Date: Sat, 20 Jun 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for June 20, 1996 nn nn AA

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Date: Sat, 20 Jun 1996 12:25:24 -0700 from: Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for June 20, 1996 Reply-To:, nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn # 72 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuun 6/20/96 In This Edition... * Cult Leader's Kids: Taking Over The Business of "Supreme Truth" * Church Fire Hysteria Ready to be Extinguished? * One Man's Opinion ~ Forgotten Black Atheists * About This List... AUM LEADER'S SONS NOW IN CONTROL OF RELIGIOUS CULT America had it's O.J. trial. Britain has Princess Di. And Japan has Shoko Asahara, leader of the bizarre Aum Supreme Truth cult, who is on trial for 17 crimes, including last year's Sarin gas attacks in the Tokyo subway which killed 11 people and injured over 5,000 more. The legal proceedings have captivated Japanese audiences and a small army of news correspondents; and hardly a day passes without more revelation about how the 40,000 member cult engaged in everything from mind-control of followers to murder, as it awaited the end of the world prophesized by its guru, Asahara. The 41-year old cult founder is often detatched and silent while court proceedings are conducted. Prosecutors and investigators say that Asahara masterminded most of the crimes carried out by the Aum sect. And the trial is prompting questions about how far the group got in its efforts to penetrate critical sectors of Japanese society and government, and to accumulate a large arsenal of conventional, biological and even nuclear weapons in anticipation of doomsday. Leadership of Supreme Truth has now officially been passed to two of Asahara's sons, says his 17-year old daughter, Ajitanatha Durga. According to the Electronic Telegraph, the decision "is believed to be an attempt tp prevent the outlawing of the group, as Asahara's absence might recast the cult as no longer a threat to society." But the two new "leaders" are only two and three years of age, which raises speculation that Asahara will remain de facto head of the Aum cult, possibly working through Durga and others. Cult attorneys are vigorously challenging the mountain of evidence which has been accumulated by Japanese authorities, including confessions from ex-membes. Some predict that the trial could last for up to ten years. "Cult at the End of the World?" According to writers David Kaplan and Andrew Marshall, the Aum religion was a cross between science fictionesque fascination with high tech and a doomsday vision of the future right out of the pages of a cyberpunk novel. While followers were stoking their brain on chemicals and electro-shock regimens, Aum scientists were busy accumulating everything from biological and chemical weapons to working on lasers and possibly even nuclear bombs. Asahara had predicted that the world would come to a cataclysmic end in 1997, that the bulk of the human race would be exterminated, and the few survivors would then emerge to build an Aum-governed new age Utopia. The Sarin gas attacks in Tokyo were just Supreme Truth's way of giving history a little nudge in the right direction. Who believed in the Aum's mental Cuisinart's blend of Buddhism, Christianity, New Age crankery and apocalyptic terror? A shocking number of followers came from the ranks of Japan's educated youth and technocrats who labored in diverse scientific disciplines. The cult's Ministry of Science was staffed by chemists, physicists, astronomers, engineers and computer wizards. Say Kaplan and Marshall in their book about the Aum sect, "The Cult at the End of the World": "Of those seeking out Aum, many were students of the sciences or technical fields like engineering. More than a few were the otaku -- Japan's version of computer nerds -- technofreaks who spent their free time logged on to electronic networks and amassing data of every type." A Paradigm for the Upcoming Millennium Aum's gas attacks in Tokyo and other cities may have succeeded in nudging history, albeit not exactly in the way that Asahara predicted. Visions of impending catastrophe and doomsday, mostly linked to the onset of the year 2000 and the Third Millennium, are becoming surprisingly common. From new age crazies to biblical fundamentalists, the End of the World, the Second Coming and other eschatological themes are eliciting everything from a rash of books and magazine articles to television specials and Hollywood catastrophe offerings. Disquieting visions of apocalypse are being pounded into the public consciousness. And even with the arrest and prosecution of top Supreme Truth leadership -- and a hunt for wanted Aum officials still at large -- hundreds of cult members have either gone into hiding or taken "straight" jobs to raise more funds for the cult and its legal defense. Prosecutors are suggesting that they will invoke a rarely-used law, and ask that the Aum Shinri Kyo be officially abolished. That probably won't have much effect on the organization, which can simply re-form under a new name. There are over 16,000 registered cults and religious groups in Japan. Aum followers can re-package Asahara's bizarre theopolitical message of Doomsday -- maybe not in time for the 1997 deadline, but certainly for the year 2,000. Says Yoshiya Abe, a University sociologist and expert on Aum: "We cannot deny the possibility that those persons (Aum followers) could do something well beyond the imagination of ordinary citizens." ******************* CHURCH ARSON HYSTERIA READY TO BE PUT OUT? Aftermath May Be Policy of Government Financial Aid... Like a drunken revelry which has gone on for far too long, the public flap over a rash of suspected church "arsons" may finally be winding down -- but not without a few last minute stunts from politicians and religious leaders. Today's issue of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette is receiving nationwide attention. A story by Julian Barnes and Doug Peters says that "Evidence of 'racially motivated' arson has turned up in only nine of 39 black congregation church fires that federal officials have decided to investigate." Of the 39 fires now under investigation: one was accidental, two have been linked to racial hatred, seven had a possible racial connection and eleven "appear to be cases of arson inspired by motives other than race" according to CNN. Eighteen are unsolved. Of the racially-motivated fires, one involves the possible involvement of the Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. Racist skinheads and neo-nazis are possibly involved in the others. The Arkansas-Democrat story quoted Dr. Earl Black, a political scientist at Rice University, who said that the recent church fires take on a special significance because of previous violence directed against blacks throughout the South. "Racism in the South today is neither as prevalent nor as virulent as the racism of thirty years ago", Black said. " Sensationalizing the racial motivation of the fires risks a case of the boy crying wolf," added the newspaper. Those findings support other studies about arson rates, including incidence-reports tracking fires in churches as compared to the nationwide arson total (about 1%). Yesterday, President Clinton admitted the he did not believe that the fires were the result of a conspiracy, a position at odds with many religious leaders. The president added: "I do believe a lot of these incidents are racially motivated and they tend to play off one another." Yesterday, two black were arrested and charrged in the May 24 fire that damaged a meeting hall at the all-black Mount Tabor Baptist Church in Cerro Gordon, N.C. That news caught some religious leaders off guard, and the National Council of Churches went into spin-doctor mode, releasing a statement that declared:"The vast majority of these cases are still unsolved and in most of those cases, those arrested have been young white males." Investigator Earl Woodham of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms said that "at least one of them had a professional relationship with the church," and that the agency had "ruled out race as the motive in this fire." The drum-beat that the fires were "an attack on religion" was repeated again yesterday. Robert George, head of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights told a media gathering that the suspected arsons and other fires were "an attack on Christianity," backing up a statement made earlier by Christian Coalition Director Ralph Reed that "religion is under attack in America, and an attack on a church, temple of mosque is an attack on all of us." In other developments: * President Clinton met yesterday with state governors and law enforcement officials. Substantial details about the meeting are not being reported, although USA TODAY said that participants "discussed ways to prevent, investigate and prosecute the arsons." * Off the political radar screen -- again -- is a proposal announced earlier this week by the Clinton administration which would establish a special $10,000,000 guaranteed-loan fund to rebuild churches which have been destroyed due to racial or religiously-motivated arson. AANEWS is still tracking this story, and is trying to find out what Senator Edward Kennedy will be proposing in Congress in terms of either direct financial grants to religious groups, or a scheme to funnel money to churches under the veneer of "crime-victim restitution." * The church fires may have now attracted copy-cats, possibly due to the considerable media attention. Psychologist Knneth Fineman, who has studies the arson phenomena, told USA TODAY thast "When publicity goes up, there's always the chance someone wants to cash in on that -- and then the motives become reaslly mixed." * The offer of government aid to rebuild churches has become questionable not only on constitutional grounds, but for practical reasons as well. Religious and other groups have announced plans that could raise millions of dollars to rebuild torched churches. Eight foundations are expected to announce today grants of $2.5 million to one fund, and even the Southern Baptist Convention voted to pledge $300,000. (This becomes interesting in lieu of the group's decision earlier to give vent to its homophobic and censorious impulses and boycotting the Disney Co. over its policy of insurance coverage for same sex couples.) * In the House and Senate, the scramble to hop on the church arson publicity bandwagon continues. Both Senator Kennedy and Sen Lance Fairloth (R-NC) have introduced legislation making it easier to prosecute church arsons in federal court. The House sponsored Church Arson Prevention Act has already been passed. * One result of the arson flap -- and yesterday's meeting at the White House -- will be a rush of new and bigger appropriations for law enforcement agencies, including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. That may backfire on the Christian Coalition, which on Tuesday demanded that BATF agents be taken off the church arson investigation, in part due to the involvement of Treasury agents in the racist "Good Old Boys Round-Up." Clinton wants another $12 million in the BATF budget, and White House press secretary Mike McCurry said that the administration wants the Justice Department to reallocate another $9.5 million into the church arson probe. ************************ One Man's Opinion... BLACK CHRISTIAN CHURCHES, WHITE CHRISTIAN BIGOTS From the start , one thing needs to be made clear. THIS Atheist, anyway, condemns in no uncertain terms any violence directed against churches black or white. The same must be said for any racist ideologies which consider a group to be "inferior" based on skin color, or some other minor external feature. Human beings are constituted out of the basic "star stuff" Carl Sagan likes to talk about, and we're from the same gene pool. Our ancestors crawled out of the same genetic slime , although many "creationists" find that to be a discomforting notion. And more: black, white, brown, yellow, red -- we're also animals. We have no "soul" which renders us the favorite sons or daughters of some celestial deity. We are part of the animal kingdom. Whatever advantage we have in surviving in the natural world comes in part from our brain development, a neurophysiological phenomena which -- hopefully -- gives rise to such attributes as common sense, critical reasoning, and ethics. Which brings this Atheist back to religion, churches and violence. Think of the struggle for civil rights and automatically politicians, religious leaders and the media conjure up the image of black churches. There is certainly some truth in that metaphor; black churches have played an important part in the development of the modern civil rights movement. But not everyone -- black or white -- who marched for dignity and rights was automatically marching on behalf of religion. Did you know, for instance, that during the "Harlem Renaissance," black Atheists and freethinkers were active giving lectures, writing books and articles, and educating anyone who would listen -- black or white -- about history, Atheism and reason? And did you know that many of the titans who are admired as heroes in the black movement for civil rights were Atheists and freethinkers? Along with ministers and priests who happened to work for equality were Atheists like Hubert Henry Harrison, dubbed "The Black Socrates" for his astonishing breadth of knowledge. Another black Atheist, John G. Jackson -- a scholar in his own right -- noted that Harrison "was a champion of labor, a foe of superstition and an avowed Atheists. At one of his lectures he was asked why he rejected Christianity; he replied that any rational Black man who accepted Christianity must be crazy. As Harrison pointed out, the Christian Bible is a slave master's book..." Jackson himself is one of that largely-ignored pantheon of black Atheist intellectuals. Between 1932 and 1977 he lectured on countless subjects at the Ingersoll Forum sponsored by the old American Association for the Advancement of Atheism. He wrote for the original "Truth Seeker" magazine, and went on to become a lecturer in black studies at Rutgers University. He's one of my favorite Atheist scholars, especially for works such as "Pagan Origins of the Christ Myth." We should remember that like white society, black society reflects a wide diversity of opinion on matters political, social and religious. Unfortunately, the sterotypical image of blacks huddling in churches is neither accurate nor uplifting. A whole "hidden history" exists about black Atheists and freethinkers; but you won't hear about this from either President Clinton or the nation's religious leadership. We also need to remember that much racial bigotry and violence is intertwined with religious dogma. The Ku Klux Klan considers itself an organization defending "white, Christian America." There is a long tradition, particularly in the American South, which idealizes some antebellum "civilization" based on feudal economics, Christianity, fraudulent genteelness and, of course, racism and slavery. A southern legislator recently tried to justify slavery as a Christian institution, supported with quotations from the bible. We doubt that you'll find THOSE passages from "god's revealed word to man" discussed from pulpits on Sunday, or in the pages of re-written "children's bibles" on sale at the mall bookstore! Today, many neo-nazi's, skinheads and other racists justify their bigotry on theopolitical grounds. It is no accident that organized racism in America today is often linked to groups such as Christian Identity, Church of the Creator, or Aryan Nations's Church of Jesus Christ Christian. It may be argued, of course, that these are "fringe" religious groups which do not represent the bulk of American religion. But "closet racism" and bigotry still lurk in the parsonages and pews of many manistream churches today. Some of that intolerance is directed against gay men and women; or it exists in a more subtle, patronizing form which seeks to coopt blacks on behalf of a basically white, Christian Coalition-style agenda. The emotional climate surrounding these church fires has resulted in more than just the destruction of buildings. It has encouraged a false "unity" based on superstition, and turned an unfortunate series of events into a publicity bonanza for select religious groups. Mr. Reed of the Christian Coalition has much to gain by portraying the fires as "an attack on organized religion in America." What better way to build momentum for the rest of his group's theopolitical agenda -- vouchers, bans on abortion, censorship, repeal of equal rights for gays or women, abolition of public schools, creationism, and other issues important to the "people of faith?" President Clinton has shown his disregard for civil liberties in signing the Communications Decency Act, and saying that he will even support the "Defense of Marriage" legislation which could land on his White House desk any day. He and presumed GOP challenger Bob Dole are trying to outdo each other in a shamless quest for political gain which appeals to "family values" and religious belief. AANEWS has taken the position that as reprehensible as these church fires may be, they do not justify an emergency by-pass of the First Amendment. Calls for the establishment of special loan funds, or disingenuous proposals to "get around the state-church problem" by declaring church congregations to be "crime victims" entitled to government funds, must be resisted. And we encourage you to educate yourself about Atheist history, especially those black Atheists like John Jackson, Hubert Henry Harrison and many others who contributed so much to our cause. A special edition of AMERICAN ATHEIST MAGAZINE was published, titled "Atheists of a Different Color: the Minority's Minority." You can read about J.A. Rogers, A. Philip Randolph, John Clarke, Yosef ben-Jochannan and many others. It's part of our legacy as Atheists. And it is a worthwhile read. *************** For a copy of "Atheists of a Different Color," send $4.50 to: American Atheists, PO Box 140195, Austin, Texas 78714. You might also wish to request a copy of the new American Atheist Press catalogue, and other information about American Atheists. Be sure to include your name and a return postal address. ******* About This List... AANEWS is a free service from 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 information about American Atheists, send e-mail to:, and include your name and postal address in the message body. You may post, forward or quote from this dispatch, provided that appropriate credit is given to aanews and American Atheists. For subscribe/unsubscribe information, send mail to:, and put "info aanews" (minus the quotation marks, please!) in the message body. Edited and written by Conrad F. Goeringer, The LISTMASTER.


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