partners" set up in franchises. Oddly, ServiceMaster stock has remained relatively static since the third-quarter of 1993, hovering around $25. THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS by Conrad Goeringer This service recently told subscribers about a church in the former Yugoslavia which is the center of interest for those claiming regular visits or apparitions by the Christian earth-goddess, the Virgin Mary. Being close to the ever-changing battlelines in the Bosnian war, the area has been hit by bombs and mortar rounds, one of which landed near the church. This fact, along with the tales of Mary sightings, is often "proof" that the area is enchanted -- the church still stands. But Mary, Jesus, Jehovah -- somebody -- seems remiss about the fate of St. Peter's Roman Catholic church in Florosa, Florida. The U.S. Air Force has now acknowledged its responsibility for damage done to the church's rectory caused by bomb shrapnel which exploded last month during an ordinance disposal drill. THEISTWATCH is still seeking more details in this case, but incidents like this one reflect an important principle, namely, that reality does not always conform to the perceptions and eager ideological agendas of believers. For every ill-documented or anecdotal "miracle," there are far more numerous events which suggest that either the cosmos is essentially disinterested in human beings, or the god(s) are lazy and haphazard in bestowing their favors upon our species. *************** It appears that a museum exhibit of medieval, inquisitional torture implements is the big draw in Mexico City this year. At the Old School of Medicine, people are queuing up to see displays of racks, tongue slicers, skull crushers, thumbscrews, and other excrescences of human faith and bigotry, all part of a touring exhibition which has visited thirty-three countries. There's also an executioner's sword, metal balls (which were stuffed into the mouths of heretics), and the notorious "iron maiden," a sarcophagus lined with spikes. All of these instruments were popular with religious enthusiasts (shall we call them "people of faith," in keeping with the modern argot?), when the Christian religion -- in consort with ambitious political officials -- held back human progress and murdered thousands, if not hundreds-of-thousands, of "heretics" during the "Holy Inquisition." And what more appropriate venue in Mexico City? The Old School there was the headquarters of the professional psychos and clerical sadists who "brought the word of Christ to the New World." Incidentally, the exhibition has been a rousing success. It has been estimated that this show is attracting up to 10 percent of the population in each city it visits. Now, if only we could arrange to have this enlightening display at the United Nations during the pope's October tour. *************** Is success spoiling the once-upstart Fox television network? Or is Fox intent on following the rest of the television industry into the sinkhole of mediocrity and tame "family programming" to quench the rage of Bob Dole, the American Family Association, and other blue-noses? Fox busted up the airwave monopoly of the "Big Three (ABC, CBS, NBC) by "pushing the envelope" on conventional programming. Sarcastic, outrageous, experimental and, for some, "dumbed-down" offerings were the standard bill of fare. "Married With Children," "The Simpsons," "In Living Color," and a host of other programs were nurtured on Fox. Despite criticism that the network was catering to the banal tastes of "trailer park" America, the Wayans brothers broke new territory for Black comedy and "The Simpsons" managed to pillory nearly every bourgeois institution ever invented (including the religious Ned Flanders of "how-de-doodle-de-do neighbor!"-fame) -- and draw the presidential wrath of George Bush who said that HE preferred the Waltons, and the nation would be better off for the doing the same. Fox was a welcome opening for bolder and more creative production talent, even if it did grind out its share of trash and schlock (which could always be compensated for with enough popcorn before hitting the "off" button on the remote.) Bob Dole and the rest of the Christian right has the entertainment industry running scared, of course, and now -- instead up standing up to the Forces of Religiosity and Terminal Boredom -- even Fox is wavering. Nearly a year ago the network brought over John Matoian from CBS, who once said that "Sophomoric was the word I always used to describe Fox shows. . . . They were brash and they pushed the envelope. But now we're a maturing network." Matoian is now part of that "maturing" process, for good or bad, and like the rest of the media establishment believes that through "responsible programming" (apparently, NOT "pushing the envelope") the industry will be able to be "responsible" to public concerns about violence, profanity and all of the other stuff people watch in private, and avoid overt government censorship schemes like the notorious V-Chip. The new Fox lineup promises to have less zing and more mindless chuckling. There's "Two Something" which USA TODAY described as "A comedy about best friends who work in the mailroom of an investment banking firm while also pursuing their dream careers." And there's "The Crew," a "New Fox show about four wild and wacky flight attendants, (which) represents the high-class taste Matoian is known for." There will also be the cosmetic changes on shows like "Beverly Hills, 90210" and "Melrose Place," programs which speak for themselves in that they never drew criticism from Tipper Gore, George Bush, or Dan "Mr. Potatoe" Quayle. As for shock, controversy, and maybe a good verbal slug-fest, well, it's becoming harder and harder to find. Like certain credit cards, Fox WON'T be making shock-jock Howard Stern a part of its late-night lineup. It could have balanced Stern with an equally outrageous figure, say, the Rev. Al Sharpton, or given the head of B'nai B'rith a co-anchor role with Louis Farrakhan. We need something more on the television, if the limits of the "envelope" are presently defined by "special reports" featuring Ted Koppel, or verbal exchanges between William Buckley and some ambassador to a remote country. In our phobia against "sex, violence, profanity" and other buzzwords which define a constipating cultural conservatism (CCC), we risk having television become even more of a wasteland than it is now. Shows once though controversial, even risque, are now "classics." For the chuckling mindlessness of "Leave It To Beaver," there was "Twilight Zone", even "Playhouse 90." And against the threats of a V-Chip or government mandated-ratings, the entertainment industry -- that is, individual writers, producers, actors, directors and other creative people -- should respond in the way people should have answered the late Sen. Joe McCarthy, with boldness and open defiance. It's not sufficient to have "freedom of expression" unless that freedom involves testing limits, challenging popular notions and standards, and "pushing the envelope." For starters, I'd have Lisa Simpson to give Bob Dole a good kick in the butt! *********************************************************************** * * * 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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