THEISTWATCH FOR JULY 21, 1995 Contents: Washington, D.C. - +quot;BIO-ISSUES+quot; MAY UNIT

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THEISTWATCH FOR JULY 21, 1995 ____________________ ____________________ Contents: Washington, D.C.--"BIO-ISSUES" MAY UNITE RELIGIOUS LEFT, RIGHT Washington, D.C.--THE WACO HEARINGS AND THE VICTIMS OF RELIGION Chile--ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH TO FACE POLITICAL COMPETITION World--THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS Texas--A WORD FROM OUR SPONSOR ____________________ ____________________ "BIO-ISSUES" MAY UNITE RELIGIOUS LEFT, RIGHT Questions From Abortion To Genetic Research May Result In A New Anti-Science Coalition Of Religious Groups by Conrad Goeringer The passage earlier this week by the House Judiciary Committee of a "Partial Birth Abortion Ban" was not only a significant defeat for pro-choice advocates, but a signal that religious conservatives had won an important round in defining the entire abortion issue. Taking a cue from the Christian Coalition's "Contract With the American Family," the legislation's backers referred constantly to "unborn children" and the "killing of children." Indeed, in the Contract's section dealing with abortion, the term "fetus" never appears. The strategy of painting abortion as the "murder" of human beings not only raises the emotional tone of the abortion debate, but has implications for similar issues where religious organizations already have staked out positions. Abortion may become just one of several "bio- issues," covering genetic technology, euthanasia, animal organ transplants, "animal rights," and other emerging, controversial topics. It raises the specter, as well, of a "united front" by otherwise diverse religious groups to such practices and of serious consequences for scientific research and medical technology. On June 9, a coalition of religious groups demanded that the government halt the patenting of human genes and genetically engineered animals. A joint statement was signed by 180 Roman Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Moslem, Buddhist, and Hindu representatives, and reflected the view of one Southern Baptist official who said that genetic technology represented "the usurpation of ownership rights of the sovereign of the universe." Biotechnology firms and other institutions were quick to react, pointing out that the patenting was a necessary part of the economics which made such research possible, and that "the moral claims of their opponents need to be weighed against the cost in human life caused by diseases that could be cured through genetic engineering" (Ecumenical Press, June 9). A related "bio-issue" involves the use of animal organs for the treatment of human diseases. The Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of baboon bone marrow for the possible treatment of AIDS and other illnesses. Baboons appear to have an immune system capable of devastating the HIV virus which is believed to cause AIDS, but as virologist Jonathan Allan of the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research warned, "Baboons are not clean animals and may harbor any number of viruses we have not seen." Those medical concerns parallel questions which medical ethicists and religious leaders have about the "morality" of such procedures. Animal rights activists have already spoken out against the use of animals in medical research and experimentation. The possible religious beliefs of individuals and groups in the "animal rights" movement is a heretofore unexplored area. But in reacting to Monday's Judiciary Committee vote on the "Partial Birth Abortion Ban," Kristi Hamrick of the conservative Family Research Council made a provocative statement. Alluding to Americans who "do not support the killing of children held three inches from birth" or those who "do not support delivering children into the birth canal only to be killed by a scissors spear to the base of the skull," she added: "It is ironic that many abortion activists can protest the use of animals in cosmetic and scientific experiments and turn a blind eye to the painful deaths of infants almost born." Still another aspect of the "life" debate is the question of euthanasia. Canada has emerged as the most striking example of how the anti-abortion movement has branched out to this related and controversial cause. Earlier this month, the journal Family News in Focus declared that "a postcard campaign aimed at keeping physician-assisted suicide in Canada illegal has gained thousands of supp/rters" (Ecumenical Press). That effort was promoted by a doctor-assisted suicide in British Columbia and the recommendation of a Canadian Senate subcommittee that penalties for euthanasia be reduced in some cases. The head of the Pro-Life Society declared that "There is a very large voice of opinion out there that thinks that human life is sacred and that we should just keep things the way they are." Future Dilemmas, Contradictions Another factor in the "bio" debate involves the growing popularity of Eastern Religions and "spiritualities" such as Buddhism, as personified by the Dali Lama. Although this religious leader enjoys a growing following and draws enthusiastic crowds during his tours, the analytical content of his public talks is often vague, "trendy," and open to interpretation. There are constant references, however, in talks and throughout the range of "Eastern" religions and cults, to the "sacredness of all life." It is difficult to imagine how, especially in the future, such "sacredness" could not be applied to fetuses, "unborn children," baboons, patients suffering in the final stages of painful illnesses, clumps of DNA, or even cattle. The linkage is not that inconceivable, as the "Joint Appeal Against Human and Animal Patenting" of last June demonstrates. The coalition behind the document was organized by Jeremy Rifkin, a former '70s radical and now self-proclaimed "biotechnology opponent." Rifkin -- called by some the "Pied Piper of Anti-Science" -- has managed to blend his own economics and social philosophy with a good deal of religious rhetoric. Ecumenical Press noted that "Rifkin says the key issue is this: Is life God's creation, or a human invention?" Ultimately, the numerous "bio-issues" -- and how one responds to them -- depend on a fundamental view of the universe. The "new age," pop view of the world as expressed in Buddhism, animism, or even notions that planet earth is "alive" (GAIA) find their equivalent in both the utterances of Rifkin and even the theological fundamentalism of the Christian right. Creationists -- those who accept the literal interpretation of the biblical account in Genesis -- insist that the universe is either the result of spiritual design and intervention, or is "materialist" and devoid of spirituality. In this latter assessment, they may well be correct. There are, of course, evolutionists who maintain that there is no "contradiction" between religious faith and the notion that life arose as the result of natural processes such as evolution. Indeed, many evolutionists do manage to "compartmentalize" religious belief and scientific pursuit, insisting that science is but one method of "knowing", while "revelation" is another. But there is emerging sentiment in religious circles that it is "all or nothing." Anti-abortionists have long fortified themselves with the insistence that "life" have no ambiguities, at least as regards its beginnings. The creationist wing of the Christian right insists on an equivalent stance as regards life's primal origins. Where does this all lead? It could be significant that anti-abortion crusaders are now attempting to draw possible parallels between their right-to-life cause and the anti-euthanasia movement. It is also significant that a wide range of religious groups embraced an astonishingly anti-science document like the Joint Appeal, organized by Mr. Rifkin. Mr. Rifkin is also one of a growing chorus which talks about "species-ism," a biological equivalent of racism, which supposedly elevates one (human) species above all others as "master of the earth." His own works abound with references to "equality" of all living things and the need for "stewardship" of god's earth. That message, in turn, resonates throughout much of the animal rights, ecology and new age movement. Up to now, many scientists and educators have paid little attention to the "creeping pseudo-science" of the right -- creationism -- and the trendy, new age anti- technology chic emanating from anti-nuclear, anti- bioscience and "hard ecology" movements. Part of the difficulty rests in the fact that some claims made by the latter movements have timely validity -- although many do not. The result of not clarifying and "sorting out" these issues, however, may be the emergence of a loose religious coalition attempting to link bio-ethical questions such as abortion and genetic technology. Science is already a misunderstood and somewhat mistrusted enterprise; its worst critics accuse it of "de-enchanting the natural world," which might well turn out to be a very real consequence of scientific inquiry. But important issues like abortion, euthanasia, biotechnology, and experimental research involving both humans and animals need input from more than just religious authorities. Controversial and emotionally- charged as these questions are, the solutions need to reflect a reasonable consideration of the human factor, rather than a dogmatic religious agenda. THE WACO HEARINGS AND THE VICTIMS OF RELIGION by Conrad Goeringer In Washington, the WACO hearings have begun on the 1993 federal raid on the Branch Davidian compound. Everyone from the NRA to the BATF wants their side of the story told, and there's no dearth of partisan politics to be found. Bill Clinton doesn't want the hearings, which will focus on trigger-happy (or, should we say "tear gas" happy) federal agents. Neither does Janet Reno who may lose her job. Neither does the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, still busy with spin-control following revelations that agents attended the "Good 'Ol Boys Reunion" which should have been more aptly called "Klanfest '95." And everyone's pointing the finger at everyone else. Associated Press reports that Reno may now be ready to insist that she was "misled and lied to" by the FBI. And the FBI got involved in the WACO mess only after the initial botched-raid by the quick-draw boys of the BATF. Who's to blame? Did the Branch Davidians have it coming? Was David Koresh ready to stage some Old Testament version of the shoot out at the OK corral? Unfortunately, there is very little of a human face on this whole tragic episode, especially when dealing with the ultimate victims of WACO -- the children. The first day of testimony belonged to a 14-year-old former member of the cult, Kiri Jewell, who in riveting testimony described her alleged sexual assault at the hands of the self- proclaimed Jesus incarnate, David Koresh. Jewell's mother was one of the 81 victims killed when federal agents stormed the Branch Davidian compound following a 51-day siege. It is indeed "freedom of religion" for adults to believe and practice any doctrines they so choose. The Branch Davidians who perished at Waco trace their roots back to the 1930s, but it was Vernon Wayne Howell who made the sect a household name. Howell was born in 1959 to a 15-year old mother; as a youth, he was fascinated by rock music, firearms, and Bible verse, which he recited page after page from memory. He began a sexual relationship with a woman named Lois Roden, the wife of Benjamin Roden, the Branch Davidian's leader, and eventually took over control of the sect and relocated it to Texas. In 1990, Vernon Howell legally changed his name to David Koresh "for publicity and business purposes." Followers were informed that Koresh was the head of the biblical House of David; he later claimed that he was the messiah, Jesus Christ incarnate. Like Jim Jones and other charismatic authoritarian religious leaders, he manipulated the lives of his followers, allegedly had sexual intercourse with many of the women, and painted an image of immanent apocalyptic catastrophe. The Waco tragedy has become an icon for much of the American religious right-wing, including numerous militia and paramilitary groups. The Mt. Carmel stronghold which burned to the ground is an odd sort of tourist attraction; piles of rubble dot the landscape and some concrete foundations remain. A sign at the entrance reads "World's Most Persecuted Church." But in the rush to fix blame for the Waco disaster, somewhere along the line we have forgotten about the children like Kiri Jewell. She survived; over two dozen children were released from the compound before the federal attack, but others perished in the blaze. What about them? The "forgotten victims" in this disaster were the children who were brainwashed in religious dogma by parents, co-religionists, and of course by David Koresh. Millions of other children as well are subjected to religious indoctrination and training every day, all part of an effort to "put God back into schools" or promote "family values". They may not be molested by a religious zealot like Koresh or die in a shoot-out with armed federal agents, but they will be firmly drilled, indoctrinated, and instructed into the prevailing religious creeds of parents and other authorities -- often against their will, and with exposure to few if any alternative points of view. It is easy to talk about David Koresh and his transgressions, since he is dead. And it is easy to dismiss the indoctrination techniques of the Branch Davidians as "cultism." Teaching religion to children, however, is something that is done throughout this nation everyday. On Sundays and other holidays, millions of them are dragged to church and exposed to pointless religious rituals. They are often compelled to pray, read from holy books, participate in religious ceremonies, and mold their lives according to the religious prejudices of others. These children, too, are victims of religion. ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH TO FACE POLITICAL COMPETITION By Conrad Goeringer At a time when various Christian religious have discovered "the Latin Market" throughout Central and South America, Protestants in the country of Chile are busy starting their own political party. Called the "National Christian Alliance" or Alianza National Cristiana, the new movement says that it is an "embryonic political project" for "all citizens who identify with Christian principles and wish to make them a personal life practice." The group also wants to end what it calls "the discrimination that Protestants have been submitted (sic) to," a possible reference to the Roman Catholic church and the favored position which it has held throughout the continent. The organization already has a board of five members and headquarters. The group plans a "ratifying meeting" to sign up prospective members on July 22. The Secretary-General of the NCA is 33-year-old Abraham Larrondo, who gives a rambling, somewhat disjointed explanation of the new party philosophy. Larrondo has a degree in Social Sciences and a Masters in Political Science; he maintains that Chile needs to "perfect its public and private system in service of people." "We want to contribute to the political class, we do not aspire to a massive election," said Larrondo. He added that "ANC was created to be a permanent opinion current in Chile and society should trust that it will be a permanent response in defense of Christian principles." Yeah. That's what we're afraid of. THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS by Conrad F. Goeringer There are new developments in an international move by religious groups to ban abortion -- some with possible implications for the future strategy of the "right to life" movement. First, the good news. In Spain, a bill which would eliminate most abortion restrictions has been sent to parliament. In 1985, abortion became legal in cases in which the health of the mother was endangered or in situations involving rape or a deformed fetus. Now a new bill permits abortion within the first trimester (twelve weeks) if there is "a personal, social or family conflict" for the women. The law stipulates that women seeking abortion would have to be informed of other options before she had the procedure. Interestingly, this latest bill is opposed by the Roman Catholic church, conservative lawmakers, and even the Socialist Catalan coalition. Ecumenical Press says that the legislation "is not expected to pass parliament," but it may be too early to tell And in Germany, new legislation has been drafted which makes abortion technically illegal, but not punishable by law if it is sought within the first twelve weeks. This unusual law is seen as a compromise involving government and opposition leaders. Women seeking abortion will still have to submit to counseling and be asked (but not required) to give their name and the reason for having the abortion. *************** Here's another sign of impending Millenialist Fever. In Canada, Messianic Jews who preach the immanent return of the "messiah" have become so active that they are now being criticized by competing religious groups. Earlier this month, a group calling itself the "Montreal Christian-Jewish Dialogue" issued a statement criticizing Chosen People Ministries, Inc., a messianic organization. "We are dismayed by groups that undertake, promote, sanction or support activities that harm the spirit of religious respect and tolerance," said the statement, adding "We oppose any proselytism that emerges from religious imperialism." THEISTWATCH has warned readers that as we approach the millennium, 2,000 C.E. (current era), we may expect a profusion of apocalyptic, messianic, and doomsday-type groups. The Solar Temple group in Switzerland and the Aum cult in Japan may prove to be "dry runs," rehearsals for what's coming up in the next five years. *************** Last week, a federal court dismissed claims by the Federal Elections Commission that a group known as the Christian Action Network (CAN) violated campaign laws during the 1992 campaign. The FEC had charged that the church had broken the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 by attacking Bill Clinton and Al Gore in television and newspaper ads. The Christian group, however, said it did not expressly advocate the election or defeat of a particular candidate, and Judge James Turk agreed, granting a motion to dismiss. The decision is a victory for religious groups which can use advertising and other media to expound on issues involving "political speech," such as gay rights -- a subject addressed in the CAN commercials. Although CAN said that its messages did not involve partisan politics, the president of the group praised the court's latest ruling and insisted that it "sends a clear message that Bill Clinton and the Democratic National Committee can no longer use the Federal Elections Commission as a political tool to try and censor conservative organizations." *************** Want a THEISTWATCH guide to interesting, comical, stimulating TV entertainment? Try using the latest annual end-of-the-season special report on prime time television issued by something called the Media Research Center. The chairman of this outfit is Brent Bozell -- also known as L. Brent Bozell, reputed brother-in-law to William Buckley, Roman Catholic activist, and once head of some outfit from two decades ago known as the "Sons of Thunder" who used to run around in red berets and gripe about abortion. Bozell told Ecumenical Press that "This past season, what was pleasantly surprising was how often the conservative side of a given issue was respectfully presented in many prime time television shows. . . . But prime time programming still remained overwhelmingly liberal, with storylines ridiculing prominent conservative leaders and aggressively championing abortion and the homosexual lifestyle." According to Bozell, the best shows included "Touched by an Angel," "Christy," and the "ABC Family Movie," along with "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman." MRC gave mixed reviews to "NYPD Blue" (possibly Dennis Franz spent too much time at the urinal), "Picket Fences," "Law and Order" (which sports a Jesuit-trained cop), and that perennial object d'disgust, "Murphy Brown." Dan Quayle, are you listening? Now for the good stuff. The worst in the Bozell-MRC lineup included "Dennis Miller Live," the critically- acclaimed "TV Nation" produced by Michael Moore (who's still looking for Roger Smith of General Motors), the "Margaret Sanger Story," and "My So-Called Life" which was so popular that MTV gave a rerun to the entire series. Also listed were "Roseanne" (naturally, since she thinks that women should be a lot more violent with hubbies), the "X-Files" and "The George Wendt Show." Interestingly, some of the Bozell-approved shows like "NYPD Blue," while involving important moral and social questions, might well trigger the notorious "V-Chip" which Clinton and more liberal censor-crats want installed in the nation's television sets. As usual, this lineup shows the Christian right's worry and preoccupation with matters sexual, or which involve taking a critical look at the nation's economic and social system -- as the program "TV Nation" does. As for the "X-Files," well, they're further out than Brent Bozell! *************** Tired of hearing about how "family values" and going to church on Sunday can magically transform you into a better person? Well, a study by Hartford Seminary in 1993 and 1994 found that clergy are just as likely to be divorced as normal, everyday lay folks. The study, noted in Ecumenical Press, found that 25 percent of clergywomen and 20 percent of clergymen have been divorced at least once, which matches fairly close the figures of 32 percent and 22 percent for the general population, according to the Census Bureau. The study covered the gamut of Protestant denominations, from the Unitarians to the Southern Baptists. There were some interesting stats when divorce statistics were matched against individual religious faiths, though. Unitarians led the pack with 47 percent of women and 44 percent of men in the clergy being divorced, while the Southern Baptists divorce rate came in at 4 percent of men and 17 percent of women. Trailing the Unitarians slightly were the Episcopalians. *************** The extent of church wealth in the United States has always been a matter of concern to those worried about excessive religious economic and political power. Much of the churches' financial holdings are concealed behind various corporate "fronts" or shells, and since it is mostly tax-exempt, not even the government has a full picture of how much money religion has. There is the occasional peek, however, often revealed from church publications, annual reports, or -- in some cases -- financial scandals. The collapse in Philadelphia several weeks ago of the Foundation for New Era Philanthropy exposed a ponzi-type scheme, where religious organizations invested millions of dollars in exchange for promises of "double your money" returns in as little as sixty days. Now, THEISTWATCH has learned from the Presbyterian News of July 15, that the General Assembly Council of that church has approved the formation of a new corporate entity which will have an expected half-billion-dollar loan fund by the year 2,000 -- just five years away. The church's 207 General Assembly is expected to approve the final go-ahead for the "Presbyterian Church (USA) Investment and Loan Program, Inc. on August 1, which will be governed and administered by a six-member board. We're told that this project involves the use of "investment certificates" to church investors "at competitive rates" and would underwrite below-market loans to church-related institutions. And keep in mind the financial mess of Jim Bakker, New Era Philanthropy, or the money woes of Oral Roberts when you hear what one General Assembly member told Presbyterian News. "This is not risky." *************** The Christian Coalition has announced a "Road to Victory '95" workshop scheduled for September 8-9 in Washington, D.C. "Learn how you can play a vital role in the most dramatic political change in our generation," the group is telling supporters. Speakers at the meeting include presidential wannabe Phil Gramm, Pat Robertson, His Infernal Majesty Bob Dole, Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice, Newt Gingrich, Phyllis Schlafly and Kultur Czar William Bennett. Workshops cover such nifty topics as "Influencing Legislation," Parental Rights, School Choice and "Organizing Your Neighborhood." A WORD FROM OUR SPONSOR . . . Yes, folks, it's time for a commercial of sorts. 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