Date: Wed, 22 May 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for May 22, 1996 n nn AANE
Date: Wed, 22 May 1996 12:25:24 -0700
Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for May 22, 1996
Reply-To: email@example.com, AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net
nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn
* "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
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
"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
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
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!"
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