Date: Thu, 31 Oct 1996 17:43:19 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for October 31, 1996 (Nigh

---
Master Index Current Directory Index Go to SkepticTank Go to Human Rights activist Keith Henson Go to Scientology cult

Skeptic Tank!

Date: Thu, 31 Oct 1996 17:43:19 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for October 31, 1996 (Nightowl Edition) 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 nnnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #189 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 10/31/96 http://www.atheists.org e-mail: aanews@atheists.org In This Issue... * More Taliban Crazies: In The Land Of The Blind, The One-Eyed Man... * Praise Jesus It's BINGO! * Coalition Readies Last-Minute Blitz * TheistWatch: Behind The Times, Naked Deities * AACHAT * Our Goal -- 10,000 Readers. You Can Help! * About This List... TALIBAN WITHSTANDING MASSOOD PUSH ON KABUL Mohammed Omar The "Dark Prince" Behind Taliban's Islamic Dictatorship The Taliban militia which has swept up control of most of Afghanistan and established a nightmarish Islamic dictatorship has managed to withstand a major assault against its position in the capital of Kabul -- a sobering reminder of the teancity and resources of the fundamentalist movement. An attack on the Afghan capital by forces loyal to former government military commander Ahmed Shah Massood has now stalled; and yesterday, Taliban planes carried out a series of raids on Massood's Panshir Valley stronghold. The balance of military power may still reside with General Abdul Rashid Dostrum, an Islamic warlord who controls positions to the north of Kabul, and who has formed an ad hoc alliance with Massood. * International aid organizations are reportedly divided over whether they should continue their efforts in Kabul and other Taliban-controlled regions; at issue is the new government's repressive laws prohibiting virtually any work by women, specifically in the medical and relief fields. Yesterday, a representative for the Oxfam relief organization told the London Times that "Our programs will stay suspended until our Afghan women employees are allowed to return to work. There has been too much accomodation, too quickly with the Taliban authorities." Oxfam spokespersons also express shock that other relief groups had acquiesced to Taliban demands. Said one representatives: "Most aid organizations are going soft on the women's issue." * Taliban mullahs show little or no willingness to relax their interpretation of Islamic law and how it applies to women. Indeed, a wave of anti-intellectual rules and regulations are being imposed throughout the occupied areas. Secular schools which were shut down immediately following the Taliban sweep into Kabul have now been reopened as Madrasas, or Koranic schools. * A cult of personality is being fostered by Taliban around the person of the movement's leading clerical figure, Mullah Mohammed Omar, who has been declared "Prince of all Muslims." Britain's Electronic Telegraph notes in today's edition that "The chief inspiration of this one-eyed mullah appears to be to lead Afghanistan down a blind alley into the middle ages." Omar typifies the makeup of the Taliban -- young men of limited education who trained in doctrinaire religious schools and grew up in the midst of the Afghan civil war, first fighting the invading Soviets and later the other Islamic factions jockeying for power. Stories envelop the Taliban leader -- that he was motivated to form the militia because of the rape of three young women at the hands of local thugs, that he lost an eye leading an assault against the Soviets. Earlier this year, as the Taliban began its march toward conquering Afghanistan, a meeting of 1,600 religious scholars and mullahs named Omar as the "Emirulmomenin" or "master" of all muslims. Only two other Islamic leaders have been so honored. ** "PRAISE THE LORD! BINGO!" Our coverage of religious organizations ranging from the National Council of Churches to the Christian Coalition who have banded together to stop legalized gambling in the U.S. evoked a surprising amount of feedback from aanews readers -- more than on any other issue, in fact. We particularly enjoyed this one from Cary Pincus... "It may be an irrelevant point, but the religious right's bashing of legalized gambling is either influenced by or ignorant of this nation's pro-lotto past. Where I grew up, at least, the only legal gambling took place either at the race track or at churches and temples, i.e. Bingo. Repeat after me: Gambling for god is good. When off-track betting and lotto were being debated, one of the issues raised was the loss of gambling income by the religious groups. Thankfully this took place in an environment of declining perceptions of the usefulness of organized religion. And one can easily imagine that when the sheep have emptied their pockets into the coffers of the casino there's paltry left for the collection plate. "Gambling and religion share many features, anyway. In gambling one either suspends belief in the numerical odds or thinks that one has special insight into the future outcome. In religions people have placed their faith in the unproveable, based on the indoctrinating promises of those who claim to know. "People rarely sell their souls to the devil; most are basically good-hearted folk, if ignorant and slow-witted. But it is all too common for people of all types to sell their souls to the beliefs of another human being, in return for the promise of ultimate salvation, nirvana, heaven, high consciousness, or (gag) forgiveness. Most have never had the courage to think for themselves, and scant few leaders have had the courage to call them to this task. "What is it about gambling that bothers them? Is it the money aspect? Is it OK to gamble away one's soul in church, or gamble away one's life rock-climbing, on a race-track or in a coal mine? Or is it that in a world filled with legalized drugs, prostitution and gambling, with pleasurable distractions so readily available and choices for lifestyle so abundant as to boggle the mind, that conventional religious doctrine would be seen as nothing more than a macabre way of thinking? Religion is god's dirty little secret." *** One is tempted to agree with Cary Pincus. Indeed, the perception of humanity embraced by many Christian fundamentalists and evangelicals is based on the notion of "original sin," and the concept that man (thanks to woman) "fell" into imperfection because of Adam's transgressions in the Garden of Eden. This notion that people are fundamentally evil, besotted with sin, and sorely in need of "salvation" appears to be at least some of the motivation for the actions of organized religion. From cranky Christian Reconstructionists to the other varieties of religious authoritarianism, there is a belief that humanity needs to be controlled, punished and regulated, that people "need to protected from themselves," not just each other. * COALITION READIES LAST-MINUTE ''VOTERS GUIDE'' BLITZ ON SUNDAY The Christian Coalition is waiting until Sunday to distribute the bulk of some 45 million to 55-million "voters guides," a move which has been criticized as a last-minute political stunt which does not give opponents sufficient time to respond to claims about their voting record. In an address last week, Coalition Director Ralph Reed said that the eleventh-hour political push will demonstrate that Christians have "crossed the threshold of legitimacy" and become a permanent force on the American electoral stage. Reed added that the guides would be distributed through a network of over 120,000 churches -- some 20,000 more than participated in the last election. Critics of the Coalition, including Americans United for Separation of Church and State, had called upon Reed's group to distribute the "voters guides" earlier and give those candidates who received an unfavorable rating sufficient time to respond. AU has also been sending churches throughout the country a memorandum prepared by attorneys which says that religious groups could be jeopardizing their tax-exempt status by engaging in partisan politics and distributing the Coalition guides. From "Victory" to "Meltdown" Control... In an interview in the current USA TODAY, Reed -- who once backed Bob Dole as the only candidate capable of beating Bill Clinton -- now declares that the Christian Coalition will instead "act as a firewall that will prevent... a poor Republican presidential performance from turning into a meltdown." He told the paper that the Coalition's army of precinct-level volunteers, along with the "voters guides'', would also "play a central role in enabling Republicans to retain control of both houses of Congress and perhaps pick up seats in at least one house of Congress." Reed also predicted "significant gains down the ballot" in state legislative races. Reed's newfound status which has seen him transform from a presidential king maker during last August's GOP convention to the less glamorous role of election-eve spindoctor highlights widespread disenchantment of religious right leaders with the Republicans and, specifically, with Dole. Most agree with Reed, who insists that Dole should have made moral decline and a loss of family values more of a central (campaign) theme. It would have helped him bring the religious base of the party home sooner..." The "voters guides" reflect the narrow focus with culture war issues; they simplify and list candidate's voting records or stans on a handful of issues, either "for" or "against" abortion, school choice, prayer in schools, a "partial-birth" abortion ban and Dole's 15% tax cut proposal. After November... The USA TODAY interview confirmed our own analysis about what the Christian Coalition will be doing once the ballots are counted and a new Congress convenes in January. "We are looking very closely at some of the anti-gambling initiatives that are on ballots around the country," said Reed, mentioning other "family values" issues like the various parental rights proposals being fielded . "If the Republicans retain control of both houses of Congress...we (Christian Coalition) can take a very aggressive posture of trying to advance more of our legislative agenda. You can expect us, for example, once again to offer the partial-birth abortion ban, and the possibility of a religious freedom amendment." ** THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS Religious right pundits are already taking Pope John Paul II to task for his (gasp!) accomodation of evolution. "Tell us what we don't already know, please," was our reaction when the Vatican announced recently that evolution was scientific fact, but that "god" was still needed in order to install a "soul" into each human biological unit. Dr. Richard Dawkins, a foremost scientist and one of Great Britain's most outspoken Atheists and advocates of reason, jokingly congratulated the Vatican for its blinding rapidity in keeping up with the latest findings in science. Better late than never. We predicted that the pope's somewhat grudging acknowledgement of evolution -- an act that was managed and finessed in the form of a letter read to the Pontificial Academy of Sciences which did not once mention Charles Darwin -- might be a divisive issue in Catholic-Protestant fundamentalist relations. On Wednesday, religious columnist Cal Thomas, whose face frequently graces the set of Pat Robertson's "700 Club," took the pope to task, and charged that JP-2 "has succumbed in his declining years to the tyranny of evolutionary scientists who claim we are related to monkeys." Not too far off the mark, though, Thomas notes that "Having succumed to evolutionary theorists, the pope cannot credibly defend other doctrinal issues -- such as the virgin birth, the deity of Jesus, His (sic) bodily resurrection and our salvation -- because the same book that says God created the world and everything in it out of nothing also testifies to these other things." Thomas echoes a battery of standard religious objections to evolution, but then lobs a rhetorical bombshell -- in admitting that evolution was grounded in scientific fact, the pope "has accepted a philosophy that stands at the core of communism." He closes his column of Wednesday, October 30 by quoting Catholic writer and columnist Joseph Sorban, who observed "that he would rather belong to a church that is 5,000 years behind the times and sublimely indifferent to change than to a church that is five minutes behind the times, 'huffing and puffing to catch up'." Sometimes the best arguments DO come from the mouths of the religious. From a purely intellectual point of view, the pope indeed has painted himself into a corner, trying to selectively borrow and choose what happens to conform to the latest findings of science, all the while attempting to salvage other vestiges of superstition. . But we'll be generous as far as that 5,000 year figure goes: shave off a few millennia, just make it a few hundred years behind the times. ** In Israel, the Meretz Party continues its efforts on behalf of reason and separation of government and religious creeds. Recall that it was the Meretz that organized counter-protests when tens of thousands of Orthodox Jews attempted to shut down major traffic arteries like Bar Ilan Street in Jerusalem for the "sabbath." Now, the party is protesting a religious spectacle which uses autistic children in order to persuade people to "return to religion." On Monday, an Orthodox synogogue in Netanya, Israel staged an invitation-only, women-only show which was promised to be a"fascinating spectacle" which would "astound" the credulous audience with "far-reaching findings." According to the Jerusalem Post, the program was to feature Shulamit Gatt, whose ten year old daughter had prompted her to "rediscover religion" by means of "divine signals." The program features a film made in 1995 in which Gatt's autistic child presumably tells fortunes and divines the future. A Meretz member of the Israeli Parliament or Knesset called upon party members to protest the show; joining in was another group which takes care of autistic children, Na'amat and Alut, which charged that the Synogogue spectacle exploited and abused a helpless minor. Meanwhile, the Chairman of the Children's Welfare Council, Dr. Yitzak Kadman, told the Post that he had succeeded in cancelling a number of other similar programs throughout the country. ** It's already Halloween night on the east coast, and with luck your editor will be able to dodge the rapacious kids banging on the downstairs door in search of candy. So, it may be appropriate to note that the New York Center for the Strange has released the result of a survey it conducted of 340 American witches; the soothsayers predict that "Mr. Clinton will soundly defeat challenger Bob Dole on November 5." The election may not be "in the bag" for Clinton and his handlers, but we can probably add this prognostication to the long list of other items already in the "Tell us what we didn't know..." file -- such as the pope's revelation that Mr. Darwin was right all along. But on the witches other predictions, we're not so confident. They say that Sen. Alfonse D'Amato of New York will take "intensive voice and diction lessons," and end up with a resounding stentorian voice like that of James Earl Jones. For that to happen may indeed prompt some interest from skeptics. But one prediction the witches made is proof of either definitive craziness, or a new breakthrough on behalf of the validity of the paranormal. Should this prediction occur, well... The witches predict that the Dodgers will be heading back to Brooklyn! ** Religious groups in South Africa have failed to stop a bill which will liberalize abortion laws in that country; it permits women to have abortion on demand in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and in the first 20 weeks if the mother or fetus is at medical risk. The Roman Catholic Church objected, of course, but so did entrenched Protestant groups and the African Christian Democratic Party, which called the new legislation "worse than anything debated in the apartheid era." Health minister Nkosazana Zuma told legislators that hundreds of predominantly poor, black women died every year because of botched back-street abortions. Said Zuma: "Every woman has the right to exercise her choice but is not allowed to impose it on others." ** In India, a group calling itself the People's Youth Forum has filed a petition with the government demanding that criminal charges be brought against an artist named Maqbool Fida Husain for obscentiy, vulgarity and offending religious belief. Husain is a highly celebrated artist in that country, but the Forum objects to his paintings which depict Hindu female deities as nude and semi-nude women. This IS the nation that produced erotic masterpieces like the Karma Sutra, is it not? And where ancient (and even more contemporary) temples are covered with colorful depictions of erotic ecstasy? What seems to worry the prim and proper folks at the Youth Forum, though, is that Husain is supposedly a Muslim. Guess that only Hindus can draw naked female Hindu deities, right? The rightwing Hindu nationalist Janata Party has jumped into the fray, joining the Forum and demanding that Husain be prosecuted. That may be difficult, though. At 81, Husain is going strong and is one of the nation's most celebrated artists. He began his career nearly half-a-century ago illustrating movie posters and billboards. Since then, he has won numerous artistic honors. ** The Russian Orthodox Church has outdone itself this time in promoting a reactionary, jingoistic and corrupt agenda. Last week, senior clerics proposed during a meeting of the church's Holy Synod in Moscow, that the entire Romanov dynasty be declared saints. Remember the Romanov's? This proposal is all the more amusing because after 80 years, the Tsar and his family -- even dead -- are managing to occupy center stage in Russia's political theater. The call for sainthood is expected to drive a serious wedge in a fragile, marriage-of-convenience alliance between former communists and orthodox nationalists and monarchist who are united in their opposition to any efforts to liberalize the nation. For the Orthodox Church, though, it may be a savvy political move. Canonizing the Romanov's makes good press, especially in the believer "turf war" going on in Russia with Catholics, Protestants and even new age cults. ** INTERESTED IN MEETING OTHER ATHEISTS? If so, you should join American Atheists and participate in our on-line moderated discussion forum, aachat. There's plenty of spirited (!) conversation about subjects such as Atheism, religion, First Amendment rights, AA activities and the problems of being a sane Atheist in a crazy, mixedc-up religious culture. Interested? Participation is open to all American Atheists members -- so just contact the moderator, Margie Wait, at aachat@atheists.org. ** HELP US REACH 10,000 READERS ! When we began aanews slightly over six months ago as the successor to the old TheistWatch dispatches, we announced the goal of having 10,000 readers by the end of the year. We're getting there -- slowly -- but you can help speed up the process! Why not FORWARD a copy of aanews to a friend who might be interested in becoming a regular reader? Some readers even include aanews dispatches on their personal home pages, and link to American Atheists at http://wwwl.atheists.org. Others post segments of our dispatches to news groups. Your help can contribute to the effort in reaching the goal of 10,000 regular aanews readers. It's easy... just pass the word! ** 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 address. Or, check out our 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.

---

E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank