Date: Tue, 10 Dec 1996 20:58:08 -0500 Subject: [Atheist] re: AANEWS for December 10, 1996
Date: Tue, 10 Dec 1996 20:58:08 -0500
Subject: [Atheist] re: AANEWS for December 10, 1996 (Nightowl Edition)
from: AMERICAN ATHEISTS
subject: AANEWS for December 10, 1996 (Nightowl Edition)
A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S
nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn
#213 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu12/10/96 (Nightowl Edition)
In This Issue...
* Fang Phobia, Fantasy Games
* TheistWatch: Why No Concert In Rhiyad?
* Solstice Greetings -- But Hurry!
* About This List...
FLORIDA ''VAMPIRE'' SLAYING MAY STIMULATE FUNDY PARANOIA
Religious Concerns About A Popular Role-Playing Game Parallel Earlier
Worries About Fantasy, Music
The arrest of five teenage youth in the so-called "Vampire" killings in
Eustis, Florida, has captivated media attention, and could re-ignite
fundamentalist religious worries over youngsters and role-playing games. The
known facts in the murders are, by any account chilling. The five youths are
charged in the November 25 bludgeoning deaths of Richard and Ruth Wendorf of
Eustice; they were arrested when police caught up with them several days
later at a motel in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
According to police and news reports, the teens were described as
everything from vampire cultists to role-playing addicts who allegedly drank
one another's blood and tortured puppies. In an ominous tone, USA TODAY
noted earlier this week": "The case shines a spotlight on the growing
underground culture of fantasy role-playing as vampires." Indeed, police in
the case have told lurid stories of how the teens began their vampire
activities through their involvement in a best-selling fantasy role playing
game known as "Vampire: The Masquerade."
Defense attorneys have already encountered problems in a credulous media
which has itself become enchanted with the lurid Vampire cult killings,
dismissing the more outrageous claims and portraying the suspects as scared
youth. And a spokesman for the Atlanta based firm which produces "Vampire:
The Masquerade", White Wolf, told reporters: "I doubt seriously there is
going to be any tie between these individuals...and our role playing game."
Even so, America's fundamentalist and evangelical conservative subculture
has begun to see a pop-culture fascination with the vampire mythos as a
veritable threat to civilization, a suspicion which parallels earlier
concerns with other role-playing games and even rock 'n roll and heavy metal
music. Earlier this year, for instance, Pat Robertson's "700 Club" included
a feature dwelling on the case of John Christopher Bush, arrested for
sexually assaulting teen girls. The 26 year old Bush described himself as a
vampire, and supposedly used another fantasy game called "Vampire: The
Eternal Struggle," as a lure. Christian Broadcasting Network reporter Tod
Freeman vividly described how Bush organized a "family," and "female members,
most between 13 and 16, had to submit to deviant sexual contact with Bush,
including breast biting, oral sex and intercourse."
CBN claimed that Bush's "family" had as many as 40 "members" who were
recruited out of that locus of parental worries, neighborhood shopping malls.
In addition, Freeman claimed that "The link between role-laying (sic) and
fantasy games such as "The Eternal Struggle," with crime is
Unfortunately, Robertson's program did not document those "well
established" ties between violent behavior and the game said to been the core
of Bush's "family", but instead segued to a discussion of a more time-worn
object of religious fundamentalist concern, the game "Dungeons and Dragons."
Tod Freeman then spent a brief period discussing the case of Shawn Novak,
who in March 1991 murdered two children, and was said to be obsessed with the
fantasy game; part of that claim involved the statement that Novak's defense
attorneys had argued that their client was "possessed when he slit the boys'
A number of books popular in fundamentalist and evangelical circles claim
to document the role played by fantasy games like "Dungeons and Dragons," but
often consist of diatribes on a staggering range of subjects. "Out of
Darkness" by Ben Alexander (Miranda Press, 1993) consists in the first half
of an autobiographical section, followed by chapters about "spiritual
darkness." Readers are warned about role playing games such as Dungeons and
Dragons, as well as "Pornography, Humanism, Heavy Metal Rock," reincarnation,
demon possession, astrology and even something called "Mormon Necromancy."
All of these disparate elements are presented to form a seamless tapestry of
how one can be "seduced" or "tricked" into satanism.
Many books rely on this idea that certain activities or pursuits --
fantasy games, or certain forms of music, for instance -- constitute the
equivalent of a "gateway drug" into a darker, more sinister realm of
activities where one is ultimately seduced and controlled by the devil. Most
rely on repetitive claims, anecdotal stories and a scant body of case
evidence to support their arguments. They nevertheless remain hot sellers in
Christian bookstores and web sites, and are quoted by ministers,
televangelists, religious radio commentators and even "Christian
counsellors." "When The Devil Dares Your Kids," authored by Bob and Gretchen
Passantino warns parents that "the occult is a danger so real that parents
cannot simply assume their children will escape unscathed. Satanism,
Witchcraft and other occult practices lure even 'good' kids into a dark
P.Phillips and J. Robie, in their 192-pg. tract "Halloween and Satanism",
claim to demonstrate "a connection between Horoscopes, Ouija boards, Tarot
cards, Palmistry, Halloween and Satanism." And "Playing With Fire" by J.
Weldon and J. Bjornstad, notes that Dungeons and Dragons "has been denounced
by worried Christian and non-Christians alike who link fantasy role playing
games to cult-like devotion by players..."
Worry about role playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons seems to have
peaked in the mid-to-late 1980's, as bizarre claims about "Satan's
Underground" were receiving widespread publicity. Fueled by talk shows,
questionable "investigative specials," and even reports of ritual child abuse
like the McMartin PreSchool scandal, parents, community leaders and even some
law enforcement officials began looking at fantasy gaming as a "sign" of more
sinister activities. By 1898, for instance, surveys were showing that up to
80% of respondents in some areas were convinced that "Satanism had increased
over the previous five years and were concerned about it. (Los Angeles Times,
May 11, 1991). The debacle of the McMartin trial, though, and the
realization that hunts for satanic cults and ritual child abuse rings were
running amok, began to diminish the lure of "satanic panic." Noted the
Times: "While the reports of abuse and ritual pile up, authorities can't help
but ask: Where are all the bodies buried."
Fantasy role games were only one element in the cluster of evils many
fundamentalist groups worried about; others included heavy metal music, "back
masked" lyrics (words recorded backwards that supposedly exercised a hypnotic
effect or had hidden messages," and interest in drugs. Some fundamentalist
groups had been worried about the morally corrosive effects of rock 'n roll
music, though, since the 1950's and 1960's. Disgraced televangelist Billy
James Hargis used his Christian Crusade to promote books and pamphlets
warning about lyrics produced by the Beetles.
A Resurgence Thanks To Mass Media ?
More recent fundamentalist worried about fantasy role playing -- and
specifically games like "Vampire: The Masquerade" -- may stem, in part, from
a wider cultural renaissance involving the vampiric theme. The novels of Ann
Rice have been steady best sellers, and the cinematic adaptation of The
Vampire Lestat cast Tom Cruise in the lead role. His performance was
compared favorably to the 1970's adaptation of Bram Stoker's "Dracula" with
Frank Langella playing cutting a dashing, even erotic role for the blood
sucker. And even the performances of Bela Lugosi remain classic in the
pantheon of acting and film history.
While the popularity of role playing games stands at an all-time high (an
estimated 3-5 million enthusiasts, many of them taking advantage of
computer-based CD roms), reports about anything resembling "vampire cults''
remains surprisingly low -- nowhere near the "satanic panic" of the previous
decade. They appear to be confined to small, rural communities; in Green
County, Missouri for example, health officials expressed concern last March
when they heard reports of fantasy game bloodsucking. The local health
department said that it was concerned about the possible spread of HIV,
hepatitis and other blood-transmitted diseases.
Inoculated To Vampire Phobia?
Could widespread fears of teen "vampire cults'' reach the level of
publicity which the "satanic panic" of the 1980's did? There are reasons to
suggest that blood sucking delinquents won't have quite the social cache and
level of fear one sees in fringe, religious fundamentalist books and
programs. One is that the specter of vampire cultists running amok faces
still competitition from more potent, pre-millennium pop culture images
including marauding aliens ("Independence Day"), our ongoing fixation with
serial killers ("Millennium," "Profiler," "Silence of the Lambs), and the
conspiracies ("Dark Skies," "X-Files.) In short, there is only so much
paranoia to go around.
Another factor is that like the "teen satanists' of the late 1970's and
1980's, the vampire motif depends largely on media-generated stereotypes.
Kids dabbling in "satanism" in the 1980's often had to rely on movies like
"Rosemary's Baby" or "The Omen" to even know how they were supposed to
behave! Those stereotypes are subject to the fluctuations of popular
faddism, even the whims of the Hollywood market.
There may also be resistance in many areas of society to imaginative
depictions of widespread "vampire" cults due to the hangover from satanic
panic. Afternoon talk shows have reigned in their programming, especially
following exposes of "professional guests" and "ambush segments" like the
recent Jenny Jones flap. Oprah Winfrey, who ran several segments on
"satanism," has shifted her focus to more positive and self-help themes,
especially after the Anti-Defamation League protested the statements of a
guest who claimed that Jews engaged in ritual sacrifice of children.
Prosecutors, law enforcement agencies and others may also be more
skeptical about bizarre claims. The McMartin trial and even the recent
collapse of a case in Washington involving an alleged child abuse ring were
expensive and embarrassing investigations gone wild.
But vampires -- celluloid and literary fantasies to most of us -- still
occupy an important role in the contemporary Christian fundamentalist
THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS
What's the longest running episode on TV? Gilligan's Island? The
Fugitive? The old Lawrence Welk Show?
Whatever your pick, there's now a new contender, one we should christen
"Roman Catholic Death Watch.." Is it our imagination, or is the news media
bending over backwards to give us minute-by-minute reports on the physical
health of church luminaries like Mother Teresa, or the late Cardinal Joseph
Take the former Chicago prelate who expired last November. For months
following his diagnosis of fatal prostate cancer, Bernardin reached new
celebrity heights as an anti-euthanasia spokesman, insisting that his
affliction was a "blessing from god." Isn't that a joy for every male to
contemplate in their future? When he finally did expire, his body seemed to
linger for public viewing, send-offs to the beyond, and an endless round of
commemorative masses; the spectacle exceeded even the time period Americans
got to pay their respects for the late President John Kennedy back in 1963.
But that's not enough. A media tantalized by celebrity watch to the
point that the evening news is now hardly distinguishable from TV Tabloid
Trash, where substance becomes subsumed by "human interest," now reports on
the day-to-day health of India's Mother Teresa with an almost fetishistic
quality. The AP news summary on just about any day, for instance, has
numerous posts: "Mother Teresa Improves"; "Mother Teresa Back In Hospital";
"Mother Teresa Due To Be Released Shortly"; "Mother Teresa's Temperature
Stabilized." Is there no end to this?
Nowhere does the mass media even give a sliver of consideration to the
views of, for instance, Christopher Hitchens who has been somewhat less than
favorably disposed in his assessment of the Calcutta nun. Those reporters
and editors slavishly keeping the Mother Teresa Watch should read his book,
or consider the views of those courageous enough to criticize this nun who
is, in truth, really an embarrassment to India.
When Mother Teresa does finally die, we suspect that it become a world
media event, complete with squadrons of "foreign dignitaries" flying in the
for the ocassion of the funeral, nominations for sainthood, and calls for
Mother Teresa's visage to be put on everything from postage stamps to,
possibly, Mount Rushmore.
May we suggest that a more fitting image of India may be the millions of
individuals now organizing that nation's remarkable economic boom, it's
leapfrogging from a Third World backwater eddy to a 21st century power
complete with a space program, a thriving software industry, and hopefully
someday, a standard of living which will render Mother Teresa's
highly-publicized soup kitchen spectacle obsolete. The entrepreneurs,
strategists and intellectuals orchestrating THAT revolution aren't receiving
nearly the publicity the Catholic nun does, but their achievements are, in
our estimation, deserving of support and praise.
And Americans defended THESE guys during the Gulf War?
Seven years ago, construction was finished on the magnificent King Fahd
Cultural Center in the capital of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. It is one of the
most sophisticated and elaborate entertainment performance centers in the
world, boasting laserium lighting, comfortable seating for up to 3,000
people, hydraulically operated stages and expensive if tasteful decor. But
finished at a cost of over $140,000,000, and employing a full-time staff of
180 workers, the Cultural Center has yet to sell a ticket, open its doors, or
see a first night performance.
That's because Islamic clerics have basically kept the entertainment
complex shut down, fearing what the Washington post recently described as "an
onslaught of mixed-sex audiences and operas starring unveiled foreign divas."
The paper quotes one foreign diplomat who observed that the Saudi high
rollers "don't want to show they spent so much money on something
The dichotomy inherent in the King Fahd Cultural Center -- the coexistence
of cosmopolitan yearnings alongside deeply ingrained religious taboo --
exists throughout much of Saudi culture. The royal House of Saud has
depended for its legitimacy in large part for as the guardian of the most
sacred shrines of Islam, the holy "power vortexes" felt by Muslims and Mecca
and Medina. By all accounts, the bulk of the males controlling the House of
Saud are corrupt and often debauched; they drop considerable sums of money in
European and American gambling Meccas, take regular "sex tourist" vacations
throughout the fleshpots of the globe, and live a profligate lifestyle. They
also know that their survival depends on a shaky alliance with the U.S. and
other interests abroad, and the powerful Islamic clerical establishment at
home known as the ulema. Notes the Post: "The ulema's insistence on strict
segregation of the sexes is reflected in the public life of the capital
where even the municipal zoo sets aside separate visiting days for families
and single men."
Reportedly, the Cultural Center is now described as an "embarrassment" to
the Saudi government, and officials at the Information Ministry have even
denied that it exists!
Don't look for the King Fahd complex to be opening soon, either. Outside
of the capitol, opposition to western cultural incursions -- including the
presence of everyone from U.S. troops to Asian workers and technical advisors
on "Muslim soil" -- is fueling discontent and opposition movements. The Saud
family which began as a religious brotherhood of local tribes and later
enthralled the culture into a politically unified entity, faces the demands
of modernity on one side, and Islamic reaction on the other. Many Saudi
citizens in private, for instance, believe that the bomb in Al Khobar that
killed 19 American airmen, should have instead been directed at the
Incidentally, the death of Chicago Cardinal Bernardin last month will
provide Pope John Paul II another opportunity to fill the post with a
conservative theological hard liner, thus fixing in stone the course of
American Catholicism for years to come. An editor at the National Catholic
Reporter says that Bernardin's demise is now "an opportunity for the Vatican,
which has been placing pretty strong conservatives in key episcopal posts, to
slam the door on any hint of progressive theology in the church."
That's bad news for "reformers'' in the flock, who want the sheep to have
more of a say in how the Shepherd runs things.
This past summer, we reviewed the blockbuster movie "Independence Day," a
cinematic spectacle which, we said, was repleat with apocalyptic and
millennialist themes, as well as some credible acting and stunning special
effects. AANEWS noted that the invasion motif which resonated at times in
the science fiction genre usually was a thinly disguised angst for wider
political issues. Those fifties-era aliens, for instance, were a convenient
substitute for the anxieties of communist subversion and other pitfalls of
the post-World War II era. And with media, politicians and other cultural
gurus warning us that the world is a pretty scarry place, it was only logical
that Independence Day aliens join the long list of more contemporary villains
-- satanists, serial killers, corrupt politicians, child molesters, lone
gunmen and others.
In the middle east, it seems that public and government reaction to
"Independence Day" reflects the insecurities and angst of that part of the
world. The sci-fi extravaganza has been banned in Lebanon since one of the
heroes, the computer scientist who helps to save the world after a
booze-inspired scientific insight, happens to be a Jew -- Jeff Goldblum.
Hezbollah, the "Party of God" Shiite Muslim group, has reportedly been the
loudest in denouncing the $300 million Hollywood hit. In late November, the
militia issued an official communique calling the film "propaganda for the
so-called genius of the Jews and their concern for humanity." There were
even references to what the Washington Post described as "a sprinkling of
U.S. Hegemony blended in."
Well, we knew it had to happen. Remember the scene where Arab and Israeli
pilots somewhat reluctantly team up in preparation to taking on the invaders?
The Post quoted Lebanese who insisted that while "Independence Day" was a
technically good film, "it's an insult to the American people, the idea that
the salvation of America is a Jew..."
Before axing the film all together, censors had cut out any portions of
the film which showed one of the characters played by Judd Hirsh using
Yiddish words, or leading a group of White House aids and troops in a Jewish
prayer. "Gone, too, is the fleeting footage -- a few seconds at most -- of
Israeli troops working side by side with Arabs in a desert redoubt," notes
It is unfortunate that Hezbollah and government censors ended up banning
the movie, and that the producers of "Independence Day" saw fit to interject
religion into the production. The 1953 movie version of H.G. Well's "War of
the World's" did much the same thing, of course, especially in an end scene
where a mass of the faithfull huddled in a church as the Martian war machines
crashed outside, brought down by the bacteria which "God in His wisdom"
spread across the world.
Glad to know that damn flu bug is good for something!
Across a nearby geopolitical border, religious orthodox and censors are
worried about another form of entertainment. The weekly Israeli television
program "Hartzufim" has become one of the most popular shows in the country,
due to its scathing and irreverent humorous attacks on everything and
everyone. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been raked over the
metaphorical coals, and religious orthodox groups have come in for special
attention. In one skit, a group of Orthodox youngsters visit the Biblical
Zoo in Jerusalem to throw peanuts to a caged figure marked "Last Secular
Zionist in Jerusalem."
And there's more about Israeli stand-up comedian Gil Kopatch. The Los
Angeles Times reports that "Leaders of the country's ultra-Orthodox political
parties -- a key bloc in Israel's parliament and ruling coalition -- are
aghast at Kopatch's take on the biblical chapters that they also read each
Seems that in one routine, the funnyman mentioned the private parts of
Noah ("Noah danced in his tent with his boulboul exposed..."), and related
the story of how God supposedly led Abraham to nearly kill his own son to the
lethal beating of an 11-year old Palestinian boy, allegedly at the hands of a
Jewish orthodox settler.
The heal of the ultra-religious Shas party demanded that government
authorities shut down Kopatch's popular Friday night show on Israeli TV, and
labeled the comedian "an evil clown...who speaks with mockery and derision,
abomination and cheek of Israel's most sacred matters."
Religious blocks in the Israeli Knesset have voted to try and cut-off
funding for the Israeli Broadcasting Authority, which operates the channel
carrying Kopatch's program. That move may be backfiring though; Kopatch is
more popular than ever and has become "a cause celebre and a new symbol of
GIVING A GIFT? THE SOLSTICE IS FLEETING...
AANEWS has been advertising solstice cards and other seasonal gifts from
American Atheist Press. We have to inform you, though, that if you're still
thinking of placing an order, time is running out.
We still have hundreds of books, pamphlets, tee-shirts and other products
that make great Winter Solstice gifts -- including our famous Winter Solstice
Greeting Cards. To receive a catalogue, send e-mail to
firstname.lastname@example.org, and include your name and postal mailing address. In
order to receive your order in time for the holiday, though, you may have to
You can also order some products on-line through our web site at
http://www.atheists.org. And the full catalogue can be accessed through our
ftp site; connect to ftp.atheists.org:/pub/AA_Press_Catalogue/1995cat.txt.
Hurry! "Tempus fugit!"
About This List...
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