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THEISTWATCH FOR JULY 24, 1995 Contents: United States--BABY BOOMERS IN SPIRITUAL CRISIS, CLAIMS USA TODAY Egypt--"APOSTATE" WRITER UNDER SIEGE Washington, D.C.--ABORTION, RELIGION, AND THE NEWT CONGRESS Colorado--VIRGINIA MAE MORROW DEAD AT 70; WAS BASIS OF "BRIDEY MURPHY" REINCARNATION LEGEND South Africa--"CHRISTIAN VOICE" PRESSES FOR OFFICIAL CHRISTIANITY World--THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS ____________________ ____________________ BABY BOOMERS IN SPIRITUAL CRISIS, CLAIMS USA TODAY Article on 40-Something Americans Ignores Concerns of the "Last Minority" Atheists by Conrad Goeringer Truly, Atheists are the "last invisible minority." Take Thursday's edition of USA TODAY (July 20), which concluded a four-part "exploration of the issues baby boomers face with aging parents." Titled "Facing up to mortality and faith," this article dealt with the difficulties of the 40-something generation in coping with the deaths of usually religious parents. And we're told by Clark Roof, author of "A Generation of Seekers," that "Baby boomers are in spiritual crisis already." We are also warned that the prospective death of parents "will be a serious existential confrontation" and that our lack of "understanding about religious teachings" can make the whole experience worse. Steve Pettit, a co-director of the Commission Ministries in Florida, told USA TODAY that seniors are frightened "not for themselves but for children and grandchildren they believe are on the futureless side of a salvation gap." A rabbi informs readers that boomers "need new links to life and healing," whatever that means. Nowhere is the story told of the experiences of the 26,000,000 or so Americans many of them baby boomers who are Atheists, freethinkers, nonbelievers, people who have no need for religious belief or ritual in their lives. As is the case so often in articles dealing with issues of life or death, the Atheist perspective gets ignored. In a sense, Atheists are like everybody else; we have parents, and we often face the same sorts of problems our non-Atheist neighbors do. We have periods in our lives marked by joy, sorrow, doubt, anger, disappointment, confusion, happiness. But there are crucial differences, too; the Atheist has to accept life on its own terms, realizing that if life is to be happy, vital, productive and meaningful, only we can make it so. The universe is basically "uninterested" in us, and as for "god" . . . That's a perspective you do not find in the genre of articles about "baby boomers" like the ones which have been running in USA TODAY. That is unfortunate; it communicates a negative message to countless boomers "out there" that only through religion can we deal with the everyday problems of living and dying. THEISTWATCH readers might want to pick up those issues of USA TODAY at the library, if you don't already buy or subscribe to the paper. And you might want to let the editors know that they've excluded a good chunk of the American population by not interviewing or discussing nonreligious boomers, and by serving as a pulpit for religious psycho-babble. If you happen to be a "senior" well, tell the editor that you're not going' down without a fight! (You can fax USA TODAY at 1-703-276-5513 or E-mail to "APOSTATE" WRITER UNDER SIEGE Meeting of Potential Defenders of Nasr Abu Zeid Cancelled; Court Has Ruled That His Wife Must Leave Him by Conrad Goeringer In Cairo, Egypt, a meeting called in defense of a prominent writer who has been threatened with death and the breakup of his marriage was cancelled by an Islamist professor. Twenty secularist teachers, all members of the Cairo University Club, had planned to form a committee to defend academic liberties, and take up the case of university lecturer and writer Nasr Abu Zeid. A court ruled last month that Zeid was an "apostate" and must leave his Muslim wife because of his social opinions. The Muslim group Jihad ("Holy Struggle") says that he must be killed in keeping with Islamic law. Professor Ahmed Lofti, head of the University Club, burst into the meeting Monday and ordered the forum to stopped and television crews covering the event to leave. "There is a whole atmosphere of cultural terrorism, which is worrying and making things difficult," English literature instructor Radwa Ashour told Reuters News. "Abu Zeid and his wife are in terrible danger because among those young men . . . anybody can harm them. Apostasy is a very serious accusation in our society. His life is in danger and for many years to come." Ashour also claimed that "Abu Zeid won't be able to go to work, lecture students, or have a normal life." Zeid's case is on appeal, and he has left his apartment in Cairo only once in the past month. Reuters noted that the teachers supporting Zeid would attempt to meet again and spoke "about the creeping influence of fundamentalism at universities, saying many professors had been told by department heads to withdraw 'sensitive parts' in the curricula because they would upset Islamists." The report continued: "The Islamists are making everything related to religion in biology, medical studies; that is so dangerous (sic) . . . There is a tug of war all the time. The Islamic influence makes people avoid prickly subjects and stay away from them." ABORTION, RELIGION, AND THE NEWT CONGRESS by Conrad Goeringer Religious conservatives smell blood in Congress after last week's anti-abortion victory in the House Judiciary Committee. First was a bill known as the "Partial Birth Abortion Ban" which cleared committee and restricts a form of late-term abortion. Right-to-choose advocates such as Rep. Pat Schroeder of Colorado rightly saw it as the "beginning of the end" for Roe v. Wade. And on Friday (July 21), the committee voted 29 to 25 to force a major academic group, the Accreditation Council on Graduate Medical Education, to alter its abortion training requirements. ACGME has been attempting to require medical school programs to include training in abortion procedures. There was also last Thursday's (July 20) setback in the Appropriations Committee. One bill cleared by a 28 to 25 margin which deleted funding for the Title X (Ten) Program, a counselling program which made abortion and contraception information available to teens. The Dickey- Wicker Amendment passed by 30 to 23, which banned federal research money for medical research on human fetal remains. All of it was a clear victory for the religious right. Gary Bauer of the Family Research Council declared that "This week's historic votes are irrefutable evidence that the pro-family/pro-life grassroots movement is picking up steam and will be a major factor in the 1996 election." "These issues are now center stage, and the Congress of the United State," he added, "knows they must deal with them." Bauer's Research Council group and Focus on the Family, a Christian organization headed by James Dobson, flooded Capitol Hill switchboards with thousands of calls. Focus put out the word on its radio show which is heard on more than 2,000 radio stations, and 900 stations were broadcasting hourly updates and urging listeners to contact their Representatives as the legislation was winding its way through Committee. One Appropriations Committee member logged 9,000 calls. All of this raises a crucial question: is the pro- choice movement handicapped by its policy of "softpeddling" the religious dimension of the abortion debate? No sooner had the Christian right landed its salvo on the Capitol than Planned Parenthood rushed out a press release calling "On Moderate Congress Members to Reject Extremist Amendment." While there were plenty of references to "far right extremists" and the "radical right," the word RELIGION did not appear once. This is partly due to the strategy over the past decade or so by pro-choice groups to court "respectable," mainstream religious elements in hopes of adding a veneer of respectability to the abortion cause. And speaking of the ABORTION cause, this particular "A-word" appeared only twice in the Planned Parenthood release. "Right to Choose" has become the phrase most widely employed by pro-abortion elements, and to such an extent where the term "abortion" has (thanks to constant religious conservative vilification) become about as popular as the word "nigger." Sooner or later, moderates in the fight for legal abortion will have to deal with the unique, religious dimensions of this struggle, and they'll have to confront the fact that this struggle is about "choice" AND abortion. The failed nomination of Dr. Henry Foster as Surgeon General is testament to the success religionists have had in tainting the "A-word." The mere fact that Foster had performed abortions was made to appear that he had engaged in an act equivalent to ritual murder or child sacrifice. Rather than talk about euphemisms such as "women's health issues," it's time for all of those concerned to come out squarely and honestly: "We defend abortion what about it?" And it's time for our comrades throughout the abortion-rights movement to begin paying attention to the religious element in this contest. Before it's too late, before Roe v. Wade is history. VIRGINIA MAE MORROW DEAD AT 70; WAS BASIS OF "BRIDEY MURPHY" REINCARNATION LEGEND Claims Were Never Verified, But The Story Ignited A Controversy and Helped Shape Subsequent New Age, Religious Fads by Conrad Goeringer Virginia Mae Morrow, a Colorado woman who was the center of the popular "Bridey Murphy" reincarnation tale over forty years ago, died near her Denver home on July 12. She was seventy at least in this lifetime. While her name is known to few people today, the life she claimed to have led as an Irish girl known as Bridey Murphy nearly a century before captured the public imagination, after the story was first publicized in the Denver Post in 1954. Those claims were also made in a best seller by Morey Bernstein, an amateur hypnotist from Pueblo Colorado who had hypnotized Morrow and fueled the subsequent phenomena known as "past life" regression. A movie soon followed. In this hypnotic technique, the subject is allegedly "regressed" back through time, even to the stages of fetal development, conception and past lives. The Bridey Murphy story "became a 1950s phenomenon rivaling the Hula-Hoop," said the New York Times last Friday. "There were Bridey Murphy parties ('come as you were') and Bridey Murphy jokes (parents greeting newborns with 'Welcome back')." But more important, the Bridey Murphy controversy gave impetus to a wide variety of claims and beliefs which found surprisingly wide acceptance in American culture, beginning with the interest in "Eastern wisdom" of the 1960s and persisting through the New Age movement that survives even today. Its importance as a cultural icon is too easy to overlook. While many people accepted the story of Bridey Murphy as "proof" of reincarnation the idea that a "soul" is reborn over and over again as it moves toward a state of "perfection" critics pointed out that there was little or no verifiability in Murphy's claim. Some insisted that the detailed accounts of Irish life from the previous century were based on information already available, and that the outpourings were either fraud, or material from Morrow's imagination. Yet the link between claims of an altered state-of- awareness through hypnosis and "past lives" goes back certainly to the times Murphy-Morrow discussed in the "regressions." The technique originated with a man named Allan Kardec, known also as Hypolyte Rivail, who founded his own branch of the spiritualist movement. Kardec claimed to have recorded statements by hypnotized subjects who were serving as "channels" for various spirits, a precursor for the later fad of "channeling" and the bunko of organized spiritualism in early twentieth-century America. That doctrine was then picked up by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, who concocted an elaborate mystical doctrine she called "Theosophy." Another element in "past lives" regression involved Professor Theodore Flournoy, a psychologist at the University of Geneva. Flournoy began studying a self- proclaimed "medium" named Catherine Mueller, whose colorful reports of past lives in India, France, and communications with beings on the planet Mars elicited wide public interest. Flournoy wrote an expose of Mueller titled "From India To The Planet Mars," which revealed that the medium's accounts had a basis in the experiences and even language of her everyday life. The Bridey Murphy incident provided a wealth of detailed claims which subsequent investigators combed through in an attempt to verify the reincarnation claims of Virginia Morrow, then known as Virginia Tight and "Ruth Simmons." There were conflicting claims in the Chicago American newspaper, which stated that the source of Morrow's "past lives" was, in fact, a Scotch-Irish aunt with whom Morrow had lived and from whom she may have heard stories of the old country. But according to J. Gordon Melton's "New Age Encyclopedia," the Denver Post reporter who had originally broke the story, William Barker, found that the aunt had lived most of her life in Chicago, and had little factual knowledge of Ireland. Barker also traveled to Ireland to investigate details in the Bridey Murphy account, but found that "records from the period were far from complete." The renewed interest in reincarnation, along with the technique of "past lives hypnotic regression" resulted in an outpouring of spiritualist, religious, and New Age books on various aspects of the subject. Works such as "Voices From Other Lives" (1977) and "Many Lifetimes" (1967) piqued the public interest, and "past lives"-type beliefs became ensconced as artifacts of the new age movement. The past-lives motif dovetailed with "life after death" themes promoted by figures such as the late Episcopalian Bishop James Pike, who claimed that he had received communications from his dead son. Hypnotic regression also became a dubious and much-abused tool in allegedly recovering memories of satanic cult abuse and even abduction by aliens. Despite problems of verification in the Bridey Murphy tale, the book based on the hypnotic regression of Virginia Mae Morrow became a best seller, and nearly one- third of Americans today believe in some variant of reincarnation. Despite the controversy, Morrow once said "If I had known what was going to happen, I would never have lain down on the couch," referring to the hypnotism session with author and businessman Morey Bernstein. It will be interesting to see if years from now, somebody claims to be the reincarnation of Virginia Morrow just as over four decades ago, Morrow claimed that she had once walked the earth as a girl named Bridey Murphy. "CHRISTIAN VOICE" PRESSES FOR OFFICIAL CHRISTIANITY Group Would Have South Africa Become an Official Religious Nation by Conrad Goeringer Recently, this service told subscribers about efforts in South Africa by Christian fundamentalists intent on making sure the nation does not adopt a secular constitution. We learn from the latest Church & State that a group known as Christian Voice is apparently coordinating such efforts, and according to its secretary, Willie Viljoen, was officially launched at a May 4 gathering attended by representatives of "all Christian denominations." In a press release, Christian Voice described itself as a "non-political organization of concerned Christians whose main purpose is to make Christians aware of the dangers of a secular state and to encourage them to actively participate in addressing relevant issues of concern in the writing of the new constitution of the New South Africa." "Non-political"? A brochure put out by Christian Voice is even scarier and may give some insight into the motivations of those in this country wishing to declare that "America is a Christian nation." It says that "There are 40 countries which are officially Islamic states because the majority of their population adheres to the Muslim religion. Why then, can South Africa not be recognized as a Christian nation when over 75 percent of the citizens of South Africa claim to be Christian?" THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS by Conrad Goeringer We keep telling you that "people of faith" (as the Christian Coalition's Ralph Reed likes to call believers) just don't get along with each other. Another case in point is Jakarta, Indonesia, where according to Ecumenical Press, four people were injured earlier this month when a church was attacked by gangs organized by a rival faction of Indonesia's largest Christian movement. It appears that the Batak Protestant Church split into two factions when the government stepped in and appointed a replacement for the group's leader. Fighting ensued, and some 700 attackers, armed with knives and rocks, moved on the Jakarta church at dawn. So far, ten people have been killed in factional battles, 3,000 injured and another 200 arrested. *************** The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), the legal organization founded by televangelist Pat Robertson, says that it will challenge a decision handed down Monday by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upholding condom distribution in public schools. The court ruled that the distribution does not violate parents' rights to guide their children's moral upbringing, since the condoms are available from a school nurse or vending machine, and young people are not required to obtain them. "We will not allow the opinion to go unchallenged," said Jay Sekulow, ACLJ general counsel, adding "Schools have an obligation to accommodate the religious and moral teachings of parents." *************** The Tennessee House of Representatives has unanimously passed a resolution which encourages "every citizen of Tennessee to observe the Ten Commandments." It also asks residents of that fine and enlightened state to "teach (the Ten Commandments) to their children, and display them in their homes, businesses, schools, places of worship," and called upon the citizens to set aside ten days in May "to honor these Commandments." Is this Big Brother with a Religious Attitude, or what? *************** Briefly noted: check out the August 10 edition of the New York Review of Books for an excellent article and review concerning the "militias." Titled "The New Revolutionaries" and written by Gary Wills, this thoughtful piece reviews a number of recent books on the survivalist-militia rights, its history, and religious-political motivations. It is a good introduction for those trying to make sense out of the Waco tragedy, the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, and growing anti-government sentiment, both left and right. *************** THEISTWATCH has been following developments surrounding the Joint Appeal delivered to Congress last month by a coalition of religious organizations asking that the government forbid the patenting of genetic life forms. Eighty prominent religious leaders representing Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish and Hindu faiths charged that the practice "represents the usurpation of the ownership rights of the Sovereign of the universe." Just so you realize how serious this sort of anti-science babble is, consider the latest important development on the bio-technology front. This past Wednesday (July 9), Progenitor, Inc., a subsidiary of Interneuron Pharmaceuticals, Inc. announced the licensing from Vanderbilt University of exclusive rights to a patent covering a co-discovery by the two institutions. It's known as "del-1" or developmental endothelial locus-1, and expresses a protein that might play a central role in the development and growth of blood vessels. Dr. Douglas B. Given of Progenitor said that "We believe that it could be a therapeutic candidate as well as a target to treat a broad range of diseases." He listed ailments such as diabetic retinopathy, endometriosis, and tumors. In addition, this research could offer "an exciting alternative in cardiovascular disease by enabling the patient to grow new blood vessels where needed rather than undergoing treatment to repair old ones." "Del-1" may or may not fulfill these promises, of course, but research like this promises to make all of us healthier and more productive. As for tumors, clogged arteries, and other nagging health problems, you'd think that the "Sovereign of the Universe" could have done a better job in designing us. *************** We also told you about L. Brent Bozell and his fellow media watchdog bluenoses. Bozell rated Michael Moore's "TV Nation" among the top ten blasphemous, irreverent, anti- family values/Christian religion shows on the air. We want to let you know that Moore has switched from NBC to the still-gutsy Fox network, where he promises according to USA TODAY to "satirize the powerful (especially any who are right of center), lampoon the malicious and puncture the balloon of hypocrisy that, he thinks, wafts over America." It's also noted that Fox executives and advertising reps "call him constantly with nervous questions, but he doesn't mind. 'If you're nervous, we're doing our job'." *************** Here's the latest in the war over the notorious V- Chip, that Orwellian device which government wants to put in all television sets which is capable of shutting off "violent" or "profane" programming that might stimulate the imagination or libido. "The networks are considering funding an alternative technology to avert government- mandated blocking chips," noted USA TODAY (July /20). But it appears that a lot of people are waiting to see what House Speaker Newt Gingrich has to say. Gingrich surprised some observers lately when he appeared on "MTV Raw" and came out against censorship of the Internet. He said that the anal-retentive FDA had "lost its mind" in proposing that tobacco be treated as a "hard" or "addictive drug" like cocaine. (Hey, remember, the "war on drugs" doesn't work either!). Gingrich is first and foremost a politician. It will be interesting to see how he feels about the V-Chip a good example of a paternalistic government "on our backs." (Imagine if WE proposed a chip to block religious programming?) *************** A study being released in the British journal "Nature" should drive another nail in the creationist coffin. Remember, creationists are the folks who insist that apes and humans do not share common ancestry, but were created a few thousand years ago by the Judeo- Christian god, a la Genesis. Creationists try to point out what they insist are "problems" or "contradictions" in evolutionary theory, and they demand that creationism be given "equal time" in science classes and biology labs. This new study by scientists at University of Wisconsin and UCLA supports an idea dating back to 1822 that vertebrates and arthropods have a common body plan, but evolution led the arthropods (crustaceans, such as crabs and lobsters) to crawl with backs toward the ground. The study identified genes that perform similar functions in diverse creatures, and in the words of one researcher, "bespeaks the commonality of ancestry." *********************************************************************** * * * 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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