Date: Sun, 22 Dec 1996 14:43:44 -0500 Subject: [Atheist] re: AANEWS for December 22, 1996
Date: Sun, 22 Dec 1996 14:43:44 -0500
Subject: [Atheist] re: AANEWS for December 22, 1996
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
nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn
#221 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 12/22/96
In This Issue...
* Trouble Brewing (Again) Over Religion In Middle East?
* Appreciations Of The Late Carl Sagan
* Nativity Creche In Texas
* Help Us Grow!
* 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
* 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
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
Zindler added that he had "mixed feelings about Sagan's refusal to openly
" 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
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
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
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
Seems like a not-so-hostile corporate takeover to us!
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
About This List...
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