Date: Mon, 26 Aug 1996 18:44:32 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for August 26, 1996 (Night

Master Index Current Directory Index Go to SkepticTank Go to Human Rights activist Keith Henson Go to Scientology cult

Skeptic Tank!

Date: Mon, 26 Aug 1996 18:44:32 -0700 from: Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for August 26, 1996 (Nightowl Edition) Reply-To:, nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #140 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 8/26/96 (Nightowl Edition) In This Issue... * Mother Teresa -- Media Hype? * Space Nazis & Mystery Kissers * Legal Points in The Mt. Davidson Cross Case * About This List... THE OTHER SIDE OF THE MOTHER TERESA CULT... "Hyperbole and Credulity" ? Is she the essence of goodness and charity? A heroine helping the poor? Or is she a shameless apologist for privilege, acceptance of faith, and an embarrasment to the nation whose poor she claims to assist. Tonight, the 85-year old Albanian nun known as Mother Teresa remains in serious medical condition in a nursing home in Calcutta, India. But admiration for her is reaching fever pitch, and there is worldwide death-watch on her behalf. Associated Press reports that while she remains under the care of a team of physicians who are using the latest medicines on her behalf, there is a virtual "prayer-fest" involving groups of Christian and Hindu priests, Buddhist monks and Muslim clerics. A joint statement from religious leaders announced: "We pray so that our Mother could be among us again. So is not the mother of only the Christian community, she is the mother of all communities. Indeed, Mother Teresa has become a pop-culture icon of religious altruism; along with her Missionaries of Charity order of nuns, she has cultivated a media image of caring for the homeless and poor of Calcutta. But is that the whole story? Some say no. An amidst the uncritical and fawning statements about Mother Teresa, some are re-discovering a 1994 British documentary titled "Hell's Angel," which dissected the mythology surrounding the popular Catholic nun, and spoke of image-molding which was a mixture of "hyperbole and credulity." Reuters news service noted this past weekend that "For decades television has helped spread Mother Teresa's message of hope for the destitute and brought the image of her tiny, stooped, birdlike figure into homes across the world." But the 1994 documentary questioned not only the effectiveness of her actions, but her motivations as well. An article in the British medical journal The Lancet noted: "Mother Teresa prefers providence to planning," noting that the Missionaries of Charity are primarilly a religious order before their role as medical care-givers. The documentary "dismissed Mother Teresa as a conservative Catholic who ran an order weak on healing skills and preached surrender and prostration to the poor...(It) accused the Albania-born nun of preaching the message that the poor must accept their fate while the rich and powerful are favoured by God." Mother Teresa has also become an outspoken opponent of contraception and birth control -- a position which leads some to doubt her sanity considering the teeming and overpopulated cities she labors in. Christopher Hitchens, who wrote the script for ''Hell's Angel" adds that Mother Teresa "lends spiritual solace to dictators and to wealthy exploiters, which is scarecely the essence of simplicity, and she preaches surrender and prostration to the poor, which ia truly humble person would barely have the nerve to do." *** SPACE NAZIS AND THE GREATEST PHOTO OF TIMES SQUARE... Recent Events, Including a Spat Over a Famous Photo, Show the Biases of Human Belief. Cropcircles -- those often ornate patterns carved into fields of wheat, oat and corn -- have become a cause celebre for a bevy of new agers, UFO enthusiasts and others who believe that "someone" is trying to communicate with Planet Earth. Some recent events, though, suggest that not only is a good deal of selective thinking and bias required to accept such a notion, but that even prosaic happenings are sometimes peppered with misperceptions, contradictions, and even possibly lies. Two seemingly unconnected events tell the tale -- * In Burlington County, New Jersey, a 60-foot high swastika was carved in the middle of a 30-acre field. Police have made no arrests. * In New York, the mystery concerning the identity of a couple in a famous picture snapped by the renowned photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt rages on. The photo appeared on the cover of Life Magazine on August 27, 1945 -- the issue celebrating VJ or Victory-Over-Japan day. A sailor is kissing a nurse in her white dress, bent backward, a foot in the air. In the first example, despite wide regional media coverage, no group which subscribes to the hypothesis that cropcircles represent mysterious paranormal forces, or are in some way connected with alien spacecraft, has proposed that the swastika outline was made by extraterrestrials -- either as a joke, a warning, an innocent, symetrical design, or a statement of political belief. The swastika was surprisingly well aligned -- placed near the exact center of the cornfield, with the arms are right-angles to adjacent roads and a driveway. The image could have been carved as long as a month ago; it was only first noticed last week by pilots flying out of nearby McGuire Air Force base, who informed Burlington County authorities. Jeffrey Maas, executive director of the New Jersey Anti-Defamation League, told news reporters that he had never heard of "swastika carving" in the 21 years he has been with ADL. "I find it disturbing, but nothing surprises me these days", he told the Philadelphia Inquirer recently. But what is equally puzzling is a) why the usual list of crop circle groups and publications has not stepped forward to claim this latest apparition as yet another manifestation of aliens, spirits or other paranormal forces and b) the fact that there is nothing unusual between this swastika and other patterns which have described as being "impossible" to have manufactured as hoaxes. Contrary to the assertions of many cropwatchers as they are called, there is nothing "mysterious" about these ornate patterns; two British men say they started the whole crop circle rage years ago, and in the case of the Burlington County swastika, the Inquirer reports: "Township police guessed that the swastika could have been the work of nearby high school students..." Far from requiring the advanced technology of space-faring aliens, construting a crop-pattern hoax is relatively simple, though somewhat time consuming. The other event may cast a skeptical light on unusual claims made by individuals who insist that they participated in or witnessed events of an equally unusual nature. What comes to mind? Perhaps remembrances of miracles, apparitions, even autopsies allegedly done on dead aliens. Earlier this month, the question of who the sailor and nurse really were who graced the cover of Life magazine in one of the most famous photographs ever taken, received another lease -- on life. In 1980, the magazine tried to ascertain the mystery couple's identity, and received an "outpouring" of claims. Some even suggest that Alfred Eisenstaedt hadn't taken the photograph on VJ day, since several of the sailors in the background were wearing woolen uniforms. Since then, dozens of individuals including a retired police detective from Fort Laudcerdale, and a retiree from Rhode Island, have been considered likely candidates. Last week, a 75 -year-old machinist whose wife recently died claimed that he was, indeed, the faceless sailor in Eisenstaedt's photograph. Although neither the face of the nurse nor sailor is visible in the Life photo, the man claims that he was quickly recognized by his then-fiancee and prospective mother-in-law -- a potentially embarrassing situation since the nurse was not the fiancee! He says that he escaped blame by claiming that he was in California at the time the picture was taken. According to Reuter, "His wife died this year and he said he longer minded admitting that he was the sailor in the blue wool suit in the photograph." It is remarkable that a celebrated photograph of such renown would inspire so many claims and theories -- including accusations that Eisenstaedt posed the two subjects, or that it was not taken on VJ Day. Life Magazine tracked down Eisenstaedt's photo records and assignment log for that day in question; he was indeed in Times Square. He also wrote of the events on August 27, 1945, including the serendipitous encounter with the amorous and celebrating couple. It is possible, of course, that some of those who claim to be the mystery kissers sincerely believe that they were; but what would the motivation be of the others who have come forward? Even so public an event -- one which resulted in the creation of a cultural icon symbolizing the end of a tragic era -- can result in diverse, often contradictory claims. Perhaps one lesson which links the cropcircle swastika and the mystery of the missing kissers is the selective nature of human perception. Circle watchers see mazes and other designs as "proof" of alien visitation; but why not the swastika? It is, after all, a symbol which pre-dates the Nazi era and appears in various configurations throughout cultures in ancient America, India, Japan and Persia. Why not New Jersey? And what about the contradictory claims of the would-be kissers? They can't all be right. If we have to be suspect over the stories of individuals who say they are the anonymous subjects of an Eisenstaedt photograph on the cover of a major American magazine, what of the more extraordinary claims we are asked to accept at face value -- of being witness to an alien autopsy, a miracle, an apparition? In our quest for answers, for certainty, perhaps the first step involves a healthy skepticism of unusual claims, and an appreciation of how problematic the human psyche can be. *** COURT: MT. DAVIDSON CROSS VIOLATED ''NO PREFERENCE'' In its decision which found the Mt. Davidson cross in San Francisco to be unconstitutional, the U.S. Court of Appeals used a substantial body of evidence and law -- including the California State Constitution. Among the findings: * The 103-foot cross stands in a 40-acre park owned by the County and City of San Francisco. There is a copper box within the foundation of the monument which contains "a number of items including newspapers, telephone directories, two Bibles, two rocks from the Garden of Gethsemane, and a jug of water from the Jordan River." In addition, there is a plaque commemorating the first Easter Sunrise service held at that location in 1923. *Previous crosses had been erected, but were destroyed by fire. In 1932, the City gained clear title to the land and the following year authorized "the allocation of public funds to build a permanent cross." That allocation also authorized floodlights which were used to illuminate the structure during the Easter session. President Franklin Roosevelt activated the lights by telegraph from Washington in a special ceremony; that spectacle attracted a crowd of 50,000 people. * Between 1934 and 1987, the Cross was at times illuminated during the week before Easter and during the Christmas season..." That practice was halted in 1990. The challenge to the use of public funds to maintain the Mt. Davidson Cross rested on the claim that the practice violated the No Preference Clause and the Ban on Aid to Religion Caluse of the California Constitution, and the Establishment Clause (First Amendment) of the U.S. Constitution. The No Preference Clause guarantees "free exercise and enjoyment of religion without discrimination or preference." Article I, Section 4 of the California Constitution also states: "The legislature shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." * The court noted several factors including "the religious significance of the display," "the size and visibility of the display," "the inclusion of other religious symbols," "the historical background of the display," and "the proximity of the display to government buildings or religious facilities." It also observed that the Latin cross (similar to the one in Eugene, Oregon, which was also ruled unconstitional) "is a preeminent symbol of many Christian religions and represents with relative clarity and simplicity the Christian message of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, a doctrine at the heart of Christianity." Other relics in the cross, such as the two bibles, had obvious religious significance as well. The court observed that "the Mount Davidson Cross' history is intertwined with its religious symbolism" and that "This kind of historical significance simply exacerbates the appearance of government preferance for a particular religion. The judges rejected the view that the Cross "has become well recognized as a cultural landmark similar to other notable San Francisco landmarks, like the Golden Gate Bridge..." It cited "the mistaken notion that 'the longer the violation, the less violative it becomes'." And the justices likewise disagreed with the contention that the cross was essentially "a work of art," saying "the argument that a religious display is art or a tourist attraction will not protect the display from restrictions on government-sponsored religion which the people of California have put in their constitution." *** About This List... AANEWS is a free service from American Atheists, a nationwide movement founded by Madalyn Murray O'Hair for the advancement of Atheism, and the total, absolute separation of government and religion. For information on American Atheism, send mail to:, and include your name and postal address. For subscribe/unsubscribe information, send mail to, and put "info aanews" (minus the quotation marks, please) in the message body. You may forward, post, or quote from this dispatch, provided that appropriate credit is given to aanews and American Atheists. Edited and written by Conrad F. Goeringer, The LISTMASTER.


E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank