A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S
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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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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