Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for July 17, 1996 (Evening Edition) Date: Wed, 17 Jul 1996 14:13

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Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for July 17, 1996 (Evening Edition) Date: Wed, 17 Jul 1996 14:13:31 -0700 From: Reply-To:, nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #96 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 7/17/96 (Evening Edition) In This Issue... * More Phoney Shroud Claims? * Religious Riots in Russia -- Who's Got The Body? * Saudi Media Reach Expands Throughout Middle East * ANOTHER Church Sex Abuse Scandal? * Holy Eggplant! or "Does Allah Prefer Aubergines?" * AACHAT * About This List... ZINDLER CRITICIZES SHROUD DATING CRITICS American Atheists editor and science advisor Frank Zindler, a nationally-recognized authority in the evolution-creationism debate, today criticized what he described as "recent attempts to rehabilitate the Shroud of Turin as the authentic burial cloth of Jesus." His statement, being released to the press today, follows another round of claims about the 14-foot long cloth, this time from two researchers at Turin University who say they have new evidence that the shroud is not a medieval fake, but instead dates from the alleged time of Christ's death. Yesterday, AANEWS reported that Pier Luigi Baima Bollone and Nello Balossino claimed to have detected d the faint impression on the cloth of a Roman coin from the time of the emperor Tiberius, dated 29 c.e. We noted that announcement of this "discovery" was made through the Catholic newspaper Avvenire rather than a refereed scientific journal; the Turin newspaper LaStampa said this was "new proof that the shroud is authentic," while Avvenire called the find "sensational and definitive." Text of Mr. Zindler's Statement to the Media American Atheists science advisor Frank R. Zindler is underwhelmed by recent attempts to rehabilitate the Shroud of Turin as the authentic burial cloth of Jesus, despite radiocarbon dating studies which have shown it to be a late medieval fraud. "It's hard to decide which alleged proof is the sillier," he says, referring first to a report that Italian investigators claim to have found the image of a Roman coin over the left eye of the shroud face, and then a report from a Texas team that claims that microbes and fungi on the surface of the shroud's linen fibers contaminated the test samples with "young" carbon. "If the image of a coin over the eye were to prove authentic," Zindler points out, "it would be conclusive proof that the person wrapped in the shroud was NOT a Jew, and thus could not have been the Jesus featured in New Testament legend. In ancient times, only pagans placed coins over the eyes and in the mouths of their dead -- payment for carriage across the river Styx or its equivalents. A devout Jew certainly would not do that. Moreover, most coins had human images on them, and such images were shunned by every good Jew of the time." Concerning the claim that microbes contaminated the samples subjected to radiocarbon dating, the Atheist spokesman chides the members of the American Society of Microbiology, who heard the report, for not pointing out elementary facts of microbial physiology to the team from the University of Texas Health Science Center who made the claim. "Instead of the carbon from the microbes contaminating the shroud," he notes, "it is carbon from the shroud that is contaminating the microbes. I wouldn't be surprised if carbon dating of fungi now feeding on the shroud found them to be six hundred years old!" Some microbes feeding on the linen fibers are not photosynthetic and cannot fix large amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide (the only source of "young" carbon); the vast majority of their carbon atoms are taken from the food they are absorbing. If they are feeding on old carbon compounds they will appear to be old. If they are feeding on recently produced compounds, they will appear to be their true age. On the other hand, the amount of young carbon they would contribute to the cloth fibers would hardly affect their dating at all. "It is a little short of miraculous," Zindler chuckles, "that the alleged error introduced by these bacteria just happens to be the exact amount needed to cause three independent laboratories to arrive at a date when the medieval bishop Pierre d'Arcis is known to have told the pope that the relic was a cunning, contemporary forgery. That's a bigger miracle than the image on the cloth." (End of Zindler media statement) There have been other problems, though, with claims made by the Texas team. Like the announcement from Italy, the findings were not initially made through a reputable, refereed scientific journal. In addition, the scientists involved are microbiologist Stephen Mattingly and Leoncio Garza Valdez, a San Antonio pediatrician. Dr. Douglas Donahue reportedly visited Mattingly's lab, and expressed serious doubts that the pair really knew what they were talking about, "since radiocarbon dating techniques are based in physics, not microbiology." (Austin American-Statesman). Toni Hester of the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory at University of Texas said that he "has a hard time believing that microscopic layers of bacteria and fungi would not be removed by standard chemical cleaning methods or that they could throw off an accelerator mass spectrometer. "If you couldn't believe that, you'd have to take all the dating and throw it out," Hester told the paper. ******* RELIGIOUS RIOTS IN RUSSIA Factions of the Orthodox religion continue their battle in the former Soviet Union, as rival groups of clerics and followers call for official recognition of their respective cults. Last Sunday, the breakaway Ukrainian Orthodox Church unveiled a monument over the grave of a patriarch buried last year near a trolleystop outside the country's main church. Some 1500 people gathered outside St. Sofia Cathedral where there is a monument to Patriach Volodymyr, who spent 19 years in Soviet prisons. But last year, church members were refused permission to bury that patriarch's body inside the grounds of St. Sofia by the government of President Leonid Kuchma's, who said that the cathedral was a cultural monument which could not be monopolized by any one faith. But to Orthodox believers in the Ukraine, that signifies the split between a faction led by Volodymyr's successor, Patriarch Filaret, and the local branch of the Russian Orthodox movement recognized by Moscow and the church hierarchy in Constantinople. Disputes over property and even rituals have resulted in riots and street conflicts; media reports note that most of the rioters are elderly. There is also the question of an officially recognized state church in the newly-independent Ukraine, something which President Kuchma does not want. The Roman Catholic Church is also becoming active and has many followers in the Ukraine's minority Greek population of some five million people. It was relegalized in 1991. Sunday's prayer and memorial service quickly turned violent when parishioners dug up of the carcass of the late patriarch and hurriedly buried the remains on the grounds of St. Sophia. Police and religious rioters slugged it out; also involved was the ultra-nationalist Ukrainian National Self-Defense (UNSO) group that sees an independent church as a key element in statehood. ************** RELIGIOUS SAUDIS TAKING CONTROL OF ARAB MEDIA Despite the promise of open and unfettered global communications using technologies like direct satellite broadcasting or the Internet, mass media in the middle east is rapidly being bought up by powerful financial interests based in Saudi Arabia. According to news reports, including a piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer, and other sources, the result is that Saudi religious views are "going digital," promoting a "puritanical vision for the next century." Writing in the Inquirer last week, Alan Sipress noted: "The Saudi royal family and its close associates have coupled the kingdom's oil wealth with advanced communications technology to impose a message of radical cultural conservatism and political intolerance." Among the Saudi-held communications assets are three satellite services which reach millions of viewers throughout the region over 20 channels. Adel Hammouda, an editor of an influential Egyptian magazine, told The Inquirer: "Ninety percent of the Arab media, whether directly or indirectly, is controlled by the Saudis." This enormous concentration of media power, coupled with the religious and puritanical contents, have human rights groups worried. Lurking behind the scenes of this media monopoly is the state-sponsored religious police or Mutawah, who enforce Islamic puritanism throughout the society. As a result, Saudi interests now have a 38-item list of prohibitions which are circulated to their operations abroad in other Arab states; the result has been a growing trend of sanitizing and censoring of movies, programs and printed materials. In films or TV shows, for instance, there is a ban on hugging between an actor and actress even if they happen to be portraying a married coupl.e. Item 20 on the list forbids women from singing, and item 31 "bans the depiction of a married couple talking while in bed." Even the presence on screen in the same scene between an unmarried man and woman requires a third person to be present. What else is taboo? Beach scenes, smoking, dancing and the wearing of gold necklaces if prohibited; so is anything depicting a father kissing his daughter. Insulting or blaspheming religion in any way is banned under item 11, and a variety of subjects are proscribed, including housing shortages, labor unrest, and public demonstrations of any kind. The restrictions are taking their toll, especially in Egypt. Critics note that many of the films made in that country during the 1950's and 1960's could not be produced today, including classics such as "Anna Karenina" since it touched on the subject of adultery. An Egyptian screenwriter declared that "The financial domination of the Saudis has beaten down Egyptian cinema. They tried to impose their bedouin taste on film. It's a medieval kingdom that lives in the 21st century." Observers are also concerned over the Saudi-controlled Middle East Broadcasting Center. While programming often examines the internal affairs of other Arab countries, it is never critical of problems within Saudi Arabia, including the growing fundamentalist opposition there, or the recent illness of King Fahd. Saudi influence also reaches as far as Britain, where London's leading Arabic daily newspaper, Al Hayat, is controlled by Saudi Prince Khaled Bin Sultan That has become an important political asset for the kingdom, especially since London is a base for dissident emigree groups such as the Committee for the Defence of Legitimate Rights headed by fundamentalist Mohammed al-Masari. Many of the dissidents feel that the Saudi government is, incredibly, not religious enough, and allows foreign workers and troops (especially U.S.) to "desecrate" the sacred soil of the nation which gave birth to Islam. The Saudi agenda seems twofold: first, the regime want to ally itself with U.S. foreign policy interests, without inviting the cultural and social changes which inevitably accompany economic or military contact with western cultures. Second, the Saudi establishment -- the 6,000 Princes and Princesses of the ruling House of Saud -- are intent on promoting their version of religious fundamentalism throughout the region, while doing whatever is necessary to deflect inquiry or criticism from their own privileged position. Ironically, social reform is being driven by other countries in the region which are not always considered allies. Egypt, Lebanon, Israel and even Iraq are culturally far more liberal and secular than Saudi Arabia. But the regional influence exerted by Saudi interests now gobbling up media throughout the middle east raises the prospect that the digital image of reality will ultimately be shaped by a small coterie of Saudi billionaire-princes and their religious police. ********** HO-HUM, ANOTHER CHURCH SEXUAL ABUSE CASE FILED... Over the past decade, various Roman Catholic Archdiocese throughout the country have paid out tens of millions of dollars in "hush money" and settlement funds in an on-going sex scandal involving priests and young boys. Now, another suit has been filed, this one by six former altar boys against the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, who say that a priest abused them during the 1970's. According to the L.A. Times, "the lawsuits came five months after 38 criminal charges against the priest, Father Ted Llanos, were dismissed" on grounds that the statute of limitations had expired. The molestation supposedly took place at parishes in Long Beach, Covina, Santa Ana and Los Angeles. A spokesman for the diocese said that Fr. Llanos was still considered a priest, but was on "inactive leave." Meanwhile, Gov. Pete Wilson last week signed a bill that could open the door for refiling charges against Llanos. The state Supreme Court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of that measure. ************* HOLY EGGPLANT! PRAISE ALLAH FOR HIS WORKS! Our British correspondent Mr. G. sent us more evidence recently that the human capacity for religious foolishness knows few, if any limits. We're told that one Mrs. Ruksana Patel of Lancashire happened to cut open an aubergine (eggplant) only to discover that the seeds within spelled out "Ya-Allah", or "Allah Exists." She claims that during the previous night, she had dreamt that one of three eggplants she had purchased was holy and that she would find Allah when she cut it open. Our correspondent reports that each day about 50 pilgrims are stopping by to gawk at the holy aubergine, and that a similar aubergine seed phenomenon in 1990 drew some 5,000 pilgrims to Leicester. Is there no end to such wondrous works? And, when you think about it, is this REALLY any different from the claims about other religious "miracles" and artifacts, including the Shroud of Turin or the Holy Coat of Tiers, both of which are being dragged out for public consumption in time for the millennium? Your editor recalls other displays of human folly, including one in the 1970's in Phoenix, Arizona. There, a Mrs. Barreras happened to bake a tortilla on which was supposedly the image of Jesus Christ. Tens of thousands of people flocked to her home to see the "holy tortilla" which was soon ensconced in its very own wood-and-glass display case. Traffic was backed up in the neighborhood, media descended on Mrs. Barreras' house, and the faithful (and just-plain-curious) flocked, rosaries and bibles clutched in hand. Only the next week, a gentleman out in nearby Mesa (which happens to boast a high Mormon population) received a similar revelation. There, Jesus happened to appear in the outline of the wood grain of a kitchen cabinet which was being re-surfaced. Again, thousands stopped by and newspapers, television and other media -- rather than pay attention to substantive issues -- reported this "event." Laugh as we may, the holy tortilla, Kitchen-Kabinet-Khrist, and even the Holy Aubergine Seeds make as much sense as other manifestations of religious credulity, including the various "secrets" and "sacraments" of the world's established and "respected" religious faiths. Is Holy Communion, or the Virgin Birth, or Mohammed flying off to heaven on a horse any LESS foolish? *********************** Are you a member of American Atheists? If so, why not join our moderated on-line discussion group, aachat? AACHAT deals with an array of interesting subjects -- Atheism, state-church separation, science versus superstition, AA activities and other related topics. If you would like to participate, just contact the moderator, Margie Wait. Send mail to:, and include your name and 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 mail to: and include your name and postal address. 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) in the message body. Edited and written by Conrad F. 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