Date: Wed, 16 Oct 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for October 16, 1996 A M E

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Date: Wed, 16 Oct 1996 12:25:24 -0700 from: AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for October 16, 1996 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 #177 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 10/16/96 http://www.atheists.org e-mail: aanews@atheists.org In This Issue... * Do Religionists Have "Special" Rights? * Sleazing Out The Holocaust With Pseudoscience * TheistWatch: "Fetish Slavery" Thriving * AACHAT * About This List... SUPREME COURT WILL RULE ON RELIGIOUS FREEDOM RESTORATION ACT Are "Religious Rights" Distinct From Civil Liberties For Citizens ? The nation's highest court agreed yesterday to deliberate the constitutionality of the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act and whether or not churches are exempt from certain laws and regulations which apply to other groups and private citizens. At issue is a dispute between the City of Boerne, Texas, and regional Roman Catholic Authorities who say that they have the right to demolish a church in the local historic district despite regultions and ordinances prohibiting it from doing so. City officials are invoking historic preservation laws to stop the wrecking ball and a project to replace the present 70-year old structure with a more contemporary building. But church officials are not challenge the constitutionality of zoning ordinances or even historic preservation regulations per se; the Catholic archdiocese maintains that religious groups are exempt from restrictions (which apply to other segments of society including private individuals and business owners) under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. That 1993 law was design to "accomodate" religious belief and exercise; the current edition of USA TODAY notes that "the law tells federal courts how to weigh disputes that arise when governments seek to enforce general laws in ways that impinge on religion." While the RFRA has been considered a major victory for religious groups, and has even attracted the support of some civil liberties organizations, critics and First Amendment activists charge that it creates a category of "special rights" for religious believers, allowing them to engage in conduct banned or forebidden for others. The Act requires that government officials must convince judges that they have a "compelling interest" in enforcing laws which may restrict religious exercise. The impetus for RERA was a 1990 decision which permitted Oregon to enforce drug laws against members of the Native American Church, a sect which uses hallucinogenic peyote in its religious rituals. Texas officials will argue, however, that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act amounts to an unwarranted expansion of federal power. Supreme Court watchers say that deliberations in the case make predicting the outcome highly uncertain. While several court justices have voting records which reflect a desire to curb congressional powers, others stand by supporting "religious liberty." ** DID SCI-FI CHANNEL PROGRAM ''SLEAZE OUT'' HOLOCAUST TRAGEDY ? "Repressed Memories" of "Past Lives" Threaten To Triviialize A Historical Nighmare The controversial pseudo-science program "Sightings" is generally known for highly questionable claims about alleged paranormal events -- flying saucers, ghosts, ESP, aliens, fortune telling and other artifacts of contemporary pop mysticism. But the show may have crossed an important line last weekend when it presented a disturbing segment which featured a Nova Scotia farmer who claimed to have been a Dutch Jew during the Nazi holocaust in a "past life." Airing on the Sci-Fi Channel, the leader for the "Sightings" program told viewers that "A Catholic farmer's dreams tell him he was a Dutch Jew during the holocaust." The segment featured a man named Bruce Whittier, who supposedly began having vivid dreams starting in 1991. Raised in a "devoutly Christian" environment, Whittier claimed that he had "no sense of time,' and was plagued with visions of an older man, a woman and two children who were victims of Nazi oppression. Whittier then underwent so-called "regression therapy" with a "past life hypnotherapist" named George McAdoo; in these sessions, Whittier then supposedly learned, by regression into a "past life" that he had once been a Dutch Jew named Stefan Horowitz. Caught up in the German occupation, he "remembered" being transported to a concentration camps and then executed at gunpoint. "I remember falling into a pit and suffocating; there were bodies on top of me." According to "Sightings," the incident convinces an Hassidic Rabbi named Yonassom Gershom that Whittier/Horowitz is telling the truth. Gershom was identified on the program as a believer in reincarnation. Unfortunately, "Sightings" did not feature any rebuttals to this incredible claim, or raise questions about the validity of so-called "hypnotic regression," a dubious technique which according to practioners allows people to recall events long forgotten, or rooted in "past lives." The technique has become popular especially in UFO enthusiasts' circles, where it is used to "recall" bizarre incidents of alien abduction, sexual mutiliation and other horrors. But many psychologists, including Dr. Robert Baker of the University of Kentucky, have written that hypnotic techniques, including regression, often dredge up a meaningless confabulation of memories which are "filled in" and elaborated by the human imagination. Whittier's story cannot be dismissed out of hand, but viewers are entitled to a more rigorous examination of these claims than was presented by "Sightings." Indeed, despite problems with the efficacy of so-called "past life hypnotic regression," there may be more prosaic problems with the Nova Scotian's accounts. Many Jews and other victims of Nazi oppression were not first transported to camps, then executed by shooting. Death by shooting was often carried out by notorious "Einzatsgruppen" and Gestapo units in the field; those transported to camps were usually gassed, worked to death, or died from malnutrition and disease. Indeed, one purpose of the "final solution" was to find "cheaper" ways of executing large numbers of individuals without even resorting to bullets. "Sightings" report on the SciFi Channel trivializes one of the great tragedies in human history, by dragging the oppression and suffering of millions of people -- including Jews -- down to the level of some pop-pseudoscience spectacle. It equates the tragedy of the holocaust with trendy, unsubstantiated claims about flying saucers and ghosts. Indeed, "Sightings" distorts even the record for the very things it claims to report on. "Sightings" is one of wave of television programs which blend unsubstantiated claims about mysticism, the paranormal and religious phenomena with a veneer of "investigative journalism." On the "Sightings" set, for instance, host Tim White moderates the program; in the background, viewers see people sitting in front of computers, carrying around folders and paper -- a scene reminiscent of the "working newsroom" set which is often used in prime time network news formats. But how reliable is the "Sightings" information? After the segment about Bruce Whittier,for instance, there was a piece about a "mysterious" piece of metal allegedly recovered from a crashed UFO in Roswell, New Mexico nearly half-a-century ago. While "Sightings" did tell viewers that the fragment was tested in order to determine its constituent elements , what it did NOT tell the public was even more revealing. The fragment was delivered to the Roswell International UFO Museum and Research Center by a man named Blake Larson; he insisted that it was retrieved from the 1947 crash site of a flying saucer, an event which has spawned a contemporary mythos about the so-called "Roswell Incident." The fragment was then tested at the Bureau of Miners at New Mexico Tech, and later at the Los Alagmos National Laboratory The results indicated that the "flying saucer" debris was a mixture of copper and silver with trace elements -- not exactly the strongest metal for resisting the rigors of interstellar flight. Worse yet for Roswell Incident buffs was the revelation that the fragment was a piece of debris from the work of an artist named Randy Fullbright, who fashions unique patterns in jewelry using silver and copper. The full story of "The 'Roswell Fragment' -- Case Closed" by Dr. David E. Thomas appears in the current issue of Skeptical Inquirer Magazine. There are media reports of future programs which will present "testimony" of alleged "recovered memory" advocates who insist that they they were either victims or participants in despicable actions during the holocaust. But the linkage of holocaust accounts and pseudoscience threatens to distort and trivialize the record -- and at a time when "historical revisionists" are insisting that the holocaust either did not take place, or was not on the scale reflected by a considerable body of evidence, from documents to first-hand accounts. ** THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS Even missing, Madalyn Murray O'Hair continues to be a foil for the self-righteous blathering of religious proselytizers. Last weekend, for instance, a column carried by Scripps-Howard News Service and authored by David Yount noted that "In denying god, absent atheist O'Hair brought religion to America's attention." Young is an "author and educator," with a new book out called "Breaking Through God's Silence." Yount makes several inaccurate claims, including one that "Official atheism lost its best friend when Communism was discredited in the breakup of the Soviet Union." And he praises the missing Atheist activist, saying "Thank you, Madalyn Murray O'Hair, wherever you are, for forcing the majority of us who believe in religion to acknowledge the miracles around us." It seems that Madalyn -- here or elsewhere -- is either a curse to religion, or the churches best friend. Such is the plasticity (some might say sloppy thinking) of the religious mind. Which is it, Dave? And what are those "miracles" all around us? It didn't take Madalyn O'Hair to bring "religion to America's attention." Billy Graham, Billy Sunday, the Pope, government officials and a swarm of religious proselytizers had been doing a fairly acceptable job of that for some time. What O'Hair DID do, however, is speak up for Atheist civil liberties and state-church separation. You won't find those terms in Yount's smug column -- guess they don't qualify as a "miracle," eh Dave? ** In Ireland, people are reacting with "fear and apprehension" to plans by a Hindu cult to set up a religious center on 37 acres of land which would include a conference center, restaurant, and dormatories for up to 50 bug-eyed followers and staff. The Ananda Marga sect describes the new community as a "center for children," but that isn't quelling the local's suspcion about the group. According to the London Times, the religious cult was linked in the 1970's with murder, terrorism and self-immolation; and a spokesman for the Cult Information Center described the Marga as "a very dangerous group." Ananda Marga translates as "path to bliss." It was founded in 1955 by a former railway clerk who was later accused of murder, a chap named Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar. Known to followers as Shrii Shrii Anadamurti ("One Upon Seeing Him Falls Into Bliss"), he was jailed, but never convicted, of plotting the deaths of followers who had fallen from grace. Cult members burnt themselves to death and even hijacked a plan to protest the incident. Local citizens are worried about the sect's capacity for violence, but in a country torn by sectarian strife, the "path to bliss" should fit in just fine. ** In addition to plasticity of religious doctrine to fit the cirumstances of the monent when it is convenient to do so (remember how the Mormon's suddenly got a "new revelation from God" about Polygamy?) , religious groups are often in the vanguard when it comes to adopting new technology in hopes of keeping followers. Billy Graham and Bishop Sheen took the airwaves in the 1950's and inspired future generations of sleazoid televangelists who used that marvel of science to bilk the gullible out of their paychecks and retirement funds. In the 70's, hipster churchmen began trying everything from rock 'n roll during services to touchy-feely "encounter" sessions. In the 80's, it was slick television productions, and now -- karaoke? Well, almost. It seems that "digital hymns" are now replacing the more expensive, staid and untrustworthy instituions of the church chorus and organist, and in both Britain and America, clergy are snapping up the DH100 Digital Hymnal, a machine that comes complete with a repetoirer of 3,000 songs and hymns featuring sounds from 128 musical instruments. The selection includes appropriate music for baptisms, marriages and funerals, which means that the congregation is tonally covered whether they're coming or going. And it all works with the ease of a handy touch-button remote control keypad. We've already heard of a computer "confessional" program that allows sinners to list their transgressions and receive the appropriate penalty. In years past, such wizardry would surely have been branded as the "work of the devil," but high tech foolery is quickly finding its way into churches everywhere. What could be next? A morphed Jesus? 3-D depictions of Genesis (call Bill Moyers!)? It reminds this observer of that scene from the "Wizard Of Oz," when Dorothy and her friends finally make their way into the Emerald City, and encountered the all-powerful Wizard... "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!" ** Let's see... Christianity, Islam and other religious cults for generations were a convenient rationale for the institution of slavery and other inhumane outrages. Indeed, the Old Testament is chock full 'o stories where Jehovah informs followers that it's OK to punish, destroy, torture and enslave their enemies -- and there's always that little addendum of "keep the women for yourselves." Today, the slave mentality lives on throughout Africa and the Middle East, often co-existing alongside Christianity and Islam. But according to a report issued recently by Australia's Anti-Slavery Society, tens of thousands of young virginal girls are now enthralled in the service of "fetish priests" and tribal magic practioners who "treat them like serfs and often rape them" (London Times). The report, "The Forgotten Girl-Slaves of West Africa," notes that "the girls are offered as slaves in order to appease the gods and to atone for wrongs committed by their relatives, usually male relations." The victims , known as "trokosi", are essentially sex slaves who frequently have children with their "fetish priests", thus providing a continual supply of new virgins and lifetime slaves. Children are often sold or handed over to the priests by their parents following a family catastrophe; they are expected to remain enthralled up to the age of 15, although there are more and more accounts of lifetime enslavement. The problem is attracting some official attention in Ghana, where the practice of fetish enslavement is widespread and where tribal animist and magical religions are often incorporated with Christian or Islamic superstition. One difficulty in stopping slavery, according to the London Times, is that spiritualism and other mystical beliefs "permeate the highest levels of most West African societies." Meanwhile, the official Muslim regime in the Sudan refuses to confront the slavery issue at all, and permits its own Islamic supporters to enslave dissidents and members of minority religions, including Christians. ** It's worse than even we originally reported. The October 10 AANEWS discussed the scandal involving former Bioshop Roderick Wright of Britain who has been removed from his post because of involvement with a divorcee named Kathy Macphee. More power to both of them; religious superstition should never get in the way of romantic fervor, but Wright should be denouncing the very clerical and religious strictures that held him back from enjoying a complete life. We did err, however, in reporting that the assignation of Ms. Macphee and the bishop produced a son; it didn't. As our British correspondent, Ian Geldard points out, the son was the result of an affair with "another woman." ** ISN'T IT TIME YOU STARTED GABBING ON LINE? Over 100 of you apparently took advantage of last month's offer to sign up for American Atheists membership. And in addition to saying "welcome," we also want to suggest that you "get talking" by signing up for our moderated on-line discussion forum, AACHAT. Pariticpants discuss a variety of issues including Atheism, religion, state-church separation, problems of being an Atheist in a religion-besotted culture and lots more. And you won't encounter the spamming which you find on alt. atheism! AACHAT is open to members of American Atheists. To sign up, contact the moderator, Margie Wait, via e-mail at aachat@atheists.org. ** 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 more information about American Atheists, send mail to info@atheists.org and include your name and postal mailing address; or, check out our 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" (minus the quotation marks, please) 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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