Date: Wed, 16 Oct 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for October 16, 1996 A M E
Date: Wed, 16 Oct 1996 12:25:24 -0700
Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for October 16, 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
#177 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 10/16/96
In This Issue...
* Do Religionists Have "Special" Rights?
* Sleazing Out The Holocaust With Pseudoscience
* TheistWatch: "Fetish Slavery" Thriving
* About This List...
SUPREME COURT WILL RULE ON RELIGIOUS FREEDOM RESTORATION ACT
Are "Religious Rights" Distinct From Civil Liberties For
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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"
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 email@example.com.
About This List...
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