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

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Date: Wed, 24 Apr 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for April 24, 1996 from: Reply-To:, nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #21 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 4/24/96 ISRAELI MILITARY OFFENSIVE BUILDING SUPPORT FOR 'PARTY OF GOD' FUNDAMENTALISTS ? The war between Israel and Iranian-backed guerillas of the Hezbollah - "Party of God" movement shows few signs of winding down. The latest confrontation began nearly two weeks ago, when Katyusha rocked were fired into northern Israel from bases in Lebanon; Israel quickly replied with air strikes and artillery pounding, sending nearly 500,000 people out of nearby towns and villages, streaming north. The Israeli military argued hard for the quick, decisive response; it couldn't have come at a worse time, with Shimon Peres under pressure to continue the peace process with the PLO, and overcome a challenge in upcoming election from right-wing religious parties like the Likud. But the military scenario -- destroying Hezbollah through direct military bombardment, and forcing the Lebanese to turn against the Islamic fundamentalist guerilla group -- seems to have backfired. Even western media now admits that in Lebanon, popular opinion seems to be more against the Israelis than Hezbollah, especially with a series of devastating attacks which have killed numerous civilians. The bloodiest incident thus far centers near the village of Qana, which had been a firing platform for the Katyushas. The Israeli counter-attack took the lives of at least 75 Lebanese civilians, and contributed to a growing wave of internal activism on behalf of a cease-fire. Most U.S. media seems convinced that the real winner in all of this is Syrian President Harez al-Assad, who for the past forty-eight hours has kept U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher and his party literally waiting for an audience. Some observers believe that Assad may be using the latest "Party of God" offlensive as a card in his negotiations with Israel over the sticky issue of the Golan Heights. Others suggest that it is the Israelis who are trying to use the instability in Lebanon to force Assad to come to the bargaining table, in exchange for new talks dealing with the Israel-Syria border. The problem with either scenario is both the intransigence of Mr. Assad, and the fact that a fourth country -- Iran -- is also a player in this regional conflict. The New York Times noted that "Mr. Assad is not a tender man, nor has he been moved to compromise for nearly 30 years by the fact that Israel has occupied the Golan Heights." Egyptian officials who themselves have no love of the Syrian government, consider Assad to be ruthless and unmoved by whatever problems the Lebanese may be having either with Hezbollah or with the Israelis. They point out that Assad murdered 15,000 of his own people who rebelled against his authority back in the 1980's. While Hezbollah cooperates closely with the Syrian intelligence service, it is really the clerical regime in Iran which calls the shots. The specifics of that task are handled by VEVAK, the Iranian secret service presided over by Interior Minister Fallahian. VEVAK runs the terrorist network centered in Bonn, Germany, which hunts down and liquidates enemies of the Tehran regime; it is also behind the training of Islamic insurgents operating in Bosnia, Pakistan and even Turkey. VEVAK supplies Hezbollah with everything from cash to Stinger missiles. The latter are obtained on the international arms black-market; at least five Stingers came from Islamic guerillas in Afghanistan, who in turn had received them from covert CIA operatives for use in their civil war against the former Soviet regime in Kabul. It is doubtful that the simplistic, if bloody, course of action pursued by the Israeli military will do much to blunt Hezbollah. The ferocity of the Israeli attacks, particularly against civilian areas, has prompted even moderates in the mideast to condemn the Peres government. Tel Aviv keeps up the refrain that Hezbollah initiated the latest round of violence, but the longer the Israeli offensive lasts, the less likely it is that Iran's proxy-guerilla army in Lebanon will be adversely affected. ****************** CATHOLIC CHURCH PERPETUATING ANOTHER RELIGIOUS HOAX ? "Holy Coat of Trier" Has Dubious History, Authenticity... In Trier, Germany, credulous believers are "flocking" to that city's cathedral in hopes of seeing yet another religious artifact being attibuted to one "Jesus Christ." Four thousand of the faithful attended the special mass which kicks off the month-long mystical shindig featuring the "Holy Coat of Trier," a brown robe which some insist was worn by J.C. during his trek to Golgatha and his crucifixition. The garment has been modified a bit over the decades -- it now has decorative sections made from silk and a cotton-blend known as taffeta, and in the 19th century it was immersed in a rubber solution to preserve it. Reuters news service said that this latter procedure would make it difficult, if not impossible, for carbon dating and other tests which might be useful in establishing the age of this Christic Coat. Even though the veracity of the "Holy Coat of Trier" depends mostly on legend and blind faith, church and tourism officials are plowing ahead with the celebration. "The local diocese plans to make the most of the pilgrimage with a range of associated events," notes Reuters. The event comes at a time when the German government is spending considerable money promoting tourism around that country's religious events and buildings, including an anniversary for Martin Luther. The "Holy Coat" has been a big box-office draw in years past, too; the diocese organized similar events in 1933 and 1959, attracting a total then of nearly 4,000,000 people. Skeptics and anti-clerics have countered the credulous display with some of their own theatrics, including an exhibition of Karl Marx's underwear. That doesn't seem to be putting a damper on the enthusiasm or credulity, though, of the participants. Reuters quoted one believer who had ventured from France to see the garmet, who said that its authenticity was not important. "The robe has its own value anyway," he noted. Meanwhile, Church officials are hedging their bets on whether the coat is the real thing, or just another religious fake. Bishop Herman Spital told worshippers last Sunday that the robe had a "special symbolic value", especially since it had been venerated in the Trier cathedral for the past eight centuries. "At this moment it becomes clear to us that Jesus Christ was a human being just like us...He wore clothes like we do and felt the wind, sun and the rain in the streets of Palestine, and his clothes protected him," claimed the Bishop. Just Another Fake? Church officials are often oblique concerning claims made about relics and other religious artifacts, especially since the debacle over the "Shroud of Turin." After extensive scientific examination, most researchers concluded that the Shroud -- purported to be the burial cloth of Jesus Christ -- was not consistent with material which had been made twenty or so centuries ago. Others pointed out that the "miraculous" imagery which seemed to have been projected onto the Shroud was achieved through techniques and materials which are well known. The "Holy Coat of Trier" has an equally dubious origin. The book "Forgery in Christianity" by Joseph Wheliss (Louisville, 1930) discusses religious fakery, noting: "The possession of the seamless garment of Christ is claimed by the Cathedral of Trier and by the parish church of Argenteuil; the former claims that the relic was sent by the Empress St. Helena, basing their claim on a document sent by Pope Sylvester to the Church of Trier, but this cannot be considered genuine...The relic itself offers no reason to doubt it genuineness. Plenary indulgences were granted to all pilgrims who should visit the cathedral of Trier at the time of the exposition of the Holy Coat, which was to take place every seven years..." Supporters of the "Holy Coat" echo Wheliss's claim that it was linked to the Empress Helena. She becomes an important link, though, in the story of the garment and some more blatant religious frauds, including the "true cross" upon which the christian messiah was allegedly crucified. Charles Mackay, author of the insightful book "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds" (London, 1841, Richard Bentley) mentions Helena in his chapter titled "Relics." "The reliquism of modern times dates its origin from the centuries immediately preceding (sic) the Crusades...The greatest favourite was the wood of the true cross...It is generally asserted, in the traditions of the Romish Church, that the Empress Helen, the mother of Constantine the Great, first discovered the veritable "true cross" in her pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The Emperor Theodosius made a present of the greater part of it to St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, by whom it was studded with precious stones, and deposited in the principle church of that city. It was carried away by the Huns, by whom it was burnt, after they had extracted the valuable jewels it contained." Mackay notes that fragments of the "true cross" periodically appeared, enough so that "if collected together in one place, (would) have been sufficient to have built a cathedral." Of these fragments, he added: "Happy was the sinner who could get a sight of one of them; happier he who possessed one!", and "Annual pilgrimages were made to the shrines that contained them, and considerable revenues collected from the devotees." Mackay and other authors have noted the popularity of "relics" with credulous, un-critical religious believers. Some examples include tears shed by J.C., drops of blood from Jesus or Mary, breast milk from Mary, even hair and toe-nail fragments which, says Mackay, "were sold at extravagant prices." "Many a nail, cut from the filthy foot of some unscrupulous ecclesiastic, was sold at a diamond's price, within six months after its severance from its parent toe, upon the supposition that it had once belonged to a saint or an apostle." Another religious artifact hauled away by Empress Helen were the "Holy Stairs" which supposedly once graced the private home of Pontius Pilate. Mackay says: "They are said to be the steps which Jesus ascended and descended when brought into the presence of the Roman governor. They are held in the greatest veneration at Rome...the knees of the faithful must alone touch them in ascending or descending, and that only after the pilgrims have reverentially kissed them." Helena was also responsible for the construction of both the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Church of the Nativity. These mark the alleged burial and birth places of the Messiah. Are any of these artifacts truly authentic? Probably not. Helena's pilgrimage to Jerusalem took place in 325 c.e. (current era); the sale of "relics" was already a thriving business for the unscrupulous. Copies of the same "real" item were sold to numerous buyers. There was even the grisly trafficking in human bones which were said to belong to the "Holy Innocents", those children allegedly massacred by King Herod in his attempt to kill the infant messiah. Figures on the number of "Holy Innocents" range from 14,000 to as many as 144,000, assuring a nearly-perpetual source of bones for the satisfaction of relic enthusiasts. One, Two, Many Crucifictions Declarations that one was the "messiah" were fairly common in the period of time Jesus Christ is said to have lived. Many self-proclaimed saviors attracted followers, claimed to have magical powers, and insisted that they were the offspring of god. That fact alone -- combined with the lack of physical evidence that Jesus as a person really existed -- has led many scholars to suggest that "Jesus Christ" is a combination of many personalities mixed liberally with themes and metaphors from that apocalptic era. Roman and other records of the time mention numerous messiahs; "Jesus" was a common name of the period, and belonged to several alleged saviors, and "Christos" simply meant "savior." Indeed, the list of crucified saviors claimed by assorted religions is a long one, including: Jesus -- Nazareth Krishna -- India Sakia -- India, Mithra -- Persia Tammuz -- Babylonia Criti -- Chaldea Attis -- Phrygia Baili -- Orissa Thules -- Egypt Hesus -- the Druids (see Graham's "Deceptions and Myths of the Bible.") Critics suggest that the entire crucifiction story as found in the New Testament (specifically, Matthew) merely echoes earlier themes and metaphors, including the story of a cross, the birth of a god-man to a virgin, and his subsequent death by crucifiction and miraculous resurrection. Texts considered sacred even by Christians fail to give any provenance or documentary support that the artifacts claimed as genuine by Empress (St.) Helena are truly authentic. Matthew 27:35 states "And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots..." A Variant of "Grail" Lore? The legend surrounding the "Holy Coat" is of the same folklore as that which eventually fostered the story about the "Holy Grail." Indeed, the "holy coat" garment in Matthew disappears, and the story of the Joseph of Arimathea quickly appears. By verse 57, Matthew tells how this man obtained the body of the messiah from Pilate and buried it in a tomb -- later immortalized by Helena's Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. In non-biblical legend, though, Joseph ends up with the cup mentioned by Matthew back in chapter 22,verse 27; like the cross, and the "Holy Coat" and the tomb, the cup passed into mythic history in the form of the "Holy Grail," and the tales about King Arthur. Joseph transported the cup, according to the legend, all the way to Glastonbury in southwestern Britain; from there , the tale was further embellished by the monks at the nearby Abbey of Glastonbury. And More About Helena... Aside from being a frenetic collector of religious relics of questionable authenticity, Helena (later made a "saint" by the Vatican) was the mother of Constantine the Great, who did much to make Christianity the official religion of the post-pagan Roman empire. One of his ambitious projects was to re-build the old city of Jerusalem, where successive layers of religious temples to various gods had been constructed over the centuries. He began by tearing down the temple built for the worship of Jupiter; underneath was a small cave with a ledge and a large rock nearby. For zealous Christians of the time, including Helena, that was "proof" that they had found the tomb of the messiah constructed by Joseph of Aramathea. According to historian John Romer in his took "Testament", the discovery of this "holy of holies" was "an identification based, like Christianity itself, on faith." Meanwhile, the aged Helena arrives in Jerusalem on her pilgrimage with numerous other believers. Romer describes how: "Aided by the equally aged Bishop Marcarius, using prayers, dreams and diligent questioning, Helena discovered the True Cross of Jesus, with Pilate's wooden label still beside it... most of the sacred wood was shipped back to Constantinople; since those days it has been distributed in thousands of splinters throughout Christendom. After carefully measuring all of these fragments that he could find, a French divine the nineteenth century concluded that their combined volume would not amount to sufficient wood on which to crucify a man! But such rationalism, however well intentioned, belies the relics' true power..." Indeed, the "true power" of scraps of wood, drops of water or blood and other religious relics, is not that they are true in any historical or physical sense, but that they are believed. Many continued to accept the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, despite considerable scientific evidence that it could not have existed at the time Jesus Christ is said to have lived; others would "believe" in the verisimilitude of the "Holy Coat of Trier" if exacting scientific examination showed that it also was a fake. Interest in the "Holy Coat" at this time in history is also significant; there is a marked rise in the number of "sightings" of mystical entities, be they UFO's or apparitions of the Virgin Mary or even Jesus. We are less than four short years away from the new millennium, the year 2,000, which some observers suggest is laden with apocalyptic and eschatological significance. In a time when many are predisposed to belief in the End of the World, religious iconography -- even in the form of a swatch of rag having dubious historical authenticity -- can confirm one's faith in the irrational. **************** Coming in this evening's AANEWS Dispatch: -- More on the rising number of Jesus-Mary sightings. It's a bird, no! It's a plane! It's... -- Is the "March for Jesus" coming to YOUR neighborhood? -- TheistWatch short shots. ** On-Line resources from American Atheists: -- If you are a current member of AA, you can participate in aachat, our newsgroup for the discussion of Atheism, First Amendment concerns, AA activities and related issues. Send e-mail to:, and include your name, address and zip code. The aachat Moderator will contact you. -- You may forward, re-post or quote from these dispatches, provided that credit is given to aanews and American Atheists. -- Coming soon: the American Atheists site on the world wide web. You'll be able to learn more about Atheism, state-church separation and keep up-to-date on AA activities. You will even be able to order directly from our new on-line catalogue, so keep watching aanews for more information! -- Learn more about American Atheists. Send e-mail to:, and include your name and mailing address. ****** AANEWS is a free service of 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 this list, send e-mail to:, and put "info aanews" in the body of the message. Written and edited by Conrad Goeringer, The LISTMASTER.


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