Date: Wed, 29 May 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for May 29, 1996 nn nn AAN
Date: Wed, 29 May 1996 12:25:24 -0700
Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for May 29, 1996
Reply-To: email@example.com, AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net
nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn
#49 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 5/29/96
In This Issue...
* Squabble Over "Character Education" Looms
* American Atheist Media Appearance
* Atheist Morals: You CAN "Do The Right Thing" Without "God"
* Israeli Elections: Religious Parties Battle For Power
* Episcopal Flap Over Gay Ordination Renewed
* TheistWatch: Buchanan, And How To Threaten A Government
* Information On This List
''CHARACTER EDUCATION'' GREETED WITH MIXED REVIEWS
A burgeoning "character education" movement designed for public schools
which attempts to teach kids a system of values distinguishing right from
wrong is getting a mixed reaction throughout the country, and suspicion from
some religious movements.
Programs dealing with character development have become popular; in the
last three years, parent-teacher projects have been launched in New York,
Washington, Albuquerque and even smaller areas like Battle Creek, Michigan.
Operating under names such as Character Counts!, the programs seek to teach
students basic moral virtues from a secular perspective. Proponents see
these efforts as a badly-needed alternative to the questionable "self-esteem"
fads of the 70's, and a response to deteriorating social conditions that
affect the nation's schools and the 62.6 million Americans with children at
Character education has been accepted by many baby boomers with gusto.
President Clinton and his wife Hillary have hosted two White House
conferences on the subject, with a third scheduled for next month. During his
State of the Union message last January, he urged schools "to teach character
education: good values and good citizenship." Similar sentiments were voiced
by former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, who as far back as 1986 was urging
greater emphasis on the teaching of values in public schools.
All sides of the issue seem to agree that efforts such as "values free"
educational efforts are doomed; the argument now seems to focus on the
broader questions of whether the "values" promoted through character building
programs will be secular, or based on religious ideologies.
Many materials used in the character and values programs come from the
Josephson Institute on Ethics, which several years ago organized a conference
of diverse groups and issued a statement known as the Aspen Declaration. The
Character Education Partnership has become a vehicle for developing the
Declaration and other concepts into a workable program for use in schools.
Among the points emphased by Charles Haynes, a leading exponent of character
* "By teaching civic virtue and democratic culture, schools become
training grounds for participation in the public square of America...Civility
allows for vigorous debate over deep differences, using persuasion and not
coercion, accompanied by willingness to seek the common good."
* "A recognition of...inalienable rights must be joined to a commitment to
guard those rights for all others."
* "By civic virtue, we mean living by the guiding principles of our
nation's framing documents that are at the hear of our common compact as
* "We are a responsibile society if we guard the fundamental rights of all
citizens and carry out the obligations of citizenship by working toward a
common vision for the common good."
* "By moral character, we mean living by core values held widely in our
society, such as caring, honesty, fairness, responsibility, and respect for
self and others."
Character programs also emphasize what it being called the "Seven
Cornerstones" including honesty, citizenship, fairness, caring,
responsibility, respect and self-discipline.
Major organizations such as the American Federation of Teachers, the YMCA,
National Education Association and even the American Youth Soccer
Organization have all come out in support of the Character Education
Partnership and related programs. That fact alone has raised some red flags
on the religious right. Charles Haynes told the Los Angeles Times last week
that "The trust level among religious conservatives is so low that even the
most carefully crafted character education initiative can blow up when
religious beliefs and religion are not taken seriously." Indeed, preparation
by AANEWS for this story uncovered widespread hostility to character building
programs from religious movements which fear the secular character of the
materials, and the fact that "god" is often not mentioned in connection with
the ethics and moral standards. According to the Times, "Many conservatives
are offended at the idea that right and worng would be taught as if they have
no grounding in religious belief. And many more are simply deeply distrustful
that the schools would intrude on an area they consider the exclusive
province of churches and parents."
Character programs often seem to reflect an effort at constructing an
almost eclectic mix of values; Michael Josephson of Character Counts! says he
wants "to return to times when people feel guilt and shame." Others worry
that the rhetoric of the character building movement is vague, or could even
provide cover for schools to teach religion or "homogenize" thought.
As these programs continue to spread, though, religious fundamentalists
and evangelicals may well step up there own attacks on "secular" value
teachings. The question of who defines these values, and upon what
standards, may become another "hot button" controversy along with sex
education, evolution, condom distribution and prayer in the public schools.
From The Editor...
AMERICAN ATHEISTS PRESIDENT TO DISCUSS CHARACTER AGENDA
Ellen Johnson, President of American Atheists, will be on NewsTalk
between 4 and 4:15 p.m. eastern time, to discuss the character building
program and its religion-based opposition. Listeners may fax in any questions
or comments during the program to 1-800-450-0019.
A QUESTION OF CHARACTER ~~ ARE ATHEISTS LESS MORAL THAN
THEIR RELIGIOUS COUNTERPARTS?
Given the opposition to the growing character education movement, it is
fair to ask whether religious training necessarily results in more ethical
standards of conduct and behavior. Atheists and even those who for other
reasons may advocate some form of secular ethical education in schools are
often attacked as not having a "basis for morality" in their lives.
Ethicists and philosophers are generally agreed today that one can have a
non-theistic basis for morality. Does god-belief result in better behavior,
According to the Josephson Institute of Ethics and an article in the San
Jose Mercury News printed in September, 1993, the findings of studies
concerned with that question "run counter-intuitive to what many people
expect." Michael Josephson told the News that "There's a general assumption
that people make that religious people are more honest than non-religious
people." He adds that "They are. Slightly."
The study found, for instance, that 13 % of strong religionists -- those
who consider faith as "essential" in their lives, lied to get jobs, that 36%
had cheated on exams in high school, and that another 30% cheated in college
tests. Those percentages were slightly below the responses of non-religious
individuals: 15% of this group lied in order to obtain employment, and the
39% of "irreligious" respondents say they had cheated on high school tests.
But only 29% of the non-religious reported cheating in college.
Other surveys have attempted to measure differences in conduct between
believers and non-believers. In 1992, the Gallup poll suggested that church
members were more likely to engage in charitable works than their
non-religious counterparts. But other studies indicate, for instance, that
Atheists constitute only about 2% of the population in prisons, and that
religious people don't always attempt to analyze how their own beliefs may be
translated into everyday action.
The News story quoted Richard John Neuhaus, editor of a religious journal
who said that "One would like to believe that people who think of themselves
as devout Christians would also behave in a manner that is in according with
Christian ethics. But pastorally and existentially, I know that this is not
the case -- and never has been."
ISRAELI ELECTION ~~ CLOSE CONTEST, AS RELIGIOUS PARTIES
CONTEST POLITICAL POWER
The voting is still going on in Israel as the country's 3.9 million
eligible voters choose who will occupy the Prime Minister post and 120 seats
in the Knesset or parliament. The top contest pits incumbent Prime Minister
and Labor Party leader Shimon Peres against Benjamin Netanyahu of the
religious conservative Likud. Both candidates have made their campaigns a
referendum on the status of the peace process with the Palestinians and the
future of any independent Palestinian state.
Polls say the race is too close to call, and both men are predicting
victory. Security has been beefed-up throughout the country, with more than
26,000 troops being deployed around polling stations.
This election marks the first time in the country's 48-year history when
the prime minister will be elected by a direct popular vote; formerly that
post was filled by an appointment from the nation's president, who in turn
was elected by the Knesset. But whoever wins has only 45 days to cobble
together a coalition government; without a clear majority in the Knesset for
either Labor or Likud, the power of Israel's militant religious parties then
In addition to Labor and Likud is the ultra-orthodox Shas or "Sephardic
Torah Guardians" group, the fifth largest of the political parties following
the 1992 elections. There are currently six Shas seats in the Knesset, and
members believe that "God is the supreme authority over any government." The
dominionist sect is led by Arieh Deri.
The Moledet party of Rehavam Ze'evi is a nationalist-religious party which
evolved from the Kach movement of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane. Kahane, a
rabid religious zionist, founded the Jewish Defense League in New York, and
later emigrated to Israel and was elected to the Knesset. The Moledet is
considered slightly less extreme than the Kach, though.
United Torah Judaism is another dominionist group, supporting the
establishment of Israeli settlements on religious grounds. The party is
headed by Meir Porush, and believes that all government policy should be
strictly based on Jewish theological law. United Torah is expected to retain
all of its four seats in the Kenesset.
Backing the Likud in supporting Netanyahu is the National Religious Party.
NRP supports only local control of certain areas for Palestinians, opposes
any Palestinian state, and seeks to expand the controversial Jewish
settlements in conquered territories.
Religion has been a major factor in the campaign. Critics of Mr. Peres
accuse him of abandoning the sanctity of the Jewish homeland by negotiating
with the Palestinian Liberation Organization, but fundamentalists have also
attacked Netanyahu for his extra-marital affair which he admitted to during a
TV broadcast several years ago. Mr. Netanyahu is considered more of a
religious conservative, especially in connection with foreign policy; it is
not known, though, what changes if any he would make in the Israeli domestic
policy in terms of secularism.
Voting results may not be known for days, especially if the election is
EPISCOPAL - GAY RIGHTS CONTROVERSY NOT OVER?
The fight within the Episcopal Church over the ordination of gays into the
priesthood may not have been resolved, despite an ecclesiastical court's
decision to not press heresy charges against a bishop who admitted that he
did ordain a gay man. On May 15, an Episcopal tribunal ruled in a 7 to 1
decision to dismiss charges against Bishop Walter Righter for his ordination
of Barry Stopfel as a deacon in the Diocese of Neward in 1990. In the church
hierarchy, a deacon ranks slightly below a full priest. The court ruled that
the church had no "core doctrine" barring Righter from ordaining a
"non-celibate, homosexual person living in a faithful and committed sexual
relationship with a person of the same sex."
Yesterday, Bishop John Spong of the Diocese of Newark hailed the ruling
again, comparing the decision to the roots of the church and King Henry
VIII's move to sever religious ties with Rome, 1533-1535.
But now, others within the hierarchy are speaking out; a group of 10
Episcopal bishops is now declaring that they will reject the court's
decision, although they were not seeking to force a schism in the 2.5 million
member church. Instead, they will take their case to the church's General
Convention which meets in July, 1997 in Philadelphia. Among the ten bishops
is William C. Wantland of the Wisconsin Diocese, one of those who filed the
original accusation or "presentment" against Bishop Righter and called for a
heresy trial. During a press conference held late yesterday in Dallas,
Texas, Bishop James Stanton called the decision "deeply flawed and
erroneous," and added that it "swept away two millennia of Christian teaching
regarding God's purpose in creation.
While the Episcopal sect is numerically small, it is nevertheless
considered a powerful and influential "mainstream" religion in American
protestantism. It has produced more U.S. Presidents than any other faith,
and includes within its ranks former President George Bush. After the
court's decision on May 15, it is also the largest Christian church in the
country to permit the ordination without penalty of noncelibate homosexuals.
That policy could change, however, in 1997.
THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS
On the political front, don't count out Pat Buchanan, who still intends to
take his "family values" and "America first" morals crusade to the floor of
the upcoming GOP National Convention. Party honchos are desperately trying
to find a way to keep the Buchanan organization within the ranks, and keep
other fundamentalist-evangelical religious conservatives happy as well.
Buchanan is still being promoted for a third party slot by the Christian
reconstructionist US Taxpayers Party. And over the weekend, a flap about the
upcoming Washington state GOP gathering may have provided the pundits and
observers with a preview of what's coming for the national Republican shindig
in California. . Buchanan told the media that he would make "no deal" with
Washington state GOP officials for an opportunity to address their gathering,
in exchange for a giving a clear endorsement of presumed party standardbearer
Bob Dole. State Chairman Ken Eikenberry had send Buchanan a letter of invite
to the state meeting, but only if Pat agreed to certain conditions. In
addition to the explicit support for Dole, Buchanan would have had to agree
to shut down his campaign phone banks and sign a GOP "loyalty oath."
Word is that nationwide the Buchanan apparatus is very much in-tact, with
supporters ready to mount an effort within a third party.
Seems that the Vatican has more than its share of worries in Poland. The
political picture there has changed considerably from the heady days of the
"Walesa Revolution" which brought the Solidarity movement -- and, according
to some, the Roman Catholic Church -- to power. While not wanted to return
to Soviet-style government, there has been a distinct secular backlash in the
country, with many poles worried about the invasive antics of Mother Church,
especially over issues such as abortion, the educational curriculum and
freedom of the press. The defeat of Walesa's apparatus by Aleksander
Kwasniewski and his SLD or Alliance of the Democratic Left hasn't made things
easier for the Vatican; During a hard fought campaign, the Church's Radio
Maria and other religious media unleased racist propaganda campaigns against
Walesa's opponents, and called for believers to support only politicians who
espoused Christian (i.e. Catholic) and "patriotic" values. As a result, the
new Polish government is now balking at a proposed Concordant with the
So last week, the Pontiff turned up the heat again, telling a gathering of
Polish "pilgrims" that "Today in Poland we are seeing the trivializing of
religion and a threat by authorities to the church." He added his own
formula for Poland's salvation, saying the country needed "men of conscience,
Christian families who can testify to the valor man, love, faith, the
sanctity of marriage and the passion for life."
Look for even more pressure as the Vatican attempts to meddle in Poland's
internal affairs -- as it does with other country's, including the United
States'. The Pontiff is holding his planned 1997 visit to the city of
Wroclaw "hostage" if the government doesn't sign the Concordant, which
critics fear gives the Church far too much control in Poland's domestic
affairs, including the educational system. Bishop Tadeusz Pieroned hinted
earlier this month that the SLD-led government had better sign, just like the
Israeli's did. He told Reuters that "It shows how smart the Israeli
government is," and added that the Roman Catholic Church also opposes a new
draft constitution which omits all references to a god in its preamble.
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