Date: Fri, 13 Sep 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for September 13, 1996 A M
Date: Fri, 13 Sep 1996 12:25:24 -0700
Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for September 13, 1996
Reply-To: firstname.lastname@example.org, AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net
A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S
nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn
#157 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 9/13/96
In This Issue...
* Is He The "$6,000,000 Guru"? More Questions, Protests Over Sri Chinmoy
* About This List...
CAMPAIGN TO REMOVE RELIGIOUS PLAQUE SHIFTS TO INTERIOR DEPT'
New Charges, Questions Over Sri Chinmoy's Weightlifting Claims ...
The effort to have National Park Service officials remove a dedicated
religious plaque from the Statue of Liberty shifted ground yesterday, as
American Atheists took its case to the Secretary of the Interior, Bruce
Babbit. Mr. Babbitt heads the Department of the Interior, the federal agency
which oversees the National Park Service.
Despite a torrent of faxes and letters, neither the Field Director for the
NPS nor the site Superintendent at the Statue of Liberty has deigned to
respond to Atheist and separationist concerns about a "peace plaque" erected
at the famous American monument by followers of Hindu religious cultist Sri
Chinmoy. As reported in earlier AANEWS dispatches, Chinmoy's followers
approached Diana H. Dayson, the site Superintendent, with a proposal to erect
a so-called "Peace Blossom" ornament; Ms. Dayson was shown an laudatory video
about Chinmoy which made a number of claims, and purported to show the guru
lifting several thousand pounds of weight with one arm. In a subsequent
article in the New York Times, Dayson noted that while she was somewhat
skeptical about that alleged feat, she nevertheless gave permission for the
plaque to be erected citing the "universal" nature of peace. On August 27,
the National Park Service conducted a dedication ceremony which attracted
followers of the Hindu avatar, and even presented a birthday cake for Chinmoy
in the outline of the Statue of Liberty.
American Atheists quickly noted that the real purpose of the "peace
plaque" was to gain publicity and legitimacy for Chinmoy and his religious
cult. AA President Ellen Johnson noted that at the dedication, followers
(and presumably National Park Officials) deliberately avoided references to
Sri Chinmoy as a religious leader, guru or holy man, instead referring to the
Hindu cultist as a "student of peace." The Times quoted a Chinmoy
representative who said that this was to "avoid unpleasant implications."
But Ms. Johnson noted in subsequent press statement that "among the
'unpleasant implications' is the clear fact that this is a religious group,
Sri Chinmoy is a religious leader, and that this plaque constitutes a clear
violation of state-church separation."
Yesterday, American Atheists voiced its concerns over this matter, and
went another rung up the bureaucratic ladder, sending a fax to Bruce Babbitt,
Secretary of the Interior. Ellen Johnson urged concerned non-believers and
First Amendment separationists to follow the example, and fax Babbit their
opinion on the Sri Chinmoy scandal.
New Questions, Implications Of Fraud
Meanwhile, there are new concerns about one of the more outrageous claims
made concerning Sri Chinmoy -- that he lifted several thousands of pounds of
Brie Waters, Vice President of the Atheist Students Association at the
University of Maryland, expressed skepticism about that claim. Waters was
once involved in the Chinmoy group, but despite leaving has already "lost" a
family member to the cult. Earlier this week, she called Chinmoy a "fraud,"
and denounced the "peace plaque" as a violation of state-church separation.
"I've seen pictures of Chinmoy lifting what appears to be over 7000 lbs.
How, the weights extend about 4-5 feet out on each side; that would bend the
bar down at the ends. But the bar is actually resting on two loops suspended
from the ceiling, so all Chinmoy does is reach up to the bar and life it
about two inches from the loops for about half-a-second."
Waters also noted that the guru "is also notorious for lifting famous
people on a scaffolding contraption which woirks about the same way as the
bar." The Atheist activist noted that she had seen Chinmoy allegedly life
former boxing champ Sugar Ray Leonard.
"He had a whole theme for these 'lifts', and even had his disciples sing a
song called 'Lifting Up the World With a Oneness-Heart" while he (Chinmoy)
attempted each lift. "
There are growing questions, however, about the veracity of these
strong-man claims. Sri Chinmoy's followers circulate photographs of this
remarkable lift, and claim that a number of internationall known powerlifters
and bodybuilders have either "endorsed" the feat or "inspected" the
photographs. But in at least one internet newsgroup thread discussing
Chinmoy's alleged accomplishment, it was admitted that "Even though they were
not present, the photos were convincing enough for them."
"Photographs won't do it," noted one skeptical observer. "Even having
'seen' it does not support this extraordinary claim; just ask any magician
how easy it would be to fool and audience, especially what I assume was an
already credulous audience."
Currently, at least one newsgroup participant who is in touch with AANEWS
is now investigating to see the internationally known powerlifters and
bodybuilders quoted by Chinmoy's followers as having "inspected" this event
(albeit only through photographs), are even aware that their names are being
used. They include Frank Zane (three time Mr. Olmpia) and Bill Pearl (five
time Mr. Universe).
A Dubious Recognition ?
One claim being presented by those who insist that Sri Chinmoy has lifted
weights several times those of existing, comparable world records, is that
the lifts have received "certificates" from "official" sources, included a
group calling itself the American Powerlifting Federation. That organization
purportedly issued a "certificate" for a Chinmoy lift of an astonishing 3081
lbs. It states:
AMERICAN POWERLIFTING FEDERATION
This is to certify that Sri Chinmoy is a WORLD RECORD HOLDER
Lift: One Arm Support
Weight: 3081.75 lbs.
Weight Class: 165 lbs.
Category: Feats of Strength
(This "certificate" is signed the by the CHAIRMAN)
But according to a critic of these claims, it is significant that the
American Powerlifting Federation (APF) is NOT the well-known United States
Powerlifting Federation. APF is "associated" with a Health Studio in
Illinois, owned by the same individual whose signature appears on the
"certificate" on behalf of Sri Chinmoy's record.
If Sri Chinmoy has indeed performed these remarkable physical displays,
one would assume that his followers would find a better mechanism for
convincing skeptics of the veracity of these claims. This should include:
* A refereed event with reputable judges from the powerlifting and
bodybuilding community, who could inspect the weights first-hand. These
individuals should work with an equally reputable third-party (as is done in
contests and other games of chance) to ensure that any possible allegations
of fraud would be baseless.
* The event should be witnessed by these observers, and recorded on film
by independent videographers.
* Any support mechanisms, including straps or other devices to support the
weights should be examined closely so as to eliminate the possibility of
* The results, favorable or otherwise, should be certified ONLY by a
reputable, recognized organization including the Guinness Book of World
Records, or an athletic agency of impeccable reputation. The judges and
agencies concerned should have no official ties or connections with the
Limits 0f Analogy
Often, it is precisely the lack of such controls that gives rise to
controversy like that now surrounding the claims of Sri Chinmoy and his
group. New athletic records are established constantly, but because there
are sensible and stringent controls in effect, their veracity is usually not
questioned. When there are concerns, a mechanism is already in place to
investigate and, hopefully, resolve any complains.
But unfortunately, this is not the case with Sri Chinmoy. His group
apparently has not taken the time and effort to have Sri Chinmoy's alleged
feats of athletic prowess performed in a credible venue -- but they insist
that others, including powerlifting professionals, "believe" or "accept"
them, usually on the basis of problematic evidence like photographs.
There is the equally disturbing fact that Chinmoy's followers, at least in
the newsgroups and statements being tracked by AANEWS, display many of the
characteristics of those who make highly questionable yet unsubstantiated
psuedo-science, mystical or religious claims. These include:
* Begging the issue...
One Chinmoy partisan responded to questions about the veracity of claims
by the American Powerlifting Federation by writing: "I invite Dan (or anyone
else) to provide some substance for the claim of non-authenticity of this
certificate...) With such reasoning, I could invent a fraudulent "space
agency" to "certify" that I have visited distant planets. The issue of
whether or not I had really done so is then subsumed in arguments over "what
is an 'authentic certificate'." The real question concerns why Chinmoy and
his group did not ask an established, reputable organization to oversee this
alleged feat of athletic excellence.
* Attacks on critics...
Practioners of pseudoscience often attack critics for "persecuting" them.
Hyperbole often accompanies descriptions of the alleged feat or achievement,
and critics are portrayed in an equally unflattering light. Said one Chinmoy
booster: "There is no question as to whether or not it is really a world
record; it is a galaxy record. Sometimes people feel threatened by Sri
Chinmoy's achievements because these achievements make them feel
insignificant and inferior. Otherwise, they would recognise this to be the
greatest lift in history."
* Inappropriate and Dubious Analogies...
Pseudoscience advocates, especially those declaring that they have
discovered "miracle" medical cures, often dismiss criticism by comparing
themselves to historical figures whose theories challenged and replaced
widely accepted views. The power of analogy can be seductive: one is asked
to remember that "everyone once believed the earth was the center of the
universe," or note that "Nobody believed Galileo." Presumable, these facts
are then "transferred" on behalf of the person making any new, unpopular
But arguments against helio-centrism, a flat-earth and other
misconceptions prevailed not on the basis of "belief", or the enthusiasm of
their proponents, but because they were testable, verified claims. If Sri
Chinmoy is indeed lifting such incredible weights, it behooves him and his
followers to eliminate any taint of suspicion concerning this wonderful feat.
They should enthusiastically welcome objective, third-party observers and
referees who could establish a controlled environment and document these new
"Sri Chinmoy's weighlifting feats are like Roger Bannister's running,"
noted one Chinmoy partisan. "Everyone said that the 4-minute mile could not
be accomplished. While Bannister was in medical school, all the experts and
doctors said it was physically impossible, so many people never attempted to
do a 4-minute mile."
There are several problems with this statement which suggest that
Chinmoy's followers often do not check their facts. In truth, the prospect
of "breaking the 4-minute mile" motivated a number of Athletes like Peter
Snell, John Landy and Roget Bannister; and while some "experts" suggested
that it was a feat which could not be broken, others disagreed.
The comparison with Bannister's record is either misguided or
disingenuous. Unlike Sri Chinmoy, there is good evidence to show that
Bannister did establish a record; the "4-minute barrier) was broken by Mr.
Bannister during a track meet in Oxford, England on May 6, 1954 before
numerous observers, including reputable judges and impartial athletic
officials who clocked his run at 3 min, 59.4 seconds. Two months later,
Australian John Landy shaved that timing to 3 min., 58 seconds.
Coincidentally, Bannister retired from track competition in December of 1954,
and practiced medicine. He, at least, was one doctor who did not consider a
sub-4-minute mile to be a "physically impossible" goal.
Credibility, Motive, And Credulous Officials...
While it is possible that Sri Chinmoy does indeed perform these astounding
feats of physical strength, the burden of proof -- like the thousands of
pounds of alleged weight -- rest on his shoulders, and those of his
followers. In terms of establishing new records acknowledged by imparitial
judges and observers, though, Chinmoy has failed the test.
The need to impress followers with miraculous and/or astounding acts
likewise raises questions about the motives of Sri Chinmoy and his group.
One enthusiast in a newsgroup gushed that "Sri Chinmoy did not do this for
the sake of records, he did it to inspire people." We might ask: For what?
Although the Superintendent of the Statue of Liberty reportedly saw a
video depicting Sri Chinmoy performing at least one of his alleged,
incredible feats of strength, she expressed some skepticism -- but
nevertheless was not compelled to examine the group sufficiently to discover
its religious nature.
That fact, along with the decision of the National Park Service to engage
in other inappropriate behaviors, raises serious questions concerning
guidelines and procedures used by that agency in screening public requests.
* The decision to "re-dedicate" the Statue of Liberty to a cause or theme
enunciated by a religious group or cult leader, or cult charlatan. While
"peace" is an admirable goal, in this context it served as a simply
propaganda stunt and advertisement for Chinmoy and his followers.
* The decision to issue press releases and hold a dedication ceremony for
the plaque on August 27, 1996. Clearly, this constitutes additional
"entanglement with religion," with the National Park Service orchestrating
and promoting an event for Chinmoy's organization.
* The decision to possibly collaborate with followers of Chinmoy in
disingenuously referring to the Hindu avatar as just a "student of peace,"
rather than some other term. According to the New York Times, this was
deliberate done in order "to avoid unpleasant implications."
In its press releases about this matter, however, American Atheists
President Ellen Johnson, and the group's National Media Coordinator, Ron
Barrier, charged that those "unpleasant implications" involved the delicate
and very real problem of state-church separation. The question of whether or
not National Park Officials deliberate engaged in a campaign of deception on
the issue of Sri Chinmoy's religious goals, or the religious nature of the
group, need to be addressed promptly.
Finally, there is the equally disturbing question of public gullibility.
While we can applaud Ms. Dayson for being suspicious about Chinmoy's
weighlifting abilities, should that not have been a "red flag" prompting her,
and her Service, to look more critically at the organization making the
request for a display or plaque on public property? And shouldn't Ms. Dayson
and the National Park Service have been suspicion when an apparently
deliberate effort was made to refer to Chinmoy only as a "student of peace,"
and not some other title? If the New York Times was warned about "unpleasant
implications," was Ms. Dayson?
AANEWS will continue to follow this story as it develops. In the
meantime, those wishing to express their concerns over possible First
Amendment state-church violations in this matter may wish to contact the
following officials by fax:
Marie Rust, Field Director, National Park Service fax: 215-597-0815
Diana Dayson, Superintendent, Statue of Liberty fax: 212-363-8347
Bruce Babbitt, Secretary of the Interior fax:
(Those wishing to talk to Mr. Babbitt's office should call: 202-208-7351
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