Date: Wed, 22 May 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for May 22, 1996 n nn AANE

---
Master Index Current Directory Index Go to SkepticTank Go to Human Rights activist Keith Henson Go to Scientology cult

Skeptic Tank!

Date: Wed, 22 May 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for May 22, 1996 from: AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net Reply-To: aanews@listserv.atheists.org, AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #45 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu5/22/96 * "Gene Rights" Debate (Are These Folks Serious?) * Heavenly Wacks: Bible Discipline in Britain * Infamous Quotes * The Vatican Globetrotter ~~ A Portable Bully-Pulpit * TheistWatch: Strip Joints, Heresy, End of the World Jitters "GENE RIGHTS"? RELIGIOUS ANTI-BIOTECHNOLOGY MOVEMENT STIKES Jeremy Rifkin, dubbed the "Pied Piper of Anti-Technology", is at it again. Next Tuesday (May 28), Rifkin plans to hold a press conference annoucing his latest effort at blunting important bio-technology research, and formation of the "first genetic-rights movement in history." According to reports, including CNN, "Rifkin and the groups with whom he is working say that human genes are a part of nature, not an invention..." At issue is the question of whether genetic material can be patented. Rifkin and his coalition insist that it is not only immoral to allow patenting of genetic material, but that such a policy discourages research and development. Most researchers, biotech firms and bioethicists say that the coalition, which opposes any gene patenting, has it backwards. According to CNN, "Patent protection...encourages research by giving investors and researchers financial incentives." Regardless of the financial concerns, though, critics accuse Rifkin and many of his supporters of using religious doctrine to thwart cutting-edge biotech research. Last May, for instance, Rifkin announced the formation of another coalition made up of religious groups throughout the country to stop genetic patenting. Working with Rifkin were American Baptist Churches, National Baptist Convention, United Methodist Church and representatives of Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and Catholic groups. A statement from the group declared: "We believe (genetic engineering) is going to dwarf the pro-life debate within a few years. We are on the threshold of mind-bending debates about the nature of human life and animal life. We see altering life forms, creating new life forms, as a revolt against God's sovereignty and the attempt by humankind to usurp God and be God." But the "mind bending" debate goes back to at least 1980, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that custom designed microbes useful in cleaning up dangerous oil spills could be patented. Critics of Rifkin and his religious allies say that such anti-technology phobia endangers important research into lethal illnesses, including cancer and diabetes. They note that the first animal patent was granted in 1988 on a genetically engineered mouse used for development of anti-cancer agents. Rifkin is also the author of several books, most with anti-technology and spiritual themes, including "Algeny." While much of his concern is directed against the possible consequences of new technologies such as bio-engineering, some critics have warned that Rifkin is also promoting a medievalist, anti-science and religious agenda. Rifkin's new protest zeroes in an application by a Utah-based firm known as Myriad Genetics. In 1994, the firm announced that it had discovered a specific gene known as BRCA1, which is linked to breast cancer. The firm claims to have a new test which can tell women which type of gene they have; women with a particular mutation of that gene have about an 85% chance of developing cancer of the breast. The discovery brought praise from the National Alliance of Breast Cancer Organizations, which noted that "without that huge infusion of capital (by Myriad), it (a test) wouldn't have happened so quickly." Carl Feldbaum, president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, acknowledged that there are legitimate concerns over gene patening and its consequences, including privacy rights and discrimination based on genetic profiling. "But that's entirely separate from the patent question," said Feldbaum. " Jeremy Rifkin seems to have linked them in an unconscionable way, and convinced some people who are not really cognizant of the issues that they all relate to each other." Critics also worry that considering Rifkin's stable of supporters, which even includes Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church, the emphasis on "violating god's creation" and "gene rights' will feed other issues, including rights for fetuses and the whole abortion question. ********** BIBLE DISCIPLINARIANS HAVE BRITISH EXAMPLE TO FOLLOW After "much prayer" by Anglican and Baptist ministers, an independent religious school in Britain has announced that it will be incorporating what the Electronic Telegraph news terms a "bible-based approach" to discipline, and will begin smacking pupils. Beginning in September, students unfortunate enough to end up at the Bradford Christian School in West Yorkshire, could face corporal punishment. A local businessman who happens to be on the school's board of governors remarked that "We are praying that God will be glorified by our decision," even though the school does not appear to have any disciplinary problem. The National Union of Teachers quickly denounced the policy as "a return to the Dark Ages," and a Member of Parliament branded it as "barbaric." Government schools in Britain did away with the practice a decade ago, and the European Court of Human Rights banned spanking and hitting of children as well. Other groups are speaking out about the "bible discipline" approach, including the National Society for the Prevention of Cruety to Children. The announcement also prompted critics to point to a June, 1995 study that showed that violence against children was already out of control throughout Britain, with one in six children being severely beaten at home. Even the Bishop of Bradford chimed in saying "I would not send children of mine to a school in which corporal punishment is used." ******************** SOME NOTABLE -- AND INFAMOUS -- QUOTES "I honestly believe that in my lifetime we will see a country once again governed by Christians...and Christian values." -- Ralph Reed, Christian Coalition "The activities engaged in by the Christian Coalition...were a vital part of why we had a revolution at the polls on November 8, 1994." -- Newt Gingrich "Are we courting you? Maybe we are, but what's wrong with that? You are the glue that holds America together." -- Bob Dole, to a rally of the Christian Coalition. "Seventy percent of the people have a broad sympathy with the goals of the revolution. Iranians don't want nightclubs. They don't want their daughters in miniskirts. They don't want lots of Americans wandering around." -- anonymous diplomat quoted by Reuters news service, April 28 ************ GLOBETROTTING PONTIFF USING ''BULLY PULPIT'' John Paul II has becoming the most travelled pope in history. Last Friday, he celebrated his 76th birthday by taking a two-day visit through Yugoslavia with the usual public receptions and staged public masses at airports, stadiums and other venues. But in countries where Catholic populations are large, even a majority, the prospect of a papal visit has become a bargaining chip in the Vatican's game of international politics. Last week, a Polish church official declared that the pontiff may not visit his native Poland next year unless the Parliament in that country buckles under and ratifies a agreement with the Vatican. The pope has visited his homeland five times since he was named pontiff in 1978; observers note that his sixth visit "would be of great significance as it would take place prior to parliamentary elections," according to United Press. The Poland-Vatican concordant was originally negotiated in June, 1993 under the Solidarity government of Hanna Suchocka. Many Poles feared that the church was starting to play to invasive a role in government affairs, however, and even constituted a threat to civil liberties. They cited the church's hard-line position on issues such as abortion and censorship; a new Parliament then refused to ratify the agreement. The social democrat government of President Aleksander Kwasniewski has invited the Pope for a visit next year, but there has been no official reply. Vatican and Polish church spokesmen warn that they do not approve of a new draft constitution which omits all references to God in its preamble. (Similar objections united religious groups recently in South Africa, where the new constitution did not include sufficient spiritual language, including references to the Trinity.) Bishop Tadeusz Pieronek has also announced that ''there cannot be any bargain made'' where the church would support the constitutional preamble if the government signed the 1993 Concordant. *********** THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS... Sometimes church big shots are smarter than we think. Last Wednesday, for instance, an Episcopalian panel of eight bishops declared as non-binding a 1979 church law that said ordaining "practicing homosexuals" was taboo. That averted the first heresy trial of a church Bishop since the 1920's, and saved the Rev. Bishop Walter Righter a prolonged ecclesiastical trial. Righter had ordained a fellow named Barry Stopfel as a deacon back in 1990, knowing that he was gay. Stopfel then became rector of a church in Maplewood, N.J. Smart move, guys. Imagine the social opprobrium, scorn and just plain guffawing that would descend on the Episcopal Church if, in the middle of the 1990's, you held a HERESY trial. Mention the H-word, and I think of some poor sap locked in a stockade, or standing before some puffed-up judge wearing a dunce hat. (The defendant wears the hat, stupid!). We still have to agree, though, with the cranky church hard-liners on the issue of homosexuality. Homosexuality IS a taboo practice in the bible, and Christianity -- when interpreted consistently -- frowns upon the practice as "sinful." Which is why we'd like to see the nation's 25 million or so gay men and women OUT of, not IN, church. And don't just quote us on this issue... AP found a "leading conservative in the (Episcopal) church who said the ruling was wrong, especially since 'the practice of homosexuality is a flagrant violation of long-held Christian belief.' " ********** Your correspondent is no great fan of strip joints, which may be said to be bastions of mutual exploitation. Hordes of human stags, often with beer guts and bad breath, drool over dancers and waitresses who, hopefully, manage to part these guys with their money at a tempo as fast as the pounding music. So with that said, consider this story to be an example of the "lesser evil" conundrum. In Monroe, Ohio, a small church decided to open during the recent National Day of Prayer, and send forth blasts of religious music into the neighbor's parking lot. The lot happened to belong to " Bristol's Showclub and Revue," a strip club, which happens to share a common driveway with a garage housing the ministry of Rev. Rick Thomas. Thomas also is president of the local Citizens for Community Values. CVC has been trying for weeks to rid the small town of 4,500 residents of this "gentlemen's club," but nothing -- from pickets to proposed laws and calls for municipal regulation -- has worked. The "Showclub and Revue" is thriving, presumably with dollars from some (if not many) of those 4,500 folks the good reverend wants to protect from themselves. Blasting church music, though, apparently has not worked. Rev. Thomas has now painted biblical quotes on the side of his ministry building-garage, one of which declares: "Jesus said: Look at a woman with lust in your eye and you have committed adultery in your heart." Amen to that. *********** More End of the World Angst? TW has been tracking the course of our culture's growing fixation with the approach of the year 2000. From TV specials to supermarket tabloids, the word is getting out -- something BIG will happen as humanity closes out the second millennium. The money seems to be on an even-split between The Second Coming of Christ and the arrival of aliens. Who knows? So, expect all sorts of pre-millennium fundamentalism, pseudo-science, doomsday prognostication and just plain silliness. We recently informed readers about the CBS special "Mysteries of the Millenium" which managed to fuse mythology, the babble of Nostradamus, science-fictionesque scenarios involving collisions with asteroids and good old religious fundamentalism into a seamless tale about how we're really on the eve of destruction. But there's more to come. Seems that Chris Carter, creator of the TV hit series "The X-Files", has a new program in production called "Millennium." According to USA TODAY: "A former FBI agent moves to Seattle to save the world from the evil forces that prey on people at the end of the century." (I didn't realize they were waiting!) We're seeing more evidence of "Millennialist angst" in cyberspace, too. There is a thriving newsgroup dealing with the religious, cultural, sociological and political aspects of the approaching millennium, and prophesy sites are sprouting up all over the world wide web. There's even a "Rapture Index" which seeks to measure the approaching Final Judgment by monitoring significant international events. And in the next three or four years, we may even see a proliferation of those bumper stickers which declare: "WARNING! This car will be un-mannned in case of Rapture!" There are some pretty dubious claims being made about the Millennium, of course, including the prediction that Mikhail Gorbachev is going to play some big role in the eschatological stage-show. Gorby was a candidate just a few short years back for the post of Anti-Christ, in part because suspicious biblical fundamentalists believed his distinct "wine spot" skin on his forehead was surely the "Mark of the Beast." But Mikhail being some kind of fin de siecle heavy? Doubtful. He's running for President in Russia, and even Vladimir Zhirinovsky will get more votes than Gorby. Some bible bangers are even crossing over to that wicked, New Age art of astrology, seeing a series of planetary conjunctions in the year 2,000 as just bursting with prophetic significance. After all, Luke 21 refers to "great earthquakes...famines and pestilences; and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven." Books about the End of the World are also enjoying a thriving sales record. Christian bookstores are stocking up on titles such as "Final Signs," "RAGING into Apocalypse," and new editions of classic doomsday titles by pop-eschatologist Hal Lindsey. And just about every current event is being cited as "proof" by some religious groups that The End Is Near. One bible prophesy website called The Hotzone, for instance, cited a quote by Ted Turner, founder of CNN, who said that Americans were "The dumbest people in the world." He may be right. Still another website gives a long list of possible Antichrists, ranging from Ayatollah Khomeni and Saddam Hussein to John Kennedy, Adolph Hitler and even Barney The Dinosaur. According to Millennial Prophesy Report which does a good job at tracking such cultural craziness, "more people than you think" accept the notion that the Day of Judgment is just a few flips away on the old wall calendar. Millions are apparently serious when they discuss the probability that the "elect" will suddenly vanish from cars, planes, offices, beds, schools and other venues, to be wisked off to heaven while the rest of us remain behind to endure the Tribulation and antics of the Antichrist. One web site declares with enthusiasm, "To have millions of people disappear without a trace, the media focus can not (sic) be imagined...After the rapture, the media will have 1000's of examples to choose from...Many businesses would be paralyzed by the loss of key personnel, the economy will suffer a devastating blow, and millions of people who had friends and family members raptured will be terrified...If you turned on your television, you would find 24-hour coverage on every channel, the President having emergency meetings after emergency meeting (sic), and churches filled ot overflowing." Reportedly, there is even a California attorney who is specializing in preparing post-rapture trusts to ensure that the possessions and monies of the elect are passed on to the proper heirs. Surely, this is the stuff of an Andy Rooney commentary, or another Leslie Nielson hit. I can hear it now... "Well, Mr. Jones, you're wife flew off to heaven along with your kids and the boss, but the good news is that you're a rich man!" ************ 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 American Atheists, send e-mail to: info@atheists.org. Be sure to include your name and mailing address. You may forward, re-post or quote from this dispatch, provided that appropriate credit is given to American Atheists and the aanews. For instructions and additional information about this list, send e-mail to: aanews-request@listserv.atheists.org. Put "info aanews" in the message body. Edited and written by Conrad F. Goeringer, The LISTMASTER.

---

E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank