THEISTWATCH FOR JULY 18, 1995 Contents: Washington, D.C. - HOUSE SHOWDOWN ON ARTS FUNDING

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THEISTWATCH FOR JULY 18, 1995 __________________ __________________ Contents: Washington, D.C.--HOUSE SHOWDOWN ON ARTS FUNDING NEARS Colorado--FOCUS ON THE FAMILY TO PROTEST U.N. CONFERENCE World--THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS Texas--THEISTWATCH ARCHIVES (a word from the moderator) __________________ __________________ HOUSE SHOWDOWN ON ARTS FUNDING NEARS by Conrad F. Goeringer The U.S. House of Representatives is moving into the final stages of debate over legislation which would end government aid to the arts by 1997. On Monday, July 7/17, representatives adopted a controversial rule that in effect would block any attempts to restore funding and limited debate on any amendments to a brief twenty minutes. Currently, the National Endowment for the Arts receives $162.4 million, and the National Endowment for the Humanities a total of $172.1 million. Under proposed legislation, each of the programs would be cut to $99.5 million for fiscal 1996, and the funding would cease after 1997. The arts funding is all part of a larger appropriation of $11.96 billion for the Interior Department. While House conservatives justify the cuts as an effort to downsize government and reduce taxes, critics are claiming that the appropriation reductions are a fraction of other programs, yet serve an important function. Some charge that the real motivation in cutting the arts budget has little to do with money; they point out that religious conservatives are offended at certain controversial projects which have received Endowment support dealing with homosexuality, religion, nudity, and other themes. Many of those leading the fight to curtail or abolish arts funding echo the charges made against the Endowments by religious groups such as the Christian Coalition in its "Contract With the American Family." The Coalition charged that "NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) dollars continue to go toward controversial works that denigrate the religious beliefs and moral values of mainstream America." The Contract goes on to quote William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, as charging "We, as Catholics, have rights too, and among them is the right not to be defamed, and this is especially true when defamation is funding with government money." One program mentioned in the Contract was the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association (MLA) which is funded, in part, by the NEH. The Coalition denounced panel topics at the MLA convention, including "Lesbian Tongues Untied" and "Status of Gender and Feminism in Queer Theory." Indeed, during the Monday night House session, Florida Congressman Cliff Stearns took to the floor waving a brochure and saying "It just goes on and on with things that are just too lurid to talk about. . . . This is sexually explicit homosexual art material." Critics Charge Hypocrisy, Hidden Agenda Rep. Sidney Yates of Illinois, though, countered Stearns, insisting "He has pointed to one grant by the National Endowment for the Arts out of 4,000. . . . Like the swallow that returns annually to Capistrano, the gentleman from Florida has returned to his annual attack on the NEA." The New York Times noted that other "defenders of the arts were up and angrily asking where in the opposition's denunciations were all the symphonies, all the museums, the many dance centers, children's arts programs and other wholesome beneficiaries of federal art aid?" Whatever benefits were to be gained financially from cutting the Endowment budgets, they were quickly overshadowed by the moral agenda being pushed by the religious conservatives. Much of the rhetoric on the floor focused with issues such as pornography and homosexuality, and the role of the government in "putting its seal of approval" in place through official funding. Some are noting that the Christian Coalition contract links the Endowment funding with appropriations for the Legal Services Corporation; LSC is taken to task for funding divorce and abortion. The linkage of all of these issues -- homosexuality, divorce, abortion and obscenity -- has become an important strategy for the religious right in having Congress implement its social agenda. Would the Arts Be Free? Some conservatives have argued that not only would taxpayer money be saved, but that the arts would be free of the "oversight" which the Endowments and other state agencies provide. The Coalition pointed out that only 14 percent of PBS budget comes from the federal government, and National Public Radio gets only about 3 percent. And the Contract said that according to a PBS affiliate, WETA, the average net worth of its contributors was $627,000. Presumably, the arts -- free of government funding -- would survive on their own. Even so, while the financial strings between arts and the government would be severed, the religious right -- as part of its national crusade to fight "pornography" and "anti-family" behavior -- supports a variety of local and state ordinances which would, in effect, regulate the arts even more closely than the present system When Cincinnati, Ohio, served as the venue for a controversial exhibition of photographs by Robert Mapplethorp, local ordinances were used to shut down by show -- despite long lines of people. There seems to be little relationship at present between the source of arts funding, and the amount of freedom available to the individual performers, artisans, and even the general public. Once the government "financial link" is severed, the religious right will continue its assault on controversial arts, music, publications, books, magazines, and plays -- through other channels. Meanwhile, the fight in Congress goes on. Wednesday (July 18) will see a meeting of the Labor and Human Resources subcommittee dealing with the arts, education and humanities, headed by James Jeffords of Vermont. Jeffords has introduced an amendment which would reduce funding for each of the Endowments by 5 percent in each of the next five years, but would not eliminate the support totally. While the bill has bipartisan support, most observers feel that "sooner or later" with the current Congress, arts funding will end. FOCUS ON THE FAMILY TO PROTEST U.N. CONFERENCE by Conrad Goeringer Thanks to our faithful Denver Correspondent, Margie Wait, THEISTWATCH has learned that Focus on the Family will be protesting the U.N. Women's conference to be held in early September in Beijing, China. According to a letter sent out to Focus members, James Dobson, the group's president labeled the meeting "Satan's trump card if I have ever seen it. " Referring to its "breathtaking wickedness" (by virtue of being held in China), Dobson accused the conference of having a "radical gender-feminist ideology" and said that the meeting will portray marriage as "the root of all evil for women." Quoted in the Rocky Mountain News, Dobson went on to insist that "When freed from traditional biases, a person can decide whether to be male, female, homosexual, lesbian or transgendered. Some may want to try all five in time." "Most of what Christianity stands for will be challenged during this atheistic conference," he said, adding "Every good and perfect gift from the hand of the Creator will be mocked and vilified." One of the more interesting remarks Dobson made in his letter was the assertion that in China, people eat aborted fetuses for food and kill prisoners in order to export their internal organs. He topped that assertion off with one better, though, saying that the conference was going to "undermine the family, promote abortion, teach immoral behavior to teen-agers, incite anger and competition between men and women, advocate lesbian and homosexual behavior, and vilify those with sincere religious faith." THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS by Conrad Goeringer You may be reading this week's THEISTWATCH in the comfort of a cool office or den, the hum of your computer matched only by the reassuring sound of the air conditioner. Maybe you also spent this past weekend staring warily at your surge protector, though, knowing that the heat wave battering the eastern portion of the U.S. had everyone seeking relief from record temperatures. Monday morning's USA TODAY revealed that more than 200 people have died as a result of heat exposure, 118 of them in Chicago alone. Many of the death's involved elderly people who, for a variety of reasons, had not taken the basic precautions of opening windows. There was one 80-year-old man in Pennsylvania who died after seal coating his driveway in the 94-degree heat, and one person apparently became stuck in his closed van and died. In Ohio, lightening after a wedding reception struck and killed the groom and his brother as they pitched horse shoes. The weather can be like other events in life, triggering a response in many individuals which could appropriately be termed "magical thinking." This is the tendency to evaluate information in the world around selectively, with the intent of supporting a religious or mystical bias. For instance, if an infant happens to be the lone survivor of an airplane crash, some are quick to label it a "miracle." Survivors from tragedy often speak of "god's intervention," or how "god answered our prayers" and "saved us" at the brink of death. The residue of magical thinking exists in our everyday language -- we say "thank god!" when something good and fortunate occurs. But what magical thinking often ignores is the vast body of evidence which suggest that crediting deities or supernatural entities like angels as serendipitous agents in our lives, ignores tragedy and despair when it befalls others or ourselves. Take the heat wave, for instance. Why didn't god help out that fellow seal coating his driveway? Why didn't the Virgin Mary appear in the shimmering, 94-degree heat and give some good, unambiguous advice then and there -- like, "Hey, get out of the sun and drink some Gatorade, dummy, or you're history!" ? Or, why didn't the "good" guardian angels that are all the rage in those TV specials and new age bookstores get their butts in gear and push the guys tossing horseshoes out of the way of the lightning? People who are locked into the framework of magical thinking become highly selectively in finding "evidence" that "god is listening" or that "guardian angels are taking care of me," or that some other supernatural force is at work in their lives. They are quick to credit the "good" events to the supernatural, but remained baffled when bad things happen. All they seem able to do is dismiss adverse events as a "mystery," or the "will of god." They may also see such set backs as a test of faith and belief. In the pantheon of the supernatural, somebody is obviously sleeping on the job instead of looking after the destinies of 200 victims in the Great Heat Wave of '95. Like all natural disasters, of course, "god" could have prevented so much suffering and tragedy -- or does Jehovah only want credit for the good stuff, and no blame for the bad? ****************** We recently told you of squabbling and ethnic bigotry in Pittsburgh, when the Roman Catholic church in that area began consolidating parishes -- much to the dismay of Croatian-speaking believers. This past Saturday, July 15, it seems that Bishop Donald Wuerl and an assistant were headed to mass -- and a confrontation with 100 angry demonstrators over the issue -- when they were hit by a drunken driver who rammed into the back of their car. The bishop was treated for neck and back strains, but made it to mass (and the demonstration) about an hour-and-a-half later. ****************** Last July 4 there were the usual fireworks and rhetoric about the value of American freedom. But one problem seems to be that exercising that freedom, especially in ways that government, religion, and the political status-quo does not approve of, brings forth calls for tougher laws and more cops. To wit -- the Internet. Check out the August issue of "Wired" Magazine for an excellent discussion by Mike Godwin of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) who suggests that "real democracy -- the kind that pervades the Net -- is a frightening thing, especially to obsolete institutions." Godwin suggests that much of the outcry over what goes on in cyberspace is simply good 'ol American fear of freedom. Indeed, the fear of everything from kiddie porn ( "ARE MOLESTERS STALKING THE INTERNET FOR YOUR CHILD?", asks a tabloid-trash TV show this week) to bomb recipes has liberals and conservatives groping for ways to "police cyberspace." An international religious conference on obscenity recently declared that "pornography" was being spread by computers and would prove to be "uncontrollable" if strict and tough action wasn't taken immediately. And everyone from Microsoft to the online services is tripping over each other in their zeal to design "child proof" lockout devices, or ferret out obscene language on the net. But the almost-chic crusade against cyber-porn (or the specter of cyber geeks building even bigger bombs from household chemicals) is really the same old, hackneyed impulse to interfere with free expression back when books, magazines, and news papers were the only tools of mass communications. And now -- as then -- the fear of freedom, the fear of what would happen if people actually bothered to exercise their rights, sends terror into the minds of those who believe that all of us desperately need to be protected from our worst enemy -- ourselves. ****************** Speaking of lock outs and parental controls, the more politically savvy of you will find this ironic. According to USA TODAY (July 17), the Prodigy online network allows parents (and presumably anyone else) to block out "adult-oriented" material, thanks to software nicknamed "George Carlin." It appears that this program scans forums and boards for prospective submissions using "dirty words." Perhaps the young geeks designing this stuff, and the constipated yuppie conservatives desperately seeking it, need to spend some time listening to what the real George Carlin has to say. ****************** "George Carlin" isn't the only gunslinger in cyberspace looking for filth. The San Jose Mercury News reported this weekend that the Guardian Angels are now out "to take over a new beat: the information superhighway." The Angels were once a welcome sight on New York City subways, although critics charged them with being everything from vigilantes to an embryonic "Brownshirt" Movement. There is at least one case of the group being asked to stop its organizing efforts of patrolling shopping districts and neighborhoods, for fear that the presence of red-beret wearing toughs made the area appear worse than it really was. Guardian Angel reps like founder Curtis Sliwa are regulars on the "Geraldo" Show. And now, says the Mercury, "The group is the latest to jump into the debate over the rapidly expanding computer network (Internet), and how to keep children from its occasionally sexual or violent areas." The new "CyberAngels" group is, in part, a PR job to improve the Guardian Angels image of being "Boy Scouts on steroids." A GA rep declares "We have to draw on a whole other level of Guardian Angel, because you don't see our shirts with a pocket protector and 16 pencils." The plan is for "CyberAngels" to sneak online by assuming the identities of children in hopes of collecting data on "potential pedophiles." "Then they'll deliver evidence of crimes to Internet providers such as CompuServe and America Online and to law enforcement agencies," says the Mercury. Skeptics, however, say that this latest program is just another publicity stunt. Founder Sliwa "admitted they (the Angels) faked several publicity-grabbing incidents in the group's early days." And he admits that patrolling the Internet is like "spitting in the wind." So why bother? Of course with Congress and the religious right -- and now the Guardian Angels -- all wanting to "crack down" on the Internet, they might start off by learning a few basics. AOL and the other services really aren't the Internet, nor are the thousands of private, subscription-based bulletin boards which provide "adult" materials. And since many computer networks permit users to assume nearly any identity they desire, real-world people who are "caught" could easily pretend that THEY were doing the same thing the Guardian Angels were -- "patrolling the net." There are plenty of other legal and practical issues to be clarified, of course, many probably beyond the grasp of the profile-seeking Mr. Sliwa. The prospect of an Internet crawling with cyber cops and freelance vigilantes, though, suggests that we have more to worry about than some Dirty Old Men with keyboards and modems. *********************************************************************** * * * 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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