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A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #198 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu11/13/96 http://www.atheists.org e-mail: aanews@atheists.org ftp.atheists.org/pub/ In This Issue... * British Atheist Takes On "The X-FILES." The Truth IS Out There! * GOP "Big Tent" Ready To Collapse? * Bishops Plan ~ You Pay DAWKINS ATTACKS PSEUDO-SCIENCE IN NATIONWIDE ADDRESS Dr. Richard Dawkins, Oxford University zoologist and Atheist, attacked what he termed an "epidemic of paranormal propaganda" on British television last night, during the 21st annual Richard Dimbleby memorial lecture. He decried the growing cultural trend of obsession with mysticism and paranomal phenomenon as "an appetite for wonder," but cautioned viewers: "By all means let's be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brains drop out." "Who would go back to astrology when they've sampled the real thing -- astronomy?", mused Dawkins. Noting the burgeoning public fixation with astrology and television programs like "The X-Files," Dawkins sigled out a recent half-hour prime time program which focused on the bizarre claims of a man claiming to be a faith healer reincarnated from 2,000 years ago. "Some might call this entertaining," noted the British scientists, "comedy even, though others would find it objectionable entertainment, like a fairground freak show." Darwkins also criticized astrologers who "are playing on -- misusing, abusing -- our sense of wonder. Real astronomy is the rightful proprietor of the stars and their wonder. Astrology gets in the way, even subverts and debauches the wonder." The popular "X-Files" program was also singled out by Professor Dawkins. This award-winning program carried in America on the Fox Networks, depicts two FBI agents on the trail of bizarre, "unexplained" phenomenon who also battle a shadowy government cabal linked to aliens and UFO abductions. "X-Files" producer Chris Carter also has launched "Millennium," an even darker program dealing with serial killers, cults and turn-of-the-century madness which is combatted by a semi-secret "Millennium Group." Dawkins noted that programs like "The X-Files" present a mystery and "offer rational and paranormal theories as rival explanations," according to today's Electronic Telegraph. "And, week after week, the rational explanation loses," said Dawkins. "Imagine a crime series in which, every week, there is a white suspect and a black suspect. And every week, lo and behold, the black one turns out to have done it. Unpardonable, of course. And my point is that you could not defend it." ** RELIGIOUS GROUPS PREPARED TO ''LOCK UP'' GOP CHAIR? At this year's Republican National Convention in San Diego, there were indications that some party leaders were becoming disenchanted or wary of the influence of groups on the religious right, especially Ralph Reed's Christian Coalition and Gary Bauer's Family Research Council. Mainstream Republicans -- N.J. Governor Christine Whitman, Senator Arlen Specter, even General Colin Powell -- were enunciating positions on abortion rights and other issues which clashed with the rigid doctrines of their fellow party members within the GOP's religious fundamentalist and evangelical contingent. And even Republican Chairman Haley Barbour was catching flak for advocating his "big tent" policy of inclusion under the GOP banner. The party's religious faction got just about everything in wanted in August, securing the presidential nomination for Senator Robert Dole and insuring that the platform reflected support for a Human Life Amendment banning abortion, and other key elements in the Christian Coalition's "Contract With the American Family." In November, though, religious conservatives were scrambling to blame Dole's lackluster performance at the polls on a failure to capitalize on so-called "culture war" issues -- that despite the fact that most voters remained focused on bread-and-butter problems like the economy, job stability, and budget reform. The back-peddling prompted analysts to speculate that the religious right's social agenda may be in the back seat when the 105th Congress convenes in January. Republicans and Democrats are talking "bi-partisan cooperation" and "balanced budget," even if Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott threatens to sharpen the knives and conduct probes into the Clinton White House. But any chance of moderating the Republican leadership -- or taking back the party from a coterie of religious right politicos -- may be in jeoparty now that the leadership of the Republican National Committee is up for grabs. Barbour has announced that he will not be seeking a third two-year term, and waiting in the wings is anti-abortion and religious "family values'' maven Betsy DeVos. De Vos faces what some insist is only token opposition from several other party stalwarts, inlcuding former energy secretary John Herrington and long time political operatives like Daivd Norcross and Florida party chairman Tom Slade. But De Vos -- described as "young, rich and pro-life" by the Washington Times, is not only hard-wired to the party's religious right wing, but could be promoted as a way of supposedly closing the "gender gap" which went a long way toward sinking Senator Doll at the polls last week. De Vos is married to Richard De Vos, founder and president of Amway (a heavy Republican and religious right corporate benefactor), and according to the Times, "has close ties to Ralph Reed, executive director of the Chgristian Coalition, and James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family." Both have deep corporate pockets -- she operates her own company -- and the couple own the Orlando Magic basketball team along with eight other family members. "Soft Money," Hard Politics Amway and De Vos represent the so-called "soft money" connection to the Republican Party, whereby wealthy corporate interests channel funding to candidates via gifts and subsidies to the party organization. Both the GOP and the Democrats revelled in an orgy of soft-monkey bankrolling in the last election (one figure puts the total at well over $200 million); Amway, for instance, picked up the $2.5 million tab to have the August GOP convention televised on Pat Robertson's Family Channel network; and De Vos and his giant direct-marketing firm have been heavy contributors to religious right causes for over two decades. Betsy De Vos is best known within party ranks as a aggressive Michigan chairwoman for the GOP, and a staunch supporter of the Human Life Amendment and the so-called "parental rights" movement. She has served as co-chair for "Of The People," the group that spearheaded the unsuccessful "parental rights" Amendment in Colorado, and is working to enact a "Parental Rights Amendment" in each state. (Currently, about two dozen states have proposals in the legislative hopper; and at the federal level, Of The People and various religious groups are boosting the "Parental Rights and Responsibilities Act." Critics see the legislation as a ruse designed to stop the teaching of sex education, evolution and other topics in schools.) Council for National Policy The De Voses also participate in the semi-secret Council for National Policy, a who's-who of the religious and political right. Meetings and working documents of the Council are closed to public inspection, and the group has in its ranks religious luminaries like Congressman Mark Souder (R-Ind.), a biblical literalists who insists that his religious views craft his positions on public policy, and Christian Reconstructions including movement patriarch R.J. Rushdoony and US Taxpayers Party candidate Howard Phillips. Former CNP presidents have included Pat Robertson, Rev. Tim LaHaye (wife Beverly heads Concerned Women for America, an anti-feminist, anti-abortion, school prayer group) and Richard De Vos. From "Big Tent" to Closed Shop Should Betsy DeVos become Chair of the Republican National Committee, expect a major shift away from the inclusive, "big tent" philosophy somewhat lamely promoted by Haley Barbour, and an even bigger split within party ranks between moderates and the far-right religious fundamentalists. De Vos could also be in a position to pressure Republican congressional leaders, including Speaker Gingrich and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, to more actively promote the "social agenda" issues favored by the Christian Coalition. This would include renewed attempts to pass some version of the Religious Equality Amendment and legalize prayer and religious expression in public schools, an over-ride of Mr. Clinton's veto of the "Partial Birth Abortion Ban," additional tax breaks and incentives for religious education (including vouchers) and other aid to church schools, another effort at passing a Communications Decency Act, and tough new restrictions on the Christian Coalition's latest cause celebre, legal gambling. De Vos could also be expected to reach out even further to Ralph Reed, Gary Bauer and other religious compatriots; indeed, with Betsy running the show at Republican National headquarters, Mr. Reed's assertion that "Christians have finally arrived" on the political landscape may still not apply to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but it might certainly be true in terms of whatever remains of the grand old party. ** ''HYPOCRITES BEHIND THE COLLAR'' ~ BISHOPS PLAN FOR THE ECONOMY A "Pastoral Letter" Shows Duplicity By Catholic Officials On Issues Like Welfare, Poverty And Tax Exemptions Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger admitted that despite his skill as a foreign policy statesman manifesting the talents of a Richelieu and a Machiavelli, such prowess in global affairs didn't help much when it came to fulfilling another lifelong ambition -- that of being a sports broadcaster. So, one has to wonder and how and why the National Conferenceof Catholic Bishops -- a conclave of mostly older, male eminence griseses of the Church -- qualify as experts when it comes to the lofty matters of economic and social reform. The Bishops are best known for scolding the President of the United States over issues like abortion rights, or uttering not-so-veiled threats of censorship concerning everything from movies to musical lyrics, or quarrelling amongst themselves over the doctrinal hand-me-downs issued by the Pope in distant Rome. The fact that the Bishops are all men of advanced years (and presumably celebate) has been much grist in the feminist mill, and more vehement defenders of abortion rights question the propriety of having this aged, males-only fraternity dictate the politics of female anatomy. The National Conference of Catholic Bishops has now segued into the arcane area of economic and social reform, yesterday scolding the Clinton administration for neglecting the poor, and issuing a "non-ideological" 10-point Catholic "framework for economic life." The "pastoral letter" comes nearly ten years to the day when the Conference presented the world with its controversial "Economic Justice for All" document which assailed what Bishops termed a "concentration of privilege" and the "social and moral scandal" of poverty in the United States. Yesterday's statement was summarized by Bishop John Ricard, who told the 275 members of the Conference assembled in Washington that both foreign and domestic policy did not meet with the approval of the Church officials. "Increasingly, our foreign policy lacks any hint of the preferential option for the poor and the promotion of human dignity," Ricard declared. "Compassion is going out of fashion as an element of our foreign aid concerns. It seems to us to have lost its vision for and commitment to making the world a better place for all of God's children." Conference members also lamented cuts in government food aid; Ricard said that Catholic Relief Services will end up serving 2 million fewer people next year in its programs because of subsidy cuts. Bishop William Skylstad, chairman of the committee which drafted the Conference document, declared that the 10-point framework "is not about platforms or secular economic theories. This is about children with names and faces, with hopes and fears...This is about the women who are cleaning our hotel room this morning for a minimum wage. This is about immigrants who will bus our dishes this afternoon..." And Behind The Scenes... This latest declaration from the National Conference of Catholic Bishops is sure to raise the eyebrows of church critics and secularists as similar statements have in the past. There were several crucial points the Bishops chose note to mention: * The current welfare reform law -- in part thanks to the efforts of religious groups, including the Bishops -- actually threatens to INCREASE the funding from taxpayers for so-called "faith-based" charities. Catholic Charities USA collected record contributions and grants last year; and 65% of that funding now comes from the government. * The "Ashcroft" rider on the Welfare Reform Act of 1996 calls for less supervision of religious groups which act as conduits for public welfare money; critics worry that religious groups will "blend" the social mission of aiding the poor with a sectarian, doctrinal message. * Increasingly, religious groups in the country are "privatizing" welfare by becoming professional social service administrators. Churches and religious groups now routinely thrive on Community Development Block Grants and other schemes that funnel taxpayer money into their coffers, ostensibly to "administrate" or operate social services. This constitutes direct, and constitutionally suspect aid to religion. * The "pastoral letter" makes the perennial error of calling for private citizens and businesses to bear the cost of enhanced social services, while ignoring the fact that the churches -- and, specifically the Roman Catholic Church -- remains tax exempt. Critics have described the new church-welfare administration relationship as a kind of "socialism for the churches" funded by individual taxpayers. "Faith Based" Welfare Scheming Critics also worry about the problems of turning a growing share of the social services load over to churches and religious groups. Catholic hospitals, for example, that receive government aid regularly refuse to provide abortion services; religious groups may not be impartial in their "vision to assist the poor" when it comes to controversial areas such as family planning and contraception. Indeed, population restraint, abortion and contraception are anathema to the church strategy in either the United States or elsewhere. Earlier this week, for instance, Pope John Paul II told the World Food Summit in Rome that no effort should be spared in feeding an additional 400 million people within the next 20 years, but said nothing about the effect on population growth rates, or the need to empower women to limit family size. Fraud and Scandal? And critics of "faith based" welfare also point to the growing scandal of financial abuse being engaged in by many non-profit groups, especially hospitals operated by religious organizations. A recent "60 Minutes" exposed the role of certain Catholic hospitals which had been founded as tax-exempt charitable agencies, but are now selling shares of their operations to private, for-profit conglomerates. One order of nuns, for instance, received a $70,000,000 windfall for turning over a minority share of one hospital to a private management group. Community members, including the former hospital Board of Directors, complained that the nuns had essentially "auctioned off" the value which had been established by volunteer work and the benefits of a non-profit status. ** One Man's Opinion... "Hypocrites Behind The Collar" Should Carry Their Share A referendum in Colorado which would have put many religious and private non-profit groups on the taxroll was soundly defeated by voters last week; but the so-called "Murphy Amendment" may be the start of a long overdue movement in America where private citizens take a hard, analytical look at religious group, and the wealth they possess. For decades, religious organizations have been defended for their charitable works and outreaches. But the nature of those "good works" has changed dramatically in the last twenty to thirty years; increasingly, churches have positioned themselves as professional welfare "administrators," and received direct and indirect government funding for operating social service projects. In the late 1970's and 1980's, this was made possible by hundreds of millions of dollars in so-called "Community Development Block Grants." Now, the bulk of nearly all major "religious" charity is actually disguised public money, a fact that underscores the demand by secularists that these projects should be "de-religionized" and turned over to secular agencies. There is another element in the call by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops that we redirect our "economic priorities" to meet the social agenda of the Church. The church is, essentially, telling workers, retirees and professionals, as well as businesses, how their taxes are to be spent, while literally billions of dollars of religious wealth in the nation goes unrecorded and un-taxed. This writer recalls an exchange with a priest who represented a community "Interfaith Alliance," who divided his time demanding a 1% sales tax on businesses (ostensibly to help the impoverished) and calling for local adult bookstores and topless bars to be shut down by the police. "Yeah, Father, but at least the porno store pays taxes!" was perhaps the best rejoinder to this "hypocrite behind the collar." I also challenged the good priest -- and his fellow "concerned religious leaders" --to promptly march down to the local tax assessors office and place their respective properties on the rolls so that they might bear THEIR fair share of the burden. Obviously, that challenge was not met. Just how much religious property is out there anyway? Remarkably, we simply do not know. In 1974, Atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair published her controversial book "Freedom Under Siege -- The Impact of Organized Religion on Your Liberty and Your Pocketbook." After surveying the history of attempts to tax, or even ascertain the extent of church wealth in the United States, Murray was able to establish at least a few things about how much money religious organizations had accumulated. In her chapter titled "Render Not Unto Caesar," she noted: "Item: The churches' total real estate wealth -- estimated between $80 billion and $103 billion -- exceeds the combined assets of the nation's ten largest industrial corporations. "Item: The churches' gross (nontaxable) revenue is greater than the combined income, after taxes, of General Motors, American Telephone and Telegraph, Standard Oil, Ford, Texaco and Sears, Roebuck. "Item: The Roman Catholic assets and real estate holdings in the United States exceed the combined assets and holdings of Standard Oil, American Telephone and Telegraph, and U.S. Steel. "Item: Seven major Protestant denominations have combined assets estimated at $160 billion and combined disbursements estimated at $22 billion a year -- second only to the assets and disbursement of the United States government." Murray's book was essentially a "clip job," meaning that it was based mostly on limited, public record sources of information She did reveal, however, little tidbits such as the fact that the Catholic Church in New York concealed assets under the corporate veil of "Angelus & Co." Each year, religious groups earn billions of dollars from business operations, stock dividends, rents and other income; in addition, they receive billions more in local, state and federal to administer social services (all the while taking the credit for such "faith based" religious charity.) Either social services should be "de-religionized" in keeping with the First Amendment mandate for state-church separation, or churches should pay their fair share of the tax burden. Anything less leaves the Bishops and other concerned "people of faith" hypocrites behind the collar. ** About This List... 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