Date: Fri, 1 Nov 1996 14:51:46 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for November 1, 1996 A M E

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

Skeptic Tank!

Date: Fri, 1 Nov 1996 14:51:46 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for November 1, 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 #190 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 11/1/96 http://www.atheists.org e-mail: aanews@atheists.org In This Issue... * Rushdie Snubbed By Danish Gov. * Hollywood Execs Courting Religious Leaders * TheistWatch: Wasting Away For Sainthood & More * About This List... SALMAN RUSHDIE BARRED BY DANISH GOVERNMENT Author Was To Receive European Union Literature Prize... Writer Salman Rushdie, whose controversial 1989 novel "The Satanic Verses" brought him a sentence of death from Ayatollah Khomeni, has been refused entry into Denmark where he was to receive a major literary prize. The Danish government informed Rushdie of its decision in what the London Times today describes as a "curt, anonymous note." Minister of Justice Bjorn Westh last night confirmed the ban, and cited alleged security problems, including the fact that Danish police were "over stretched" due to a recent and unexpected wave of violence involving motorcycle clubs. (There has been escalating violence in Denmark between native biker gangs and a chapter being organized by the American-based Hell's Angels.) The decision is a letdown for Rushdie and his many supporters who have called upon Iran's clerical government to rescind the "fatwa" or death sentence imposed by Khomeni seven years ago. Khomeni's action came following critical acclaim for Rushdie's novel "The Satanic Verses." Iranian mullahs denounced the work as blasphemous, and objected to portions which ostensibly depicted the wives of Mohammed as prostitutes. Rushdie's work had already been favorably received throughout much of the Arab world and the Indian subcontinent; following the "fatwa," however, militant muslims began organizing demonstrations and riots. In the United States and much of Western Europe, a debate ensued between civil libertarians who defended Rushdie, and Islamists and other religious groups who insisted that the novel should be banned because it "insulted belief." Rushdie was forced into hiding, but has increasingly made suprise, last-minute public appearances. He was featured on the Jay Leno Show, and attended a surprise book signing in London. Since publication of "The Satanic Verses," Rushdie has also become increasingly critical of religion and identified himself as an Atheist. He continues to write; his novel "The Moor's Last Sigh" won critical acclaim, and he has been named winner of the Aristeion Prize for European Literature. Last night, Rushdie criticized the cowardice of the Dannish government, adding that the decision to not permit him entry into the country was made a fortnight before he was to accept the new award. "It was rather mysterious," noted Rushdie, "a typed text with no letter-heading. They had not even shown the courtesy of signing it." The Ministry statement expressed the hope that "there will be arranged another suitable kind of presentation"; but Rushdie told The Times, "To hell with that! If I'm being treated in this way, I will refuse the award. I'm not receiving it in the backroom of a pub." Rushdie's Case Today Salman Rushdie is still under a sentence of death from the Iranian government, although there have been mixed-signals from Tehran over who exactly is supposed to murder the novelist. In February, Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati told reporters that the government would not lift the "fatwa," but on the other hand "won't do anything to enforce the policy, either (CNN)." The European Union has called upon Iran to suspend the death penalty as a necessary condition toward normalizing relations. The Rushdie Defense Committee USA remains active, and includes such notable organizations as the American Booksellers Association, American Library Association, Feminists for Free Expression, Lawyers Committee for Human Rights and the National Coalition Against Censorship. Religious groups across the political spectrum, though, continue to exhibit an attitude of either snotty condemnation of Rushdie's work, or a chilling silence on the entire issue. The newfangled "ecumenism" of certain Protestant groups and the Roman Catholic Church seems to be a "big tent" for religious belief, but lacks room for those who might dare criticize religion. Muslim groups generally remain either supportive of the "fatwa," or prefer not to defend Rushdie. The clamor by religious organizations that the U.S. Government take a more active role in defending "human rights" for religious dissidents does not address the Rushdie case at all; indeed, Christian fundamentalist groups active in trying to proselytize within the so-called "10-40 window" (a reference to the geographical zone which happens to encompass much of the Islamic world) criticize Muslim governments in Sudan, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, but only in the context of those state's oppression of religious dissidents. No non-religious need apply for civil liberties, or support. ** HOLLYWOOD PRODUCERS CALL IN RALPH REED FOR CC ''SEAL OF APPROVAL'' "Spirituality'' May Signal New Courtship Between Churches, Tinseltown Before he announced that Jack Kemp was to be his VP running mate, Senator Bob Dole sat down with Christian Coalition Director Ralph Reed to get the group's approval for his decision. That's power. And now, a powerful Hollywood studio bankrolled by major producers who have been on the "outs' with the religious right, have called in Reed to "consult" on a movie titled "The Prince of Egypt," an animated work dealing with the story of Moses. That's power as well. This move underscores a dramatic change which some say is taking place in parts of Hollywood as studios shift to making movies which emphasize conventional religious or "spiritual" themes. Contrary to what many Christian fundamentalist and evangelical "culture warriors" have maintained, Hollywood never really "hated" religion. Studios have always ground out a cornucopia of offerings of varying quality with religious motifs. Titles easily come to mind... "It's A Wonderful Life," "Angels In The Outfield," "Oh God!," "The Bells of Saint Mary's," and others. Some were sappy, others attempted to cash-in on humorous and contemporary themes. A few were cinematic classics (even for those of us who disagreed with the content); Charlton Heston's role in DeMille's "Ten Commandments" was an epic performance. The trend continues: USA TODAY notes in its weekend edition that Hollywood is now again "immersed in a spiritual rebirth," grinding out features that "spin themes of faith and hope." Reporter Ann Oldenburg adds that "new films are reaching more blatantly than ever into religious imagery to harvest heavenly heroes." Look for movies trying to catch the latest pop-culture wave of angel interest; TV features "Touched By An Angel," a 90's adaptation of Michael Landon's old role in "Heaven Can Wait" as a chummy guaridan from above, and reportedly some Hollywood heavyweights like John Travolta and even Denzel Washington will be playing angel roles as well. Travolta's character reportedly likes to drink beer. The bombshell in today's story about Hollywood's latest fling with religious themes, though, is buried on page 2; Daniels reveals that Christian Coalition Director Ralph Reed is "very encouraged" by the new wave of spirituality and "has been called to Dream-Works SKG, the powerhouse studio run by Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen, to consult on its first big movie." Heady stuff, especially for Ralph Reed. Spielberg and Geffen have both been at the business end of the fundamentalist disciplinary paddle, of course, and are identified with Hollywood's major Democratic Party coterie. Even so, it may be the bottom line which drives these tinseltown moguls to call in Mr. Read for his imprimatur on their new film. And Daniels adds that "In some subtle advance marketing, studio executive are already consulting with religious thinkers and leaders to make sure the finished product doesn't offend." USA TODAY reveals that "Ted Baehr, chairman of the Christian Film and Television Commission, regularly meets with studio heads to talk about the messages in movies, and has met with Dream-Works, too." Disney Studios is also apparently trying to rehabilitate its tarnished image with some religious groups who see the giant entertainment conglomerate as a purveyor of homosexual, new age or anti-Christian themes. Disney has dragged out the 1947 film "The Bishop's Wife" which featured Cary Grant, and cast Courtney Grant in the role of an angel who comes to Earth to assist a preacher. Hollywood's overtures to certain religious right figures probably won't do much to blunt the inevitable boycotts or calls for censorship when the studios roll out less sanguine, more controversial works like "The Last Temptation of Christ." And hard-nosed studio execs don't necessarily embrace the products they sell; the bottom line remains a constant quest for box office revenue, especially with the ever-upward climb of production costs and actor's salaries. Horror, sex and gratuitous violence will remain the staple offering of many Hollywood vendors; but as mirror to our pop cultural superficialities and spur-of-the moment cravings and tastes, the big screen never lies. For now, everything from angels to the old testament is back in style -- even if means letting Ralph Reed into the cutting room. ** THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS Add this to your "strange bedfellows" file. We've been telling readers about the peculiar alliance of liberal and conservative religious groups around common "culture war" themes, everything from legalized gambling to tobacco and liquor advertising. And we have noted that part of the Christian Coalition's post-election strategy will be an effort to capitalize on building anti-gambling sentiment throughout the country, and striking up some ad-hoc coalitions with its more liberal brethren in the National Council of Churches. Like we've said, scratch just about any religionist deep enough, and you'll find someone who believes that ultimately folks need to be protected from themselves, and their own wicked, "original sin"-infested souls. So, don't flinch when you read it directly from CC Director Ralph Reed. He told USA TODAY that "Our main allies in the struggle against legalized gambling, interestingly enough, are not conservative Republicans but liberal Democrats because gambling is, first a regressive tax that falls hardest on those least able to pay." And ever the pessimist and hyperbole, Reed adds that gambling is "causing families to break up, it's causing families to go into deep debt, and it causes suicides, divorces and family breakup." ** Eyes right and left for another post-election outburst of religious righteousness and government control. Since we're talking odds, our money says that the Coalition and other religious groups will jump even deeper into the fray over booze and beer advertisements on television. Many black churches have organized boycotts and even campaigns of vandalism against billboards which promote liquor and cigarettes, especially when it believed that products are "ethnically targetted." White liberals often love to join the fight as well. Over the past several years, inner city black churches painted over billboards promoting malt liquor such as "PowerMaster," but nobody said anything about the broadsides which featured some white, eminence grise sipping a Chevas Regal. Ah, the old double standard! Anyway, expect a flap over TV liquor advertising especially now that the Seagram Company is trying to exercise its constitutional right to advertise products. We anticipate that the two Reeds -- that Ralph Reed of the Christian Coalition and Reed Hundt of the FCC -- will both hop on their respective bully pulpits and tell the general public how it ought to live. Hundt suggests that kids might see liquor ads and, presumably, rush right down to the corner store for a bottle of hooch. Of course young people are involved in all sorts of behaviors which AREN'T advertised on the tube. But as with gambling, expect to see a "linkage" of "family values" issues which will be debated in churches and legislatures next year. ** Speaking of "family values" -- or is it "One Nation Under God"? -- well, hardly a day passes when we don't see some new outrage being committed by those "people of faith" who have taken over Afghanistan, the Taliban religious militia. Here's the latest skinny on what's happening... * In a see-saw battle, a Taliban offensive stalled yesterday as heavy fighting erupted along a front north of the capital of Kabul. Forces of the former government military commander, General Massood linked up with those of Uzbek warlord Abduhl Dostrum, and launched attacks on Taliban positions along roads leading into the city. BBC reports that Taliban will probably be launching a counter-offensive today. * In the "conquered territories," Taliban continues its relentless assault on human rights. Britain's Electronic Telegraph carries a story in today's edition of two "adulterers" paraded before a crowd of onlookers, tied and placed in a pit filled to their waists with debris, and literally stoned to death. "I threw a stone, and I would do it again," one Taliban goon announced. "I was happy to see Islamic rule enforced. I do not feel sorry for them." Apparently, the Taliban religious police are hunting down those involved in midnight assignations with the same zeal they seek rebels and dissidents. Most remarkable was this paragraph from the story: " 'This type of intercourse (adultery) is not good in Islam. I would throw the stone at one of my own family,' said Mohammed Kharim, a dull-faced 24-year old in the uniform black turban and baggy clothes. 'Our Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him, said if his daughter stole money he would cut off her hand'." * No sooner had Taliban seized power than they began issuing a flurry of religious edicts based upon the most reactionary and idiotic portions of the Koran. One was a mandate that all men must begin growing beard. "Anyone caught clean-shaven (is) locked in a bare, unlit freight container for up to 10 days, until their beard grows," notes the Telegraph. And what about thieves? Those convicted of that crime are made to squat, blindfolded, while a surgeon administers a local anaesthetic. The hand is then amputated below the wrist bone." ** Despite a geopolitical offensive across the world, the Vatican it appears is running out of priests. The problem seems most acute in Europe, where church attendance in just about religious denomination is considerably lower than in the U.S., Latin America and elsewhere. It's so bad, in fact, that the Pope is calling a major congress to deal with the problem early next year. Last week, church authorities released a document which admits that there are 13 percent fewer Roman Catholic priests than in 1978. The Netherlands experienced a 34% drop in clerical ranks, followed by Belgium (down 31%), France (27%), Britain (21%) and even the home turf, Italy, where the number of priests declined by 11%. And get this -- ever wonder how the church keeps track of how many people it counts as followers? Along with notoriously unreliable tools such as census records or direct surveys, one method has been to use the number of baptisms; by that criteria, any number of Atheists would still be counted as practicing, church-going Roman Catholics had they been baptised into the religion as children. But thanks to this latest report, we learn that the church has used another numerical method, namelyl counting the numbers of candidates for the priesthood. This would suggest a remarkable decline not only in the number of priests, but in the size of the "flock" as well. ** Is one criteria for achieving sainthood that of having a serious behavioral disorder? Last month, a convention of Italian medical specialists in the disorder of anorexia heard revealing presentations which suggested just that fact. Indeed, St. Catherine of Siena and many other female saints of the Middle Ages period suffered from anorexia and other psychological problems. Psychiatrists and other mental health professionals now suspect that anorexia is one of the revelatory signs accounting for the "saint's" fatal attraction to mysticism, and the neurotic venting of repressed emotions. Catherine died at age 33. When she was just 15, she began to refuse food "in order to correct the vice of gluttony," and because god supposedly willed it. Dr. Mario Reda of the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of Siena, though, told the medical assembly that what Catherine was actually doing was rejecting her overbearing mother, and the outside world. The Electronic Telegraph reports that "She (Catherine) gave herself to God and gave up food, thus refusing contact with the world, while also compensating for failing to find her own identity, and for the deaths in the family..." The medical conference, held in Rome, gives us additional evidence that mystical states (wherein one believes he or she is in communion with "god," "nature," or having a "transcendental" experience) are ultimately based upon physiological processes in the body and the brain. For some, the path to spirituality is found in consuming mind-altering substances; apparently for certain saints of the medieval period, the road to god was one of fatal starvation. ** 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 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