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A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #200 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu11/15/96 (Nightowl Edition) http://www.atheists.org e-mail: aanews@atheists.org ftp.atheists.org In This Issue... * Read Our Lips, Ann Landers... We're NOT A Religion. * Interfaith Bugaboo ~ Assisted Suicide * TheistWatch * 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 "believer" waterfront. 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 considered accurate. 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). Sincerely, Don Hirschberg Arkansas ** 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 human life." 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 suicide. 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 ill." 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 textbook expenses. ** 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? ** 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 web site at http://www.atheists.org, or download from our ftp site, ftp.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. *********************************************************************** * * * American Atheists website: http://www.atheists.org * * PO Box 140195 FTP: ftp://ftp.atheists.org * * Austin, TX 78714-0195 * * Voice: (512) 458-1244 Dial-THE-ATHEIST: * * FAX: (512) 467-9525 (512) 458-5731 * * * * Atheist Viewpoint TV: avtv@atheists.org * * Info on American Atheists: info@atheists.org, * * & American Atheist Press include your name and mailing address * * AANEWS -Free subscription: aanews-request@listserv.atheists.org * * and put "info aanews" in message body * * * * This text may be freely downloaded, reprinted, and/other * * otherwise redistributed, provided appropriate point of * * origin credit is given to American Atheists. * * * ***********************************************************************


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