Date: Tue, 22 Oct 1996 16:02:10 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for October 22, 1996 A M E

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Date: Tue, 22 Oct 1996 16:02:10 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for October 22, 1996 Reply-To:, A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #182 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu10/22/96 (Nightowl Edition) e-mail: In This Issue... * Creation Myths Threaten Archeological Digs * Church Group Wins Right To Use City Senior Center * Phoney "Haunted Houses" ~ X-ian Trick, But No Treat * Coalition Files Suit Against Democrats * About This List... RELIGIOUS CREATIONISM, PSEUDOSCIENCE THREATEN ARCHEOLOGY DIGS "A Strong, Anti-intellectual" Undercurrent It is no longer just a small band of nutty fundamentalist who are worried about scientific inquiries into the origins of life and human society. For decades, especially in the United States, Christian literalists who believe in the infallability and literal truth of biblical stories of how the universe and life came into existence, have been fighting a determined , rear-guard action against the growing body of evidence mustered by evolutionary biologists, anthropologists and other scientists. While so-called "scientific creationism" has not been accepted by the bulk of the scientific community, it has managed to captivate the interest of certain religious leaders -- and a shockingly high percentage of the American population -- who reject the thesis that life as we know it today arose from less complex biological forms through a process of evolution. In school board elections and political contests, creationists have demanded that schools teach evolution as "just another theory," include creationist materials in the science curriculum, or do away with any hint of evolution altogether. But there is growing evidence that "scientific creationism," a view designed to support the fundamentalist religious view based on a literal interpretation of biblical texts such as Genesis, reflects a wider revolt against scientific method and intellectual inquiry going on throughout global society. Ethnic and tribal jingoism now threaten archeological investigations; increasingly, certain groups see scientific excavation of burial sites as a threat to religious or mystical beliefs, and a "desecration." * In Israel, leaders of religious fundamentalist political parties now control important ministerial posts and are pressuring the government to shut down nearly 300 archeological digs. United Torah Judaism, Shas and the National Religious Party want Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to begin by prohibiting all excavation of Jewish gravesites, and want authority for any future digging permits to be placed in the hands of the Chief Rabbi. In addition, fundamentalists want an "assigned" religious inspector from the Haredi, or ultra-Orthodox community to be assigned to every dig. Orthodox religiou leaders also talk about overhauling the nation's Antiquity Law. One proposal would mandate that any bones discovered by scientists be turned over to the Ministry of Religious Affairs for immediate burial. The Director of Hebrew University's respected Archaeological Institute has described the new proposals as "absurd," and warns the implementing such regulations would "put an end to any serious anthropological study" in the country. But Israel is not the only place where religious and ethnic nationalism are beginning to interfere with scientific inquiry into human origins... * Today's New York Times contains an informative piece by George Johnson appropriately titled "Efforts of Archeologists Are Stymied by Indian Creation Myths." Throughout the United States, ethnologists, archeologists and other scientists are encountering demands from native American groups to not excavate graves and other ancient sites, and begin "repatriating" artifacts, often before they have been thoroughly analyzed. A "repatriation officer" for one tribal group insisted that "We never asked science to make a determination as to our origins...we know where we came from...I have yet to come across five Lakotas who believe in science and in evolution." Johnson observes that "In case after case, Indian creationism is being used to forbid the study of prehistoric skeletons so old that it would be impossible to establish a direct tribal affiliation." He notes that under the repatriation act enacted by Congress in 1990, "who gets the bones is often determined not by scientific inquiry but by negotiation between local tribes and the federal gencies that administer the land where the remains are found." The article notes that "American Indian creationism, which rejects the theory of evolution and other scientific explanations of human origins in favor of the Indian's own religious beliefs, has been steadily gaining in political momentum." Dr. Clement Meighan of the University of California observed that present-day archeology was threatened by a "strong anti-intellectual undercurrent." * Postmodernism -- the notion that no objective standards exist for veryifying reality and ascertaining facts, and the belief that "truth" is simiply a series of equally valid "stories" -- rationalizes some of the recent incursions against the scientific enterprise, not only in the field of anthropology and archeology, but other areas of endeavor as well. For the postmodernists, science is simply "another faith-driven belief system,' one shaped by cultural biases and assumptions. Roger Anyon, a British archeologist, told the Times that "Science is one of many ways of knowing the world," and that the creation stories of the Zuni Indian tribe for which he worked were "just as valid as the archeological viewpoint of what prehistory is about." A native American archeologist lamented that his people considered archeology "a necessary evil." * Historical revisionism -- the re-writing of history in order to conform to a select political, religious or ethnic agenda -- continues to plague academic institutions and popular culture. Along with outright pseudoscientific fabrications such as Erich Von Daniken's "Chariots of the Gods," there are now active interest groups promoting holocaust revisionism and various flavors of "Afrocentirism." For holocaust revisionism, salient facts about the World War II era including the Nazi extermination of millions of Jews and other victims, are questioned often in hopes of "re-evaluating" the activities of the Third Reich. "Afrocentrists" insist that Greek civilization appropriated the "stolen legacy" of great civilizations from the African continent, that Socrates and other scholars were black, and that the Egyptian civilization was a distinct black culture as well. * A story late last month in the New York Times discussed the finding of a half-buried skeleton in Washington State, and demands by tribal leaders that the bones be reinterred. Radiocarbon dating shows that the remains are approximately 9,300 years old; the find could be an important link in trying to understand migration patterns, including movements of people who ventured into North America over the land bridge some 12,000 years ago which now is submerged beneath the Bering Sea. Scientists want to more about this latest discovery; but elders of a local tribal group insist that the remains belong to them. One informed the New York Times that "We know when time began and how Indian people were created. They can say whatever they want, the scientists. They are being disrespectful." Findings in Paleo-American archeology are increasingly at odds with traditional native American Indian beliefs, including the creation mythology that their ancestors have always lived on the continent. But part of the resentment stems from years of abuse when bones and other artifacts were routinely looted by museums, scientists and collectors from burial sites without permission of the residents. The issue of ancestral remains quickly becomes linked to other issues as well, from economic exploitation to government policies on land use. Both sides may end up losing if creation mythology steamrolls into a powerful political tool used by ethnic groups. Whether it is Jewish or Native American burial sites, or promoting ethnic pseudoscience and bogus historical revisionism, closing off the treasures of the past to open and rigorous scientific inquiry may prove an obstacle to someday knowing more about our common ancestral heritage. ** COURT RULES CHURCH GROUP CAN USE CITY-OWNED BUILDING The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a church group in New Mexico may use a city-owned senior center in order to show a film about Jesus Christ and distribute large-print bibles. The city of Albuquerque had denied a request in 1994 from the evangelical Church of the Rock for use of one of six government operated senior centers in the community; officials cited laws which provide funding for such centers but require that they not be used for sectarian religious activities. The church then sued; in subsequent legal actions, a federal judge ruled for Albuquerque officials, but an appeals court said that the policy constituted a violation of free speech. The Justices yesterday upheld the appeals court decision without comment or dissent. ** CHRISTIAN GROUPS EXPLOITING HALLOWEEN HAUNTS? With Halloween little more than a week away, we are already receiving reports about bogus "haunted houses" and "fright" events being disingenuously staged by Christian groups anxious to recruit youngsters. There has been a growing popularity of "haunted houses" at this time of year which charge admission and treat visitors to dark rooms, pop-up effects , ghoulish displays and other exhibits which used to be the stock-in-trade at carnival and amusement park "fun houses." Professional and non-profit groups have gotten into the act using the "haunted houses" as a fund raiser; but Halloween-- a holiday attacked increasingly by religious fundamentalists, and claimed by pagan or "wiccan" movements -- is becoming both more of a time for merriment and trick or treat, and a point of contention in the culture wars... * Increasingly, Christian fundamentalist parents object to any reference to the holiday in schools, selectively complaining that since Halloween is a "pagan" festival, it should be banned. More extreme groups encourage their members to complain to school authorities; others warn followers that time of year represents a ceremonial period for witches and satanists who ostensibly engage in animal or human sacrifice. * Wiccans and pagan groups have become increasingly vocal in claiming this time of year as their own, although they discount the more lurid claims made by Christian fundamentalists. If indeed Halloween becomes more and more a "religious" event, activities in public schools and other government venues must reflect a First Amendment neutrality. * Halloween is no longer "just for kids." Like other event markers on the cultural landscape, from Superbowl to New Years, Halloween has become "institutionalized" but nevertheless plays a different role for different groups. Along with dire warnings that the growing popularity of Halloween is a "trick" to undermine traditional values and perhaps even promote an anti-christ agenda, Christian groups are cashing-in on the enthusiasm by operating their own "haunted houses" and events with a distinctly fundamentalist slant. While they are often not as glitzy or imaginative as their secular counterparts, especially those run by professional exhibitors, they use some of the seasonal trappings to warn youth about the supposed pitfalls of sinful living, indulgence in greed, sex, drugs, alcohol and not living a righteous life-style. Often, the churches and organizations running these christianized "haunted houses" are part of the "prayer warrior" and "shepherding" movements affiliated with evangelical sects. One bogus "fright house" which has provoked public disapproval is sponsored by the Community Church in Leesburg, Virginia. According to the Washington Post, the house "depicts the murder of a gang member, teenage suicide, drunken-driving deaths and the crucifixion of Jesus." Community members are angry because the scenes don't involve the usual Halloween-style fantasy, but instead try to depict realistic events and convey a religious message. A church member said "We didn't want to have a Dracula, zombies or goblins, because they aren't real." Instead, there's a veiled takeoff of the suicide of rocker Kurt Cobain; one exhibit in the "Fright Night" house shows a young man lying on a blood-soaked bed with a gun at his side. "In another," observes the Post, "a police siren wails near a car that has crahsed into a church bus, and beer bottles litter the scene." The pitch routine at the Community Church "haunted house" mimics that used throughout the country; the "freight" tour is followed by a session where believers ask visitors "if they are prepared for death and try to foster a discussion of god." Today's Post article quoted Elaine Williamson, a member of "Mainstream Loudoun," a community group "that monitors issues involving separation of church and state." She insisted that "The public should know more about the realistic, violent scenes and the way everyone ends up in a prayer." Other people apparently found some of the exhibits offensive; one woman, for instance, disapproved of a scene where a witch holds a baby doll upside down and asks "Who will be my next victim." There have been reports that some bogus "haunted houses" have even delt with themes like sex and abortion. Promotions do not always mention that a religious group or church is responsible for the event; that fact drew fire from critics of the Community Church in Leesburg, who said that visitors should have been warned about the realistic imagery and the religious message being conveyed. ** CHRISTIAN COALITION FILES COMPLAINT AGAINST DEMOS WITH FEC Speaking before the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. early this afternoon, Christian Coalition Director Ralph Reed told the audience that the group is filing a complaint with the Federal Election Commission calling for a full probe into the recent fundraiser held at a Buddhist Temple in Los Angeles by the Democratic National Committee. Yesterday, the DNC announced that it was returning some of the monies handed in as cash during an event at the Hsi Lai Temple which raised over $140,000 and featured Vice President Al Gore. According to sources, the Democratic National Committee has now handed back nearly $300,000 to contributors amidst reports of undue foreign influence in the election process and improper donations from a tax-exempt religious group. Reed's suit is believed to be an effort to focus public attention away from the Christian Coalition "voters guides," which many charge violate the group's IRS status since they are partisan political endorsements. Today, Reed told 200 guests at the Press Club: "The DNC has complained about our nonpartisan voter guides while turning a Buddhist temple of worship into a den of thieves. We condemn as unethical and irresponsible the actions of a party and an administration that have polluted a sanctuary of sacred vows with the corruption of special interest." Reed blasted the Clinton Administration which, he said "claims to support the separation of church and state...but the vice president attended a fund-raiser at a Buddhist temple at which monks who had taken a vow of poverty were cynically manipulated as pawns to funnel $140,000 in illegal campaign contributions to the Democratic National Committee. The Temple fundraiser was organized by Democrat operative John Huang, who thus far has not mentioned questions from the news media. In at least one incident, money from an unidentified contributor was channeled through a leader of the Buddhist group's branch in Richardson, Texas. According to the Los Angeles Times, she received $5,000 in small bills and asked to convert it into a personal check made out to the DNC. In a related development, the Coalition has organized a letter-writing campaign directed at the Federal Election Commission which is suing the CC for violating its tax-exempt status by engaging in partisan politics. Last week, the Washington Post noted that the effort had generated "the largest amount of mail the FEC has received concerning one case in its 21-year history." The Coalition reportedly described the response as "phenomenal," and spokesman Mike Russell declared that the mail "clearly shows that this lawsuit has struck a nerve with religious and social conservatives, and they feel their First Amendment freedoms are in peril." According to the Post, "an unprecedent 600 pieces of mail in protest of the lawsuit that the agency (FEC) filed" have poured into Washington. ** 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 and include your name and postal mailing address. 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