Date: Sat, 20 Jun 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for June 20, 1996 nn nn AA
Date: Sat, 20 Jun 1996 12:25:24 -0700
Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for June 20, 1996
Reply-To: firstname.lastname@example.org, AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net
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
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
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
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
* 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
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
About This List...
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