Date: Sun, 8 Dec 1996 19:54:01 -0500 Subject: [Atheist] re: AANEWS for December 8, 1998 (E

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Date: Sun, 8 Dec 1996 19:54:01 -0500 Subject: [Atheist] re: AANEWS for December 8, 1998 (Evening Edition) Reply-To: aanews@listserv.atheists.org from: AMERICAN ATHEISTS subject: AANEWS for December 8, 1996 (Evening Edition) A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #211 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 12/8/96 (Evening Edition) In This Issue... * What's Ahead For The 105th * Nativity Protest in Virginia * TheistWatch: Apocalypso & More! * E-Mail Contacts * About This List... THE 105th CONGRESS ~~ THE PROSPECT FOR FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS Polls And Pundits Reveal What Might Happen When Foggy Bottom Comes Alive Next Month Congress is now on its annual midwinter holiday, but there is already considerable speculation of what next year's session may bring. On religious and First Amendment issues, there are indications that groups like the Christian Coalition may be focusing their efforts on a handful of key proposals, even at the cost of more glamorous and traditional goals. * The Coalition claimed that it was a "fire wall" in the November, 1996 elections preventing a Republican "melt down" in the face of a Dole-Kemp debacle. AANEWS questioned that claim, noting that while the Coalition's disingenuous voters guides were an important factor in a number of races, the electorate voted on a variety of issues, and tended to de-emphasize the specific "family values" stances of the religious right. * As in 1994, Congress is heavily laced with an incoming "freshman" class. There are 75 new faces in the House of Representatives this year, but the GOP leadership -- and particularly House Speaker Newt Gingrich -- have become sensitive to charges that they were "extremists." Even singer-turned-politician Sunny Bono (R.-Ca.) says that "This year's freshman class is a kindler, gentler class, and that's good." Talk of bipartisan cooperation and reconciliation has already offended some religious groups and leaders, including Gary Bauer of the Family Research Council. * What about religion? No one in either the House or Senate is openly declaring Atheism or "nonbelief", of course, but in the incoming Congressional class, the single biggest belief-segment is Catholic (22%) followed by Baptist (17%), Presbyterian and Methodist (13%), Jewish (4%) and Episcopalian (1%). 31%, though, were described in a USA TODAY survey conducted earlier this month as "Other." * The Christian Coalition might have been effective in allowing key Christian conservatives to hang on to important committee post. Rep. Henry Hyde will still be be controlling the important Constitution Subcommittee (Judiciary), and in the Senate, Helms of North Carolina will still be in control of the powerful Foreign Relations Committee. Look for Helms to be working closely with "religious liberty" groups calling for White House and United Nations action on countries which persecute foreign missionaries and don't permit western-style religious exercise. Most of these nations are within the so-called "10-40" belt, a term used to cover many Asian and Arab countries which increasingly are targets of Christian proselytizing. * A "sure bet'' for prompt action will be legislation to again try and override President Clinton's veto of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban. Ralph Reed of the Coalition has already given this issue top priority, and sees it as "winnable." Behind the scenes, Reed and more savvy religious right groups realize that they do not have the votes to push through other items on their agenda, including a Religious Equality Amendment. * Some religious right leaders, however, still think that school prayer legislation or even an attempt to outlaw abortion rights could still be in the works for the 105th congress. Gary Bauer says that he's hoping for an eruption which "could come over an unexpected Supreme Court vacancy; it could come over whether the administration is really willing to balance the budget; it could come over tax relief or educational reform." Bauer predicts that the "era of good feeling" between President Clinton and the new congress will be short-lived. * Watch a semiformal leadership group in congress sporting itself as a "renewal alliance." According to the Washington Times, the group is looking for legislative ways to "encourage and inspire cultural and economic vigor." Included in the alliance is Sen. John Ashcroft of Missouri, who will be promoting bills making it easier for government funds to be funnelled into the coffers of churches and other "faith-based" charities. Also in the group: Rep. John Kasich (Ohio), Christian Coalition booster J.C.Watt of Oklahoma, David McIntosh of Indiana, and Senators Spencer Abraham (Michigan), Paul Coverdell (Georgia) and Rick Santorum (Pennsylvania). ** NATIVITY SCENE SPARKS PROTEST, CHARGES OF BIAS Officials in Harrisonburg, Virginia have grudgingly allowed Alexander K. Gordon to post a sign protesting a nearby nativity scene on the lawn of the Warren County courthouse. Last month, the Board of Supervisors decided to limit displays on the government property to one at a time; the period of Dec. 15 to Jan. 2 was conveniently allotted to a nearby resident who has erected a nativity display for the past three years. That offended Mr. Gordon, and the local American Civil Liberties Union filed suit last Thursday in U.S. District Court claiming that the Supervisors had violated the protesters right to free expression. Kent Willis of the state ACLU told the Richmond Times-Dispatch: "It's not hard to interpret the actions of the Board of Supervisors to be discriminatory. They allow the display that they like and are attempting to manipulate the rules to prevent a sign they don't like." Gordon's sign maintains that the nativity scene "violates the civil rights of all non-Christians." Yesterday, the county informed the ACLU that it would allow the protest sign to be displayed along with the creche. Constitutional concerns, though, didn't seem to annoy Dorothy Sullivan, the woman who erects the nativity display. She was "upset" and the latest ruling, but told the paper: "We know who's going to win in the end. Jesus is lord, king of kings, and he's coming back." (Thanks to Neal Cary for this news -- ed.) ** THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS If you have doubts about opposing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act which guarantees just about any kind of potentially harmful religious ritual (even inflicted on kids), well, read this and grab a snakebite kit. Today's Birmingham News carries a fascinating story about the Rev. Glenn Summerford, former pastor at the Church of Jesus with Signs Following (that's the real name!), and currently a guest of the state correctional authorities. Pastor Summerford was convicted in the 1991 attempted murder of his wife, Darlene, whom he forced to hold her hand in a box full of rattlesnakes until she was bitten. It seems that Rev. Summerford and his church believe in "snake handling," based upon the Biblical injunction that the faithful should "take up serpents." It has been estimated that as many as 15,000 persons in the country may practice this rite for religious reasons, but law officers say that the pastor's motivation for having his wife follow such an edict may have been even darker. They insist that Rev. Glenn was trying to murder his spouse, although he says that she was bitten "when her faith waivered and denied forcing her hand into the box." Since the conviction, Rev. Summerford's congregation has disbanded. The snakes were shipped to the University of Alabama for research and experimentation, and Pastor Glenn continues his religious pleadings behind bars. Ms. Summerford, perhaps seeing an opportunity, has disappeared. (Thanks to Larry Mundinger for yet ANOTHER Alabama horror story!) ** Lawsuits have driven the Cult Awareness Network into bankruptcy. The group had been under attack for years, but the final blow seems to have been the fifty or so lawsuits filed by the Church of Scientology. Incredible, Scientology has now gained control of the actual CAN name, and according to news reports is even attempting to acquire its files. Scripps Howard News Service notes that "former members of the anti-cult organization fear that as it is absorbed by Scientology, so information about cults and their methods of control could be misused." Scientology described CAN as "the serpent of hatred, intolerance, violence and death," and supposedly likened it to the Ku Klux Klan. Marcia Ridin of the International Cult Education Program warns that "What is really alarming is the harassment through the legal system," referring to Scientology's legal attack which included Church members filing 12 suits against Cult Awareness Network in a one-week period. Those suits charged that CAN had denied church members access to conferences and wouldn't allow them to open local CAN offices. Cult Awareness Network for over decades served as a resource center for information about fringe groups and mind-numbing sects, many of them religious in nature. They never did entirely succeed, though, in successfully distinguishing a "cult" from a more established religion. This writer was always uncomfortable with the slavish desire of CAN to ingratiate itself with "respectable", mainstream religious groups which often just happened to have more money and prestige than the groups they were attacking. After all, take Scientology. That sci-fi story about Xemu and the Galactic Confederation of so-many-billions-of-years ago isn't that different from the story of the "Fall" and the cosmic soap opera pitting Jehovah and Lucifer. CAN was also involved in a "cult deprogrammer" scandal, a situation where one of the group's volunteers kidnapped an 18-year old member of the Life Tabernacle Church, and forced him to watch videos about destructive cults. ** It seems that the best circumstances in which to claim that you received a "message from god" to kill people is as head of a nation or army, not as a lone nut. After all, holy wars like the inquisition or the crusades were defended as sacred acts, even if they did involve thousands of individual acts of murder. But in South Africa last week, a magistrate's court in Ubombo said that Elijah Sibiya needed psychiatric counselling after telling authorities that he had hacked to death two British women after God informed him it was "their appointed day to die." * Splits and dissension continue to rock the Southern Baptist movement. As we've said before, "god" hasn't done a very good job of communicating what he wants, and the case of the Baptists is certainly no exception. The latest controversy is over a book by R. Kirby Godsey, president of the Baptist-run Mercer University, titled "When We Talk About God...Let's Be Honest" (Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 1996). News reports suggest that the book has become the latest "flash point" in a war between church moderates and fundamentalists; Godsey now faces accusations of heresy (in the twentieth century?) for rejecting the belief that the entire Bible is literally true, and that "salvation" may not depend entirely on one's acceptance of Christ as a "personal savior." Some fundamentalist hard liners have called for Godsey's resignation, although the New York Times reports that Mercer's Board of Trustees "has strongly affirmed his status" as head of the institution. Charges of heresy and anti-orthodoxy are about as much as Baptist tradition as is the notorious "Baptist Wall" which is seen at many liquor stores throughout the American deep south, to protect the anonymity of brown baggers. A century ago, William Whittsitt was dismissed from his post of President at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary because he question the teaching that total-immersion baptism (dunking) dated to the time of the alleged Jesus. In fact, "Dunkin' Baptists" rested on a practice which had begun only in the 17th century. In Godsey's case, though, fundamentalists are already pronouncing judgment and sentence. The Baptist Sunday School Board had ordered its 63 bookstores to pull "When We Talk About God... Let's Be Honest" from the shelves. The Times quotes a dean at a Baptist-affiliated divinity school who noted: "Baptists continually have this love-hate relationship with education. They want you to get an education as long as it doesn't change you or make you think." That may be why a number of Southern Baptist schools have severed financial and administrative ties to the state Baptist conventions, which are ultimately under the control of the fundamentalist-dominated Southern Baptist Convention at the national level. The former provost at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, said that the move was due to "constant harassment from militant fundamentalist preachers." ** Dr. Godsey's question concerning the necessity of acceptance of Jesus Christ as a necessary (and perhaps sufficient) condition for salvation, may be of interest to Atheists and others. Consider Pascal's Wager, a philosophical construction named after the French philosopher and scientist Blaise Pascal (1623-1662). Early in his life, Pascal mixed mathematical and scientific interests with flirtations with libertine friends "who were gamblers, womanizers and probably freethinkers," according to The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. He later experienced a "profound religious experience which led him to devote the rest of his life principally to religious activities," and the formulation of philosophical arguments affirming the necessity for belief in a deity. In the "Pensee" or "thoughts," he developed his famous wager argument which essentially states that a) either god exists or does not exist; b) we may be unable to ascertain the truth of either proposition (for if there is a "god", "He" is incomprehensible to us) but c) Our present and possibly future, or after-life life could be affected by the decision we make concerning (a). Sooooo..... if eternal life and an everlasting good time are the result of god-belief, and since nothing is lost if that belief is wrong, "then the reasonable gambler, given what may be at stake, is to choose the theistic alternative." Of course we may ask exactly WHICH theistic alternative one should choose unless somehow, all of the contradictory, confusing and jumbled prescripts and practices of religious beliefs throughout the world can be simultaneously true. But if Dr. Godsey and others are correct, if belief in a deity is NOT a necessary condition for admittance to the cosmic Disney land following death, then Pascal's wager is inverted. The Atheist who lives a just a good life does so to help humanity as well as him/herself, free of the absurd taboo and guilt of religious orthodoxy. Surely, a merciful and just god would recognize such good deeds. And the lack of such a deity would make no difference -- save for those who lived their life not by enjoying it, but in preparation for its demise. ** It wasn't so long ago when we reported that Catholic authorities in Europe were dismayed that a "confession software" kit was on the market, allowing computer users to describe their sins and have the appropriate penalty calculated. Apparently, church doctrine affirms the need that one confess sins to someone, in person, rather than a chip running at 120 mgh. But what about a confession line? In Dublin, Tridentine Catholic Bishop Michael Cox has begun a "healing and confession" line in one parish which offers counselling or forgiveness for the equivalent of $1.50 a minute. Callers link in to a menu which offers several options, including a "healing" line and the confession/absolution service. Such a deal! You can be wicked, receive forgiveness for transgressions, and do so with the total anonymity of a phone call! And besides, at less than 50% the charge of most Psychic Hot Lines, it's a hell of a lot cheaper! ** In Israel, tourism is big bucks -- and with a new millennium around the temporal corner, why not cash-in on the growing sense of gloom-and-doom, and the pervasive feeling in some religious circles that Apocalypse could happen at any moment? When it comes to eschatology, Israel is to the Bible as Las Vegas is to gambling. So now, Israeli tourism officials are launching plans to cash in on the gullible or curious tourist trade at the biblical site of Armageddon, the final, ultimate slugfest between the forces of Good and Evil. It's all to take place on the Mount of Megiddo. Today, Megiddo is a small archaeology dig and the site of a top security Israeli prison. But creative Israeli planners will soon be transforming the area into a theme-resort, complete with sound and light shows, holograms, and roaming actors dressed up in period costumes. There will be 15 exhibition rooms, complete with an air conditioned "contemplation chamber" where tourists will be able to view the Plain of Jezreel, where the battle of Armageddon (some insist) is to be fought. Each year, 150,000 tourists -- mostly Christians in church sponsored tour groups -- flock to Armageddon to soak up some of its 6,000 year old human history and contemplate the second (and final) Big Bang. Israeli tourism authorities predict, though that as many as 4 million end-times enthusiasts could be flocking to the site in the year 2000, and millions more could be touring other sites throughout the area including Nazareth, where a 5,000 room hotel complex is already under construction. The Israeli official in charge of the development at Megiddo told the London Times that planners are not trying to create a "Disneyland of the apocalypse," and are working to avoid any sense of religious kitsch. Even so, apocalyptic religionists are expected to inundate the region, and the project has received the enthusiastic support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Times adds: "Boosting evangelical tourism dovetails with his (Netanyahu's) plans to deepen Israel's ties with leaders of America's Christian far right, many of whom are sympathetic to Zionism. They believe the establishment of Israel in 1948 and the defeat of the Arabs in 1967 were manifestation of divine promises..." As goofy as this latest "Apocalypso" tourist attraction is, the notion of forging political ties between the Likud coalition and America's religious political activists could have dangerous and explosive consequences. Christian groups have already reportedly assembled materials in Israel for the reconstruction of the Davidic Temple of Solomon, currently on land held "sacred" to Muslims and known as the Temple Mount. Reconstruction of the Temple (and the consequent destruction of a mosque on the current site, along with the expulsion of Palestinians) is seen by some as a necessary precondition for the Second Coming. ** Speaking of the Apocalypse, the latest issue of Weekly World News -- certainly not the most reliable source of information but nevertheless a rather lively tabloid -- reports " HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE PHOTOGRAPHED IN ARIZONA JUST DAYS AGO!" Remember, these are the same folks who brought you such questionable revelations as "New Gingrich Meets With Aliens" and "Satan's Skull Discovered!" The cover of the December 17 issue sports a grainy photography "taken by an off-duty firefighter... a similar photo was taken in Argentina last summer -- just weeks before an outbreak of measles killed 600 children." The Weekly World News also informs readers that "no less a figure than President Bill Clinton is asking for daily updates," on the foragings of the four horsemen. Well, no one believes the Weekly World News anyway, right? For some of us, the gaudy covers and outrageous claims are just an excuse to laugh at the human propensity for folly, and to buy those neat WWN tee-shirts which feature an image of the Bat Boy. Even so, a shocking amount of the World News' content, though, DOES resonate with millions of Americans who believe strongly in fundamentalist religious teachings or artifacts of new age fantasy. Is there really that much difference in believing, say, that the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse will be arriving in Megiddo, Israel in the next few years? Or that the battle of Armageddon will be fought between multi-million man armies, and Satan consigned to a "lake of fire"? In terms of imagery, even the Weekly World News has some stiff competition from the Book of Revelation. ** Plans are underway for the January 20 Clinton innaugural, and word is that the Fleetwood Mac/ "I didn't inhale!" image of 1992 is gone, gone, gone. Associated Press reports that Clinton's shindig will have "clap along gospel music," three gospel choirs and an invocation delivered by Rev. Billy Graham. And An Atheist Responds... Clinton has become adroit at wrapping himself in an aura of religiosity, and no photo opportunity of Bill and Hillary strolling into or out of church (clutching Bibles in hand...) goes unexploited. The President's gushing goddism, though, prompted a letter from a New Orleans reader and AA member, Ann Nunn: William Jefferson Clinton, President The White House Washington, D.C. Dear Mr. President: For the most part, I enjoyed your Thanksgiving radio address, and your conduct of the office in general makes me glad that I voted for you in the last two presidential elections. However, as a high school teacher of American history and government with responsibilities for teaching youngsters about the First Amendment and the separation of church and state, I am puzzled by your habit of using the presidential pulpit to promote religion. You said, "So, as we set our sights on a joyous holiday season, let us all pledge by our devotion to God and family and community to keep the spirit of Thanksgiving alive all year long." When you speak in your official capacity as President of the United States, as you do in these radio addresses, should you be using your office to urge citizens to "pledge by our devotion to God"? This seems to me to be a flagrant promotion of religion by a government official in direct disregard of the First Amendment prohibition, and frankly, I am at a loss about how to explain this to my students except to say that somehow you feel justified in ignoring the Constitution, which you are sworn to uphold on this point. If you have some other explanation, would you please inform me so that I can pass it along? Your truly, Ann Nunn ** ADDRESSES TO REMEMBER... ~ To receive the latest American Atheist Press catalogue of books, pamphlets, Winter Solstice Cards and other products, send mail to: catalogue@atheists.org and be sure to include your name and postal mailing address. ~ For membership information on American Atheists, send mail (with your name and postal address) to info@atheists.org. ~ If you are already a member and would like to participate in our Volunteers' Network, contact Neal Cary, AA National Outreach Director at ncary@atheists.org. ~ If you would like to sponsor the Atheist Viewpoint television program on your local cable system, contact avtv@atheists.org. ~ If you are an AA member, you can participate in our moderated, on-line discussion group, aachat. Just send mail to aachat@atheists.org and include your full name and address. ** 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 subscribe/unsubscribe information, send mail to aanews-request@listserv.atheists.org and put "info aanews" in the message body. You may forward, post or quote from this dispatch, provided that appropriate credit is given to aanews and American Atheists. Edited by Conrad F. Goeringer (cg@atheists.org), The LISTMASTER. Internet Representative for American Atheists is Margie Wait, irep@atheists.org.

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