A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S
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#206 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 12/3/96
In This Issue...
* Should Kids Be Indoctrinated During School Time?
* TheistWatch: Flying Egyptians, Whippin', Butt-Kickin' Christians
* Send A Solstice Card!
* About This List...
''RELEASED TIME" LATEST FAD TO CIRCUMVENT FIRST AMENDMENT ?
They've tried just about everything -- from moments of "meditation" and
"silent prayer" to student initiated Bible verse reading, and even tricks to
invent prayers which are "nonreligious" or non-sectarians. But
religion-in-school boosters now have another tool in their efforts to make an
end-run around the First Amendment. It may not be quite as coercive as the
"voluntary prayer" legitimized in legislative proposals like the Religious
Equality Amendment, but it surely constitutes entanglement between belief and
government, specifically in the form of the public school system. It is
known as "released time" Bible education, and it is on the rise throughout
the United States.
According to reports, including a story in today's Christian Science
Monitor," the idea is for students to leave the public school classroom in
the course of the official day, and spend time off-campus in a church or
other venue receiving religious instruction. Supporters, including the
National Association of Released Time Christian Education (NARTCE) justify
the arrangement, pointing out that the programs require parental consent, are
privately funded, and operate off the school grounds.
Even the American Civil Liberties Union -- traditionally a defender of
state-church separation -- gives a qualified thumbs-up to the programs. A
spokesperson told the Monitor that "As long as schools dot their i's and
cross their t's, and don't do anything that encourages the practice of
religion, this is a reasonable way to accomodate the religious needs of
parents and students."
But not all separationists agree. Critics point out that released-time
programs have the effect of endorsing religion since they involve time during
the regular school day. And the programs are specifically religious.
Students, for instance, wouldn't receive released-time for other activities
that they or their parents might want them involved in which were of a
nonreligious nature. Indeed, the released-time programs are designed
specifically for religious faiths, and now include even instruction in
Judaic, Christian and Islamic beliefs. In Utah and Idaho, notes the Monitor,
"thousands of students attend released-time classes sponsored by the Mormon
The programs have mushroomed since 1914 when the idea was concocted by an
Indiana elementary school superintendent. In 1948, a U.S. Supreme Court
ruling put an end to the practice of operating the programs on school
property or using public funds; but in 1952, the high court decided that the
programs could be offered "as long as they are privately funded and are held
Part Of A Wider Assault
Most released-time programs involve indoctrination of students in
Christian beliefs. Many parents often support the schemes, seeing them as a
quick-fix for perceived social problems. News reports about released-time
activities often include parents like one businessman in South Carolina who
insists that "at-risk behavior (among students) has just gone off the chart
in the last thirty years." The time period reference is significant; most
released-time advocates like to blame a wide range of ills, from drug abuse
to teen pregnancy, on the prohibition of religious ritual in public schools
beginning with legal cases such as Murray v. Curlett (1963). Many parents
profiled in media articles see released-time religious instruction as an
antidote to drug use, premarital sex and other problems. And a survey of
released-time materials shows that these topics are often addressed from a
"Christian" or religious perspective, counselling chastity and regular
participation in church activities.
The program appeals to many fundamentalist and evangelicals, who warn that
religious belief is "under attack," and that governmental institutions
including the public school system, have distanced themselves from religious
belief. Released-time is also just one of many responses to this situation
of enforced secularism in America's classrooms; some support a constitutional
amendment to return prayer to schools, while others to enact programs which
"teach religion as history."
But like school voucher plans, the released-time programs may be yet
another drain on cash-strapped public schools throughout the nation. Over
the years, the actual number of school days has declined, and the traditional
"3-R's" program has been diluted with "soft" instructional courses; time
spent teaching science and mathematics has declined, and the amount spent in
science lab courses has dropped precipitously as well. That is one reason
why many public school administrators and teachers remain leery of
And the programs remain unabashedly religious, even when discussing
problems which might confront students. The Monitor quoted the director of a
Christian Learning Center where students gather on released-time, who
insisted that many "problem kids" need religious instruction. "We're trying
to do something for them spiritually."
THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS
The question is not: How many internet junkies can the telecommunications
infrastructure support with crashing? It should be: How many psychic
hotlines can the public be bilked for?
A CNN dispatch (appropriately from "The American Edge" section) says that
America is in the midst of a paranormal pandemic, and that "almost a third of
all Americans believe we can get messages from the dead." And that's not
cocktail party chatter -- last year, Americans charged $300 million in calls
to psychic hotlines.
It seems that anyone who wants to be somebody has a psychic hotline;
recall our amazement that Lorenna Bobbitt even had her name on one of the
call-in services, but we have to wonder how a cleansing of emotional
insecurities at $3.99 per minute benefits women who have been victims of
The psychics on line offer pretty much the psychological perks that the
more traditional, in-store variety do -- companionship, a sense that somebody
cares about you, an opportunity to schmooze (even if the details of your
angst are really insignificant and reflect an indulgence in our culture's
rampant, runaway narcissism), soothing nostrums and a bit of encouragement to
face the future. There's also the sense of exotic excitement, too, in
finding out what Madame so-and-so has to say about "your future."
Aside from the deeper philosophical problems with prognosticating the
future in such a fashion, there are practical concerns which give the less
credulous some cause for doubt. If psychics have this wonderful insight into
future events, why are so many of them hanging out in rundown store fronts,
or working schlocky nightclub acts? Why don't they set up a mutual fund that
outperforms the heavy hitters? Why can't they look into the future and give
us the cure for AIDS and other maladies now? But perhaps the best objection
to psychics, and specifically to their dial-in hotlines, is this: If they're
so gushing with psychic potency and ability, how come they don't call you
before you call them?
Let's consider hard-line Afrocentrism just another form of pseudo-science
being foisted onto children in much the same way Christian creationism is.
We're NOT talking about legitimate black history which discusses the largely
unrecognized achievements of blacks, or the history of slaveocracy, a
despicable institution rationalized by biblical slave morality and many parts
of the institutionalized Christian church. It is instructive to remember,
for instance, that in the American south during the slaveholding era, the
Bible was sometimes the only book Negro slaves were permitted to read.
Afrocentrism comes in many forms, and is being increasingly used to help
build cultural awareness and self-esteem within the black community; it has
also prompted widespread debate, and reputable Afrocentrist scholars now are
having to distance themselves from the more extreme -- and unsubstantiated --
claims of some groups appropriating the label.
In Milwaukee, according to Associated Press, a school board member last
night called for a ban on what was described as a "racist curriculum that
teaches children than winged black Egyptians were able to fly around the
pyramids until white people destroyed them." Mr. Todd is challenging some of
the more outrageous statements found in the so-called "Baseline Essays"
program, saying that "we are running a dual school system...One system for
poor blacks and another for middle-class children." He charged that
"Afrocentrism mythologizes and falsifies the past and provides inaccurate
information about the treatment of blacks in the ancient Mediterranean
world," adding that the program at two "immersion" schools was "racist
Educators are increasingly worried about the dubious claims appearing in
the "Baseline Essays." Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation
of Teachers, said that the program made "absurd claims."
"Students who learn science from the baseline essay will be told that the
Egyptians developed the theory of evolution (thousands of years before
Darwin), understood quantum mechanics and flew around for business and
pleasure in full-size gliders." Todd says that "immersion" school students
in Milwaukee have been taught that Egyptians levitated and had wings, a claim
made by one instructor in a recent "60-Minutes" program.
The extreme Afrocentrism which serve up a noxious brew of revisionist
history and pseudo-science is justified by some as a technique to instill
self-esteem and racial pride in students. Your editor noted that many
youngsters schooled in this extreme Afrocentric philosophy mindlessly mouthed
how it had benefitted them because they "were descended from queens and
One problem with such claims, of course, is that there is no evidence to
suggest that they are true. And the fact that white, Christian civilization
has used history in the past for its own peculiar culture agenda, does not
and cannot justify contemporary Afrocentrists doing so today. Facts are
We need to be a bit more skeptical as well about claims to racial
greatness. Isn't that kind of "secondhand" racialist self-esteem what has
motivated other groups in the past with assuming their own superiority? Which
group happened to be "superior" of course depends pretty much on the
individuals doing the historical revising; Karl Haushofer and Alfred
Rosenberg, for instant, sang the praises of the Aryan race, a group which
according to Nation of Islam potentate Louis Farrakhan grubbed out a less
than glamorous existence in caves eating each other. The truth is often less
romantic, but far more complex and interesting, than is acknowledge by either
extreme. As for "self-esteem," that catchall phrase is empty if it is not
connected to more prosaic and demanding regimens. Blacks, whites, Hispanics
-- indeed ALL children in contemporary America -- face a risky and
problematic future thanks to educational budget cuts, calls to religionize
the school classrooms, and a general "dumbing down" in the hard-science
curriculum. Instead of learning about fictional Egyptians flying,
levitating, and romping around the pyramids in gliders, kids need more
exposure to math, biology, astronomy, chemistry, physics and geology. Does
musing about an ersatz- "golden age" serve as an acceptable substitute, for
instance, to understand the basic mechanics behind how a plane flies?
Incidentally, the bit about an advanced, glorious civilization ISN'T
totally a creation of the characters who wrote the Baseline Essays program.
Tales of an advanced, paranormal golden age originally began with white
folks, starting with the early theorizing about the mythical continent of
Atlantis. Plato, of course, first mentions Atlantis in the "Timaeus" and the
"Critias," where it was described as a country larger than Asia Minor and
Libya together, and lay beyond the Straits of Gibraltar. Archaeologists have
found no evidence of such a civilization, but many classicists agree that
Atlantis "was a useful parable to underscore several points he (Plato) wished
to make about government and city states," notes the New Age Encyclopedia.
The myth was rejuvenated by Sir Francis Bacon (1551-1626), and quickly
became part of the European mystical scene. Ignatius Donnelly (1831-1901), a
prolific author and American populist, ignited a fire storm of interest with
his book "Atlantis: The Antediluvian World," and the Lost Continent found its
way further in contemporary occultism thanks to the efforts of Madam
Blavatsky (Theosophy), Edgar Cayce, and pop-culture Rosicrucianism.
But Egypt as a center of high civilization has always figured into the
Atlantis myth; depending on who you read, Atlantis was either a "colony"
founded by the Atlanteans after their wonderful civilization was engulfed in
a cataclysmic flood, or was an outpost for aliens a la Erich von Daniken.
Egypt remains at the center of much Rosicrucian pseudo-science, and the
Egyptians are credited with a remarkable list of paranormal powers and
achievements ensconced in a "secret wisdom" transmitted through "mystery
Novels and pseudo-historical, occult writings have further embellished the
mythology of Egyptian civilization. In her critique of Afrocentrism, Dr.
Mary Lefkowitz cites the fictional writings of Abbe Jean Terrasson as a major
force in crafting a glamorous, esoteric view of that ancient civilization, a
view transmitted throughout Europe and America in the glamorized, metaphoric
tales of Freemasonry and other occultic systems. Later, the French
archaeologist Augustus Le Plongeon became fascinated with trying to establish
cultural links between Native peoples throughout North and Central America
with the Egyptians; subsequent research refuted Le Plongeon's claims, though,
but his 1896 work "Queen Moo and the Egyptian Sphinx" inspired James
Churchward who authored several books on the Pacific Ocean equivalent of
Atlantis, a continent he called Mu.
Churchward, Atlantis and Ancient Egypt all remain as vital focal points in
contemporary occultist lore and pseudo-science, their thematic elements
constantly undergoing revision and embellishment with little attention to
We recently discussed the unhealthy preoccupation many religious
fundamentalists seem to have with what Alabama Governor Fob James fondly
describes as a "butt-whipping and then a prayer." Corporal punishment is the
latest panacea proposed by religious right boosters such as
bible-disciplinarian James Dobson of Focus on the Family. A good whacking is
sometimes recommended as a way to "solve" the problem of disobedient school
children, rebellious teenagers, defiant kids. Other magic-bullets in the
Christian trick bag include school uniforms, school prayer, banning pagers,
distributing bibles in classrooms, banning evolution, or posting the National
Guard in the school hallways.
But the debate over spanking and other forms of corporal punishment is
also another example of the gap between secular culture and the vision of
many religious activists. According to the National Coalition to Abolish
Corporal Punishment in Schools, incidents of such punishment over the past
four years and "way down and heading south fast." Robert Fathman of the
Coalition says that "school authorities realize it's (corporal punishment)
not the best option," and attempts to legislate the practice have failed
throughout the country.
Twenty Seven states now ban corporal punishment, and in another eleven,
the majority of students are in districts which prohibit the practice. But
along with creationism and school prayer, corporal punishment thrives in many
states of the South including Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and
The current USA TODAY notes that Catholic schools, traditionally praised
as examples of the success enjoyed by religion-based education, "have pretty
much eliminated" corporal punishment according to Irwin Hyman of Temple
University's National Center for the Study of Corporal Punishment." But
Hyman suggests that "Where it is increasing is in the Christian academies
with a fundamentalist bent."
Just as these "Christian academies" have become bastions of creationist
pseudoscience and religious indoctrination, they are also promulgating a
practice which, while it has roots in snarly biblical lore, may have little
foundation in actual fact. A position paper by the Society for Adolescent
Medicine notes that "Physically punishing children has never been shown to
enhance moral character development, increase the student's respect for
teachers or other authority figures in in general, intensify the teacher's
control in class, or even protect the teacher." The study adds that "There
are many effective alternatives to corporal punishment, and it is possible
for school authorities to learn them and for children to benefit from such
The debate over doctor assisted suicide and voluntary "self deliverance"
is about to get a lot more heated and complicated -- and not entirely due to
Jack Kevorkian. A Rhode Island man, Noel David Earley who suffers from Lou
Gehrig's disease, has announced plans to kill himself. The day before his
suicide, he plans to hold a news conference revealing the specific time when
he will ingest a large amount of painkillers and inject himself with lethal
What makes Earley's case so interesting is HOW he plans to commit suicide.
No Mother Teresa-bedside praying ritual here! Early will spend time
partying with close friends, have sex with his girlfriend, consume some of
his favorite food and, the following morning, overdose.
The 47-year old ex-veteran was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease two
years ago; he had already founded a program in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to
support persons suffering from Alzheimer's disease.
"I'll do the things I love most in the world," Early told CNN, "food and
sex. Then I'll inject myself with a compound and I'll go to sleep."
Rhode Island law makes assisted suicide a felony carrying a $10,000 fine
and up to 10 years in prison time. Early has testified in government
hearings against the law and launched a suit challenging it.
Reportedly, Dr. Jack Kevorkian offered to assist but Earley declined. The
Rhode Island attorney general says his office will prosecute anyone aiding in
the suicide; but Earley's determination and obvious role in planning the act
seems to rule out any possible claims that he is being coerced against his
Suicide opponents have managed to focus the debate over physician-assisted
deliverance on those aiding or arranging the act. In the case of Noel
Earley, however, that target may not be present -- and opponents will have
to challenge the right of anyone to control the circumstances of their death.
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