Date: Wed, 25 Dec 1996 19:06:22 -0500 Subject: [Atheist] re: AANEWS for December 25, 1996
Date: Wed, 25 Dec 1996 19:06:22 -0500
Subject: [Atheist] re: AANEWS for December 25, 1996
from: AMERICAN ATHEISTS
subject: AANEWS for December 25 1996
A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S
nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn
In This Issue...
* Merry Christmas! The Religious Agenda For "Un-Churched" Americans
* Buddhist Soft-Money Scandal: Gore Met With "Master"
* TheistWatch: Dumbing-Down, Ebonics, The Plate Glass Virgin
* About This List...
ON CHRISTMAS DAY, A DEBATE OVER CHURCH ATTENDANCE
Clergy Are Frustrated With "C&E" Christians, "Revolving Door" Jews
It may be yet another front in the culture war.
Christmas -- and the "meaning of the season" -- have increasingly become a
flash-point over how religious Americans are as a people, and how much
religious ritual should be permitted in the public square. That debate has
focused on the legality of nativity scenes, crosses and other symbols on
public property, and laments from religious leaders that the Christmas
holiday is increasingly being transformed into a consumer spectacle, ignoring
the solemnity of the time and the fact that "Jesus is the reason for the
season." Indeed, evangelical and fundamentalist groups have launched
aggressive efforts to "put Christ back in Chrismas," going as far as to
organize living nativity scenes with actors, andt building floats for holiday
parades which emphasize a religious message.
Complicating this issue are the statistical realities of American life.
While the United States remains one of the most religious nations in the
world, the complexion of the belief-profile has changed considerably over the
last two to three decades. The nation is more diverse and less homogenous in
terms of ethnic make-up, ancestral roots, and religious affiliation. The
biggest religious block remains solidly Roman Catholic, with various
Protestant denominations taking up the bulk of the statistical slack. But
the numerical growth is in the "non-traditional" religious groups -
everything from Muslim and Hindu organizations to new age sects.
Another reality acknowledge by pollsters is that Americans remain largely
"un-churched." Madalyn Murray OHair's 1979 book "Freedom Under Siege"
observed that never in the history of the United States has the majority of
the population consisted of regular, affiliated church-goers. Even during
times of fervent religious revival, including the heyday of stomping
evangelists like Billy Sunday, regular church service has never been a habit
cultivated by anywhere near 50% of the population. Optimistic guesses
suggest that somewhere around 30% to 40% of Americans put in
cameo-appearances, but as O'Hair noted, the bulk of the population has been
somewhat pejoratively branded "un-church Americans" by frustrated -- and now
even bitter -- ecclesiastical officials.
The "Un-Churched" As New Culture War Targets
There are indications that now, this segment of the population is becoming
not only an object of concern for church leaders, but in some cases even a
target of rebuke.
Case in point - the widespread newspaper coverage in the days leading up
to Christmas, 1996 about so-called "C&E Christians" who attend worship
services only during major religious holidays like Christmas and Easter. Wire
services, papers such as USA TODAY and even television news network programs
have all featured pieces about the frustrations of clergy in bringing this
enormous segment of the population "back into the fold." For mainstream
Christian religions, this is becoming a paramount concern; indeed, church
participation has declined slightly over the past decades, and there are good
indications that measurements of regular church attendance, generally claimed
for about 40% of the population, may be high. Follow-up surveys of studies
which attempted to statistically measure church attendance found that those
persons responding (often to telephone pollsters) lied about their rate of
church going, saying that they did attend on a period basis when, in fact,
they did not.
Packing The Pews -- But Why?
Atheists and other secularists have longed questioned the reported extent
of religious participation in the United States, partly on the basis of how
churches counted the number of affiliated followers. While the Roman
Catholic church is claiming about 60 million adherents, for instance, that
figure is generated from records of baptism. The actual number of practicing
Catholics who regularly attend services, could be one-third that total, even
Even so, holidays like Christmas do fill the pews; and nearly 66% of
Christians say they attend church services at this time of year, and at
Easter. News media this year gave extensive coverage to preparations for
this influx of new belief-customers, and quoted church leaders like Rev.
Cecil Williams of Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco, who declared: "We
hope to take our C&E Christians and make them EP Chistians: Everyday
USA TODAY noted that while there is "little research on what compels those
who stay away at other times to attend church on the Christian calendar's
holiest days," the phenomenon seems to extend to other religious faiths as
well. Muslim temples overflow during holy days, and Jewish rabbis now label
their growing flock of occasional worshippers as "Revolving Door" Jews.
Attending church or temple service on holy days like Christmas or Easter
may be a sign of family bonding or even entertainment since churches have
scrambled in past years to stage lavish spectacles complete with dramatic
performances, choir singing and post-service social events. But the evidence
of why more people DON'T attend is easier to pin down.
* Recent measurements about religious belief and affiliation by the Barna
Research Group suggest that while Americans remain a "spiritual" people, they
are redefining the meaning of the term and its relationship to the doctrines
and stuctures of institutionalized religion. Believers are seeking
"answers," but not within traditional ecclesiastical organizations. And
psychologist David Klimek, author of "Wisdom, Jesus and Psychotherapy," told
USA TODAY tha today's aging baby-boomers in the 30-49 age range are "lookng
for childlike hope and belief, a faith that causes them to feel better.
* Sabbatarianism -- the treatment of one day of the week as a time
exclusively devoted to religious worship and related pursuits -- has eroded
steadilly since the early twentieth century thanks in large part to profound
economic changes. And since the 1950's, sabbatarian Sunday "blue laws'' has
been struck down by courts as an unconstuitutional favoring of religion by
the government, and eroded by simple economic necessity. Sunday is "just
another day" for many Americans who work flex-time, or have service jobs.
The growth of consumer entertainment industries has fueled the need for
round-the-clock, seven-days-a-week businesses.
All represent the incursion of secular culture and lifestyle into the
religious ethos; and many clergy now find that fact to be frustrating efforts
at replenishng congregation ranks and empty pews.Clergy welcome holidays like
Christmas, but increasingly with mixed or even bitter and antagonistic
sentiments. Notes Dr. Klimek: "They're (the clergy) glad that people are
coming. But there may be a bit of hostility, too. 'Why are all of you
backsliders only here once a year?' " And while clergy like Rev. Susan
Henry-Crowe of Atlanta's Emory University told USA TODAY that she was "ready
to cut C&E Christians some slack," she acknowledge the hostility of fellow
religious leaders whom she termed "judgmental."
MORE MONEY TRAILS BETWEEN WHITE HOUSE, BUDDHIST GROUPS
The trail of soft money funneled through at least two Buddhist sects -- one
of them a possible "Supreme Master" cult -- links the White House, the
Democratic National Committee, and now major White House aides and Vice
President Albert Gore.
As reported recently in AANEWS, the wealthy Riady family of Indonesia and
their multi-billion dollar Lippo Group conglomerate used political operatives
and two Buddhist groups to make contributions to the Democratic National
Committee and a defense fund established to assist President Clinton and
first lady Hillary. (The same Lippo interests also maintain a curious
relationship with American televangelist Pat Robertson, and are partners with
Robertson in the China Entertainment Broadcast Television, Inc. which pumps
out "no news, no sex, no violence" programming throughout the Asian market.)
Political operatives John Huang and Charlie Trie -- both connected to Lippo
-- raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in so-called "soft money" which
was donated to the Democratic National Committee, or the Clinton defense
That money was funneled through two Buddhist groups. One event involved a
fundraiser last April at the Hsi Lai Buddhist Temple, the other a sect
focused on "Supreme Master" Buddhist Ching Hai.
There are now revelations that when Michael Cardozo, the head of Mr.
Clinton's legal defense fund learned about the soft money donations from the
Buddhist temples, White House staffers met with him -- not the president. On
the surface, this raises questions about the role of White House attorneys in
private legal matters involving the Clinton. The money, which totaled
$460,00, was delivered in two brown manilla envelopes, and included
sequentially numbered money orders from different individuals in different
cities. The bag-man was Charles Yah Lin Trie, a businessman with ties to both
the Lippo Group and the "Supreme Master" cult of Ching Hai.
The Gore Connection
Lippo/Democratic Party operative John Huang plays another role, not only
linking the White House to soft money, but one involving Vice President
Albert Gore and at least one of the Buddhist groups. In 1989, while still a
U.S. Senator, Gore met with "Venerable Master" Hsing Yun while on a visit to
Taiwan; as Vice President, Gore then met with followers of the Master in 1993
and 1995 n Los Angeles.
According to investigators, a memo turned over to Congress now indicates
that Gore's office approved a March 15, 1996 meeting between the Vice
Pesident and Hsing Yun following a letter of request from John Huang, who
described the "Venerable Master" as "the highest Buddhist leader in Taiwan."
Remarkably, no one seems to know if this confab took place, who might have
attended, or even what could have been discussed. Associated Press says that
the memo "suggests that Gore had more extensive contacts with the Buddhist
group that previously has been acknowledged," but that neither the White
House nor the Democratic National Committee knew any more details.
Other revelations suggest that attempts were made by Huang, and possibly
Lippo, to solicit political and economic favors. Charlie Trie worked to
obtain a White House entry for a Chinese weapons manufacturer; and new
documents suggest that Mr. Huang, after funnelling soft money into the
Clinton and DNC coffers, wanted to expedite a "hookup between a major U.S.
broadcasting company and South Korean industrialist John Lee."
THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS
It's encouraging to see that America isn't the only country where debate
is taking place over the issue of public religious displays.
In Italy, the Roman Catholic Church still wields considerable political and
economic clout, even though the numbers of faithfull has been in steady
decline. According the the New York Times, the issue of nativity creches --
long a tradition even in the nation's public school system -- has become the
focus of argument. It began last week when a Catholic school official in
Padua claimed to have received huge numbers of reports that schools
throughout that part of Italy were banning everything from Christmas carols
to nativity creches, supposedly out of sensitivity for the feelings of
non-Christian pupils and their families. Msg. Franco Costa charged that
efforts to prohibit such religious displays were a "Trojan horse of the
What was interesting, though, was not only the fact that Rev. Costa
provided no proof of his claim, but that politicians and news organs stumbled
over each other in the rush to defend "traditional values" and the sanctity
of nativity displays. A emergency parliament meeting took place on Sunday,
and Education Minister Luigi Berlinguer -- formerly associated with the
Italian Communist Democratic Party -- gushed on behalf of the Church's
position. "La Stampa," a prominent daily in Turin, declared that attempts to
suppress Nativity creches was (get this!) "an offense against reason, and the
Vatican's own "L'Osservatore Romano" included an editorial saying that
neglecting such displays was like "leaving the birthday child outside the
door, while inside the festivities go on around the cake."
There was little questioning Msg. Costa's original charge, that there was
some nefarious movement afoot in Italy to do what should indeed be done,
namely, get rid of such religious displays on public property. One fellow, a
26-year old computer programmer apparently drove his Ford Fiesta through the
police barrier in front of St. Peter's Square in a vain effort to smash the
papal nativity creche on display there; he later told police that he was
protesting "the excessive power of Pope John Paul II."
And there is one final, more basic aspect of this story. In Naples, there
is an established cottage industry of creche makers, who apparently now fear
competition from foreign religious kitsch manufacturers as Italy integrates
into the European economic block. The creche makers have now produced a
series of nativity-style figurines that include politicians painted as
scarlet devils being devoured by the flames of hell.
We don't have to distort or exaggerate what many of America's shrill
religious right leaders say. They speak for themselves! And with time, these
law-and-order style Christians are becoming more extreme on the charges
they're making, as well as the solutions they propose for the "bible-based
reconstruction" of our society.
Take religious columnist Cal Thomas, a favorite on the "700 Club" who
charged Pope John Paul II with accepting one of the fundamental premises of
Communism when he acknowledged the validity of evolution. Thomas recently
charged that the United States must now be considered "the new evil empire."
Meanwhile, family values guru James Dobson of Focus on the Family is
telling his 600,00 or so donors that they should begin to think about
impeachment proceedings against Supreme Court justices who don't interpret
the law according to biblical principles. Watergate crook-turned-evangelist
Charles Colson wrote recently that he is beginning to question the "moral
legitimacy" of the government, and added: "When peaceable means and limited
civil disobedience fail -- at least according to the Protestant theologians
Knox and Rutherford -- revolution can be justified from a Christian point of
And there is the steady stream of provocative -- and scary -- statements
from the small but highly influential group of Christian Reconstructionists,
who seek to estalish a bible-based theocracy that in the political scheme of
things is located somewhere between "1984" and "The Handmaiden's Tale." John
Lofton recently wrote in the Reconstructionist journal Chalcedon Report (Nov.
1996) that "No area of our society is in greater need of redemption, of being
Christianly, Biblically, reconstructed, than our media."
You've probably already noticed the fortunate outcry against so-caled
"Ebonics" and efforts to incorporate the use of this distinct linguistic
dialect in Oakland, California schools. Last Wednesday, the Oakland school
board admitted that many of the 28,000 black students who comprise more than
half of the district's total enrollment, could not speak standard English,
but utilized a distinctive dialect called Ebonics -- a mixture of the words
ebony and phonics.
We won't get into whether or not such a language or dialect really exists,
complete with rules of use, spelling and other parmeters for its speakers.
It's sufficient to say that many prominent black leaders including Kweisi
Mfume of the NAAP and poet Maya Angelou (who can use words with a proficiency
far exceedng the average person, black, white, brown...!). immediately
attacked the scheme
But in this chorus of denunciations, this writer was particularly
impressed by a statement from Rev. Jesse Jackson. We rarely agree with "men
of the cloth," but Jackson's comment should give us pause to think not only
about the folly of Ebonics, but what is going on right now in Clearwater,
Florida, where thousands of people continue to flock to a parking lot where
the image of the Virgin Mary can supposedly be seen in the shimmering glass
of an adjacent office building.
Jackson rightfully described Ebonics as yet another attempt to "dumb down"
the educational curriculum of black students. "I understand the attempt to
reach out to these children," said Jackson,"but this is an unacceptable
surrender borderlining on disgrace. It's teaching down to our children, and
it must never happen."
Jackson could and should say that for much of the educational system, and
our culture in general. We have been "dumbing down" textbooks, movies,
television programs, even museum exhibits in preferance to "entertaining" the
public. The amount of curriculum devoted to hard science in schools has been
in steady decline for years; textbooks are "dumbed down" or sometimes avoid
possibly controversial ssues like biological evolution. This writer recently
attended an Omnimax Theater movie which discussed the history of the Grand
Canyon, as well as its human habitants, yet managed to mention no specific
date older than approximately 6,000 b.c.
If anything, the nation's schools don't need prayer, religious
indoctrination, or other irrationalist quick-fix, feel-good placebos like
Ebonics. Like Jackson said, this is "dumbing down," and the results of such
a policy will reverberate throughout society.
While we debate the wisdom of teaching Ebonics or creationism in schools,
however, the cultural picture in America is one of steady deterioration.
Studies by groups like the American Association for the Advancement of
Science suggest that most citizens are "scientific illiterates" who do not
understand even the basic principles behind radio, television, or nuclear
power. Shockingly high percentages of the population "believe" in angels,
UFO's and other artifacts of the paranormal. Is it any wonder, then, that up
to a third of Americans "believe" they have had a "personal conversation"
with Jesus, or "believe" that biblical prophecy concerning the end of the
world will come to pass early in the next millennium?
Is it any wonder that thousands of people flock to apparitions of Jesus or
Mary? The "Plate Glass Virgin" has already been exposed as an illusion:
despite credulous claims that "it's a miracle", the St. Petersburg Times
hired a chemist who discovered that the blurry outline some insist is the Mom
'O Gawd was simply a combination of glass weathering markings and water
deposits coming from the building's lawn sprinkling system.
Dr. David Klimek, a psychologist, told USA TODAY that phenomenon like the
Plate Glass Virgin were "contagious," adding "If someone blieves it and
starts to feel it, those feelings are transferred to others in a very
complicated way...People don't want a scientfic, intelectual approach to
their faith. When people are hurting and desperate, they're not interested
in science or logic. They need this from the inside."
But Klimek's explanation is only part of the story. We suggest that
people need to be "inellectually innoculated" against religious assumptions
and pseudo-science crankery, and that the place to do so is in the nation's
schools. We need more, not less, classes in science; we also need to develop
a curriculum which includes coursework in development of critical thinking
skills, logic and basic reasoning. Unfortunately, the cultural drift -- be
it the clamoring for creationist fantasy or schemes like Ebonics -- is in the
STILL GROWING... BUT WE NEED YOUR HELP!
Response to our campaign to have 10,000 AANEWS readers by the end of the
year has been spectacular. December was a record month for new subscribers,
and we still have nearly a week left. Won't you help us reach our goal? Why
not forward an AANEWS dispatch to a friend, or post an ssue to a newsgroup,
web site, ftp site or bulletn board. You'll be contributing to Atheism, and
First Amendment state-church separation!
A NOTE TO AA MEMBERS AND AANEWS SUBSCRIBERS...
American Atheists headquarters Director Orin "Spike" Tyson has asked us
to remind you that the ghq will be shut down over this solstice holiday
season, and will resume operations around January 2. That gives our
hard-working employees some much needed time off. Mr. Tyson also informs you
that all possible efforts were made to fill last minute orders for books,
solstice greeting cards and other products. In addition, the new edition of
American Atheist Magazine has been shipped to subscribers; copies should be
arriving beginning tomorrow depending on your geographical postal area.
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