Date: Tue, 10 Dec 1996 20:58:08 -0500 Subject: [Atheist] re: AANEWS for December 10, 1996

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Date: Tue, 10 Dec 1996 20:58:08 -0500 Subject: [Atheist] re: AANEWS for December 10, 1996 (Nightowl Edition) Reply-To: 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 nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #213 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu12/10/96 (Nightowl Edition) e-mail: 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 well-established..." "Well-Established"? 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' throats." 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 world..." 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..." Satanic Panic 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 demonology. 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 Bernardin? 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 un-Islamic." 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 government itself. ** 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 the Post. 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 week." 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 secularism." ** 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, and include your name and postal mailing address. In order to receive your order in time for the holiday, though, you may have to fax it. You can also order some products on-line through our web site at And the full catalogue can be accessed through our ftp site; connect to Hurry! "Tempus fugit!" ** 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 information about American Atheists, send mail to and include your name and postal mailing address. 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 and put "info aanews" (minus the quotation marks, please) in the message body. Edited and written by Conrad F. Goeringer, The LISTMASTER ( Internet Representative for American Atheists is Margie Wait, **


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