Date: Mon, 15 Apr 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for April 15, 1996 nn nn A

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Date: Mon, 15 Apr 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for April 15, 1996 From: AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net Reply-To: aanews@listserv.atheists.org, AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnnn #13 uuuuuuuuuuuuuu April 15, 1996 TAX TIME HITS HARD...BUT NOT FOR EVERYONE: RELIGION EXEMPT! It's crunch time. Midnight tonight is the deadline for filing your annual taxes, unless you are one of those people who is taking an extension. There will be long lines at major post offices, and extra employees on duty to handle the influx of last-minute mail. But as Americans struggle to pay another record tax bill and debate the pro's and con's of the Clinton budget, a substantial segment of American society WON'T be carrying their fair share. Religious organizations are tax-exempt; and a growing number of critics are crying "foul!" as the crunch squeeze on middle and working-class people grows more pronounced. By several accounts, the tax-free wealth of religious organizations in the United States amounts to tens-of-billions of dollars. No one is certain, though, since no government agency, including the IRS, tracks the net worth of religious organizations. The best private study of religious wealth in America is somewhat dated, but it provides critics today with some idea of the sheer scale of money involved. In 1974, the J.P.Tarcher Co. consented to publish Madalyn Murray O'Hair's controversial book, "Freedom Under Siege, The Impact of Organized Religion on Your Liberty and Your Pocketbook." O'Hair worked mostly through public record sources which included tax rolls, newspaper clips, magazine archives, stock records, property listings, even annual reports. She assembled a chilling portrait, even 22 years ago, of the sheer vastness of property, bonds, stocks, real estate, bank accounts and other weath which had been amassed by religious denominations. She noted: "Item: The churches' total real estate wealth -- estimated between $80 billion and $103 billion -- exceeds the combined assets of the nation's ten largest industrial corporations. "Item: The churches' gross (nontaxable) revenue is greater than the combined income, after taxes, of General Motors, American Telephone and Telegraph, Standard Oil, Ford, Texaco and Sears, Roebuck... "Item: Roman Catholic assets and real estate holdings in the United States exceed the combined assets and holdings of Standard Oil, American Telephone and Telegraph, and U.S. Steel..." In subsequent lectures and writings, O'Hair estimated that the average American family paid over $240 more per year in taxes because churches did not pay anything. Her writings continued to document the ways in which religious groups benefitted from public policies such as the "The Great Postwar Land Giveaway" and other schemes. The figures are much greater now than in 1974 when "Freedom Under Siege" first appeared and caused a stir. While O'Hair worked periodically in putting together a lawsuit to "tax the churches", no other national call has been raised for addressing the problem of vast, untaxed religious wealth. In some states and communities, however, taxpayers have managed to fight back. There have recently been local conflicts where municipalities have begun charging churches for public services including trash hauling or sewer access. The biggest effort to end the tax-free ride for religious non-profits, though, is going on in Colorado. Supporters of a proposed amendment to the state Constitution put together 90,000 signatures on their ballot petition; taxpayers will vote in November on whether that state's 5,000 churches, mosques, temples synogogues and other non-profits will begin to pay taxes. Revenue officials in Colorado say they know of about $3 billion in property which could be taxed to raise about $70 million per year in earnings. Whether proposals like the one in Colorado, or even a national effort would really benefit taxpayers remains to be seen. Critics say that individual state policies to tax religious groups would simply drive those organizations into more "tax friendly" states that need to create jobs and growth. Even so, the taxation of religious wealth -- a policy suggested over a century ago by President Ulysees S. Grant -- may be an issue whose time has finally arrived. And it may do something to relieve the pain when days like April 15 roll around. ****** AND THE LIST JUST KEEPS GROWIN'... It now appears passe to have sin and then repented. The list of celebreties and heavy-hitters who once lived colorful lives of sin, debauchery, and life in the fast lane -- and then found god, Jesus, or Allah -- continues to grow. Mike Tyson joined the ranks of "jailhouse muslims" and converted to Islam during his recent prison stay on a sexual assault conviction. Watergate-Whitehouse flunkie Charles Colson, who rubbed shoulders with the movers-and-shakers of the Nixon administration, found Jesus behind bars, and is today a celebrity on the christian fundamentalist circuit. Indeed, finding the "Jesus alibi" is becoming a stock-in-trade strategy for defense lawyers going to bat for clients badly in need of a judicial break. Converting to religion can often soften the blow when it comes to sentencing, parole hearings, or rehabilitating a tarnished public image. So, aanews was surprised to see that Charlie Sheen -- the guy linked to Hollywood madame Heidi Fleiss -- has been born agin'. According to reports, Sheen is announcing his conversion to Christianity in the May issue of US Magazine after voices reportedly told him that his six week old marriage to model Donna Peele wasn't going to work out. "There was a voice. Not like a drug-induced voice, but there was a voice that kept telling me this will not work," Sheen told US. "It's so far beyond me...it's more powerful than anything I can control that I have to surrender. And I need something like that. I need that." Charlie also says that he Madame Fleiss got more than $53,000 of his money for services rendered; that's big money, especially to a star which is dimming a bit thanks to so-so perfomrances in "Terminal Velocity" and "The Chase." *** THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS Politics in the Middle East is no easy subject to understand and sort out. A plethora of religious, ethnic, social and tribal idologies collide with one another. Pan Arabism, Zionism, nationalism... it's a virtual alphabet soup of competing groups, tendencies and visions of the future. All of this renders the recent Israel military assault on the Muslim group Hezbollah in southern Lebanon highly problematic. Hezbollah is linked to a recent rash of street bombings which have claimed dozens of Israeli lives; and last week, the Islamic military sect began launching rocket attacks. Meanwhile, Israel has begun a major bombardment of its own with tanks, planes and helicopters. 400,000 refugees are streaming out of that part of Lebanon seeking sanctuary and safety elsewhere. Surely, compounding whatever economic and cultural problems exist among the Israelis and their neighbors is an assortment of religious ideologies. Islamic fundamentalism is rapidly emerging as a disruptive force as we approach the millennium; what's even scarier, though, than your run-of -the-mill muslim is the more fanatical variety like the "martyr types" found in Hezbollah. Inded, that group has now released a video showing dozens of Hezbollah militia members on parade, and sporting packs of explosives tied to their bodies. These suicide bombers are the modern day equivalent of Kamikaze warriors; like their Japanese counterparts, the Hezbollah members believe that should they die in combat fighting the infidel and enemy, their souls are transported directly to a sensual and eternal hereafter. Not a bad bargain if you believe it, and certainly a difficult force to defend against. ************* There's grumbling in Lincoln, Nebraska following the diktat of Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz that HIS Catholics had better obey his version of church teachings, or face excommunication. Earlier, this service reported that Bruskewizt banned parishioners from participating in a number of organizations, ranging from the Hemlock Society and Planned Parenthood to Catholics For A Free Choice and the Masonic Order. By May 15, declared the Bishop, anyone still in the prohibited organizations will be automatically excommunicated, and won't be able to participate in the rites of the Catholic church including Holy Communion. His decision affects about 80,000 diocese members; and while Bruskewitz insists that he intended for this to be only a local issue, it has set off debate throughout the church over some long-standing prohbitions, as well as the nature of church organization. There are reports that some Catholics insist they will disobey the Bishop. Members of the group Call To Action, which advocates ordaning women and married men into the priesthood of the Church, says that they will resist the ruling. Even more telling is that none of Bruskewitze's fellow honchos have come out to support him. That may be due to the fact that there is near open-revolt in the American Catholic church, not because of a rational questioning of dogma, but due to a "warm and fuzzy" movement for "democracy" and "laity involvement" that is all the rage. Everyone from women to gays wants "in" on the action; the pomp and glamour of the church has basically been in the hands of select males for centuries, and now the sheep want a greater role in participating in the superstitious antics of the church. Well, this writer supports Bruskwitz! Love it, obey it, or leave it is what I say! Look, it's pretty clear that papal infallability and obedience to church authorities is a central, important axiom of Church teaching, no? One Bruskewtize supporter hit the mark when she declared in the current USA TODAY that "We don't adjust the teachings of the church to suit the whims of the people." Damn straight. That's like those folks who are trying to re-write the bible for their own gain, leaving out embarrasing parts about abusing women, incest, racism, human sacrifice --- trying to make the word of Jehovah some "user friendly" book for saps. Rather than try to change the church, why not just leave? If you can't go along with the program, get out. And remember, it's guys like Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz who are actually GOOD for secularism and Atheism! I'm putting him up for Atheist of the Year! *** One footnote to this absurdity. Some of the groups banned by Bishop Bruskewitz have been traditional bogeymen of Catholic ideologists, especially the Freemasons. Along with the Order, four other Masonic-linked groups -- Job's Daughters, Order of DeMolay, Eastern Star and the Rainbow Girls -- are also members of the "banned in Nebraska" list. There's interesting history here. Masonic organizations have been condemned in over two-dozen Papal declarations (appropriately termed "Bulls"). De Molay is a masonic youth group for boys, named after Jacques De Molay, who was burned at the stake for being the Grand Master of the Knights Templar. That group had originally begun as a knightly order formed to protect visitors to the "holy land." A greedy pope, though, teamed up with an equally greedy Spanish Monarch, Phillip to frame the Templars and abscound with their treasury. Naturally, all manner of romantic lore surrounds the Templars and their fortune. But the fiery stake was one way for the Vatican to deal with its potential opponents. The masonic order is too wishy-washy for some hard-line Catholics, especially with its ecumenical emphasis on good deeds and tolerance. Besides, from its founding in the 18th century, Masonry was about the only international organization which the Roman Catholic Church found difficulty in controlling; worse yet, many Masons were Republicans during the political revolutions of the 18th and 19th century -- not a good thing to be with Mother Church clearly on the side of the aristocracy. ***************** We have occasionally reported on the internet squabble over Scientology, especially the forum known as alt. scientology. This concerns the science-fiction style religion of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Dianetics. Former church members began posting writings and other documents from the church on the internet, and soon the Scientology establishment was fighting back with lawyers, search warrants and lawsuits. The latest part of this sage is the new web site at http://www.dianetics.org with links to the Church of Scientology. Seems a bit trite and simplistic to me, of course, but if it's good enough for Hubbard-fans like John Travolta and Tom Cruise, well... ****** This much we do know; public displays of religiosity by political hopefuls makes not only good news copy, but translates into voter support on election day. We expect our election in november to be a case of who can pray longer and harder than their opponent, a slight modification of the recent GOP primaries when candidates were trying to out-do one another in demonstrating their opposition to abortion. But religious posturing also might be working in Russia, especially now that Boris Yeltsin trails communist boss Gennady Zyuganov in the opinion polls. Reuters news service declares that comrade Zyuganov "has been careful to avoid alienating churchgoers," and has even pledged "to defend the state church with legislation." Boris, though, is putting in overtime on behalf of religious xenophobia. Yesterday, the festival of Russian Orthodox Easter, he led a mass in Moscow's newly rebuilt (with government funds) Christ the Savior Cathedral. It was the first religious ceremony there since Stalin destroyed the original church over six decades ago. We also know from Reuters that "Thousands of workers toiled night and day to get the new cathedral in a state of partial readiness by the Easter deadline." A gold cross weighing three tons sits atop the cathedral dome. Inside were 1,500 specially-invited supplicants including Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Ocar-winning film director Nikita Mikhalkov. The mass was celebrated by the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexiy II, decked out in "rich gold and crimson robes." Alexeiy had ties to the former KGB secret police under the ancient regime of the Communist Party, but times change and new opportunities present themselves. Still, a few grumblers are heard. Reuters notes the record-time rennovation of the immense edifice seems to evoke "unfavorable comparisons with the years ordinary people have to wait for their own apartment." ***** This item speaks for itself: Cardinal Silvio Oddi, 85, has been quoted in his memoirs as criticizing Pope John Paul II for awarding sainthood to too many wanna be's. Said Oddi, the Vatican "has become a saint factory." ** Early last month, representatives of over two dozen European and Asian nations met to discuss the cultural clash taking place in the global marketplace. This clash -- between western notions of human rights and Third World traditions of strong governments and the need for economic development -- is attracting more and more attention. "Should certain civil and political liberties be put on hold while collective economic and social interests are advanced?," asked the Straits Times of Singapore. It's an interesting question. Along with development policies from the West, many emergent economies are also encountering powerful forces which can undermine long-standing social and religious institutions. Oil money flowing into Saudi Arabia, for instance, brought with its satellite receiving dishes and "sinful" westernized media, much to the consternation of the Mutawah, or clerical police. Expect more confrontations in developing countries as this trend continues. ********* The Jamaican Ministry of Education has invited a creationist group known as the Bible-Science Association to teach in high schools and the Monigue Teachers College. The new issue of REPORTS published by the National Center for Science Education, a pro-evolution advocacy watchdog group, says that BSA is now attempting to raise funds to cover this projects. BSA is quoted: "The creationist cause seems to be endorsed by yet another Third World country's government..." ** File this in the "Any Religion As Long As It's A Religion!" category. We've been covering the Promise Keepers Movement, the men-only group founded by former football coach Bill McCartney which holds mass rallies in stadiums and other athletic venues. We consider Promise Keepers as just another religious ploy to promote a fundamentalist social and religious agenda, and to create a cultural environment wherein one must be religious in order to be considered a decent human being. Promise Keepers continues to report record turnouts at its rallies, and may be encountering success in its efforts to amalgamate various religious groups under a common banner. During a "Breaking Down the Walls" rally in the Georgia Dome, there was evidence that "a real breakthrough had indeed occurred", as ministers of different denominations prayed in unison. According to Christianity Today, "To ensure attendance by nonwhite ministers, Promise Keepers flew minority pastors to its headquarters in Boulder, Colorado for consultation...in perhaps the most moving event of the gathering, PK leaders invited men of color down to the Dome floor, while white ministers stood and cheered them." And "McCartney called for cooperation among religious groups. 'If the church ever stood together, Almighty God would have his way.' " It is unfortunate that inter-racial harmony and cooperation are cynically viewed as components in a greater agenda, namely making sure that "Almighty God would have his way", presumably by the fulfillment of the Promise Keepers social agenda. And being black does not give anyone (especially a minister) some special wisdom or insight into all human affairs, anymore than white skin or blue eyes makes one a genius. The "black church" in America, while supportive of issues such as Civil Rights in a narrow context, can be as conservative and indeed reactionary as its white counterparts. As for the Promise Keepers, their desire to let their "Almighty God have his way" sounds like a most disturbing prospect. ******* AANEWS is distributed by 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 on American Atheists, send e-mail to: info@atheists.org. Please include your name, street address and zip code. Additional background on this list may be obtained by mailing to: aanews-request@listserv.atheists.org, and putting "info aanews" into the body. You may forward, quote or reproduce this dispatch, provided that credit is given to American Atheists and aanews. Edited and written by Conrad Goeringer, The LISTMASTER.

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