Date: Tue, 17 Sep 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for September 17, 1996 A M
Date: Tue, 17 Sep 1996 12:25:24 -0700
Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for September 17, 1996
Reply-To: firstname.lastname@example.org, AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net
A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S
nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn
#160 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 9/17/96
In This Issue...
* More Bad News For Churches
* Update: No Action Yet On Prayer Amendment
* TheistWatch: Miss America On "Mission From God"?
* Such A Deal! Our Great Membership Offer!
* About This List...
AMERICANS LEAVING CHURCHES IN RECORD NUMBERS
Despite high-profile political activism by religious groups across the
political spectrum, the American people continue to abandon denominations in
record numbers, according to yet another survey.
A study by Barna Research Group of California shows that church attendence
has been slipping steadilly for five years, and now sunk to its lowest level
in two decades. 37% of adults 18 or over who were polled said that they
attended church; the reported figure in 1991 stood at 49%. The Barna study
noted "Increasingly, we are seeing Christian churches lose entire segments of
the population; men, singles, empty nesters...and people who were raised in
mainline Protestant churches."
But the news gets worse for religious leaders, at least according to
university researcher Penny Long Marler, who told Newhouse News Service that
"actual church attendance is only about half of that indicated by telephone
polls." That would place the real number of churchgoers closer to only
about 19% of the population.
The Barna research also suggests that, in Marler's words, "Clearly
something has been fishy about the (church attendance) polling." The biggest
culprit may be the Gallup organization, which for years has released polls
showing that church attendance was remaining steady. But Greg Carrison of
Newhouse writes: "With the increasing population, a steady 43% church
attendance should have resulted in a massive influx of people for the
nation's churches." Marler notes glibly "That's clearly not been the case."
Another Barna investigator, Dave Kinnaman, suggested that the 1991 peak
figure involved several factors, including the Gulf War, worries about the
economy and even the disintegration of the Soviet Union.
"These types of issues formed a climate conducive to church attendance,"
Kinnaman said. He also cited the popularity of "mega-churches" which boast
huge denominations and provide a "seeker sensitive" environment complete with
day-care, bowling leagues, personal counselling and other consumer services.
Kinnaman added that "even that model may have lost some of its novelty
Researchers agree that there has been a substantial erosion of support for
traditional, institutional religions.
What's going on?
One indication may be found in the fact that for decades, religious
denominations have inflated their membership figures. In her book "Freedom
Under Siege," Madalyn O'Hair chronicled the history of how church membership
in the United States was measured. She added that in 1974, when her book was
first published, "there are more than 77 million Americans who are not church
members and who have never gone to any church, anywhere, at any time.
Religious leaders call these people 'the unchurched.' In total, there are
about 112.3 million Americans who currently do not attend church at all."
Surveys attempting to gauge church attendence have proven to be
notoriously unreliable at times. O'Hair notes the first attempt in 1906 by
the Bureau of the Census, saying that the agency "...began to encounter
problems. There was a lack of accurate and complete lists, since churches
that had become dead of dormant were still carried on the rolls..."
Many churches, including the Roman Catholic religion, base membership
figures on questionable statistics such as baptismal records. While the
Vatican now claims over 60 million believers in the United States, other
trends -- declining enrollment for the priesthood, closings of entire
parishes for lack of funds and members -- suggest this number may be
exaggerated . O'Hair noted that "Churches continue to list among their
memberships more people than could possibly be accommodated in the church
While traditional, organized religion seems to be faced with an eroding
support base, that does not mean that the culture is awash in secularism and
the acceptance of Reason. So-called "new religions", including cultish
spiritual groups, are reportedly enjoying a comeback on university campuses.
The Christian Science Monitor recently noted that "The move toward religion
on college campuses is broad-based and includes everything from Judaism to
New Age to Buddhism..." Observers note that this trend emphasizes
"spirituality" rather than institutionalized religious belief and ritual.
There are also considerable social, economic and cultural factors which can
still stimulate religious interest and participation. They include:
* The creation of a "religious marketplace" where "spiritually hungry"
consumers pick-and-choose belief systems less on doctrinal authority than on
a sense of "what right for them."
* A growth in religioun based partially on ethnic or political identity.
The Monitor pointed to Cornell University which "offered its first major in
religious studies three years ago and has seen a growing number of ethnic
religious groups set up on campus." Islam is perhaps the obvious
manifestation in this trend, appealing to growing numbers of blacks.
Mainstream Christian black religious leaders see themselves in a growing,
problematic relationship with often more militant Muslim groups, including
Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam.
* Interest in pseudoscience and crank "spirituality" or "eastern
religions" may be a surrogate for more traditional religious belief.
Considerable numbers of Americans believe in the existence of devils, angels
and UFO's; often, those beliefs reflect a hodge-podge of new age tenets and
* "Basically this generation is Biblically illiterate," one campus
minister told The Monitor.
* A quest for "spirituality" has become intertwined with other cultural
developments, including personal searches for identity, self-actualization
and fulfillment. Twelve step, "recovery" and self-help movements have become
increasingly religious or "spiritual."
Late Breaking News...
PRAYER AMENDMENT NOT ON JUDICIARY COMMITTEE SCHEDULE
AANEWS has just learned that any possible floor vote or other legislative
action on the Religious Freedom Amendment is NOT slated for tomorrow. That
Amendment would permit so-called "student led" or "student initiated" prayer
in public schools and also legitimize a wide range of religious activity now
currently prohibited by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The
Amendment -- a centerpiece in the agenda of the Christian Coalition and other
allied groups -- would effectively "gut" the Establishment Clause and rulings
such as Lemon v. Kurtman.
First Amendment activists have been puzzled ever since it was learned last
week that the Amendment -- once "fast tracked" in order to force a floor vote
before the November election -- was suddenly being shelved until the next
congressional session. Several pieces of legislation, among them the Defense
of Marriage Act and a Defense Department authorization bill rider which would
ban "pornography" from being sold at U.S. military bases, were being hastilly
brought to the floor so that incumbent Senators and Representatives would go
"on record." These votes are expected to be included in the 50 million-plus
"voters guides" slated for distribution in late October by the Christian
Coalition, through its network of 60,000 to 100,000 "participating" churches.
When it was learned last week that the Amendment had been suddenly
shelved, there were indications that new pressure would be put on House
Speaker Newt Gingrich to again re-activate the legislation. Gingrich met
with Coalition Director Ralph Reed over the weekend, and addressed the
group's annual "Road To Victory" Conference in Washington, D.C. There is
still no indication one way or another on the fate of the Religious Freedom
Amendment, however. We'll keep you posted as we learn more.
THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS
A recent study about the habits of American hotel users suggested (to us,
anyway) that religious belief does not necessarily correlate with ethical
behavior such as not stealing. According to the London Times, about 16% of
the bibles placed in hotels by groups like the Gideons organization, end up
being stolen after one year. That would be a clear violation of the Eight
Commandment, which admonishes people ''Thou shall not steal."
The Gideons have an ingeious explanation for this, however, insisting that
"the reason so many vanished may be because readers became engrossed in
them." In addition, 23% of hotel guests told a Fodor's Travel Publications
survey that the read the bible during their stay. Theft of bibles lags
considerably behind the pilfering of other items, though, like hotel soap and
bottled lotions (31%).
Sometimes the best way to teach someone a lesson is simply allow them to
have what they want. Take Pat Robertson and his Christian Coalition. The
group spent millions to guarantee that Republicans selected a "pro-life"
slate of candidates in 1996, and even splurged $750,000 on a Star Wars-style
"command center" to keep anti-abortion delegates in line. On Saturday,
televangelist Robertson told the Coalition's Victory Conference that it going
to "take a miracle from Almighty God" for Dole to win in November.
Indeed. Mr. Clinton still hangs on to a hefty 21% lead, and while pundits
say that some of this is "soft" support that could evaporate in the next
several weeks, it is going to take a miracle of sorts for the Senator from
Kansas to be a comeback-kid.
A Dole debacle in November may be what's needed for some Republican
leaders to boot guys like Robertson and Ralph Reed out of the GOP big tent,
or at least begin to minimize their role as morals-police within the party
ranks. And what if Republicans lose control of Congress? That could happen;
the Coalition is already worried about the loss of certain key positions,
including control over the House Judiciary Committee. Seeing the likes of
Rep. Barney Frank in charge of this powerful congressional machine would be a
nightmare for Robertson -- or at least a topic for conversation during
episodes of The 700 Club!
Is the new Miss America an "agent of God"? Tara Dawn Holland of Kansas
reportedly believes that she is, and has openly described her quest for the
coveted beauty queen title as a "calling" from the lord.
"Every one of us has a purpose in life," the 23 year-old winner told media
yesterday. "I believe my purpose was to be Miss America."
CNN reports that Holland is convinced that God intended this for her "even
before she was born."
Holland's achievements including the writing and publishing of a took
titled "A New Job for the New You," which is "75 pages long, written in small
words and large print," according to the Atlantic City Press. "It tells
people how they can get minimum-wage jobs."
She is also one of former President George Bush's 1,000 Points of Light
(#723), and intends to vote for Bob Dole in November. Miss America does have
a mind of her own, though, and says that she does not support the GOP
nominee's position on school vouchers. "I want to see money go to public
schools, not private," says Holland.
Everyone from ad execs to stock market gurus and even the Southern Baptist
Convention are waiting expectantly to see if the Disney company is going to
let "Ellen" come out of the closet. It seems that producers of the hit
sitcom are pushing for their Ellen Morgan character, played by Ellen
DeGeneres to reveal that she is a lesbian. That would be a first for a
network series, and it could spell added troubles for the giant Disney
entertainment conglomerate which happens to own ABC, and produces the show.
Disney is already under attack by the Southern Baptist Convention,
Seventh-day Adventists and other religious groups, for its policy of
extending health benefits to companions of gay employees.
While we can cheer a Disney decision to stand up to religious prudery, we
still must remember that Mickey Mouse is still mostly about making money.
Disney is also a purveyor of pseudo-science trash, including a revamped
attraction at its Tomorrowland exhibit at Disneyworld, Florida called "The
ExtraTERRORestrial Alien En-counter." This $100,000,000 project tries to
convince us that UFO,s, alien abduction and even the inevitable government
cover-up are genuine. And a film titled "Alien Encounters from Tomorrow
Land" has reportedly resulted in what the Orlando Sentinel terms a "frenzy of
delight" from UFO buffs.
The film was made by freelance producer Andy Thomas, who according to the
Sentinel is a "UFO believer." The narrator is actor Robert Urich, who has
certainly fallen from grace in his former role as Spenser For Hire.
"This is not swamp gas. It is not a flock of birds. This is an actual
spacecraft piloted by alien intelligence -- one sighting from tens of
thousands made over the last 50 years on virtually every continent on the
globe," says Urich.
Equally questionable is the contention that "Intelligent life from distant
galaxies is now attempting to make open contact with the human race..."
Disney executives like Michael Eisner may or may not believe in such
pop-culture detritus, and the Sentinel notes that "A huge financial incentive
exists for Disney to get as much marketing mileage as possible" from this
latest attraction." It seems to us, though, that while the Magic Kingdom was
just fantasy for kids, it is now being sold to credulous adults as "the real
In Washington, a 4-month old baby girl has been hospitalized after nearly
drowning in a baptism rite at a local church. The infant allegedly suffered
brain damage after repeated dunking in a tub during a mass held at the Imani
Temple, a religious group founded by former Roman Catholic priest George
Stallings (Stallings now refers to himself as "Archbishop").
Stallings told the Washington Post that his church recommended against the
baptism, since the child had been born three months premarturely. But "The
mother insisted that her daughter be fully baptized by immersion," so an
associate pastor performed the ceremony. The Post reports that "the infant
suffered brain damage...and her outlook for survival is uncertain."
What happened with all of those prayer for Mother Teresa? The nun, who
has attracted media stardom for her religious works in the slums of Calcutta,
India, was recently in the hospital for infection and possible heart
problems; she promptly became the object of round-the-clock interfaith prayer
vigils (mincluding chants from Hindu holy men, Buddhist priests and an
assortment of other spiritual hucksters) and public statements of concern
from media and political heavyweights. And she made it out of the hospital
-- proof for followers that "God hears our prayers..."
Or does He? Yesterday, Mother Teresa (called by many secularists as an
"embarrassment to India") was back in the hospital after falling out of her
bed. Doctors won't say when she is to be released, but presumably that will
be after more prayers to that effect are answered.
A Re-Offer We Hope You Can't Refuse...
Until September 30, aanews readers can qualify for a special 50%-off
discount for joining American Atheists. Our regular annual membership fee
has been reduced to $25 for individuals, or $37.50 for families. As a
member, you receive the American Atheist Newsletter, American Atheist
Magazine, membership alerts, catalogues, special mailings and other benefits.
You still have time to take advantage of this offer. For membership
information, just send e-mail to email@example.com, and include your name and
mailing address. You will soon receive an information packet and membership
application. When you send it in with your payment, be sure to note that you
are an AANEWS subscriber, and be sure to provide your e-mail address.
As a member, you're also able to participate in our moderated discussion
forum, aachat. For information, contact Margie Wait, firstname.lastname@example.org.
This offer ends on October 1, so we urge you to act promptly.
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.
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