A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S
nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn
#200 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu11/15/96 (Nightowl Edition)
In This Issue...
* Read Our Lips, Ann Landers... We're NOT A Religion.
* Interfaith Bugaboo ~ Assisted Suicide
* About This List...
''FASCINATING FACTS'' CONCEAL FACTS, PROMPT ATHEIST RESPONSES
Ann Landers a spokesperson for Atheism?
It's probably too good to be true, of course, but the popular advice
writer's column which appeared earlier this week in newspapers throughout the
nation carried some interesting "facts" about religion -- some obvious and
boring, others subtle and requiring some real thought to appreciate.
It also prompted some responses from Atheists.
Landers asked readers: "Do you have any idea when your religion was
founded and by whom?" She then presented a list of religious beliefs ranging
from Buddhism and Catholicism to Unitarian, Mormon and Jewish. Nineteen
religions were listed, a roll call which managed to cover most of the
But it's what Landers included at the end of her column which has provoked
some stimulating responses.
"If you are an agnostic, you probably profess an uncertainty..." about
God, she wrote. She closed her "Fascinating Facts" column by noting: "If you
are an atheist, you do not believe in the existence of God or any other
higher power." She adds that "This country's best-known Atheist, Madalyn
Murray O'Hair, has not been seen or heard from in more than a year.
According to her son, she has disappeared without a trace."
The mention of Atheism and Madalyn O'Hair strikes many of us as gratuitous
at best. In descriptions of religious groups, for instance, Landers doesn't
note that Martin Luther claimed to have "wrestled" with the devil, or that
Mormon founder Joseph Smith was either a hallucinating psychotic or a peddler
of doctrinal snake oil. In fact, none of the founders of religions mentioned
in Lander's column do not have anything hostile or critical said about them
-- nor are any critics of those respective religions quoted or mentioned.
There is, of course, the very valid objection that Atheism (or even
agnosticism) is not a religion or a religious "belief" system. In this
respect, Landers displays not only her ignorance of the subject matter, but
the postmodernist penchant to obliterate critical epistemological
distinctions and exercise a more precise rigor with terms. But what Ms.
Landers seems to ignore is that her column is, in a sense, a good argument on
behalf of Atheism and religious skepticism.
Many Gods ~ Many Beliefs
It was a favorite argument of Madalyn Murray O'Hair that religious belief
was, for most people, an accident -- a function of time, geography and
unquestioned and unexamined cultural conditions. Four thousand years ago,
for instance, people believed in ancient deities, erecting temples and
monuments, devising propitiatory prayers, and indoctrinating their offspring
in the teachings of their "true" religion. Evidently, these people
"believed" in their respective god or gods with much the same fervor the most
devoted Catholic, or Hindu, or Muslim or Jew does in contemporary times.
What distinugishes the ancients from contemporary religionists are
circumstances of time and geography. A person born millennia ago, for
instance, might have "believed" in Ra, or Zeus, or Quetzelqoatl; today,
Christians, Jews and other reject such gods in favor of their own. No wonder
that philosopher Bertrand Russell mused that all believers were, in a sense,
"99% atheists" rejecting hundreds of different gods which the human
imagination has conjured throughout history -- all, save for their own.
Today, the veritable "belief bazaar" poses a similar dilemma for religious
believers. The different religious systems listed by Ann Landers would
suggest that even today believers cannot seem to agree on whose particular
god is the "true" deity (let alone deal with the question of whether or not
there is ANY such deity!), how this god is to be conceived, worshipped and
propitiated, and whose teachings about this elusive deity are to be
An Atheist Objects
American Atheist activist Don Hirschberg of Arkansas addressed his
concerns in a letter sent earlier this week to Ann Landers...
Dear Ms. Landers,
Calling Atheism a religion is like calling bald a hair color.
Regarding your column about the founding of religions, I am disappointed
to see that you included atheists on your list as if we were a religion.
Atheism is in no sense a religion.
As to Madalyn Murray O'Hair's disappearance, to mention her son (William)
as the source of that news is really an outrage. William has neither spoken
with nor seen his mother in many years. Her other son, Jon Garth, and her
adopted daughter, Robin (the biological daughter of William) disappeared at
the same time. All three were for years officers and key leaders of American
Atheists, based in Austin, Texas. The organization continues to flourish.
It is incorrect and misleading to define an atheist as one who does not
believe in god or gods. Such a definition implies that god(s) exist but that
atheists are just too perverse or dumb or wicked to believe. Let us define
ourselves: Atheists deny the existence of god(s).
Don's letter to Ann Landers evoked some interested debate on the aachat
list; but his point remains well taken -- listing Atheism (or even
agnosticism) as a religion implies that we are, after all, basing our view of
the world on faith -- just like Catholics, Buddhists, Hindus and others. In
the postmodernist world, such foolishness reminds us of a comment made in
connection with Allan Sokol's hoax which appeared in an issue of the journal
"Social Text." To paraphrase: not all views of the world are equally valid.
The image projected on a plane's radar screen is far, far more than "just
another interpretation" of reality.
CATHOLIC, PROTESTANT, MUSLIM OFFICIAL TAKE ON NEW
FOE ~~ DOCTOR ASSISTED SUICIDE
In what one news service described as "an unprecedented interfaith
partnership," the National Conference of Catholic Bishops has announced an
alliance with Protestant denominations and Islamic leaders to challenge
doctor assisted suicide. A statement was released earlier this week from the
NCCB meeting in Washington, D.C. and noted that the coalition of religious
leaders had already submitted legal briefs in two cases pending before the
U.S. Supreme Court. Inman Abdullah El-Amin, a spokesman for the Muslim
Center in Detroit, praised the interfaith effort saying "This is the only way
we can remake this world into a better place, by inviting all people of God
to come together against our common enemies." He added that "Allah says in
the Koran that all life is sacred. Suicide is forbidden. We do not give
ourselves life and we do not legitimately have the power to take our own
lives." Meanwhile, an attorney for the Bishop's Conference told Knight-Ridder
news service that "The reason that our co-signers are so important is they
show the court that our briefs cannot simply be shifted to the bottom of the
stack of arghuments as just a Catholic opinion."
One signer of the declaration was Chicago Cardinal Joseph Bernadin who
died earlier this week, hours after one brief was submitted by religious
authorities through the Catholic Health Association of America. Echoing the
church's doctrinal opposition to abortion, Bernardin declared that "Our legal
and ethical tradition has held consistently that suicide, assisted suicide
and euthanasia are wrong because they involve a direct attack on innocent
At stake for the Supreme Court is whether or not the Constitution
guarantees any "right to die" which is being violated by various state laws
banning doctor-assisted suicide. Two federal appeals courts have already
struck down such laws in Washington state and New York. Forty states
currently impose criminal penalties on those who assist people in committing
A "Dilemma" Or Self-Serving Interest?
The involvement of the Catholic Health Association -- a church "trade
group" representing the lucrative tax-exempt, "non-profit" healthcare network
of Catholic hospitals -- is significant. Attorney James Geoly who represents
the CHA and wrote one of the briefs to the high court said that the group is
interested in the problem since Catholic hospitals will allegedly face a
dilemma if the court recognizes some form of doctor-assisted suicide. The
president of the CHA, John Curley, Jr. told reporters that any right to die
would "pollute the relationship between health-care providers and their most
vulnerable patients: the elderly, those with disabilities, and the terminally
But along with moral or theological considerations, there is the more
practical issue of economics. Those persons facing terminal illness can
often exhaust whatever financial resources they have, then qualify for
government funding. Indeed, the dilemma of AIDS patients stimulated the
growth of so-called "viatical settlements" which, while providing money for
care, also guaranteed payment to care providers. Either way, the longer
people live the more money some health care institutions may end up making.
Other participants in this coalition include the Southern Baptist
Convention, the Lutheran Church, National Association of Evangelicals, and
the American Muslim Council.
Meanwhile, the attorney for assisted-suicide advocate Dr. Jack Kevorkian
told the Detroit Free Press that both he and his client reject the religious
arguments against a right-to-die. Geoffrey Fieger added: "If they want to
inflict suffering on their followers, then that's fine. But they shouldn't
inflict their religious precepts on others."
THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS
As Atheists, we simply do not accept the proposition that by virtue of
being religious leaders, any assortment of priests, bishops, mullahs, inmans,
ministers and other conjurers possess some unique wisdom and insight into the
world, or how society ought to be organized, or how others should lead their
lives. We question, for instance, whether the Catholic Bishops are qualified
as economists and social planners, or whether some geriatric, presumably
celebate male pope (or his Islamic comrades in Tehran or Kabul) have any
business telling women what they may do with their bodies.
And for once, we've got some support from an unlikely quarter -- namely,
the Archbishop of Canterbury. Dr. George Carey has issued a pre-election
warning to his fellow men o' the collar about what the London Times described
as "the dangers of claiming special authority for their political and
economic questions." Said the head-guru of the Church of England: "Where the
Church seeks to make prnouncements as an institution, it should not muddle up
indiscriminately prnouncements about theological and moral ends and the
fruits of pastoral experience, on one hand, about how best to achieve
particular effects on the other."
Unfortunately, Carey doesn't always practice what he preaches. But
clerics on both sides of the Atlantic should listen when he admonishes: "It
especially behoves church people to avoid apparent self-righteousness when
contributing to political debate."
Is it another case of "Do as I say, not as I do"?
Last evening, it was learned that an official with the Mormon Church whose
radio rants decried the loss of "family values" and denounced kiddie
molestation was himself busted over allegations of sodomy with a 14-year old
girl. The host of the Latter-day Saint's program "Times and Seasons" was
booked into the slammer after the alleged victim complained to a counselor.
A police spokesman said "He was helping her with her modeling. He was
helping her doing voice-overs and taking photographs...Of course, it started
off innocent and there was no problems (sic) until the other night."
According to reports in the Washington Post and Salt Lake City station KTVX,
the church official allegedly took the victim to a parking lot behind a radio
station "where he showed her pornography, took pictures of her in her
underwear and then told her to perform oral sex."
In Maryland, religious groups -- including the parochial school system --
are already getting de facto what they cannot get de jure, namely, more and
more public funding. Several counties in that state are already spending
close to $2 million per year to ferry 3,700 students to private (often
religious) schools; and according to the Washington Post, "Church officials
want Maryland to follow more than two dozen other states in spending public
money to pay for things such as transportation, non-religious textbooks and
technology in private schools." A pressure campaign by the Maryland Catholic
Conference (described as a "policy and outreach arm of the church) has
resulted in nerly 4,000 letters of support coming into the office of Governor
Parris Glendening -- whose own son happens to attend a Catholic high school.
The President of the Maryland State Teachers Association told The Post
"This could have the effect of further diluting resources available for
public school students." The paper adds that so far, 28 states subsidize
private and religious schools with transportation for students, and 17 cover
What happens when there is an "established", official religion and no
separation of church and state? Well, in addition to having "One Nation
Under God," you have a situation where civil rights -- even for minority
religious believers -- are non-existent. Amnesty International revealed
yesterday that a religious court in the United Arab Emirates has sentence a
Lebanese Christian to 39 lashes of the whip and a year in jail for the
travesty and outrage of marrying an Islamic woman. The man was purportedly
tortured following his arrest last December, and the marriage nullified.
According to news reports, the whipping is to be administered tomorrow.
Outrages such as this have caught the interest of some Johnny-Come-Lately
types to the cause of civil libertarianism and human rights, namely, the
evangelical Christian community in the United States. No doubt this incident
in the Emirates will be part of the pressure on the U.S. government to defend
the "right of religious believers" in the so-called "10-40 Window," that part
of the world which American proselytizers have targeted for evangelization,
and which represents the bulk of the globe's Muslim population.
But as usual, the religionists have it all backwards. As this brutal UAE
case shows, this isn't about "religious rights" -- it has everything to do
with the ills of instituting and establishing an "official" religion and not
separating church and state.
We received some timely comments from "Gary" on the aachat-list which
readers may enjoy...
"I read recently that Cardinal Bernardin has stated that his cancer was 'a
gift from God.' Now if this god gives out these kinds of gifts, keep him away
from me. If Bernardin really believed this then, why was he going through
chemotherapy to get rid of 'god's gift'?
"And in the same article it seems that Bernardin was going through chemo
with a woman who also had cancer. This woman's cancer wasn't cured and when
she became even more ill, Cardinal Bernardin spoke with her saying to put her
life in god's hands now. She died two days later. First off, I have to
wonder why they didn't put their lives in god's hand before the chemotherapy.
It wasn't until medicine couldn't cure them that they turned to their god.
Secondly, why do Christians even bother to seek out medical help? If this
heaven is such a great place why do they keep putting-off going there?"
Bill Moyers, a Baptist minister, former White House official, and lately a
peddler of mythos and pop-culture mysticism, has told his fellow Southern
Baptists that they are clinging to an "alien ideology" in the form of
biblical literalism. Speaking at the Baptist General Convention in Texas,
Moyers blasted the sect's conservative faction (which not only controls the
church but seems to reflect most of the sentiment within the SBC), and
criticized it for promoting a belief that is "less a set of ideas than it is
a pathological distemper, a militant anger over the face that the universe is
not closed and life is not sstatic." He also told his audience that "We face
a new religious reality out there."
Maybe so -- but Moyers and his biblical literalist audience are simply
different sides of the same coin. Moyer's "warm and fuzzy" explorations into
the postmodernist twilight zone of credulity are not more substantive than
the illusory rantings of a berserk fundamentalist fanatic. How's THAT for
"archetypical" thinking, Bill?
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