Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for July 15, 1996 Date: Mon, 15 Jul 1996 10:50:00 -0700 nn nn AA

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Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for July 15, 1996 Date: Mon, 15 Jul 1996 10:50:00 -0700 From: Reply-To:, nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #92 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 7/15/96 In This Edition... * Burial Rag Controversy Continues * Religion and the '96 Campaign * Fundy Rampage in Jerusalem! * TheistWatch: Forget Sunscreen in Hell * About This List... CATHOLIC PRESS HEDGES BETS ON SHROUD DATING The Shroud of Turin, a 14-foot piece of cloth which some insist is the burial wrapping of "Jesus Christ," is once again back in the news. On July 6, two Italian university professors say that they discovered the image of a Roman coin in the shroud which dates from the 16th year of the reign of the Emperor Tiberius, or 29 c.e. That date approximates the time when JC supposedly lived and died, although many biblical historians question whether or not Jesus even existed as an actual person, or was simply a religious folk-legend incorporating heroic messianic and salvationist themes. Although the Shroud has been in the custody of the Archdioces of Turin since 1578, Vatican authorities have never said that it was genuine and a holy relic. In 1988, the church permitted three separate laboratory teams using radiocarbon dating equipment to study small samples of the cloth; all three laboratories concluded that it dated from sometime between 1260 and 1390, a time noted for religious hoaxes and the manufacture of fake relics. In May, a team from the University of Texas Health Science Center told a meeting of the American Society of Microbiology that the dating techniques were flawed, since the cloth had a film of microbes and fungi. But that contention was challenged by other scientists, including world-famous geochronologist Paul Damon, who directed one of the three original teams that studied the shroud. He insisted that radiocarbon datings of many linen samples, including those from ancient Egypt, correspond to the expected time frame. Damon also stands by the dating of the shourd. The latest findings, though, concern the vague image of a coin and were presented by Pier Luigi Baima Bollone, a professor of legal medicine, and Nello Balossino, a professor of Communications. There are already problems with the "coin scenario," though. The initial finds of this latest study were made through Avvenire, a Roman Catholic Daily paper from Italy, rather than a refereed scientific journal. Professor Bollone said that his discovery was "definitive" and meant that it was "almost 100% certain" that the cloth was used to wrap Christ's body following the crucifiction. While international press reports say that church authorities were "reacting cautiously" to the news, a Catholic Theologian who is also assistant to the shroud's papal custodian told The London Times" I believe above all that science should have the last word on this latest result...But if this discovery is confirmed, it would have important consequences." The Turin newspaper "La Stampa" said that this was "new proof that the shroud is authentic.." Historians writing about the shroud have pointed out that burial cloths like the Turin artifact were common during medieval times, and have been found often in connection with pilgrimage sites. If the image is indeed of an ancient coin, it by no means requires that the cloth be from the same period. And to many critics, even the date of the shroud suggests little; an ancient date does not "prove" the existence of Jesus as an actual personality, any more than other artifacts from that era would. The Church press did not display widespread caution, though, over the latest claims. "Catholic N.Y." ran a report from the Catholic News Service declaring: "Shroud Dated To Christ's Time." The story noted that "Church officials have never claimed the shroud was used to cover Christ's body. But some have said the linen, because it bears the apparent marks of the Passion, has the religious value of a 'sign' for Christians." *************** RELIGION PLAYING LEADING ROLE IN '96 CAMPAIGN America may boast that it is a secular nation, but religious ideology continues to play a leading role as the 1996 Presidential campaign shapes up. There were developments last week affecting the aspirations of Both President Clinton and presumed GOP challenger Senator Robert Dole: * The head of the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers broke ranks with the AFL-CIO, and declared that he will not support Clinton's re-election bid because of his veto of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban. John T. Joyce, head of the 100,000 member union and a vice president of the AFL-CIO Executive Council, said that he was following his "personal convictions" because "there is no question that human life is taken in the abortions banned" in the legislation. Joyce has headed the union since 1979, and is a Roman Catholic. In an article appearing in "Commonweal" magazine, he wrote that "the struggle against abortion and against economic exploitation is really the same struggle." * On Friday, Christian Coalition Director Ralph Reed applauded the agreement reached by Republican Party leaders over the abortion issue. In a CC press release, Reed noted that the agreement negotiated between Senator Dole and Representative Henry Hyde (Chairman of the GOP Platform Committee) was satisfactory to the 1.7 million member group. That statement is actually a tactical compromise which has little substantive good news for any pro-choice Republicans. It notes that the Party is "tolerant" of those who do not agree with the platform on every issue, but still calls for "protecting the unborn" and advocates passage of a Human Life Amendment which would outlaw abortion. * Coming under more scrutinty is the "Catholic vote," especially since Clinton and Dole are both running "family values" campaigns. Dole and his handlers want to emphasize the abortion issue (and Clinton's veto of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban last April), while the President is trying to project an image as "the nation's headmaster" by talking tough on gangs, advocating school uniforms -- a hold-over from Parochial schools -- and curfews. Both parties have identified heavy concentrations of Catholic voters in key states with big chunks of electoral votes, including Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. And studies show that for the last 20-years, the majority of Catholic voters have gone with the winner. But this is proving to be problematic for both sides. Curtis Gans of the Center for the Study of the American Electorate told today's Chicago Tribune that the Catholic block "is a vote up for grabs...I don't think you've got a monolith at all." The Center identifies some sixty million Americans who say they are Catholic, but that technique is flawed: in part, it uses church-provided figures, which in turn are based not on the number of regular, faithful, church-going Catholics, but on baptismal records. Even so, those who are practicing Catholics are a flock which is straying from church teaching, especially over issues such as abortion and birth control. Neither side can take this vote for granted. Gans added that "Members of the United States Conference of Bishops are more liberal than Bill Clinton on more social issues, with the exception of abortion. They look with horror at what Congress is doing with welfare reform and on health care." That means rough going for Dole. The GOP contender may not be able to get much mileage out of the abortion issue, either; an unidentified Catholic priest told The Tribune that: "In the last election, Catholics did not vote on the abortion issue. Maybe only 10% consider abortion the prime factor. They vote on pocketbook and other issues, like the general public." According to a group called Catholic for a Free Choice, only about 15% of church members believe that abortion can never be a morally acceptable choice. Even so, it is from the ranks of committed anti-abortionists that groups like the Christian Coalition and its subsidiary Catholic Alliance are drawing active members, who in turn are the hard-working precinct soldiers so vital in campaigns. Like their evangelical and fundamentalist Protestant counterparts, these activist Catholics may be more prone to vote and participate in electoral campaigns. **** FUNDAMENTALISTS CONTINUE RAMPAGE IN ISRAEL Time has arrived for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to "pay the piper." The new head of Israel, who is non-religious but nevertheless considered a hard-liner of security issues, relied on the support of orthodox fundamentalists in his razor-thin election win over former Prime Minister Shimon Peres. In exchange for cobbling together a tenuous coalition government, Netanyahu has turned over major ministries and other powers to the religious parties, which now have a record 26 seats in the Israeli Knesset. The price, though, is turning out to be a heavy one: Israel is quickly developing the image of a country which is rolling back the twentieth century, and the whole peace process with neighboring Palestinians is now in jeopardy over the question of Jerusalem and the Jewish settlements. No sooner had Netanyahu been declared victor in last month's hotly-contested race than religious parties began announcing their plans for the country. First target was the sabbath; orthodox zealots want to shut down commerce and other activity during the holy period, and last week began rioting in Jerusalem in an attempt to block traffic on the heavilly-used Bar-Ilan Street. This past weekend, full scale rioting broke out as thousands of black-coated, beard-wearing Orthodox poured into the streets, stoning cars and battling police who used water cannons to clear the highway. Bar Ilan Streets has become a symbol in the emerging "culture war" throughout Israel pitting Orthodox religiosity against the sensibilities of a growing secular culture within the country. Much of the latter supported the peace process initiated by Shimon Peres; and while they favor security for Israel, they are in many cases deeply worried about the new-found political power of the religious parties. Non-Orthodox and secularists fear that closing major traffic corridons like Bail Ilan will "ghettoize" their neighborhoods. Last week, Transportation Yitzhak Levy of the National Religious Party announced that the the road would be closed for a four-month trial period, shutting off traffic beginning Friday night and into Saturday during the hours of the sabbath. It was the first religious measure enacted by the new Netanyahu government, but was immediately challenged in the Israeli Supreme Court which issued a temporary injunction against the measure. That provoked Orthodox protests over this past weekend. Wading into the fray against the Orthodox is the progressive Meretz Party, which was the first major political group in Israel to advocate a Palestinian homeland, and an end to Jewish settlements in occupied territories. On Friday and Saturday night, convoys of Meretz supporters poured onto Bar Ilan Street, enraging the fundamentalists. Ornan Yekutieli, a city councilman in Jerusalem and member of Meretz, told the New York Times that "This is a culture war. Here it will be decided whether Jerusalem, which is the face of the entire state of Israel, will be free and liberal, or go back to the Dark Ages." He added that "The coming period will determine whether we take a step toward Tehran or continue to be part of the enlightened nations of the world." The Times notes that enforcing the "sanctity" of the sabbath is a life-or-death matter for Ultra-orthodox fanatics. Meanwhile, both sides promise to bring out thousands of protesters next weekend. We'll be watching! ***************************** In related news, allegations of police brutality are resulting in threats from some religious groups to bring down the shaky coalition government of Benjamin Netanyahu. The issue of the closure of Bar Ilan Street is quickly being linked to another flash point, the Jewish settlements in the occupied regions. Yesterday, a new settlement plan was announced which called for building up that population from 120,000 to over 300,000, and constructing ten more settlement zones. One settlement activist said that he wanted to see up to 500,000 Israeli Jews living in the occupied lands. But Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, former Labour Housing Minister warned ominously that "the meaning of such a (settlement) plan is termination of the peace process. Meanwhile, orthodox leaders are now demanding that Jerusalem's police chief be dismissed over the weekend riots which pitted fundamentalists against cops and secularists opposed to shutting down Bar Ilan Street during the "holy period" of the sabbath. Avraham Ravitz of the United Torah Judaism party said that "It is inconceivable that in Israel, in Jerusalem, God-fearing and innocent people get beaten up." He said that without the dismissal of Chief Arye Amit , he would move for a no-confidence vote in the Netanyahu coalition. ******** THEISTWATCH SHORT-SHOTS Religious zealotry may divided people, but it can bring some segments of society closer together. TW says "Hooray!" for Palestinian Justice Minister Freih Abu Medein, who is trying to establish a civil marriage office in the Palestinian territory to cater to secular Israelis who now have to avoid orthodox religious marriage ceremonies. Under proposed new laws, only Orthodox rabbis would be empowered to marry or convert new Jews to the faith. Conservative and Reform Jewish marriages would not be permitted and recognized. Thousands of Israelis don't even want a religious ceremony, and often travel abroad to take their vows and bypass what many consider to be a cold and sterile orthodox rite. The proposal is getting a mixed reaction. Palestinian religious leaders oppose the idea of such a secular marriage, and the Chief Rabbi of Israel blasted the prospect of inter-faith unions. ***************** We recently mentioned something which French Atheists had passed on to us: that the railroad route to the famed Shrine at Lourdes (where millions of the credulous flock for "miracles") happens to be one of the most dangerous in Europe, with frequent wrecks and other misfortunes. You would think that the Mother O' All Gods could watch over her flock of supplicants more efficiently, no? Same goes for India, where the Hindu religion offers, one, two, three... billions of Gods, probably so many that even Dr. Sagan couldn't count them all! Anyway, the L.A. Times reports that an a Hindu Shrine in central India, some 200,000 people gathered at the Mahakaleshwar Temple in Ujjain when a stampede began, killing 37 and injuring another 40. And all those gods did nothing? Perhaps the souls of those poor victims will be reincarnated as turnstiles. ******** It seems that religious doctrine -- for the major churches, anyway -- is just a maleable sell-line to sucker believers and attract new members to replace dwindling ranks. After all, you'd think that if a god or gods existed, things like heaven, hell or other religious tenets would be pretty firmly established in the existential firmament, right? Not so with the Church of England. The Anglican General Synod this past weekend decided that Hell is "a state of non-being and not one of eternal torment," according to the Electronic Telegraph. "A report which says there is no fire and brimstone beyond the grave was overwhelmingly backed...and recommended as a 'substantial contribution to the Church'." That's good to know. But how, possibly, could those staid Anglican officials know such a thing? And whatabout all those decades and centuries of teaching that hell was something out of Dante and Dore? Still, some churchmen didn't like the no-hellfire-and-brimstone approach to eternity. Rev. Andrew Dow remarked during a fierce debate within the Synod that "Many people will think it unacceptable that Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot are just snuffed out and bracked with everyone else not in Heaven...We have to restore some element of the fear of God the Judge." At least now I can save on the sunscreen... *********** 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, send e-mail to:, and include your name and postal address. You may forward, post 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" in the message body (minus quotation marks, please!). Edited and written by Conrad F. 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