Date: Tue, 17 Sep 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for September 17, 1996 A M

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Date: Tue, 17 Sep 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for September 17, 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 #160 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 9/17/96 http://www.atheists.org 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 appeal." 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 buildings." 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 orthodox religion. * "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 thing." ** 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 info@atheists.org, 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, aachat@atheists.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. 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" (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, irep@atheists.org.

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