Date: Mon, 23 Sep 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for September 23, 1996 A M
Date: Mon, 23 Sep 1996 12:25:24 -0700
Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for September 23, 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
#165 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 9/23/96 (Nightowl Edition)
FAITH HEALING CASE FOCUSES ON RELIGIOUS FREEDOM ACT
Voluntary Ignorance OK For Adults -- But Children ?
* Child Endangerment or Religious Liberty?
* TheistWatch: Scientologists, Pagans, Scientists and More...
* About This List...
In Altoona, Pennsylvania, an important legal case is being played out
which pits individual religious convictions and liberty against parental
responsibility. Two parents -- Dennis and Lorie Nixon -- have been charged
with involuntary manslaughter and endangering the welfare of a child
following the death of their 16-year old daughter, Shannon.
The facts are pretty straightforward. Shannon Nixon died from
complications stemming from diabetes. But no doctors were called in, no
medicine prescribed, and there was no trip to the hospital. The Nixon family
are members of Faith Tabernacle Congregation, one of more than 100 religious
groups throughout the country which shun conventional medical treatement and
instead belief in "faith healing." According to published reports, the
denomination considers modern medicine to be much the same type of thing as
many religious fundamentalists portray evolutionary science -- "a system
founded on conjecture." Church pamphlets declare that "All drugs, medicine
and other human means must be laid aisde (as) unscriptural...(We) could not
expect God to heal us unless we sought healing from Him alone.
"Cursed be the man that trusteth in man...and whose heart departeth from
The Nixons are described as "not your typical repeat offenders," and have
had a similar problem with the legal system in the past. Five years ago they
pleaded "no contest" to charges involving their then 8-year-old son,
Clayton, who died from an ear infection. The Altoona-area Tribune Review
quoted the couple's attorney who said "They (the Nixons) feel that the legal
system intruded upon their religious beliefs."
At stake in the Nixon case are several federal and state laws, including a
Pennsylvania statute which declares parents to be responsibile for the health
of their children until they turn 18. There are also provisions of the Child
Protective Services Act, which according to the Nixon's attorney no longer
includes religious practices as potential child abuse. And there is the
Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed in 1993 which compels government to
show a "pressing public interest" before it voids actions which express
Despite the loss of a son and a daughter, the Nixons maintain a staunch
belief in their religion's teachings and the efficacy of prayer. They told
a church publication that "We especially thank God for the peace we enjoyed
in the passing of our son and during our dealings with the authorities. The
devil fought hard with dark pictures, but we came to realize that we had to
believe God was still over all and that his promises never fail."
THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS
Christian Reconstructionism is a growing theological influence on the
religious right, and proscribes the death penalty for a wide range of
transgressions -- adultery, blasphemy, use of profane language, "witchcraft,"
irreligious behavior (what does THAT cover?). Even a smart-ass kid talking
back to parents breaks one of the "Commandments" and qualifies for the
ultimate retribution. Reconstructionists have even mused about HOW the death
penalty would be applied. One "theologian" suggested stoning offenders to
death as in the old testament, where believers could -- literally -- "get
their rocks off." Rocks are "plentiful and cheap."
But as Atheists, we know that death, and the death penalty, is, well,
pretty final. Like the beer commercial says, "you go around once in life,"
and everything after that is just so much metaphysical hope and speculation.
So perhaps we should think twice -- or more -- before wanting to execute
someone, or taking other draconian measures. For instance, in some states
up to one-third of men found "guilty" and sentenced to prison for the offense
of rape are having their cases re-opened thanks to new DNA tests.
Then there's the tragic case of Wayne Dumond in Arkansas, who was
castrated by masked men while awaiting trial on charges that he kidnapped and
raped a 17-year-old girl back in 1984. He was sentenced to life in prison,
plus another twenty years on the kidnapping charge. Before the trial,
though, two men in masks busted into his home and castrated Dumond with
fishing line. The vigilantes were never apprehended.
Now, Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is calling for Wayne Dumond to be
freed, since DNA evidence and tests shows that he didn't do the crime, and
should not have done the time. He could be released by October 21 if
Huckabee gives his final approval.
Not all rapists, or kidnappers, or muderers, or shoplifters, or other
"transgessors" are innocent. But what happens to the principle of "innocent
until guilty" in a society transfixed on the righteousness and wrath of the
Lord ... where even a kid who talks back get's quick-punched to the
Scientology is causing another flap in Great Britain. The Church obtained
permission last week to begin running TV advertisements after the Independent
Television Commission was threatened with lawsuits for loss of revenue.
Scientology is also applying to the Charities Commission in order to be
classified as a tax-exempt religious group.
The religion of Hollywood luminaries like Tom Cruise, Kirstie Alley and
John Travolta has attracted considerable opposition throughout Europe, where
some governments consider the organization to be a dangerous cult exploiting
the gullible and brainwashing followers. So, how's that different from most
other religions? Scientology was founded in the 1950's by pulp science
fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, and grew out of the prolific author's
self-improvement scheme known as Dianetics.
Most religious philosophies are easily accessible, and often go to
considerable lengths to spread the "good news" of their doctrines. You can
find out what Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and just about any other
religion is all about by making a trip to a good library. Scientology,
though, appears to be a bit different, leading some critics to charge that it
is "occult" and reveals secrets only as members move up the organizational
ladder -- at considerable expense. Court documents, which Scientology has
allegedly tried to suppress, reveal a religious belief system that sounds
like it belongs in a grade-b sci-fi flik... evil beings, a universal bad-guy
named Xemu, Galactic Confederations, Interstellar War -- and, oh yeah, our
repressed memories which make us guilt-ridden, unproductive and miserable all
supposedly come from past lives.
There's none of that in the commercials which Scientology wants to run in
the UK, though. According to Britain's Electronic Telegraphy, the
minute-long spots show people imploring us to "trust."
"On the day when we can fully trust each other there will peace on earth."
Well maybe so, but it sure helps to have social justice, a good job and a
few other amenities, no?
The Telegraph quotes the head of the Scientology Church, Heber Jentzsch,
who denies that the religion wants to brainwash people. You can interpret
what he says any way you'd like -- "Scientology is not dogma," insists
Jentzsch. "People can make up their own minds. This is a 60-second
commercial -- if you are brainwashed in 60 seconds, then wash your brain."
There have been a number of press stories in recent weeks about the
growing call to end the celibacy rule in the Roman Catholic Church. A survey
of parish priests reported in the New York Times revealed that only 55%
supported the celibacy regulation; and the head of an organization of Italian
married priests says that 10,000 clerics have left the church over the past
two decades in order to marry.
Part of the resentment concerns a loophole in Vatican regulations, which
allows married Protestant clerics who cross the aisle and convert to
Catholicism to stay married.
According to the London Times, A.W. Richard Sipe, author of "A Secret
World: Sexuality and the Search for Celibacy" reports that based on 30 years
of research, only about half of the Roman Catholic clergy practice total
celibacy. "In the Third World priests with wives or mistresses are common,"
notes the paper.
There are all kinds of national and international support groups for
clerics romping between the sheets, including the International Federation of
Married Priests. Bert Peters, former president of the group, says that "In
the early Church, marriage of priests, bishops and even Popes was not a
problem. At the beginning of the 5th century married priests were asked not
to have sexual relations with their wives before celebrating the Eucharist.
It was not until a century later that it was tacitly forbidden for priests
to have sexual relations at all."
Pope John Paul II remains intransigent on the question of clerical
celibacy, a fact which seems to be feeding a split within the Roman Catholic
hierarchy in the United States and elsewhere. In the U.S., the number of
Catholic priests has plummeted from 36,000 in 1965 to 33,000, and will slip
to about 21,000 by 2005 because of the rapidly aging demographic profile.
Church liberals, of course, insist that celibacy is not "dogma", but a
"rule." Perhaps so, but it is also an invention of human belief and
prejudices. Just what else that Mother Church says could that also describe?
In our earlier AANEWS dispatch today, we mentioned that in Afghanistan the
U.S. made a Faustian bargain by supporting Islamic fundamentalist rebels
against the Soviet-backed government in Kabul. The regime of President
Burhanuddin Rabbani is trying to "out Islamicize" the opposition, a movement
known as the Taliban. Talk about lesser-evil politics! The Taliban is made
up of young tribesmen and students trained in fundamentalist Moslem schools.
They have now captured over 60% of the country; in the towns and areas they
control, strict Islamic doctrine prevails. One favorite Taliban pasttime is
to establish roadblocks, where gun-toting thugs "inspect" automobiles and
their passengers for subversive, western literature, even rock 'n roll
cassette tapes. William Bennett, are you listening? How 'bout you, Tipper?
A Taliban victory in Afghanistan could result in what observers describe
as an "explosion" of Islamic fundamentalism throughout the region. And check
your geography...to the north is the former Soviet Union, now the Russian
Confederation, where the fastest growing ethnic groups embrace some form of
Two seemingly un-related developments prompt us to mention an article which
appeared in Science News this past June titled "When Science and Beliefs
The first involves the latest controversy over creationism which took
place in Jefferson County, Colorado. There, a high school student objected
to a film used in a science class produced by the award winning PBS program
NOVA, titled "The Miracle of Life." The one mention of evolution in the
early segment of that video prompted complaints from religious
fundamentalists, and, fortunately, a ruling from the local School Board that
the tape would continue to be shown, in its entirely, for the edification of
The second involves reports AANEWS periodically receives of groups
described as pagan or "wiccan." Several recent press articles have discussed
problems inside Unitarian Church congregations over the activities of pagans
within congregational ranks. According to a story in the Houston Chronicle,
only about 2,000 of the 250,000 Unitarian members in the country consider
themselves as pagans or nature-god worshippers, and one congregant described
them as "a religion within a religion." The Chronicle wrote of how seven
Unitarian pagans "meet at the changing of the moon to pay homage to nature
and a host of harvest, fertility and other gods. They sprinkly fairy dust
and dance around a campfire surrounded by a terra cotta statuette of the
Greek god Pan, a ceramic fairy that looks like Tinker Bell and an Oriental
wise man cast in concrete."
There are pagans outside of the Unitarian religion as well, and pagan,
wiccan and other related groups maintain a presence on colleges campuses, and
even the internet. They are often the target of fundamentalist wrath --
naturally -- and (perhaps more than Atheists), accused of being flunkies for
Satan. Pagans have yet to organize a "war room" at a political convention,
lobby for laws restricting abortion rights, access to books and movies, and
haven't -- as far as we are aware -- demanded a tax-exempt religious status.
With that said, however, we call the readers attention to the article
"When Science and Beliefs Collide" authored by Janet Raloff in the June 8,
1996 issue of Science News. "A large and growing share of the population
rejects aspects of science," warns this report, and provides some disturbing
evidence. Part of it comes from the work of sociologist Carol Losh of
Florida State University, who studied nearly 40 religious congregations, of
whom about half were Christian fundamentalist. Losh observed that the way
these individuals interpret the world "is to quote the appropriate chapter
and verse in the Bible," rather than employ the tested methodology of
science. Other groups as well respond to the anti-science call...
* A panel of the American Association for the Advancement of Science notes
that (according to Raloff) "Some radical feminists, blacks and others see
science as a means by which white men have asserted their dominance in
* Advocates of "postmodernism" suggest that science is less a tool for
discovering facts about the world, and more a "useful mythology" that is
based on subjective factors rooted in culture, psychology, gender and other
Another social scientist, Raymond Eve of the University of Texas has
studied the different ways in which people view the scientific enterprise.
He and his research team administered questions to "divergent populations of
believers," including a group of fundamentalists who had attended a
creationism fair, and a group of new age pagans, goddess-worshippers and
"witches" who attended a "magical arts" event in Austin, Texas. According
to "When Science and Beliefs Collide," the belief in creationism "cuts across
social class lines and religious denominations more than most people think."
Eve suggests that creationists were united in their respect for tradition
The Wiccans and pagans rejected fundamentalist teaching, but seemed to
subscribe to some variant of postmodernist interpretation. Raloff notes that
this group "expressed somewhat more antiscientific attitudes than
creationists -- for example, holding that astrology accurately predicts
personality and behavior." Even so, they were more positive than the
creationist group in their responses concerning fetal transplants or genetic
But Raloff notes that "Creationists and Wiccan-pagans come together,
though, in their opposition to aspects of modern science." Eve's survey
indicated that a shocking 60% of this group (compared to 80% of creationists)
believe that the Earth is relatively young. 40% of both surveyed groups
thought that "scientists possess dangerous powers," and about 25% felt that
science resulted in "spiritual decline."
There are debateable points made in Raloff's article, and in some of the
supported literature including Carl Sagan's recent book, "The Demon-Haunted
World ." Sagan does much to excavate some of the fallacious reasoning which
underpins many contemporary pseudoscience beliefs, from alien abduction to
psychic phenomenon. (Unfortunately, Sagan launches into his own attempted
segue when he insists that "science is not only compatible with
spirituality, it is a profound source of spirituality.") Nor is Eve correct
in insisting that "Science can't tell you what the meaning of life is, why
we're here, or how to handle bereavement or guilt. Those things are for
theology." There are some alternative possibilities here, and it behooves
Atheists and other non-belief advocates to elucidate them.
Science, however, is an enterprise that calls for our "spirited" supported
and defense. It is not a dogmatic set of unquestioned beliefs (as many
creationists charge) nor is it a "relative," culturally defined prejudice
that depends on gender, ethnicity and subjective bias in its approach to
apprehending the universe. There is no guarantee that science will permit us
to "know everything," nor does science per se constitute a moral imperative
governing all aspects of human existence. It is our best way of
understanding the universe around us, and perhaps ultimately, ourselves. And
in making life better, longer, more productive and more fulfilling, it sure
beats a prayer, or a sprinkle of pixie dust.
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