Date: Fri, 13 Sep 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for September 13, 1996 A M

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Date: Fri, 13 Sep 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for September 13, 1996 from: AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net Reply-To: aanews@listserv.atheists.org, AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #157 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 9/13/96 http://www.atheists.org In This Issue... * Is He The "$6,000,000 Guru"? More Questions, Protests Over Sri Chinmoy * About This List... CAMPAIGN TO REMOVE RELIGIOUS PLAQUE SHIFTS TO INTERIOR DEPT' New Charges, Questions Over Sri Chinmoy's Weightlifting Claims ... The effort to have National Park Service officials remove a dedicated religious plaque from the Statue of Liberty shifted ground yesterday, as American Atheists took its case to the Secretary of the Interior, Bruce Babbit. Mr. Babbitt heads the Department of the Interior, the federal agency which oversees the National Park Service. Despite a torrent of faxes and letters, neither the Field Director for the NPS nor the site Superintendent at the Statue of Liberty has deigned to respond to Atheist and separationist concerns about a "peace plaque" erected at the famous American monument by followers of Hindu religious cultist Sri Chinmoy. As reported in earlier AANEWS dispatches, Chinmoy's followers approached Diana H. Dayson, the site Superintendent, with a proposal to erect a so-called "Peace Blossom" ornament; Ms. Dayson was shown an laudatory video about Chinmoy which made a number of claims, and purported to show the guru lifting several thousand pounds of weight with one arm. In a subsequent article in the New York Times, Dayson noted that while she was somewhat skeptical about that alleged feat, she nevertheless gave permission for the plaque to be erected citing the "universal" nature of peace. On August 27, the National Park Service conducted a dedication ceremony which attracted followers of the Hindu avatar, and even presented a birthday cake for Chinmoy in the outline of the Statue of Liberty. American Atheists quickly noted that the real purpose of the "peace plaque" was to gain publicity and legitimacy for Chinmoy and his religious cult. AA President Ellen Johnson noted that at the dedication, followers (and presumably National Park Officials) deliberately avoided references to Sri Chinmoy as a religious leader, guru or holy man, instead referring to the Hindu cultist as a "student of peace." The Times quoted a Chinmoy representative who said that this was to "avoid unpleasant implications." But Ms. Johnson noted in subsequent press statement that "among the 'unpleasant implications' is the clear fact that this is a religious group, Sri Chinmoy is a religious leader, and that this plaque constitutes a clear violation of state-church separation." Yesterday, American Atheists voiced its concerns over this matter, and went another rung up the bureaucratic ladder, sending a fax to Bruce Babbitt, Secretary of the Interior. Ellen Johnson urged concerned non-believers and First Amendment separationists to follow the example, and fax Babbit their opinion on the Sri Chinmoy scandal. New Questions, Implications Of Fraud Meanwhile, there are new concerns about one of the more outrageous claims made concerning Sri Chinmoy -- that he lifted several thousands of pounds of weights. Brie Waters, Vice President of the Atheist Students Association at the University of Maryland, expressed skepticism about that claim. Waters was once involved in the Chinmoy group, but despite leaving has already "lost" a family member to the cult. Earlier this week, she called Chinmoy a "fraud," and denounced the "peace plaque" as a violation of state-church separation. "I've seen pictures of Chinmoy lifting what appears to be over 7000 lbs. How, the weights extend about 4-5 feet out on each side; that would bend the bar down at the ends. But the bar is actually resting on two loops suspended from the ceiling, so all Chinmoy does is reach up to the bar and life it about two inches from the loops for about half-a-second." Waters also noted that the guru "is also notorious for lifting famous people on a scaffolding contraption which woirks about the same way as the bar." The Atheist activist noted that she had seen Chinmoy allegedly life former boxing champ Sugar Ray Leonard. "He had a whole theme for these 'lifts', and even had his disciples sing a song called 'Lifting Up the World With a Oneness-Heart" while he (Chinmoy) attempted each lift. " There are growing questions, however, about the veracity of these strong-man claims. Sri Chinmoy's followers circulate photographs of this remarkable lift, and claim that a number of internationall known powerlifters and bodybuilders have either "endorsed" the feat or "inspected" the photographs. But in at least one internet newsgroup thread discussing Chinmoy's alleged accomplishment, it was admitted that "Even though they were not present, the photos were convincing enough for them." "Photographs won't do it," noted one skeptical observer. "Even having 'seen' it does not support this extraordinary claim; just ask any magician how easy it would be to fool and audience, especially what I assume was an already credulous audience." Currently, at least one newsgroup participant who is in touch with AANEWS is now investigating to see the internationally known powerlifters and bodybuilders quoted by Chinmoy's followers as having "inspected" this event (albeit only through photographs), are even aware that their names are being used. They include Frank Zane (three time Mr. Olmpia) and Bill Pearl (five time Mr. Universe). A Dubious Recognition ? One claim being presented by those who insist that Sri Chinmoy has lifted weights several times those of existing, comparable world records, is that the lifts have received "certificates" from "official" sources, included a group calling itself the American Powerlifting Federation. That organization purportedly issued a "certificate" for a Chinmoy lift of an astonishing 3081 lbs. It states: AMERICAN POWERLIFTING FEDERATION This is to certify that Sri Chinmoy is a WORLD RECORD HOLDER Lift: One Arm Support Weight: 3081.75 lbs. Weight Class: 165 lbs. Category: Feats of Strength (This "certificate" is signed the by the CHAIRMAN) But according to a critic of these claims, it is significant that the American Powerlifting Federation (APF) is NOT the well-known United States Powerlifting Federation. APF is "associated" with a Health Studio in Illinois, owned by the same individual whose signature appears on the "certificate" on behalf of Sri Chinmoy's record. If Sri Chinmoy has indeed performed these remarkable physical displays, one would assume that his followers would find a better mechanism for convincing skeptics of the veracity of these claims. This should include: * A refereed event with reputable judges from the powerlifting and bodybuilding community, who could inspect the weights first-hand. These individuals should work with an equally reputable third-party (as is done in contests and other games of chance) to ensure that any possible allegations of fraud would be baseless. * The event should be witnessed by these observers, and recorded on film by independent videographers. * Any support mechanisms, including straps or other devices to support the weights should be examined closely so as to eliminate the possibility of fraud. * The results, favorable or otherwise, should be certified ONLY by a reputable, recognized organization including the Guinness Book of World Records, or an athletic agency of impeccable reputation. The judges and agencies concerned should have no official ties or connections with the contestant(s). Limits 0f Analogy Often, it is precisely the lack of such controls that gives rise to controversy like that now surrounding the claims of Sri Chinmoy and his group. New athletic records are established constantly, but because there are sensible and stringent controls in effect, their veracity is usually not questioned. When there are concerns, a mechanism is already in place to investigate and, hopefully, resolve any complains. But unfortunately, this is not the case with Sri Chinmoy. His group apparently has not taken the time and effort to have Sri Chinmoy's alleged feats of athletic prowess performed in a credible venue -- but they insist that others, including powerlifting professionals, "believe" or "accept" them, usually on the basis of problematic evidence like photographs. There is the equally disturbing fact that Chinmoy's followers, at least in the newsgroups and statements being tracked by AANEWS, display many of the characteristics of those who make highly questionable yet unsubstantiated psuedo-science, mystical or religious claims. These include: * Begging the issue... One Chinmoy partisan responded to questions about the veracity of claims by the American Powerlifting Federation by writing: "I invite Dan (or anyone else) to provide some substance for the claim of non-authenticity of this certificate...) With such reasoning, I could invent a fraudulent "space agency" to "certify" that I have visited distant planets. The issue of whether or not I had really done so is then subsumed in arguments over "what is an 'authentic certificate'." The real question concerns why Chinmoy and his group did not ask an established, reputable organization to oversee this alleged feat of athletic excellence. * Attacks on critics... Practioners of pseudoscience often attack critics for "persecuting" them. Hyperbole often accompanies descriptions of the alleged feat or achievement, and critics are portrayed in an equally unflattering light. Said one Chinmoy booster: "There is no question as to whether or not it is really a world record; it is a galaxy record. Sometimes people feel threatened by Sri Chinmoy's achievements because these achievements make them feel insignificant and inferior. Otherwise, they would recognise this to be the greatest lift in history." * Inappropriate and Dubious Analogies... Pseudoscience advocates, especially those declaring that they have discovered "miracle" medical cures, often dismiss criticism by comparing themselves to historical figures whose theories challenged and replaced widely accepted views. The power of analogy can be seductive: one is asked to remember that "everyone once believed the earth was the center of the universe," or note that "Nobody believed Galileo." Presumable, these facts are then "transferred" on behalf of the person making any new, unpopular claim. But arguments against helio-centrism, a flat-earth and other misconceptions prevailed not on the basis of "belief", or the enthusiasm of their proponents, but because they were testable, verified claims. If Sri Chinmoy is indeed lifting such incredible weights, it behooves him and his followers to eliminate any taint of suspicion concerning this wonderful feat. They should enthusiastically welcome objective, third-party observers and referees who could establish a controlled environment and document these new athletic records. "Sri Chinmoy's weighlifting feats are like Roger Bannister's running," noted one Chinmoy partisan. "Everyone said that the 4-minute mile could not be accomplished. While Bannister was in medical school, all the experts and doctors said it was physically impossible, so many people never attempted to do a 4-minute mile." There are several problems with this statement which suggest that Chinmoy's followers often do not check their facts. In truth, the prospect of "breaking the 4-minute mile" motivated a number of Athletes like Peter Snell, John Landy and Roget Bannister; and while some "experts" suggested that it was a feat which could not be broken, others disagreed. The comparison with Bannister's record is either misguided or disingenuous. Unlike Sri Chinmoy, there is good evidence to show that Bannister did establish a record; the "4-minute barrier) was broken by Mr. Bannister during a track meet in Oxford, England on May 6, 1954 before numerous observers, including reputable judges and impartial athletic officials who clocked his run at 3 min, 59.4 seconds. Two months later, Australian John Landy shaved that timing to 3 min., 58 seconds. Coincidentally, Bannister retired from track competition in December of 1954, and practiced medicine. He, at least, was one doctor who did not consider a sub-4-minute mile to be a "physically impossible" goal. Credibility, Motive, And Credulous Officials... While it is possible that Sri Chinmoy does indeed perform these astounding feats of physical strength, the burden of proof -- like the thousands of pounds of alleged weight -- rest on his shoulders, and those of his followers. In terms of establishing new records acknowledged by imparitial judges and observers, though, Chinmoy has failed the test. The need to impress followers with miraculous and/or astounding acts likewise raises questions about the motives of Sri Chinmoy and his group. One enthusiast in a newsgroup gushed that "Sri Chinmoy did not do this for the sake of records, he did it to inspire people." We might ask: For what? Although the Superintendent of the Statue of Liberty reportedly saw a video depicting Sri Chinmoy performing at least one of his alleged, incredible feats of strength, she expressed some skepticism -- but nevertheless was not compelled to examine the group sufficiently to discover its religious nature. That fact, along with the decision of the National Park Service to engage in other inappropriate behaviors, raises serious questions concerning guidelines and procedures used by that agency in screening public requests. This includes: * The decision to "re-dedicate" the Statue of Liberty to a cause or theme enunciated by a religious group or cult leader, or cult charlatan. While "peace" is an admirable goal, in this context it served as a simply propaganda stunt and advertisement for Chinmoy and his followers. * The decision to issue press releases and hold a dedication ceremony for the plaque on August 27, 1996. Clearly, this constitutes additional "entanglement with religion," with the National Park Service orchestrating and promoting an event for Chinmoy's organization. * The decision to possibly collaborate with followers of Chinmoy in disingenuously referring to the Hindu avatar as just a "student of peace," rather than some other term. According to the New York Times, this was deliberate done in order "to avoid unpleasant implications." In its press releases about this matter, however, American Atheists President Ellen Johnson, and the group's National Media Coordinator, Ron Barrier, charged that those "unpleasant implications" involved the delicate and very real problem of state-church separation. The question of whether or not National Park Officials deliberate engaged in a campaign of deception on the issue of Sri Chinmoy's religious goals, or the religious nature of the group, need to be addressed promptly. Finally, there is the equally disturbing question of public gullibility. While we can applaud Ms. Dayson for being suspicious about Chinmoy's weighlifting abilities, should that not have been a "red flag" prompting her, and her Service, to look more critically at the organization making the request for a display or plaque on public property? And shouldn't Ms. Dayson and the National Park Service have been suspicion when an apparently deliberate effort was made to refer to Chinmoy only as a "student of peace," and not some other title? If the New York Times was warned about "unpleasant implications," was Ms. Dayson? AANEWS will continue to follow this story as it develops. In the meantime, those wishing to express their concerns over possible First Amendment state-church violations in this matter may wish to contact the following officials by fax: Marie Rust, Field Director, National Park Service fax: 215-597-0815 Diana Dayson, Superintendent, Statue of Liberty fax: 212-363-8347 Bruce Babbitt, Secretary of the Interior fax: 202-208-6956 (Those wishing to talk to Mr. Babbitt's office should call: 202-208-7351 *** 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 info@atheists.org, and include your name and mailing address. Or, check out our cool new site on the web at http://www.atheists.org. You may forward, post or quote from this dispatch, provided that appropriate credit is given to aanews and American Atheists. For subscribe/unsubscribe information, send mail to: aanews-request@listserv.atheists.org, and put "info aanews" in the message body. Edited and written by Conrad F. Goeringer, The LISTMASTER (cg@atheists.org). Internet Representative for American Atheists is Margie Wait (irep@atheists.org).

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