Date: Sun, 22 Dec 1996 14:43:44 -0500 Subject: [Atheist] re: AANEWS for December 22, 1996

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Date: Sun, 22 Dec 1996 14:43:44 -0500 Subject: [Atheist] re: AANEWS for December 22, 1996 Reply-To: aanews@listserv.atheists.org from: AMERICAN ATHEISTS subject: AANEWS for December 22, 1996 A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #221 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 12/22/96 http://www.atheists.org ftp.atheists.org/pub/ e-mail: aanews@atheists.org In This Issue... * Trouble Brewing (Again) Over Religion In Middle East? * Appreciations Of The Late Carl Sagan * Nativity Creche In Texas * TheistWatch * Help Us Grow! * AACHAT * About This List... ISRAEL "READY TO BLOW'' AS SECURITY SERVICE, NETANYAHU SPLIT Religious Fundamentalism On Both Sides A Growing Factor There are increasing reports from Israel that the occupied West Bank zone and other areas marked by Jewish settlement construction could be "ready to blow," a development that could cripple the already shaky peace process there and fuel religious fundamentalist movements on both sides. Among the developments: * Indications of growing unease between the Likud-coalition government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Shin Bet, one of the Israeli intelligence services assigned to interior and counterespionage responsibilities. At issue are secret and leaked intelligence assessments from Shin Bet warning of the consequences of continued efforts to construct Jewish settlements, and "block busting" in Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem. One Shin Bet report warned Netanyahu that the peace negotiations are being jeopardized by the Likud's policy of appeasing Israel's Jewish religious fundamentalists who are aggressively campaigning for new settlements. One organization, led and bankrolled from the United States, is purchasing houses in Arab neighborhoods, then converting them into "Jewish enclaves." Shin Bet informations has also indicated growing distrust on the part of the Palestinian Authority, and the difficulties of controlling militant Islamic fundamentalists. * The strained relations between Shin Bet and the Netanyahu government are underscored by reports of tension between the Prime Minister and Security chief Ami Ayalon. Despite what news media like the Los Angeles Times describes as "rosy" statements from the intelligence director, there are considerable differences of opinion on the wisdom of continued expansion of Jewish settlements. Shin Bet assessments insist that the policy is fueling Islamic religious fundamentalism. The Times notes that since the elections in June, there has been periodic, occasionally open between the military (intelligence) and the government." * Netanyahu may be listening more to Jewish orthodox leaders who promote aggressive settlement policies, and who constitute an important block in the Likud coalition, than his intelligence services -- a potentially fatal mistake which ominous parallels throughout history. Netanyahu has been trying to restructure the government and create an American-style "security council" which would sidestep the military and intelligence services in the decision making process. One reason, according to Zeev Maoz of the Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, is that Shin Bet and the Israeli military leadership believe "that the Palestinians have done a great deal to combat terrorism and control the radical groups." And on nationwide television, intelligence chief Ayalon has warned the country the the bid to expand Jewish settlement could "start a countdown" to violence." With the Netanyahu cabinet now catering to Israel's fundamentalist groups like Shas and the National Religious Party, the government has announced staggering increases in subsidies for Jewish settlers And the "culture war" in Israel continues, with fundamentalist groups campaigning to enforce rigid, sabbatarian laws and controls on "irreligious" behavior. Many Israelis are worried about the disproportionate influence the religious parties now have, and see their personal rights and secularist liberties in danger. ** "WE ARE ALL DIMINISHED" ~ THE DEATH OF CARL SAGAN The unfortunate death on Friday of renowned astronomer and writer Carl Sagan precipitated a flurry of news stories, testimonials and commentaries in mainstream media and the internet, along with appreciations of the role the 62-year old intellectual played in making science understandable and valuable for so many people throughout the world. Sagan died from complications of cancer at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington. Bruce Alberts, president of the National Academy of Science (which had once turned down Dr. Sagan for membership), said: "Carl Sagan, more than any other contemporary scientist I can think of, knew what it takes to stir the passion within the public when it comes to the wonder and importance of science." Internet groups were filled with announcements of Sagan's death, commentaries and appreciations. For many Atheists and freethinkers, Sagan was a tireless opponent of contemporary pseudo-science and a critic of religion. While some expressed disappointment that the famous astronomer never declared himself openly to be an Atheist, they nevertheless appreciated the role he played in defending evolution and the scientific enterprise as a way of understanding human origins. James Randi, the renowned magician and de-bunker of paranormal fraud and pseudo-science, sent out a statement declaring: "We've lost Carl Sagan, and I can't quite adjust to the fact. When Asimov went, it was bad enough, but now that both these bright lights have gone out, I'm desolated." Randi urged the public to read Sagan's latest book, "The Demon-Haunted World," a devastating critique of pseudo-science which dealt which topics as diverse as alleged alien abductions and life on other planets. Representatives from a number of groups stepped forward to praise Sagan, although they were not always in agreement concerning the tactic and precise role Sagan played in combatting religious institutions. Sagan can tantalizingly close at times (it appeared) to using the "A-word" -- Atheism -- but inevitably stopped short of doing so. But American Atheists Media Coordinator Ron Barrier praised Dr. Sagan as "the first person I encountered who had the ability to convey that the universe was wonderful and mysterious, that life was a constantly unfolding story. " He echoed the sentiments of many, adding that Sagan "mad science understanding...awe-inspiring." Barrier concluded that "Like the loss of (physicist) Richard Feynman, the world has lost another of the great thinkers, an advocate of skepticism and doubt, of wonder and investigation, of thought and analysis. But far more still has to be done in the name of critical thinking." Mr. Barrier lamented that "Unfortunately, when Mother Teresa finally kicks the bucket the world will have a sacred dry heave, while it barely sheds a tear for giants like Sagan and Feynman." AACHAT reader Thomas Meinen called Sagan "an articulate proponent of reason," and recall one particular television interview with the late scientist conducted by Charlie Rose. "As always, Sagan was an articulate proponent of reason. I was impressed by how Sagan espoused scientific thought, while shunning pseudo-science such as astrology and seances. He did so without being judgmental or hateful towards anyone who believes in the like; he simply made a strong case for healthy skepticism." Mr. Meinen said that "sat there feeling thankful that such a proponent of intellectual integrity was among us, one voice of reason among vast throngs of ignorance." American Atheists Editor and Science Advisor Frank Zindler told aanews: "I knew Sagan long before he became a celebrity. We often met at annual meetings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, where I attended as many astronomy sessions as biology sessions. He (Sagan) was without doubt an Atheist, although he would never lend his name to our cause -- unlike Isaac Asimov who even contributed an article or two to American Atheist Magazine." Zindler added that he had "mixed feelings about Sagan's refusal to openly endorse Atheism." " I think he felt he could advance rationalism more by seduction a la programs like Cosmos than by hitting the public over the head with the A-word. Of course, if he had used the A-word, he probably would not have been able to get his program broadcast. In any event, the world has lost a great fighter for the cause of reason. A light that penetrated into many a dark chasm has gone out. "We are all diminished by the loss." Even as the testimonials poured in, the debate about Sagan's theories concerning life elsewhere in the universe raged on. Scientist continue to disagree on whether or not a meteorite thought to have originated on Mars shows conclusive evidence of extraterrestrial fossil remains as announced last August. The New York Times reports today that independent tests of the rock "have shown that the supposed evidence for Martian life can be explained away in non-biological terms." The story by science writer John Noble Wilford adds: "What had been detected in the potato-shaped rock could well be neither animal nor vegetable, but strictly mineral. And Dr. John Kerridge of the University of California told The Times: "The biological explanation for the meteorite is becoming less and less plausible." But ambiguity about the specimen -- or even a definitive conclusion that it does not indicate the presence of life on Mars -- may simply be begging the more fundamental question raised by Carl Sagan and others. Are we alone? Is there life, if not on Mars or in the rest of our own solar system, perhaps elsewhere in the universe? Perhaps someday that question will be resoundingly answered, not by ethereal aliens or invaders in giant space ships, but through a program of aggressive space exploration,. And perhaps the humans who labor on that grand enterprise will have been inspired by a television series called Cosmos, or by the prolific, wonderful writings of a man named Carl Sagan. ** TEXAS ATHEISTS CONTINUE FIGHT AGAINST NATIVITY SCENE (This statement is being released by Dick Hogan, Texas State Director for American Atheists. Dick is already receiving his share of threats -- and support -- in this controversial case, and we'll keep aanews readers posted as this story develops.) * Our objective in the Texas case is to obtain an immediate injunction which directs County Judge Ben Long to remove the nativity scene from official County property. The merits of this case seem somewhat singular in nature as compared to other creche suits of record. This nativity scene is the only display on the Courthouse lawn, and the judge is responsible for its existence. And Judge Long has stated that this county was founded upon Christian principles, and as far as he is concerned the country is a democracy where the majority rules. As an Atheist and citizen, this concerns me and appears to be nothing more than another exercise in intolerance. This county representative has, in effect, disregarded the inalienable rights of the citizens of this community. ** Mr. Hogan is asking concerned Atheists and separationists in the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex area to voice their opinion on this issue through letters to newspapers, television and radio. ** THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS There's yet another story on the "case of the missing O'Hairs" in the media, this one in today's Sunday New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com). It has the usual speculation, limited facts and musings; but, more importantly, has a link to our official web site (http://www.atheists.org). When you have a lemon -- make lemonade! * AANEWS reported extensively on last summer's wave of alleged "church arsons" which were viewed by many religious proselytizers as an "attack on Christianity" or an "assault on religious belief." But the antireligion conspiracy has, thus far, turned out to be just so much bunk. The church arson spree was apparently caused by a number of factors; and insurance industry representatives pointed out that in terms of numbers, the "epidemic" simply wasn't there. American Atheists denounced a move by the Clinton administration to establish a special $10,000,000 loan-guarantee program to help and rebuild torched churches as a move pandering to public hysteria -- and violating the First Amendment in the process. Now, the U.S. Department of Justice is apparently doling out more money to provide special "patrols" and help religious groups prevent arson and vandalism. The taxpayer bucks are funnelled through the Church Arson Prevention Grant Program now being implemented in 13 states. The Austin American Statesman notes that the $4,600 grant for Travis County, Texas "will provide increased surveillance and officers at rural churches in the county during the holiday season." This is remarkable on a number of counts. Groups like the Christian Coalition and the National Council of Churches raised millions of dollars for rebuilding churches, and sent out a flurry of press releases in the process to make sure that the public knew just how wonderful they were. Why should taxpayers be compelled to subsidize the churches further -- especially when churches don't pay taxes? Across the country, communities are now finally "wising up" and begin to charge churches, temples, mosques and synagogues fees (just like everyone else) for services ranging from snow removal to garbage collection. And why not? We also wonder if CERTAIN churches aren't benefitting from this public largesse as well. Would people be so effusively supportive if the churches involved belonged to, say, Unitarians? Scientologists? Even Muslims or Satanists? ** The Catholic Church has a multifaceted religious and political agenda it wants to implement by the year 2,000, including a somewhat disingenuous proposal for "unity." The Vatican has been making overtures to groups of ecclesiastical sheep who strayed from the religious flock centuries ago; Pope John Paul recently schmoozed with the Archbishop of Canterbury, George Cary, and now has apparently struck an accord with the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church. In a statement released yesterday, representatives of the two faiths announced that they have signed an accord aimed at "healing the rift" between the respective churches and, they hope, perhaps resulting in bureaucratic unity. Each side has a lot of gain by this corporate-belief-merger, this "religious synergy" that resembles a pact between Disney and ABC. The Russian Orthodox Church is scrambling to regain power (and money, and property) confiscated by the 1917 revolution, and is increasingly under pressure from Protestant sects, cults and new age style groups. Even the Aum ("Supreme Truth") sect continues to operate in the former Soviet Union, and may have made inroads into the nation's thriving black market. The accord opens the possibility of a "peaceful settlement' to the squabble over property in disputes involving the two giant faiths, and a more united front in dealing with the Russian government. Everyone from President Boris Yeltsin to Communist honcho Gennady Gerasimov, even ultra fascists like Vladimir Zhironovsky, are doing what they can to court favor with the Orthodox patriarchy; but there is also the overshadowing reality of the Vatican's world-wide power base in terms of money, diplomatic clout and sheer numbers. Seems like a not-so-hostile corporate takeover to us! ** Dementia? Or a preview of things to come? Either way, fire fighters in the town of Gdynia, Poland had to struggle for over an hour on Friday in their efforts to save the life of a man clinging to a cross on top of a church who was yelling warnings about the end of the world. * PUT SOMETHING IN THE AANEWS STOCKING ~ MORE READERS! Unless you want to ship us a good bottle of cognac, well, there is something else you can give aanews for the Winter Solstice Holiday -- new readers! Why not forward an aanews dispatch to a friend or other interested party who might be interested in joining the growing family of readers? Or, post aanews on your home page (along with a link to the American Atheist web site at http://www.atheists.org). Our goal is 10,000 subscribers by the end of the year -- and you can help! Remember, an on-line subscription is absolutely free. ** AND IF YOU WANT TO MEET AND TALK WITH OTHER ATHEISTS... American Atheists also has a moderated, on-line discussion group for members called aachat. There's always plenty of stimulating exchange on subjects like atheism, First Amendment rights, the nature of religion, problems of living as an Atheist in society, and AA activities. If you are a member of American Atheists and would like to participate, contact the moderator, Margie Wait, through aachat@atheists.org. *** 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, send e-mail to info@atheists.org 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 info, 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. **

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