subject: AANEWS for January 10, 1997 A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S AANEWS #229 1/10/97 h

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from: AMERICAN ATHEISTS subject: AANEWS for January 10, 1997 A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S ~~ AANEWS ~~ #229 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~1/10/97 e-mail: In This Issue... * "Mission Impossible" For Scientology In Germany * TheistWatch: Satan Behind Bars! * Addresses You Should Know * Help Us Grow! * About This List... HOW NOT TO FIGHT CULTISM ~ HELMUT KOHL LEADS BLAST AT SCIENTOLOGY The German government's crusade against the Church of Scientology heated up today, as major Hollywood personalities attacked Helmut Kohl's government for its "shameful pattern of organized persecution." That statement was made in a full-page advertisement appearing in the International Herald Tribune; it was signed by 34 tinsel town heavyweights, not all of whom are known members of the Scientology movement. Names included screen luminaries like Dustin Hoffman, Goldie Hawn, and producer Aaron Spelling. Others, while less obvious to the general public, are movers and shakers in the Hollywood movie business: John Calley, head of Sony Pictures; Sherry Lansing, head of Paramount; and Terry Semel from Warner Brothers. At issue is the position of the Chancellor Helmut Kohl's government, which has been conducting an aggressive inquiry into the Church of Scientology. Scientology began as Dianetics, the brainchild of sci-fi pulp writer L. Ron Hubbard. In the 50's, Hubbard attracted considerable media attention with his claims that he could solve a myriad of physical and mental disfunctions by exposing repressed memories; the task of unearthing such emotional detritus was achieved by "auditing," where subjects were asked a long series of questions, and their responses monitored by a machine called the "e-meter." Presumably, wiping clear the slate of traumatic memories was part of a long process toward becoming a so-called "clear" where one presumably had total control over body and mind, and could perform just about any feat. Dianetics was progressively elaborated and embellished by Hubbard, who managed to fuse a populux-era self-help philosophy with bits of science fictionesque imagery and religious terminology. One teaching is that about 75 million years ago, an evil galactic ruler named Xenu, faced with overpopulation in the federation of 75 planets he ruled, transported excess people to the earth, confined them in volcanoes and proceeded to drop nuclear bombs on them. The spirits of these "thetan" beings linger today, attaching themselves to our subconscious mind and causing all sorts of problems. The Xenu story isn't something which Scientologists readily discuss; many Church teachings are apparently revealed to the faithful only as they move up the organizational ladder, a laborious procedure which according to critics requires plenty of cash for seminars and other regimens. Exoteric Religion or Esoteric Mystery Playpen? Over the past decade, Scientology has managed to achieve a degree of respectability as a tax-exempt religious organization, and even attracted the allegiance of high-profile celebrities in Hollywood. Names like Tom Cruise, Kirstie Alley, Nicole Kidman and John Travolta. But the Church has also been locked in fierce battle with opponents, some of whom have turned to the internet to voice their views, and post the "sacred texts" of Scientology for public consumption. In August, 1995 for example, computers and records of FACTNet, Inc. were seized by U.S. Marshalls and a team of Scientology attorneys, after the Church convinced a judge that copyrighted materials were being made available. Scientologists maintain that confidential church materials (such as the story about Xenu) might result in "irreversible spiritual harm" without proper guidance, which is why they are copyright-protected by the Church's Religious Technology Center (RTC). Scientology is perhaps the only high-profile religious movement in the west which essentially copyrights its teachings, and attempts to accord them the same legal protection status as other human inventions. It is also clearly an esoteric movement where doctrines and teachings are revealed to initiated as they rise in a hierarchical structure. Scientology, while working zealously to have itself perceived as "another religion" on par with, say, Christianity or Islam, is nevertheless structurally distinct. One can go into a library and fairly easily access all of the teachings of the world's major religions; there is, for instance, no "big secret" known only to the Pope or the Curia which constitutes a vital aspect of Roman Catholicism that isn't equally accessible to the corner priest or followers. Most religions, in fact, go to great lengths to reveal their sacred texts in a quest for new believers. While their politics and finances can remain hidden or obscured, the doctrinal foundations of the world's major religious sects are exoteric, and not hidden from public scrutiny. But it is the esoteric nature of the Scientology sect which puzzles and intrigues so many people. Copy righting doctrines has, if anything, simply made more people curious about what Scientology may be hiding; and the practice of revealing "sacred teachings" at the cost of expensive seminars reenforces in many the perception that the Church is a "cult of greed and power" as Time Magazine charged. Freedom of Religion? Worldwide, Scientology is estimated to have as many as 6 million followers; and founder Hubbard's major opus, "Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health," has sold over 14 million copies. In America, the Church has emerged as one of the "new religions" bursting out of the post-1960's era, another offering in the belief-bazaar of postermodernist spirituality. It has enjoyed less toleration, though, in countries like Great Britain and Germany, and has even come under attack in Russia where would-be strongman Gen. Alexander Lebed identifies Scientology as one of the "foreign religions" (along with Mormonism and the Aum Shinryo cult) which would not be tolerated in his regime. In Britain, Scientology roots go back to 1954; the Church has an estimated membership strength there of 100,000, and it acquired new recognition last year when the Home Office granted Church officials recognition as religious ministers. That was a reversal of a 1968 ruling which deemed Scientology to be "socially harmful," and banned members from entering Britain to conduct Church business. Anti-cult organizations still rank Scientology as a dangerous movement which "brainwashes" its membership. In Germany, the Bonn government has taken a harder stance against the Church of Scientology; members are barred from some Civil Service jobs, and church officials say they are targetted and harassed due to their religious beliefs. Scientology has boasted that it is not a "turn the other cheek" sort of outfit, and in public advertisements and broadsides, has compared its treatment by the German government with the fate of the Jews in the holocaust. Fallout ~ A Money Connection? The Tribune advertisement "seemed to signal an all-out publicity offensive on behalf of the Scientologists," notes the current Times of London. Signatories wrote: "We implore you to bring an end to this shameful pattern of organized persecution. It is a disgrace to the German nation." The Times also suggested that "closer study of the list of signatories reveals...that many have close and lucrative ties to the world's two best-known Scientologists -- the top box-office draws Tom Cruise and John Travolta." The paper adds that some of the individuals listed in the ad "appear to have feared that films starring Travolta and Cruise -- and his wife and fellow Scientologist Nicole Kidman -- might be boycotted by German cinemagoers who represent a third of Hollywood's booming European market." Six of the signers are involved with Cruise movies. John Calley heads Sony Pictures, which is distributing the current Cruise blockbuster "Jerry Maguire." Sherry Lansing, another signatory, heads up Paramount, which released "Mission:Impossible," another Cruise hit which has generated over $180 million in the U.S. alone. Another signer is Paul Wagner, Mr. Curise's production company associate who "is thought to be a Scientologist" according to The Times. A Censorious And Counterproductive Strategy By most western standards, the Bonn government at times mirrors the policy of so-called "enlightened paternalism" one finds in emergent Asian economies such as Singapore, where government -- while embracing economic and material reform -- maintains an avuncular if not menacing cultural presence. German law prohibits various political and social organization, and Bonn was the first of the European nations to take the dubious plunge into attempting to regulate content on the internet when it threatened legal action against CompuServe over the pornography issue. (Critics noted the ease with which German on-line users could easily make "ausland" (out-land) connections to access other sites.) And Germany has emerged not only from the cold war struggle with its eastern counterpart, but from "The Luther Year" marking the 450th anniversary of Martin Luther's death. Churches, monuments and other historical points of interest for spruced-up for the occasion and "Luther -- The Creator of German Culture and Society" became the theme of official ceremonies and commemorative activities. For Germany, as with the emergent Russian Confederation, Scientology is essentially a foreign and cultish belief system, one of the "new religions" competing with established churches. E-meters, glitzy celebrity centers and strange tales about Xenu may find an audience in Hollywood, or in the wider American belief marketplace; but getting respectability in Europe may be the Church's own Mission Impossible. ** THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS Imagine the outcry that would ensue were some government body attempting to prohibit inmates in a jail or prison from, say, attending church services or organizing a Bible study group. Charlie Colson's Prison Ministries, Inc. would likely be leading the protest -- perhaps followed at a close second by President Clinton -- along with every conceivable Catholic, Protestant, Jewish or Muslim sect in the country. After all, the eerie and brutal world of incarcerated inmates has become a fertile recruiting ground for religious groups. And some states like Texas are turning over entire inmate blocks to religious organizations, ostensibly to help and "rehabilitate" prisoners. Whether Bible clubs or Koran study groups are any substitute for job training and education remains to be seen. But there isn't a lot of enthusiasm in South Carolina for the "religious liberties" of four inmates at the Dutchman Correctional Institute in Enoree. The American Center for Law and Justice, or the Rutherford Institute, or any of the other groups which insist that religious belief in America is under attack, and that those evanescent "people of faith" are being persecuted by secularists and atheists, are no where to be seen. Why? It appears that the four inmates in question say that they are being denied access to the Satanic Bible and other items they need to worship to the devil. Each of the prisoners has filed suit seeking $500,000 in damages and $25 million in punitive damages; they insist that their First Amendment rights are being violated by the South Carolina Corrections Department, which does not recognize Satan worship as a bona fide religion. Ah, there's the rub. From the Atheist-Separationist perspective, the state should engage in a policy of blind neutrality toward religious exercise, neither encouraging nor discouraging the voluntary exercise of any particular sect. There's good historical reason for that; religious groups are simply notorious at "establishing" themselves, currying favor with the government, and seeking to ensconce themselves as the officially-approved religion. Ironically, what works in South Carolina, though, doesn't wash with the U.S. Army. Uncle Sam acknowledges satanism as a legitimate religious expression, and even describes the beliefs and goals of a group called The Church of Satan in its official religious manual for the chaplaincy. There is one last ironic twist in this story. We keep hearing how religious belief (often the fundamentalist Christian flavor) is beneficial in leading a wholesome, productive and happy life. From the miracle cures of huckster televangelists to the dubious claims of some health practitioners, steady doses of religious indoctrination are said to have manifold benefits in helping one live longer, maintain better relationships, or even accumulate more material wealth. Yet, it is in prisons and jails where religious practice thrives; and we're informed that according to some surveys, only about 2% of the inmate population identifies themselves as Atheists -- only about 20% of the number for the rest of society. Of course, Atheists may be committing crime, but just getting away with it in greater numbers. Or, perhaps the stereotypes concerning atheism and religious belief are not quite true... ** Watch the sparks fly this evening on the Larry King Show. Jerry Falwell and Larry Flynt are scheduled to debate; check your local listings. ** In Iran, that nation's clerical government is facing mounting opposition not only from secularists but the small Sunni Muslim minority. Recall that the Sunni and Shiite tendencies in Islam differ over some matters of doctrine, including the prophetic order of success to the inventor of the religion, Mohammed. Sunni Saudi Arabia reflects many of the superstitious and authoritarian strictures of the Shiite regime in Iran -- in terms of attitudes toward women, civil liberties and secular institutions, Sunnis and Shiites are simply different sides of the same coin. Nevertheless, the two groups find it difficult to tolerate each other. Last month, there were reports of riots in the southwest Iranian community of Bakhtaran following the death of a Sunni religious leader. The government insists that Mullah Mohammad Rabii merely suffered a fatal heart attack, but supporters claim that he was the victim of a plot by the Tehran regime. "Hundreds" of protesters clashed with internal security police in Ravansar and Javanrud according to a report in the Washington Post, and a total of five persons were allegedly killed. 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