Date: Wed, 25 Dec 1996 19:06:22 -0500 Subject: [Atheist] re: AANEWS for December 25, 1996

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Date: Wed, 25 Dec 1996 19:06:22 -0500 Subject: [Atheist] re: AANEWS for December 25, 1996 Reply-To: from: AMERICAN ATHEISTS subject: AANEWS for December 25 1996 A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #222 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu12/25/96 In This Issue... * Merry Christmas! The Religious Agenda For "Un-Churched" Americans * Buddhist Soft-Money Scandal: Gore Met With "Master" * TheistWatch: Dumbing-Down, Ebonics, The Plate Glass Virgin * About This List... ON CHRISTMAS DAY, A DEBATE OVER CHURCH ATTENDANCE Clergy Are Frustrated With "C&E" Christians, "Revolving Door" Jews It may be yet another front in the culture war. Christmas -- and the "meaning of the season" -- have increasingly become a flash-point over how religious Americans are as a people, and how much religious ritual should be permitted in the public square. That debate has focused on the legality of nativity scenes, crosses and other symbols on public property, and laments from religious leaders that the Christmas holiday is increasingly being transformed into a consumer spectacle, ignoring the solemnity of the time and the fact that "Jesus is the reason for the season." Indeed, evangelical and fundamentalist groups have launched aggressive efforts to "put Christ back in Chrismas," going as far as to organize living nativity scenes with actors, andt building floats for holiday parades which emphasize a religious message. Complicating this issue are the statistical realities of American life. While the United States remains one of the most religious nations in the world, the complexion of the belief-profile has changed considerably over the last two to three decades. The nation is more diverse and less homogenous in terms of ethnic make-up, ancestral roots, and religious affiliation. The biggest religious block remains solidly Roman Catholic, with various Protestant denominations taking up the bulk of the statistical slack. But the numerical growth is in the "non-traditional" religious groups - everything from Muslim and Hindu organizations to new age sects. Another reality acknowledge by pollsters is that Americans remain largely "un-churched." Madalyn Murray OHair's 1979 book "Freedom Under Siege" observed that never in the history of the United States has the majority of the population consisted of regular, affiliated church-goers. Even during times of fervent religious revival, including the heyday of stomping evangelists like Billy Sunday, regular church service has never been a habit cultivated by anywhere near 50% of the population. Optimistic guesses suggest that somewhere around 30% to 40% of Americans put in cameo-appearances, but as O'Hair noted, the bulk of the population has been somewhat pejoratively branded "un-church Americans" by frustrated -- and now even bitter -- ecclesiastical officials. The "Un-Churched" As New Culture War Targets There are indications that now, this segment of the population is becoming not only an object of concern for church leaders, but in some cases even a target of rebuke. Case in point - the widespread newspaper coverage in the days leading up to Christmas, 1996 about so-called "C&E Christians" who attend worship services only during major religious holidays like Christmas and Easter. Wire services, papers such as USA TODAY and even television news network programs have all featured pieces about the frustrations of clergy in bringing this enormous segment of the population "back into the fold." For mainstream Christian religions, this is becoming a paramount concern; indeed, church participation has declined slightly over the past decades, and there are good indications that measurements of regular church attendance, generally claimed for about 40% of the population, may be high. Follow-up surveys of studies which attempted to statistically measure church attendance found that those persons responding (often to telephone pollsters) lied about their rate of church going, saying that they did attend on a period basis when, in fact, they did not. Packing The Pews -- But Why? Atheists and other secularists have longed questioned the reported extent of religious participation in the United States, partly on the basis of how churches counted the number of affiliated followers. While the Roman Catholic church is claiming about 60 million adherents, for instance, that figure is generated from records of baptism. The actual number of practicing Catholics who regularly attend services, could be one-third that total, even fewer. Even so, holidays like Christmas do fill the pews; and nearly 66% of Christians say they attend church services at this time of year, and at Easter. News media this year gave extensive coverage to preparations for this influx of new belief-customers, and quoted church leaders like Rev. Cecil Williams of Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco, who declared: "We hope to take our C&E Christians and make them EP Chistians: Everyday Participants." USA TODAY noted that while there is "little research on what compels those who stay away at other times to attend church on the Christian calendar's holiest days," the phenomenon seems to extend to other religious faiths as well. Muslim temples overflow during holy days, and Jewish rabbis now label their growing flock of occasional worshippers as "Revolving Door" Jews. Attending church or temple service on holy days like Christmas or Easter may be a sign of family bonding or even entertainment since churches have scrambled in past years to stage lavish spectacles complete with dramatic performances, choir singing and post-service social events. But the evidence of why more people DON'T attend is easier to pin down. * Recent measurements about religious belief and affiliation by the Barna Research Group suggest that while Americans remain a "spiritual" people, they are redefining the meaning of the term and its relationship to the doctrines and stuctures of institutionalized religion. Believers are seeking "answers," but not within traditional ecclesiastical organizations. And psychologist David Klimek, author of "Wisdom, Jesus and Psychotherapy," told USA TODAY tha today's aging baby-boomers in the 30-49 age range are "lookng for childlike hope and belief, a faith that causes them to feel better. * Sabbatarianism -- the treatment of one day of the week as a time exclusively devoted to religious worship and related pursuits -- has eroded steadilly since the early twentieth century thanks in large part to profound economic changes. And since the 1950's, sabbatarian Sunday "blue laws'' has been struck down by courts as an unconstuitutional favoring of religion by the government, and eroded by simple economic necessity. Sunday is "just another day" for many Americans who work flex-time, or have service jobs. The growth of consumer entertainment industries has fueled the need for round-the-clock, seven-days-a-week businesses. All represent the incursion of secular culture and lifestyle into the religious ethos; and many clergy now find that fact to be frustrating efforts at replenishng congregation ranks and empty pews.Clergy welcome holidays like Christmas, but increasingly with mixed or even bitter and antagonistic sentiments. Notes Dr. Klimek: "They're (the clergy) glad that people are coming. But there may be a bit of hostility, too. 'Why are all of you backsliders only here once a year?' " And while clergy like Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe of Atlanta's Emory University told USA TODAY that she was "ready to cut C&E Christians some slack," she acknowledge the hostility of fellow religious leaders whom she termed "judgmental." *** MORE MONEY TRAILS BETWEEN WHITE HOUSE, BUDDHIST GROUPS The trail of soft money funneled through at least two Buddhist sects -- one of them a possible "Supreme Master" cult -- links the White House, the Democratic National Committee, and now major White House aides and Vice President Albert Gore. As reported recently in AANEWS, the wealthy Riady family of Indonesia and their multi-billion dollar Lippo Group conglomerate used political operatives and two Buddhist groups to make contributions to the Democratic National Committee and a defense fund established to assist President Clinton and first lady Hillary. (The same Lippo interests also maintain a curious relationship with American televangelist Pat Robertson, and are partners with Robertson in the China Entertainment Broadcast Television, Inc. which pumps out "no news, no sex, no violence" programming throughout the Asian market.) Political operatives John Huang and Charlie Trie -- both connected to Lippo -- raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in so-called "soft money" which was donated to the Democratic National Committee, or the Clinton defense fund. That money was funneled through two Buddhist groups. One event involved a fundraiser last April at the Hsi Lai Buddhist Temple, the other a sect focused on "Supreme Master" Buddhist Ching Hai. There are now revelations that when Michael Cardozo, the head of Mr. Clinton's legal defense fund learned about the soft money donations from the Buddhist temples, White House staffers met with him -- not the president. On the surface, this raises questions about the role of White House attorneys in private legal matters involving the Clinton. The money, which totaled $460,00, was delivered in two brown manilla envelopes, and included sequentially numbered money orders from different individuals in different cities. The bag-man was Charles Yah Lin Trie, a businessman with ties to both the Lippo Group and the "Supreme Master" cult of Ching Hai. The Gore Connection Lippo/Democratic Party operative John Huang plays another role, not only linking the White House to soft money, but one involving Vice President Albert Gore and at least one of the Buddhist groups. In 1989, while still a U.S. Senator, Gore met with "Venerable Master" Hsing Yun while on a visit to Taiwan; as Vice President, Gore then met with followers of the Master in 1993 and 1995 n Los Angeles. According to investigators, a memo turned over to Congress now indicates that Gore's office approved a March 15, 1996 meeting between the Vice Pesident and Hsing Yun following a letter of request from John Huang, who described the "Venerable Master" as "the highest Buddhist leader in Taiwan." Remarkably, no one seems to know if this confab took place, who might have attended, or even what could have been discussed. Associated Press says that the memo "suggests that Gore had more extensive contacts with the Buddhist group that previously has been acknowledged," but that neither the White House nor the Democratic National Committee knew any more details. Other revelations suggest that attempts were made by Huang, and possibly Lippo, to solicit political and economic favors. Charlie Trie worked to obtain a White House entry for a Chinese weapons manufacturer; and new documents suggest that Mr. Huang, after funnelling soft money into the Clinton and DNC coffers, wanted to expedite a "hookup between a major U.S. broadcasting company and South Korean industrialist John Lee." ** THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS It's encouraging to see that America isn't the only country where debate is taking place over the issue of public religious displays. In Italy, the Roman Catholic Church still wields considerable political and economic clout, even though the numbers of faithfull has been in steady decline. According the the New York Times, the issue of nativity creches -- long a tradition even in the nation's public school system -- has become the focus of argument. It began last week when a Catholic school official in Padua claimed to have received huge numbers of reports that schools throughout that part of Italy were banning everything from Christmas carols to nativity creches, supposedly out of sensitivity for the feelings of non-Christian pupils and their families. Msg. Franco Costa charged that efforts to prohibit such religious displays were a "Trojan horse of the faith." What was interesting, though, was not only the fact that Rev. Costa provided no proof of his claim, but that politicians and news organs stumbled over each other in the rush to defend "traditional values" and the sanctity of nativity displays. A emergency parliament meeting took place on Sunday, and Education Minister Luigi Berlinguer -- formerly associated with the Italian Communist Democratic Party -- gushed on behalf of the Church's position. "La Stampa," a prominent daily in Turin, declared that attempts to suppress Nativity creches was (get this!) "an offense against reason, and the Vatican's own "L'Osservatore Romano" included an editorial saying that neglecting such displays was like "leaving the birthday child outside the door, while inside the festivities go on around the cake." There was little questioning Msg. Costa's original charge, that there was some nefarious movement afoot in Italy to do what should indeed be done, namely, get rid of such religious displays on public property. One fellow, a 26-year old computer programmer apparently drove his Ford Fiesta through the police barrier in front of St. Peter's Square in a vain effort to smash the papal nativity creche on display there; he later told police that he was protesting "the excessive power of Pope John Paul II." And there is one final, more basic aspect of this story. In Naples, there is an established cottage industry of creche makers, who apparently now fear competition from foreign religious kitsch manufacturers as Italy integrates into the European economic block. The creche makers have now produced a series of nativity-style figurines that include politicians painted as scarlet devils being devoured by the flames of hell. ** We don't have to distort or exaggerate what many of America's shrill religious right leaders say. They speak for themselves! And with time, these law-and-order style Christians are becoming more extreme on the charges they're making, as well as the solutions they propose for the "bible-based reconstruction" of our society. Take religious columnist Cal Thomas, a favorite on the "700 Club" who charged Pope John Paul II with accepting one of the fundamental premises of Communism when he acknowledged the validity of evolution. Thomas recently charged that the United States must now be considered "the new evil empire." Meanwhile, family values guru James Dobson of Focus on the Family is telling his 600,00 or so donors that they should begin to think about impeachment proceedings against Supreme Court justices who don't interpret the law according to biblical principles. Watergate crook-turned-evangelist Charles Colson wrote recently that he is beginning to question the "moral legitimacy" of the government, and added: "When peaceable means and limited civil disobedience fail -- at least according to the Protestant theologians Knox and Rutherford -- revolution can be justified from a Christian point of view." And there is the steady stream of provocative -- and scary -- statements from the small but highly influential group of Christian Reconstructionists, who seek to estalish a bible-based theocracy that in the political scheme of things is located somewhere between "1984" and "The Handmaiden's Tale." John Lofton recently wrote in the Reconstructionist journal Chalcedon Report (Nov. 1996) that "No area of our society is in greater need of redemption, of being Christianly, Biblically, reconstructed, than our media." ** You've probably already noticed the fortunate outcry against so-caled "Ebonics" and efforts to incorporate the use of this distinct linguistic dialect in Oakland, California schools. Last Wednesday, the Oakland school board admitted that many of the 28,000 black students who comprise more than half of the district's total enrollment, could not speak standard English, but utilized a distinctive dialect called Ebonics -- a mixture of the words ebony and phonics. We won't get into whether or not such a language or dialect really exists, complete with rules of use, spelling and other parmeters for its speakers. It's sufficient to say that many prominent black leaders including Kweisi Mfume of the NAAP and poet Maya Angelou (who can use words with a proficiency far exceedng the average person, black, white, brown...!). immediately attacked the scheme But in this chorus of denunciations, this writer was particularly impressed by a statement from Rev. Jesse Jackson. We rarely agree with "men of the cloth," but Jackson's comment should give us pause to think not only about the folly of Ebonics, but what is going on right now in Clearwater, Florida, where thousands of people continue to flock to a parking lot where the image of the Virgin Mary can supposedly be seen in the shimmering glass of an adjacent office building. Jackson rightfully described Ebonics as yet another attempt to "dumb down" the educational curriculum of black students. "I understand the attempt to reach out to these children," said Jackson,"but this is an unacceptable surrender borderlining on disgrace. It's teaching down to our children, and it must never happen." Jackson could and should say that for much of the educational system, and our culture in general. We have been "dumbing down" textbooks, movies, television programs, even museum exhibits in preferance to "entertaining" the public. The amount of curriculum devoted to hard science in schools has been in steady decline for years; textbooks are "dumbed down" or sometimes avoid possibly controversial ssues like biological evolution. This writer recently attended an Omnimax Theater movie which discussed the history of the Grand Canyon, as well as its human habitants, yet managed to mention no specific date older than approximately 6,000 b.c. If anything, the nation's schools don't need prayer, religious indoctrination, or other irrationalist quick-fix, feel-good placebos like Ebonics. Like Jackson said, this is "dumbing down," and the results of such a policy will reverberate throughout society. While we debate the wisdom of teaching Ebonics or creationism in schools, however, the cultural picture in America is one of steady deterioration. Studies by groups like the American Association for the Advancement of Science suggest that most citizens are "scientific illiterates" who do not understand even the basic principles behind radio, television, or nuclear power. Shockingly high percentages of the population "believe" in angels, UFO's and other artifacts of the paranormal. Is it any wonder, then, that up to a third of Americans "believe" they have had a "personal conversation" with Jesus, or "believe" that biblical prophecy concerning the end of the world will come to pass early in the next millennium? Is it any wonder that thousands of people flock to apparitions of Jesus or Mary? The "Plate Glass Virgin" has already been exposed as an illusion: despite credulous claims that "it's a miracle", the St. Petersburg Times hired a chemist who discovered that the blurry outline some insist is the Mom 'O Gawd was simply a combination of glass weathering markings and water deposits coming from the building's lawn sprinkling system. Dr. David Klimek, a psychologist, told USA TODAY that phenomenon like the Plate Glass Virgin were "contagious," adding "If someone blieves it and starts to feel it, those feelings are transferred to others in a very complicated way...People don't want a scientfic, intelectual approach to their faith. When people are hurting and desperate, they're not interested in science or logic. They need this from the inside." But Klimek's explanation is only part of the story. We suggest that people need to be "inellectually innoculated" against religious assumptions and pseudo-science crankery, and that the place to do so is in the nation's schools. We need more, not less, classes in science; we also need to develop a curriculum which includes coursework in development of critical thinking skills, logic and basic reasoning. Unfortunately, the cultural drift -- be it the clamoring for creationist fantasy or schemes like Ebonics -- is in the opposite direction. *** STILL GROWING... BUT WE NEED YOUR HELP! Response to our campaign to have 10,000 AANEWS readers by the end of the year has been spectacular. December was a record month for new subscribers, and we still have nearly a week left. Won't you help us reach our goal? Why not forward an AANEWS dispatch to a friend, or post an ssue to a newsgroup, web site, ftp site or bulletn board. You'll be contributing to Atheism, and First Amendment state-church separation! ** A NOTE TO AA MEMBERS AND AANEWS SUBSCRIBERS... American Atheists headquarters Director Orin "Spike" Tyson has asked us to remind you that the ghq will be shut down over this solstice holiday season, and will resume operations around January 2. That gives our hard-working employees some much needed time off. Mr. Tyson also informs you that all possible efforts were made to fill last minute orders for books, solstice greeting cards and other products. In addition, the new edition of American Atheist Magazine has been shipped to subscribers; copies should be arriving beginning tomorrow depending on your geographical postal area. ** 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, 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 maks, please) in the message body. Edited and written by Conrad F Goeringer, The LISTMASTER ( Internet Representative is Margie Wait,


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