Date: Wed, 11 Sep 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for September 11, 1996 (Ev

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Date: Wed, 11 Sep 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for September 11, 1996 (Evening Edition) from: Reply-To:, A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #155 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu9/11/96 (Evening Edition) In This Issue... * The Wild, Wacky & Questionable Claims of Sri Chinmoy * Split In Likud Ranks? * Scintist Says Belief In God "Outmoded" * Alien Abductions: Sexy ET's, Voluptuous Demons * Secular Organization For Sobriety * Atheist Viewpoint TV Needs Your Help! * About This List... WEIGHTLIFTERS CHALLENGED CLAIMS OF HINDU ''STRONGMAN'' GURU Are Park Service, U.N., Others Being ""Suckered" By Huckster ? Amidst claims of amazing feats by Hindu guru Sri Chinmoy, a number of competition weighlifters have questioned the statement that the religious leader has lifted up to 7,000 pounds with one arm. The topic has been brought up again following a discussion during July and August in various weighlifting newsgroups on the internet, since it was revealed that the National Park Service has dedicated a so-called "Peace Blossom" erected by Sri Chinmoy's group at the Statue of Liberty. That decision has caused growing public outrage. In a series of press releases dispatched over the last 48-hours, American Atheists called for the removal of the plaque, stating that it violated laws to protect the separation of church and state. The claim that the Indian guru lifted over three tons with one arm is only one of several that followers have made concerning the controversial religious leaders. Incredibly, a video shown to a National Park Service official prior to approval of the plaque claimed to depict this event; while the official, identified as site superintendent Diana Dayson was somewhat skeptical, she nevertheless considered the organization to be "spiritual," and considered the theme of the plaque to be "universal." (Opponents of the plaque note that Sri Chinmoy's much-touted poetry contains vague and obscure reference to "Earth-heart's pinnacle-Divinity" and "Her Beauty's cosmos-fragrance-ride.") Followers of Sri Chinmoy insist that in 1987, the guru hoisted weights of 3081 pounds and 7063 pounds in what were described as "one-arm overhead lifts." Although the weights were said to have been lifted only about half an inch, such a claim caught the attention of many powerlifters; in debate on newsgroups, many expressed skepticism about the claim, and others considered it an outright hoax. One lifter wrote: "I have read several posts pertaining to this so-called lift and have looked at the pictures. I remain totally unconvinced that he (Sri Chinmoy) or anyone else could support 500 lbs over head with one hand, much less 7000+ lbs. ... I must say that anyone who believes this has got to be living in LaLaLand. I have lifted weights for over 25 years and have never come across such a blatant attempt at chicanery. To believe that a human being can support over 7000 lbs with just one hand is utter nonsense, I don't care if the guy has a direct link to heaven, this is total BS..." Reportedly, no recognized competition powerlifter has ever even attempted a one-armed overhead lifT according to one athlete who contacted aanews about this incident. A study of weighlifting records, however, suggests one of three possibilities: * Sri Chinmoy did in fact accomplish a spectacular athletic feat which would defy what is known about the limits of human physiology, including muscle strength and bone density. * Chinmoy and his followers are mistaken in their count total of the weight lifted; they may have miscalculated that weight by a factor of nearly ten (10). * Sri Chimnoy and his gullible followers are liars and the whole event is a hoax. Although aanews has been unable to ascertain Sri Chinmoy's potential weight class, a comparison with known records is enlightening. The latest Olympics included weight classes for athletes ranging from 54 klg to 108 kgs. and over. In the latter category, Russian Andrey Chemerkin of Russia successfully lifted a mere 573.201 lbs. in the "clean & jerk" category. Powerlifters who were at the other end of the weight spectrum lifted amounts ranging from slightly more than 292 lbs to a range hovering near 400 lbs. Of course, the "clean & jerk" is only a general comparison of human strength. But powerlifters seem to be highly skeptical of Chinmoy's dubious claim. In an August 28th posting, one weightlifter remarked that if this avatar "were capable of doing even close to what is claimed, he should report to Stanford (University) for anatomical study, since he would be pretty obviously super-human, both in strength and in structural integrity." And what about that "structural integritgy"? Men and women in yet another growing, competative sport -- arm wrestling -- know that human muscle and bone can only exert or resist so much pressure. Bones have been known to break during such competitions which involve considerably less weight and force than what Chinmoy and his followers insist that the guru hefted. "There is no middle ground to Chinmoy's weightlifting claims," wrote one lifter in a letter to aanews. "Either he is the greatest weightlifter ever to have walked this planet, or this one of the greatest sports hoaxes ever attempted." What Else About Sri Chinmoy Should Be Believed ? Extraordinary, bizarre, extravagant and weird claims -- often of a paranormal, mystical or religious nature -- are offered every day. One good rule in evaluating such propositions is that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." Such evidence appears to be lacking in the case of Sri Chinmoy and his followers. As "information consumers," the public would be only right in asking what other claims by this religious leader and his organization actually have any basis in fact. Incredibly, Sri Chinmoy has persuaded public officials throughout the world to ignore some of his more bizarre claims, not the least of which is his reported insistence that he is the reincarnation of Thomas Jefferson, or that the Hindu deity Krishna once perched on his shoulders. Those charges appeared earlier today in aanews, and were made by a former Chinmoy follower, Brie Waters, who is now Vice President of the Atheists Student Foundation at the University of Maryland. Followers of Chinmoy have managed to erect over 900 so-called "Peace Blossoms" at major tourist venues throughout the world, often with the cooperation of public officials. Most disturbing was the fact that a video of Sri Chinmoy allegedly lifting thousands of pounds was presented to the National Park Service Superintendent at the Statue of Liberty, Diane H. Dayson, who according to the New York Times was somewhat skeptical, but nevertheless apparently saw nothing wrong with allowing the dedication of the disingenuous "peace" plaque. Shouldn't the magnitude of such an outrageous claim at least prompted the Service to take a closer look at Sri Chinmoy and his cult? Indeed, cult awareness experts warn that brainwashing followers into uncritical acceptance of preposterous claims is an important step in "capturing" the loyalty and allegiance of others. *** (Editor's note: Those AANEWS readers who are concerned about this state-church separation issue may wish to communicate with Marie Rust, the Field Directo for the National Park Service. Her fax number is 215-597-0815. Those of you who participate in the aachat newsgroup may wish to share your letter to Ms. Rust with other readers.) * FIGHTING, DISSENSION INSIDE LIKUD COALITION AFTER HANDSHAKE When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shook hands with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat last week, he set off a firestorm of controversy inside the ranks of both his own Likud party and the shaky religious coalition which currently governs Israel. A poll by the Tel Aviv daily Yediot Ahronot showed that 82% of Israelis thought the meeting was "the right thing to do," but criticism inside Likud ranks -- and from the assorted religious parties which make up the Netanyahu coalition -- was loud and insistent. Less than 24-hours after his landmark meeting with Arafat (the first between the two leaders), Netanyahu went before the Likud Central Committee amid shouts of "traitor." One heckler demanded to know if the Prime Minister had "washed his hands with soap" after meeting his Palestinian counterpart. Veteran Likud activist Amram Cohavi said that "Bibi (Neanyahu) has betrayed us."; he was shouted down by another man who said he was wounded during the 1973 war, who insisted "I have five children...I want them to enjoy peace and that is why Bibi had to meet Arafat." Most Likud ministers had tough words for the Prime Minister. Infrastructure Minister Ariel Sharon, brought into the Netanyahu cabinet after demands from religious groups, warned the new Prime Minister about giving away Jewish holy sites on the West Bank and in Jerusalem. But Netanyahu remained adamant on the issue of a Palestinian homeland. At the Likud meeting and later at a conference with a leading settlement organization, he declared "There never will be a Palestinian state between the sea and the Jordan." Netanyahu faces more trouble from the religious right, though. The largest settlement group, the Council of Jewish Communities, responded to the Netanyahu-Arafat meeting by insisting that it will embark on a major building campaign, legally or illegally. And there are signs that religious groups are stepping up their efforts to control daily life throughout Israel. Hirsch Goodman, editor of Jerusalem Report magazine noted that "What is happening in Israel is not random violence or the work of a few hotheads...It is part of a concerted ultra-Orthodox campaign to control the day-to-day life." Goodman was referring to a number of recent developments, including attempts by Orthodox and other religious hard-liners to shut down major traffic routes during the Jewish sabbath, and to remove Aharon Barak, the liberal chief justice of Israel's Supreme Court. In recent weeks, religious newspapers have unleashed a series of barrages against the jurist, branding him "the most dangerous enemy of Judaism." Meanwhile, a report filed to the Philadelphia Inquirer notes that the outcry against Barak shows that "Israel's Orthodox Jewish parties have stepped up their pressure to impose their conservative social agenda. Instrumental in helping Benjamin Netanyahu win the election, they now enjoy unprecedented influence..." Among the targets of Orthodox bigotry are women. There have been dozens of attacks on females who are caught near religious neighborhoods, often for wearing "immodest dress." "More employers are bowing to religious demands," noted the Inquirer report. A post office in Jerusalem employs only men "in response to the concern of rabbis that women might be immodest." At least one Jerusalem supermarket is now refusing entry to women who do not wear a dress. In the past, the major bastion against such religious abuses has been Israel's Supreme Court. While the country's legal community seems to be rallying on behalf of the secular justice system, some warn of the "delegitimatization" of the Supreme Court, and the threat of violence from Orthodox fanatics. In the middle is Netanyahu; while the leader of the right-wing Likud, "Bibi" is considered to be "non-religious," and even drew criticism and wrath from religious leaders during his campaign against Labor incumbent Shimon Peres. Groups like the National Religious Party, the Shas, and United Torah Judaism denounced Netanyahu for having an extra-marital affair. Even so, they saw support for Likud as the best way of achieving power. Whether the tenuous coalition can hold together remains to be seen. *** RELIGIOUS BELIEF ''OUTMODED AND RIDICULOUS,'' SCIENTISTS TOLD In a debate yesterday at the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, chemistry professor Peter Atkins said that it was not possible to believe in the existence of gods and be intellectually honest, if one is a true scientist. He called belief in a deity or deities a "worn out but once useful crutch in mankind's journey toward truth," adding that "We consider the time has come for that crutch to be abandoned." Taking an opposite view was Prof. William Gosling of Bath University, who according to Britain's Electronic Telegraph told his audience that the strength of religion was its "unknowable mystery." "At the heart of all religion there is nothing but the mysterious cause and author of all. More durable than time, more extensive than space, stronger than death, the very source of life itself... God is the last answer to all questions." But Atkins countered, listing some of the standards arguments on behalf of the existence of god. He added that believing that a god is responsible for actions was an "abnegation of the power of human understanding." "It's a vacuous answer...To say that 'God made the world' is simply a more or less sophisticated way of saying that we don't understand how the universe originated. A god, in so far as it is anything, is an admission of ignorance." Atkins also told his audience that "I regard teaching religion as purveying lies. I came here today to de-corrupt you all." *** AND FROM ''GOD'' TO ALIEN ABDUCTIONS... Another manifestation of human irrationality seems to plague Britain. According to data from a survey carried out in Bristol, England, more than one million people in that nation believe they have been abducted by aliens. And more than half of the population insists that they have witnessed "strange phenomenon" immediately after waking up. The survey involved a sample of 200 adults and 120 children. 33% of the children say they had seen a ghost, but that figure dropped to 12% of adults. Nearly one-third of respondents reported having a so-called "out of body" experience where they experienced the sensation of floating above their bodies, or flying through rooms or out of doors. But Dr. Susan Blackmore, a psychologist at the University of the West in England who has written books and articles dealing with the paranormal, says that science can explain much of this. Out-of-body experiences are often associated with what she describes as "sleep paralysis," which takes place during the dream state. One's body becomes temporarily paralyzed, and the person is prevented from "acting out" the dream. According to Blackmore, about 45% of the population experiences such paralysis at least once in the course of a lifetime. She told The London Times that "Normally you know nothing about sleep paralysis. However, occasionally something goes wrong with the mechanism, for example if you are very tired, over-worked, excited or worried." Blackmore links belief in alien abductions to a kind of sleep paralysis, noting "There are certain features that come up again and again. There are strange whining noises. One (subject) described loud screaming and high-pitched laughter and another said she had experienced a roaring noise in her head." According to the Times, Blackmore thinks that much of this is due to electrical behavior in different parts of the brain and sleep paralysis. And what about the sensation that an alien -- or some other mysterious entity -- is in the room? "It is known that sense of presence can be created by stimulating the temporal lobes of the brain... this can give rise to out-of-body experiences and mystical experiences." Today's Aliens -- Yesterday's "Angels" ? Reports of being abducted by mysterious beings, or even having sexual intercourse with them are not new. Many so-called "alien abduction" cases involve florid accounts of being paralyzed, taken on board a mysterious craft, subjected to a bizarre medical examination (including rectal, vaginal or penile probing) and even being involved in sex acts. Tens of thousands of individuals are now "going public" with such stories, and a considerable literary fiction has developed around this theme. These annecdotal accounts have also fueled an entire genre in books, television programs, and questionable "documentaries" which purport to "examine" the subject. But if all of this is not the result of sex-obsessed aliens, many of whom would be paedophiles and rapists were these accounts accurate, is there is another explanation? Dr. Robert Baker, a psychologist at the University of Kentucky, thinks there is; he notes a distinct sexual component in many of these stories, and theorizes that sleep disturbances of some kind are at the root of the problem. Before space aliens were in vogue though -- in part with the rise of pulp fiction magazines, and the science fiction genre in movies and on television -- many people believed in religious demons. Astronomer Carl Sagan, in an article for Parade Magazine (March 7, 1993), observed that religious authorities taught followers that devils would "come down from Heaven and have unlawful sexual congress with women. St. Augustine believed witches were the offspring of these forbidden unions." Pope Innocent VIII denounced such antics in a papal Bull, warning that "It has come to Our ears that members of both sexes do not avoid to have intercourse with evil angels, incubi, and succubi, and that by their sorceries and by their incantations, charms, and conjurations, they suffocate, extinguish and cause to perish the births of women." Sagan also notes the 1645 case of a teenager who recalled "being attacked by little men, carried paralyzed to a castle in the air, seduced and returned home." *** A Note To AANEWS Readers... In yesterday's dispatch, we reported on court cases in New York and Wisconsin which involved the question of prison inmates being forced to participate in religion-based "recovery" programs as a condition for parole or other benefits. We mentioned the group Rational Recovery. Our National Media Coordinator, Ron Barrier, reminds us that there is also yet another rational recovery program known as SOS, Secular Organizations for Sobriety. It is also known as "Save Our Selves," and was begun by Mr. James Christopher. In just the past decade, SOS has expanded into every state and even has international chapters. In 1987, SOS was ruled to be a viable alternative by California courts to the religion-based program Alcoholics Anonymous. Mr. Christopher was a recent guest in a two part installment of the Atheist Viewpoint television show, the new cable-TV program hosted by American Atheists which now appears on nearly 40 cable systems. In a discussion about sobreity with Mr. Barrier, SOS's Christopher stated that Alcoholics Anonymous "was simply replacing one dependency with another, and that the symptoms which produced such dependencies were ignored." Those wishing to get in touch with SOS should contact Mr. Barrier at *** And While You're At It... Help Sponsor THE ATHEIST VIEWPOINT If your cable system features a public access channel and accepts "imported" programming, you could sponsor The Atheist Viewpoint in your community. This is a weekly, 30-minute program available for broadcasting in a range of popular cable formats. For more information, just send mail to: Incidentally, the interview with Mr. James Christopher is included in episodes #77 and #78. ** 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 about American Atheists, send mail to, and include your name and postal address. Or, check out our cool new site on the web at You may forward, post or quote from this dispatch, provided that appropriate credit is given to American Atheists and aanews. For subscribe/unsubscribe information, send mail to and put "info aanews" (minus the quotation marks, please!) in the message body. Edited and written by Conrad F. Goeringer, The LISTMASTER ( Internet Representative for American Atheists is Margie Wait,


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