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A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #207 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu12/4/96 http://www.atheists.org e-mail: aanews@atheists.org ftp.atheists.org/pub/ In This Issue * "People Of Faith" Resent Gay Rights Ruling * "Billboard Mary" On The American Road * Send A Winter Solstice Card This Season! * About This List... RELIGIOUS GROUPS BLAST HAWAII COURT RULING ON GAYS Religious organizations reacted quickly yesterday following a decision by a Circuit Court Judge in Hawaii which enjoined the state from prohibiting same-sex marriages. The ruling by Judge Kevin S.C. Chang marks the first legal decision in U.S. history permitting couples of the same sex to legally wed. Chang noted that Hawaii's attorney general had "failed to present sufficient credible evidence...that the public interest in the well-being of children and families, or the optimal development of children would be adversely affected by same-sex marriages." The ruling also found that the government did not demonstrate a "compelling" interest in banning homosexual unions. While the ruling elicited praise from civil libertarians and gay rights supporters, opponents of gay marriage blasted the court decision and vowed to appeal the case. Taking a holiday break before the new Congressional session next month, Rep. Robert Barr (R-Ga.) promised to continue his fight against what he called the "homosexual lobby." "Thank God we were able to get the Defense of Marriage Act passed and that the president signed it," Barr told the Washington Post. DOMA was a key agenda item for religious right groups, which have also pushed through laws in sixteen individual states prohibiting same-sex marriage. Meanwhile, Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice -- a Christian legal action group founded by televangelist Pat Robertson -- issued a press release calling the decision an "outrage." Rev. Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition declared that "Just because we've lost this battle doesn't mean the war is over," and vowed "We have just begun to fight." He described the Circuit Court decision as "judicial tyranny." The reaction was much the same from other groups as well. Robert Knight, a director with the Family Research Council told the New York Times that the Hawaii ruling was a denial of "not only the wisdom of generations but the law of nature and nature's God." More Fights Ahead Both sides in the case had predicted a lengthy appeal process regardless of the judge's ruling. The Hawaii case opens the possibility of individual states taking different positions concerning the legal recognition of gay marriages. Same sex unions may be recognized in certain states, but not in others. States were given the "option out" by the Defense of Marriage Act passed earlier this year. Although the administration denounced DOMA as "gay baiting," the President went ahead and signed the legislation which also withholds pension, health and other benefits for members of same-sex unions. Appeals to the case can be expected to retrace the ground covered in the Hawaii decision, and raise new issues as well. There may be challenges to DOMA and the state laws prohibiting homosexual marriages based on both the "full faith and credit" clause and the equal protection portions of the U.S. Constitution. ** ''BILLBOARD MARY'' SPREADING MESSAGE OF APOCALYPSE, DOOM Roadside billboards proclaiming that "Virgin Mary Speaks to America Today," and enticing motorists with a 1-800 number are popping up on the nation's highways in greater numbers. The latest apparition of "Our Lady of the Billboard" is in Columbus, Ohio where the virginal countenance of Mary looks down on pedestrians and automobile drivers on Rt. 33, or the Kings Avenue overpass. Billboard Mary is also appearing on major interstate highway routes, including the heavilly-trafficked I-95 on the east coast. It's all part of a burgeoning epidemic of Mary and Jesus sightings, and the growing millennialist fixation with supernatural messages of apocalyptic doom. Symptoms of Millennialist Hysteria Cultural observers and social scientists acknowledge a growing number of claims concerning apparitions of either the Virgin Mary or Jesus. Historically, such reports have been linked to conditions of social uncertainty, disruption and economic dislocation; and in the United States, where such reports have been on the rise, there is already a long tradition of belief in biblical prophecy involving everything from the Second Coming to the end of the world. With the society approaching the year 2000, millennialist expectations continue to escalate. A poll taken back in 1992 by Time Magazine and Cable News, for instance, indicated that 53% of Americans questioned anticipated the return of Jesus Christ sometime within the next millennium. Millennialist angst, of course, can manifest itself in numerous ways from jingoistic cultural and ethnic nationalism, to religious or political fundamentalist movements, and fascination with new age, occultist themes. But in America, millennialism has traditionally existed as a prophetic belief in biblical scenarios of the so-called "end times" or final days. In the 1840's, an obscure farmer and freelance Baptist preacher named William Miller gave his followers three different dates on which the world was to end. The failure of such predictions -- known in history as "The Great Disappointment" -- did little to defuse such anticipations, and Miller's faithful later coalesced into groups like the Seventh Day Adventist movement. Indeed, the thread of Millerite apocalypticism has persisted even in churches and cults today; the Branch Davidian sect of David Koresh can trace a long and convoluted organizational history back to the teachings of Miller and subsequent oracles of doom. Much of the popularity of millennialist anticipations in the United States stems from Protestant theology. According to Dr. Belden Lane, a theologian at St. Louis University, even in the twentieth century many "mainstream Protestants live in hope of the return of Christ." And like Roman Catholics, they see the upcoming millennium (generally argued as being either the beginning of 2000 or 2001) as a temporal marker of sorts, as either the anniversary of the birth of Christ, or the demarcation between respective biblical "ages" or seclorae. Epidemics of Mary-Worship While Protestants reject any divinity or special status in the biblical tales about Mary (even challenging the notion that she was a Virgin and remained so after giving birth to the god-man Jesus), a "cult of the Virgin" has been growing within the rank-and-file of the Roman Catholic Church. Often, the enthusiasm of ecclesiastical officials is being surpassed by the laity amidst claims of apparitions, miracle cures and prophetic utterances. Pope John Paul II may have inadvertently contributed to the flourishing worship of Mary this past summer when he reaffirmed the Church's teaching that Mary's virginity was not just in terms of myth or thematic metaphor, but was rooted in biological fact. Mary cults are thriving in Western Europe, Latin America, the former Soviet eastern block countries and now in the United States. In the former Yugoslavia, the so-called "Miracle at Medjugorje" has become a lucrative tourist attraction, and spawned a world-wide movement complete with books, magazines, and internet site and speakers who carry the "message of the Lady" throughout the world. Most of the "messages" -- hundreds of them ground out in the utterances of children in this remote village -- are a mixture of sappy, homespun advice and vague apocalyptic warnings. Sociologist Stjepan Mestrovic ("The Coming Fin De Siecle," Routledge, 1991) places the Medjugorje phenomenon in a different perspective, though, noting that the "cult of the Virgin Mary is the only surviving remnant of primitive female goddesses in modern, Western culture," and chronicles the interest in Mary during historical periods of considerable social stress and anomie. The Bayside Movement Beginning in the early nineteenth century, most major claims of apparitions involving the Virgin goddess took place in Europe, including the sightings at Lourdes and, later, Fatima. The first American apparition was reported during the 1920's, and involved a string of sightings in Massachusetts by one Eileen George. In the 1970's, though, a New York housewife, Veronical Lueken (1923-1995) claimed that she was being visited regularly by the Virgin Mary, and became the focal point of a group soon known as the Bayside Movement, named after a Catholic church in the Bayside, Queens section of the city. Publicity about Lueken may have spawned "copycat" sightings of Mary; the mid-1980's, American-based reports of such visitations were becoming more popular, with the Virgin popping-up in such unlikely locales as Cleveland, Ohio (1985), Conyers, Georgia (1987), Phoenix, Arizona (1988), Marlboro, New Jersey (1989) and even Falmouth, Kentucky (1992). In most cases, these reports attracted considerable media curiosity, and thousands (sometimes tens of thousands) of people descended on the apparition site. Some situations involved the image of Mary (or Jesus) on a tortilla, wood grain cabinet, the side of a rusty grain silo (the "Soybean Savior"), a grease and oil spill under a car, or the reflection of light from an automobile windshield. Witnesses often made public testimony of ecstatic feelings of well-being and religiosity, while others claimed miraculous healings and prophetic predictions. But the Bayside Mary as "channeled" through Veronica Lueken resulted in a thriving, organized movement of followers, and carried a distinctly menacing, apocalyptic message. "Our Lady of the Roses" demanded the building of shrines and pavilions, and laid down a strict ritual for all to obey during the apparitions to Lueken. Followers drank in the Lady-Lueken message, and even began publishing highly dubious photographs which, they claim,. clearly depict an image of the Virgin. A Message of Menace "Billboard Mary", unlike most of the other Virgin visits, is distinctly apocalyptic and mean-spirited, making the Bayside Movement one of the loudest drumbeaters for millennialist doom and gloom. The group's "Directives From Heaven" claim to be excerpts culled from over 25 years of regular apparitions to Lueken, and cover everything from the need for orthodoxy within the Roman Catholic Church to the evil of homosexuality and the special status of New York City as a modern-day Babylon. Mary is offended by "immodest dress," for instance, and tells the faithful that "Shorts, slacks, shall not be worn in the presence of My Son! There will be no rationalization accepted for the commission of these acts of impurity." Dancing in the aisles is taboo as well: "Pagan practices of diabolical music is not condoned by the Eternal Father, nor shall We condone dancing and all manner of worldly entrance within the holy houses of God." And Billboard Mary's socio-political agenda is strictly theocratic and reactionary. She warns that despite the overthrow of communism in the Soviet Union, "Russia has but one plan: to Capture (sic) the whole world," and that "being an atheistic country, My children -- Russia, you cannot believe what they tell you, nor what they print in their tabloids." There are also stock-in-trade warnings that resemble earlier outbursts of phobic nationalism and paranoia from extreme ends of the political spectrum. Lueken reported alleged conversations with both Jesus and Mary warning of a secret international cabal ("The Octopus" or "The Illuminati") run by a council of "Grand Masters" intend on controlling the world and establishing a "false religion." While Billboard Mary doesn't specifically mention Jews, Lueken's dark visions suggest that she was aware of traditional anti-semitic materials and conspiracy theories involving Freemasons and other groups. And The Big Apple has a special significance for Billboard Mary. "Because of the major role the city of New York plays in the world governments and the governing of your nation, the United States, My child, it is for this reason that Satan chose that area for his start to bring into your country a full overthrow of Christian belief. It is his endeavor now to replace the Church of My Son with the church of Satan." A Vortex of Villains and Villainy? The "Directives From Heaven" chronicle a lengthy list of villains, all of whom are said to be united in a common conspiratorial enterprise against "My Son" (Jesus), and the integrity of the Catholic Church. "All of you who now plan in conspiracy in My House," Luekens warned in 1977, "to bring about a new world religion, a religion that is not of the God you know, but a religion that is coming up from the depths of hell! Deluded you are, Oh pastors..." Villains include theologians "who now consider themselves as gods upon earth", a one-world religion "based on humanism and modernism," "Third Worlders" who "seek to destroy My Son's Church and build one on the creation of man," and Protestant and Catholic Charismatics who are compared to "children (who) have lost their way." One also wonders about the sources of Luekens fantasies, some of which seem to closely parallel the more serious conspiracy theories of Lyndon LaRouche . Among the "Directives" is a conversation the "Seer of Bayside" claimed to have had with St. Michael in September of 1975 wherein the identity of "a man who hides behind the mask ruling your country!" was conveniently identified. "He is the man who compromises your country for the love of power... Step down and reveal yourself, the leader... Oh, my goodness! Oh, my goodness! The man behind the mask, Mr. Rockefeller, the man behind the mask!" In the modern conspiratorial mind-set, mere mention of the Rockefeller name is often associated with other old chestnuts of cabal-politics, including Freemasons, devil worshippers, money holders (a police revision of "Jews") and Illuminists. Bayside Mary promises "Listen well, My children, and understand that I ask you to remove all diabolical musical recordings from your homes. Your children are bringing demons into your homes because, at the time that these records were produced, called rock, 'hard rock,' they were produced in the temple of Satan -- consecrated to Satan!" And it's not just wiccan musical writers one has to fear, either. Look out for the masons and other fraternal regroups, warns Billboard Mary, "Because they worship false idols! My children, man has accepted gods of nature! Pagans you have become!" Satan As Abortionist The hot topic of abortion occupies an exhalted status in the "Directives" of Billboard Mary. Lueken claimed that in one conversation with Jesus, she was told that the devil "entered your city on January 21, 1971. He was in Albany first to promote the murderous evil of the killing of the young." Jesus, though, may have his dates off; New York was one of the first states to liberalize a draconian anti-abortion law, which took effect on July 1, 1970. Even so, Jesus warns that "All who become part of or condone abortion, the murder of the young, shall be destroyed!" He added, in subsequent conversation that Nuns are even in collusion with the abortion industry (a theme popular in certain anti-Catholic Protestant tracts), adding: "This is one of the reasons Theresa is crying constantly when she looks into the convents and sees what is going on. Many (nuns) now believe in abortion, the murders of the children; and many have committed this act upon themselves." Abortion is just one of many ills Baysiders are warned against. Billboard Mary told Lueken: "You must remove from your homes these diabolical agents of hell, the recordings of Lucifer (rock-and-roll), that will put into your child a spell, a hypnotism leading to promiscuity, deviant sex, homosexuality, drugs, murders, abortions and all manner of foul deeds that could only be conceived in the mind of the prince of darkness, Lucifer himself." Roaming Homos, The End Of The World Along with New York Babylon, abortion and rock music, Billboard Mary saves perhaps her greatest wrath for homosexuals, and paints a cataclysmic vision of apocalypse that out does the special effects of old Irwin Allen movies, or the warped dreams of the Japanese Aum Cult. New York, of course, is to be destroyed by a "killer comet", a "tremendous fire ball" which wreaks havoc on the east coast. That and other terrible events are foretold as the "Chastisement" -- but there are so many punishments, one wonders about their order of occurrence. Jesus, Billboard Mary and Lueken seem to have concocted a slew of events that, somehow, are part of the apocalyptic demise. They include an invasion from Russia, a missile parked on a train (presumably in New York City), terrorism, the antics of 13 witches covens (mostly on Long Island), flash fires, explosions, an impact from a comet, and "roaming bands" of homosexuals. The west coast doesn't get off easy, either. Billboard Mary purportedly provided Lueken an end-times preview of houses slipping into the sea, a theme popular in many new age circles and especially in the writings of the late Edgar Cayce. Indeed, Lueken was grinding out her Prophecies on a regular basis throughout the mid-to-late 1970's, and the printed rendition abounds with capitalized references and underlining, and promises dire consequences if followers do not pray sufficiently. By the late 1980's, Lueken had refined her attacks and warnings of "roaming bands of homosexuals'" intent on "seducing the young", and begun including admonitions that AIDS was cosmic karma from God for bad behavior. "Homosexuality shall never be accepted," warned Billboard Mary. Jesus-Leuken put in his two cents of cosmic wisdom: "We warned you over and over again, through years of visitations upon earth, My Mother going to and fro to warn you, that homosexuality, birth control, abortions and all other aberrations that bring sorry to My Mother's Heart, this must be stopped now." AIDS was soon to be followed by yet another plague, and Lueken prophesied: "I tell you now that there shall not be a cure found for the disease of AIDS. It is a punishment from the Eternal Father." Billboards For Doomsday The prophetic vision of Veronica Lueken is already percolating into the American cultural scene, and promises to be both a competing vision and a complementary scenario in some respects to other depictions of Doomsday. With her forebodings of catastrophic floods, comet impacts, "balls of fire," famine and other maladies, the Bayside Seer joins the swelling ranks of prophetic hucksters, everyone from Nostradamus to Edgar Cayce, Ellen White, backwoods evangelists, eco-catastrophists, and whatever Hollywood can frantically grind out in the next few years as we approach 2000 and millennium. Official ecclesiastical authorities within the Roman Catholic Church do not officially recognize either Lueken or the Bayside Movement she inspired. But there has always been a gap between apocalyptic millenarians and the establishment church. The Vatican is more reserved, less frantic and more couched in its public stance concerning millennialist prophecy, and officials insist that we cannot know precisely when and how the world might end. Early apocalyptics were often branded as heretics; their enthusiasm for the "end times" was seen as a threat to the more mundane exigencies of the institutional church with its systematic organization and special interest hierarchy. Indeed, millennialist movements like Bayside represent a kind of "religious populism" unrestrained by the practical requirements of modern religious institutions. With the Millennium just a few more calendar pages away, the Bayside Movement -- along with a slew of other end-times prophets and cults -- is busy galvanizing the faithful, warning sinners, and spreading the word. Followers are encouraged to visit the Bayside apparition site for prayers and cures, and to participate in the group's aggressive billboard campaign. There are books, magazines, cable television shows in dozens of states, a platoon of Baysiders on the lecture circuit, and even a web site (http://www.roses.org). Best hurry, though; you never know when that Ball of Fiery Retribution could strike. And stay out of New York City. ** Thanks to Frank Zindler for material in this article...) * AVOID THE MALLS! SEND AN ATHEIST GREETING CARD INSTEAD! American Atheist Press offers an assortment of serious and humorous greeting cards which are just perfect for the upcoming Winter Solstice holiday season. They're cheaper than those other gifts you might be thinking about, including the Ab-Buster and the Christmas fruitcake tin! We've also got hundreds of other gifts, too, including books, pamphlets, tee shirts and other products. For a free American Atheists Press catalogue, just send e-mail to: catalogue@atheists.org -- and be sure to include your name and postal mailing address. 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