THEISTWATCH FOR JULY 25, 1995 Contents: Colorado + Washington, D.C. - THE NEW POWER ON THE

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THEISTWATCH FOR JULY 25, 1995 Contents: Colorado & Washington, D.C.--THE NEW POWER ON THE HILL: JAMES DOBSON United States-- MUSCLE RELIGION ' MAKES A COMEBACK (Promise Keepers) United States--BIBLE DUMBED DOWN FOR AMERICANS IN NEW TRANSLATION World--THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS ____________________ ____________________ THE NEW POWER ON THE HILL: JAMES DOBSON by Conrad Goeringer Just as the "Hollywood-As-Satan" strategy has been paying off for Presidential hopeful Bob Dole, last week's anti-abortion rout in D.C. has confirmed the status of Dr. James Dobson as a power-broker on the religious right. His group, Focus on the Family, is a major force in the "traditional values" movement and has a mailing list which now reaches 2,000,000 names. Estimates of the organization's membership run as high as 400,000, and Associate Press (July 20) noted that Dobson's mailings can reach 100,000 preachers throughout the nation. Dobson, who is also a psychologist, is perhaps best known for his widely-aired radio show which runs on 1,500 U.S. stations and reaches 5,000,000 Americans each week. While this is only about one-forth of Rush Limbaugh's estimated audience, it is nevertheless a remarkable figure and far exceeds the size of many other talk programs. Dobson is also known for his "Bible discipline" books and programs on child rearing. According to last week's AP release authored by Religion Writer David Briggs, Dobson "regularly meets with House Speaker Newt Gingrich and has met with Senate Majority leader Bob Dole." He also has a steady parade of other White House wannabes traipsing through his Colorado Springs office, including Pat Buchanan, Lamar Alexander, Phil Gramm, and Alan Keyes, all of whom are said to have made "political pilgrimages" to Dobson. Dobson also echoes other themes popular on the religious right, such as gays in the military and the "big tent" strategy that some Republicans are talking about in hopes of diluting the strength of the Christian conservatives. Dobson has become a relentless critic of GOP National Chairman Haley Barbour who wants to make the Republican Party more "open." We'll see how much unity there is when they have been thrown out of office," Dobson warns. There are rumors that Dobson is ready for a "walk out" if the GOP doesn't uphold its end of the bargain with the religious right. As Dobson and others see it, the GOP "owes big" on its November 1994 victory which gave the party control of both the U.S. House and Senate for the first time in more than four decades. In fact, Dobson was one of the first conservative religionists to declare that the honeymoon was over, just as GOP strategists were wrapping up the first 100 days in their "Contract With America." Dobson's group and other organizations like the Traditional Values Coalition and the Christian Coalition had fielded a huge army of grassroots volunteers and delivered substantial votes in the November 1994 election. With the economic side of the "Contract With America" pretty much completed, it was time for the government to get working on the moral-religious agenda. Dobson may be the first to lead a walkout from the GOP tent if the party does not place sufficient emphasis on that agenda. Briggs notes that according to Dobson, "GOP leadership does not appear to be moving the same direction. He cites as an example a recent Gingrich fund-raising letter that did not mention abortion or family issues. "And that is a formula for turning off evangelical Christians to the GOP's peril, Dobson said." Other Gingrich actions may also be offending the religious right. The speaker has recently come out against censorship of the Internet and called for a nationwide referendum on drug enforcement policy. There are also rumblings that a GOP presidential candidate (even Bob Dole) might choose a more moderate running mate, possibly even one who is pro-abortion. New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman has been mentioned. If so, that would be a green light for Dobson to form a third-party, one focusing on the peculiar issues favored by the religious right such as homosexuality, abortion, pornography and censorship. Such efforts have traditionally met with failure in the past; third-party issues were often incorporated into the platforms of the major political parties. Even a well- funded effort, such as the "United We Stand" ticket of billionaire Ross Perot attracted marginal support and failed to carry the electoral votes of a single state. Other groups may not follow Dobson, who is considered a bit of a "hard liner. And Dobson's claim that 43 percent of those voting for the GOP last November considered themselves "evangelicals" and more concerned with moral instead of economic issues, may be off base. But until the "big tent" of the GOP either folds or becomes too big for Dobson, his Focus on the Family group continues to thrive. The latest target is the U.N. meeting on Women scheduled for September in Beijing, China. Dobson has already criticized the conference, charging that it promotes lesbianism, hatred of male authority, homosexual acceptance and abortion. And while the Chinese and women throughout other countries may not know Dobson's name, politicians in the U.S. consider him a force with which to be reckoned. "MUSCLE RELIGION" MAKES A COMEBACK Macho Men Are "Reclaiming Spiritual Leadership" Through a Revival of Male-Focused Religious Rituals by Conrad Goeringer There's a new wind blowin', and it's ready to sweep away those sensitive, wimpy New Age males of the 1970s and 1980s. No more feminization, no more copping out of the responsibilities of running the show. It's time for god- fearing men to stand up, declare their rightful role as head of the household, and tell mom and the kids, "I'm baaack!" The new wind is a revival of male-centered religiosity, a phenomena that is finding its expression in evangelical Christianity, the institutions of the Black churches throughout the country, even in the Nation of Islam under the leadership of Louis Farrakhan. It appears in the locker-room brand of pep talk found in the stadium meetings of the Christian men's movement known as Promise Keepers and in the calls by black leaders such as Rev. Ben Chavis and Muslim Minister Louis Farrakhan that men "atone to God for the way we have mistreated our women and girls." It is the male-only ambiance of the "squads" and arena rallies addressed by charismatic Christian leaders such as "Coach" Bill McCartney, or the growing presence of "Christian athletes" like Nolan Ryan and countless others who see life as analogous to the athletic contests which have made them American idols. Or it is the "March of 1,000,000 black men" being organized for next week which, in Farrakhan's words, says that "If a woman is not in the home, there cannot be a strong family or a strong community." A Locker Room Laity A Coaching Clergy It is not surprising that the traditionally male venue of athletic stadiums and arenas serves as a focal point for religious rallies sweeping the nation, organized by a group known as Promise Keepers. The objectives of the movement are vague: Ecumenical News Service reports that it is an "ecumenical, nondenominational, interracial Christian men's movement aimed at making men better Christians and, as a result, better husbands, fathers, friends and church leaders." The group was founded by Bill McCartney, former head coach of the University of Colorado Buffaloes, in 1990. McCartney's vision of thousands of men filling stadiums to pray, sing hymns, listen to speakers, cry, hold hands, confess and "witness" has become a reality. The first meeting in 1991 drew only 4,200 men, but by 1994, 50,000 had attended Promise Keepers events. Like Farrakhan, McCartney has the goal of bringing 1,000,000 men to a meeting in Washington, D.C., but in 1998. For this year, the group expects to have upwards of 500,000 men attend its male-only gatherings. Not only is the venue and ambiance strictly male, so is the thrust of the message being delivered by Promise Keepers. McCartney is often referred to as "Coach" by the membership; according to ENS, "Using a military organization model, Promise Keepers see themselves as 'soldiers in the army of Christ' and are organized into 'squads'." The group has explicitly confronted and denounced racism, reaching out to organizations such as the National Black Evangelical Association last April during its convention. Coach McCartney addressed that meeting twice, and Promise Keepers donated $5,000 to the NBEA for its "work among African-American leaders." Promise Keepers, however, while perhaps enchanted by the image of Black athletes "witnessing for Christ" and joining the male-only movement, are not nearly as kind in their attitudes toward groups such as gays and, possibly, women. The Promise Keepers vision sees men as the "spiritual heads" of nuclear families. Indeed, Tony Evans, a Dallas preacher who authored the book "Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper, claimed that the primary cause of America's current identity crisis "is the feminization of the American male, which has resulted in "a nation of 'sissified' men who abdicate their role as spiritually pure leaders, thus forcing women to fill the vacuum." Being "spiritually pure leaders, however, seems to possibly reflect the homophobia of "Coach" McCartney, who "has taken beatings for his outspoken pro-life (anti- abortion) views, and for his denunciation of the homosexual lifestyle." At the 1994 Promise Keepers meeting, gay beat poet Alan Ginsburg showed up to stage a "diversity rally" and target McCartney's anti-gay, anti- feminist agenda. In an article titled "The Wounded Male Soul, Edward Gilbreath noted that Promise Keepers and similar groups in the Christian men's movement have "arisen against the backdrop of a waning secular men's movement." Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, mostly White baby boomers "displayed a frenzy of interest over the perplexing puzzle of being a man and America." The reactions to the economic and social dislocations of the period saw men retreating to "Wild Man" groups which focused on male bonding, drum beating, primal rituals and "getting in touch with your manhood." "Some called it a reaction to the feminist establishment; others saw it as a way for men to be both vulnerable and aggressive without being lambasted for wimpiness or insensitivity," notes Gilbreath. Economic, Social Dislocation Since the middle 1950s, when service industry jobs exceeded the number of jobs provided by basic manufacturing in the American economy, there has been a gradual erosion of "male authority" in the economic dynamic of the family. Lifetime employment at a factory paying one-income family level wages became a thing of the past. And by the 1980s, two incomes were often necessary if a young couple were to "make ends meet." The traditional role of the woman as "nurturer, staying at home raising children while "dad" was the "breadwinner, eroded. Worse yet, both mom and dad faced dislocations in the workplace itself unemployment and the need for retraining or even returning to school became the norm. Black Perspective The impact of a changing economy was even more devastating in the Black community where unemployment has been substantially higher than that of Whites and where lower wages made the task of being a "breadwinner" even harder. As the civil rights movement of the early 1960s snowballed into a militant stage, Black activists ranging from Malcolm X to Eldridge Cleaver theorized over "what it meant to be a Black male in America." Complex sociological forces had resulted in a devastation for the Black family, and today a majority of Black children are raised by their mothers in homes where there is no stable Black male presence. Despite a liberal economic agenda reflected in support for affirmative action and other programs, a number of Black leaders such as Jesse Jackson, Ben Chavis and even Louis Farrakhan express a growing concern for the "fate" of the Black family and the need for males to assume "responsibility." But how far is this "responsibility" to go? Farrakhan's group is a distinctly male-dominated cult, with the leadership and "muscle" in the hands of men. Men and women mimic various Christian cults or even Jewish sects by sitting apart during services. Women are to be quiet, "modest, and obedient to men in their task of raising the family. A Muslim woman is not running a corporation, heading a research team in a laboratory, or in the public eye blustering on behalf of abortion rights. So perhaps the most telling characteristic of "The Million-Man March" is found in its very name it is a "man's" march, designed to show the economic impact of Black men leaving their jobs and to call upon Black males to in Farrakhan's words "straighten their backs" and lead their families. There is even a "sexual politics" overtone in the role of Rev. Ben Chavis, who last year was dismissed as executive director of the NAACP after being accused of using that group's funds to settle a sexual- discrimination case against him. Whatever validity there may be to claims that the family structure in the United States is "eroding, it is not altogether clear that a return to "male leadership" and having the man as "head of the family" is either desirable (especially for women), or practical in a world undergoing accelerated economic and social change. And "stability" for children may not necessarily involve having a patriarchal "father image" at home with a female "nurturer". There are many possible definitions of "family, and the future will doubtless give us many more. But the angst of so many males, Black and White, which expresses itself in the enthusiasm for projects like "The Million-Man March" or the "muscle religion" of Coach McCartney and the Promise Keepers stems from a rapidly changing economic and social landscape around us. Men may find no more sense of identity and self-esteem in the stadium meetings for Jesus, or the authoritarian paternalism of the Muslims or the Black Christian church, as they did in the drum-beating camp outs of a mostly-discredited "warrior" movement a decade ago. The world is a different place from that time when many dads drove home from the factory or office, parked the car, and walked inside to have dinner with mom and the kids a tableau out of an automobile ad in Saturday Evening Post. It's a brave, new world out there. Despite the yearning of some for a paternalistic anchor, the only constant seems to be change. BIBLE DUMBED DOWN FOR AMERICANS IN NEW TRANSLATION by Conrad Goeringer Remember last week when THEISTWATCH mentioned that in the 1930s, the average person possessed a working vocabulary of about 26,000 words. Now, that figure is down to about 10,000 and that includes all of the new and trendy entrants into our lexicon, such as "computer, "skateboard" and "floppy." It had to happen sooner or later, of course, that the Bible if not the work of "God, then considered by some to be a masterpiece of exquisite literature went the way of all culture and was "dumbed down," rendering its more understandable and digestible for Americans. As a society, it appears that nearly everything, from our art to our music, literature, and politics, is being "dumbed down" to accommodate shorter spans of attention, diminished ability to utilize the language property, and inability to think rationally and critically. With the possible exception of computer and software "user manuals, everything around us is being designed for low-IQ idiots. Add to the growing list of victims in this pernicious trend the Bible. Propelled by an advertising blitz orchestrated by the Bozell International agency (the same folks who promote Taco Bell and bring those dairy product ads into your home which show celebrities with moist milk mustaches), the American Bible Society has released its "dumbed down" Contemporary English Version of the Bible, which arrives in bookstores this month. No need for a dictionary if you are one of the many Americans who, according to Society research, stumble over words such as "ark," "manger" and "plowshares". The new version substitutes more prosaic terms like "boat" or "bed of hay." All of that phraseological gymnastics about "beating swords into plowshares" (words which are found on a statue in front of the U.N. building) has been discarded in favor of "rakes and shovels." It's bad enough, of course, that the stories in the Bible probably did not really occur of, if they did, are not described accurately, the result of distortion through oral traditions and subsequent copying of writings and memories. What quaint argot was in the Bible, however, is now sacrificed so that "word-poor" American religionists can understand the word of the god. Ironically, the whole enterprise which has resulted in the Contemporary English Version began as an attempt to do a translation of the Bible FOR CHILDREN! The head of the ABS translation team, Barclay Newman, told Knight-Ridder Newspapers that "we quickly discovered that parents and other adults, who were testing the text for us, liked it so much that we decided to call it the Contemporary English Version." Nastier phrases in the text have been massaged and rewritten, such as the Book of Numbers story of Balaam who "rose in the morning and saddled his ass." In the new edition, he sits on a "donkey, but the beast still ends up talking. In 1952, the talking animal asked "Am I not your ass, upon which you have ridden all your life?" We are also told that "The toughest task for the translators was simplifying complex theological issues that are the pillars of the Christian faith, often described in past translations with puzzling terms such as: justification, sanctification, redemption and grace." "Dumbing down" these "complex theological issues" may indeed appeal to a growing segment of Americans, simplifying the mystery of religion, rendering it easier than ever to accept --without the least need for thought, or a polysyllabic word. THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS by Conrad Goeringer There's more discontent in the Holy City of Jerusalem and for a change, it doesn't involve the ongoing Arab- Israeli conflict and squabbling with the PLO. It's about a guy named David, the fellow who slew Goliath and became a subject for the fabulous artistic talents of the artist Michelangelo. Seems that, in honor of celebrations of 3,000 years of Jerusalem's history, the city of Florence, Italy, commissioned a replica of the renowned statue of David. Officials in Jerusalem, however, have turned down this generous gift since the nude figure would offend that city's orthodox Jews and Arabs. Maybe they'd prefer Goliath in the buff? ****************** What happens when religious obsolescence and government bureaucracy collide? You get the unfortunate fate of an Amish farmer by the name of Mr. Christ Zook, who has been fined $1,000 by the good and all-wise State of Pennsylvania for illegally practicing dentistry. Mr. Zook has thirty days to pay the fine and must cease practicing dentistry, which in this case consisted of pulling the teeth of his Amish neighbors. A spokesman for the governor's office called the penalty a "fair solution" to what the Philadelphia Inquirer (July 22) described as a "church vs. state saga that has been going on for more than two years." Zook has defended his actions, insisting that "I know our people (the Amish) will not go to the dentist. . . . They will try to cure it themselves, and it really hurts me that I am trying to do good and the public is telling me I am doing wrong." Attempts to solve the problem of Amish cavities, root canals, and other dental dilemmas failed when a proposal to establish a clinic for the sect fell through. A spokesman for the Pennsylvania Dental Society said that "The one obstacle we weren't able to get over was the acceptance of the Amish community to see someone out of the (Amish) community." He also warned about the need for infection-control and sterilization during dental procedures. The Amish sect is a branch of the Mennonite religion, founded in the seventeenth century by Jacob Ammann. They are most visible in parts of Ohio and Pennsylvania, especially in Lancaster County, Pa., where they are seen wearing their characteristic grey-black clothing and hats and driving horse-drawn carriages. They refuse to accept "mechanical contrivances" and usually engage in farming. They resist numerous state laws, and will not fight in wars. Unlike the overwhelming number of religious sects, they are nonviolent and even tolerate the behavior of youngsters who often leave the sect for periods of time and "live outside" in the real world. This may be one time that First Amendment supporters may choose to back someone like Mr. Zook and oppose the current Republican governor, Tom Ridge. Who is HE to talk about church/state separation, anyway? He sees no problem with limits on abortion rights and he is still trying to implement a voucher plan and give hundreds of millions of dollars in state aid to private, religious schools. I'll side with Mr. Zook, but about that cavity, I'd prefer novocaine. ****************** Last week, Pope John Paul II continued his efforts at forging "Christian unity" (that is, a worldwide Christian monolith with himself in control) in a series of meetings with Patriarch Bartholomew I. If all of this sounds like something out of the next Star Wars, or maybe "Dungeons and Dragons, Bart the First is NOT a Simpson, but is the leader of fourteen autonomous Orthodox churches throughout Albania, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Russia. He is the "first among equals" of five Eastern church leaders. The Orthodox church was once part of the Roman church until the famous schism in 1054. Since then, the Orthodox religion has thrived throughout the East, with a network of Patriarchs and local Metropolitans providing the leadership. Orthodox sects, in turn, have split numerous times over such vital and pressing issues as the exact procedure to be used by believers in making the sign of the cross. Bart the First has been criticized by elements within Orthodoxy for meeting with the Pope. The Roman Catholic church and the Orthodox are on opposite sides of the fence over issues like the war in Bosnia, and there is the annoying question of papal authority and infallibility. Even so, John Paul II called Bart "brother" and embraced him outside of the Vatican guest house where the Patriarch was staying. In keeping with his "Christian unity" encyclical issued last month, he underscored the importance of bringing the Orthodox flock back into the fold. ****************** THEISTWATCH is on the verge of asking readers to fund a computer and full-time investigative staff to keep track of the burgeoning number of absurd miracles, weeping / bleeding statues, and other bizarre "proofs" of religious faith. Is this pre-millenium fever? We'll have to check our files on this one --we may have told you about the "weeping" Madonna in the town of Civita Vecchia, Italy, a 17-inch plaster figure that is said to have cried tears of blood since last February, according to 55-year-old Maria Luisa Martini. Now, Ms. Martini (we DIDN'T make up the name!) says that the Madonna has turned her head. "I swear it, she told Associated Press. ****************** While sci-fi religions like Scientology or the rock 'n roll approach of some fundamentalist street-level ministries has managed to attract the young, mainline Protestant denominations are in danger of, literally, dying off. Two denominational studies now show that the younger adults are not replacing their elders in the pews. A mere thirteen percent of the Presbyterians are in the 18-34-year-old range, while a third are 65 or older. The Methodists are in similar straits, as the percentage of church members aged fifty and older rose from 49 percent in 1986 to 61 percent last year. And a 1994 Gallup pole showed that Protestants have a higher percentage of older members than the Roman Catholic church. If they could just speed up this process! ****************** In Ireland, abortion is strictly taboo and the "culture war" battle there is over the tamer subject of divorce. The government in Dublin announced Friday that it will again press for the removal of the constitutional ban on divorce in a referendum to be held later this year. By U.S. standards, the "liberalized" divorce proposal is tame. The cabinet, in supporting the legislation, stipulated that divorce would be permissible after a couple had lived apart for at least four years. The biggest obstacle, of course, to divorce is the Roman Catholic church. In 1986, voters rejected a divorce liberalization proposal by a 2-1 margin which saw a vigorous church-orchestrated campaign to defeat it. Religionists and other opponents argued that divorce would have an adverse economic impact on pensions and property divisions; but even under the old law, there are 70,000 separated couples in a population of 3.5 million. The 1937 Constitution emphasizes the paternalistic role of the church and state in Irish life, declaring "The state pledges itself to guard with special care the institution of Marriage, on which the Family is founded, and to protect it against attack." Yet even within the Irish Republican movement, where women have gained substantial voice and input over the last decade, there is a realization that traditionalist, church doctrine is suffocating individual rights and choices in Ireland. Liberalizing divorce may be the first needed step in correcting that wrong. ****************** During a fishing trip with his sons, Eric Star Smith became convinced that they were all possessed by the devil and beheaded his 14-year-old son while his younger sibling and passing motorists watched. The incident happened in Estancia, New Mexico. Passing truckers informed authorities of what was happening; Smith, meanwhile, took off in his van and threw his son's head out of the window on U.S. Interstate 40. Following a chase, he was captured near Albuquerque. According to Torrance County Sheriff Don Lyles, "The father said they were possessed by the devil." *********************************************************************** * * * 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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