subject: AANEWS for January 10, 1997 A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S AANEWS #229 1/10/97 h
from: AMERICAN ATHEISTS
subject: AANEWS for January 10, 1997
A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S
~~ AANEWS ~~
In This Issue...
* "Mission Impossible" For Scientology In Germany
* TheistWatch: Satan Behind Bars!
* Addresses You Should Know
* Help Us Grow!
* About This List...
HOW NOT TO FIGHT CULTISM ~ HELMUT KOHL LEADS BLAST AT SCIENTOLOGY
The German government's crusade against the Church of Scientology heated
up today, as major Hollywood personalities attacked Helmut Kohl's government
for its "shameful pattern of organized persecution." That statement was made
in a full-page advertisement appearing in the International Herald Tribune;
it was signed by 34 tinsel town heavyweights, not all of whom are known
members of the Scientology movement. Names included screen luminaries like
Dustin Hoffman, Goldie Hawn, and producer Aaron Spelling. Others, while less
obvious to the general public, are movers and shakers in the Hollywood movie
business: John Calley, head of Sony Pictures; Sherry Lansing, head of
Paramount; and Terry Semel from Warner Brothers.
At issue is the position of the Chancellor Helmut Kohl's government, which
has been conducting an aggressive inquiry into the Church of Scientology.
Scientology began as Dianetics, the brainchild of sci-fi pulp writer L.
Ron Hubbard. In the 50's, Hubbard attracted considerable media attention
with his claims that he could solve a myriad of physical and mental
disfunctions by exposing repressed memories; the task of unearthing such
emotional detritus was achieved by "auditing," where subjects were asked a
long series of questions, and their responses monitored by a machine called
the "e-meter." Presumably, wiping clear the slate of traumatic memories was
part of a long process toward becoming a so-called "clear" where one
presumably had total control over body and mind, and could perform just about
Dianetics was progressively elaborated and embellished by Hubbard, who
managed to fuse a populux-era self-help philosophy with bits of science
fictionesque imagery and religious terminology. One teaching is that about
75 million years ago, an evil galactic ruler named Xenu, faced with
overpopulation in the federation of 75 planets he ruled, transported excess
people to the earth, confined them in volcanoes and proceeded to drop nuclear
bombs on them. The spirits of these "thetan" beings linger today, attaching
themselves to our subconscious mind and causing all sorts of problems. The
Xenu story isn't something which Scientologists readily discuss; many Church
teachings are apparently revealed to the faithful only as they move up the
organizational ladder, a laborious procedure which according to critics
requires plenty of cash for seminars and other regimens.
Exoteric Religion or Esoteric Mystery
Over the past decade, Scientology has managed to achieve a degree of
respectability as a tax-exempt religious organization, and even attracted the
allegiance of high-profile celebrities in Hollywood. Names like Tom Cruise,
Kirstie Alley, Nicole Kidman and John Travolta. But the Church has also been
locked in fierce battle with opponents, some of whom have turned to the
internet to voice their views, and post the "sacred texts" of Scientology for
public consumption. In August, 1995 for example, computers and records of
FACTNet, Inc. were seized by U.S. Marshalls and a team of Scientology
attorneys, after the Church convinced a judge that copyrighted materials were
being made available. Scientologists maintain that confidential church
materials (such as the story about Xenu) might result in "irreversible
spiritual harm" without proper guidance, which is why they are
copyright-protected by the Church's Religious Technology Center (RTC).
Scientology is perhaps the only high-profile religious movement in the
west which essentially copyrights its teachings, and attempts to accord them
the same legal protection status as other human inventions. It is also
clearly an esoteric movement where doctrines and teachings are revealed to
initiated as they rise in a hierarchical structure. Scientology, while
working zealously to have itself perceived as "another religion" on par with,
say, Christianity or Islam, is nevertheless structurally distinct. One can
go into a library and fairly easily access all of the teachings of the
world's major religions; there is, for instance, no "big secret" known only
to the Pope or the Curia which constitutes a vital aspect of Roman
Catholicism that isn't equally accessible to the corner priest or followers.
Most religions, in fact, go to great lengths to reveal their sacred texts in
a quest for new believers. While their politics and finances can remain
hidden or obscured, the doctrinal foundations of the world's major religious
sects are exoteric, and not hidden from public scrutiny.
But it is the esoteric nature of the Scientology sect which puzzles and
intrigues so many people. Copy righting doctrines has, if anything, simply
made more people curious about what Scientology may be hiding; and the
practice of revealing "sacred teachings" at the cost of expensive seminars
reenforces in many the perception that the Church is a "cult of greed and
power" as Time Magazine charged.
Freedom of Religion?
Worldwide, Scientology is estimated to have as many as 6 million followers;
and founder Hubbard's major opus, "Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental
Health," has sold over 14 million copies. In America, the Church has emerged
as one of the "new religions" bursting out of the post-1960's era, another
offering in the belief-bazaar of postermodernist spirituality.
It has enjoyed less toleration, though, in countries like Great Britain
and Germany, and has even come under attack in Russia where would-be
strongman Gen. Alexander Lebed identifies Scientology as one of the "foreign
religions" (along with Mormonism and the Aum Shinryo cult) which would not be
tolerated in his regime.
In Britain, Scientology roots go back to 1954; the Church has an estimated
membership strength there of 100,000, and it acquired new recognition last
year when the Home Office granted Church officials recognition as religious
ministers. That was a reversal of a 1968 ruling which deemed Scientology to
be "socially harmful," and banned members from entering Britain to conduct
Church business. Anti-cult organizations still rank Scientology as a
dangerous movement which "brainwashes" its membership.
In Germany, the Bonn government has taken a harder stance against the
Church of Scientology; members are barred from some Civil Service jobs, and
church officials say they are targetted and harassed due to their religious
beliefs. Scientology has boasted that it is not a "turn the other cheek"
sort of outfit, and in public advertisements and broadsides, has compared its
treatment by the German government with the fate of the Jews in the
Fallout ~ A Money Connection?
The Tribune advertisement "seemed to signal an all-out publicity offensive
on behalf of the Scientologists," notes the current Times of London.
Signatories wrote: "We implore you to bring an end to this shameful pattern
of organized persecution. It is a disgrace to the German nation."
The Times also suggested that "closer study of the list of signatories
reveals...that many have close and lucrative ties to the world's two
best-known Scientologists -- the top box-office draws Tom Cruise and John
Travolta." The paper adds that some of the individuals listed in the ad
"appear to have feared that films starring Travolta and Cruise -- and his
wife and fellow Scientologist Nicole Kidman -- might be boycotted by German
cinemagoers who represent a third of Hollywood's booming European market."
Six of the signers are involved with Cruise movies. John Calley heads
Sony Pictures, which is distributing the current Cruise blockbuster "Jerry
Maguire." Sherry Lansing, another signatory, heads up Paramount, which
released "Mission:Impossible," another Cruise hit which has generated over
$180 million in the U.S. alone. Another signer is Paul Wagner, Mr. Curise's
production company associate who "is thought to be a Scientologist" according
to The Times.
A Censorious And Counterproductive Strategy
By most western standards, the Bonn government at times mirrors the policy
of so-called "enlightened paternalism" one finds in emergent Asian economies
such as Singapore, where government -- while embracing economic and material
reform -- maintains an avuncular if not menacing cultural presence. German
law prohibits various political and social organization, and Bonn was the
first of the European nations to take the dubious plunge into attempting to
regulate content on the internet when it threatened legal action against
CompuServe over the pornography issue. (Critics noted the ease with which
German on-line users could easily make "ausland" (out-land) connections to
access other sites.) And Germany has emerged not only from the cold war
struggle with its eastern counterpart, but from "The Luther Year" marking the
450th anniversary of Martin Luther's death. Churches, monuments and other
historical points of interest for spruced-up for the occasion and "Luther --
The Creator of German Culture and Society" became the theme of official
ceremonies and commemorative activities.
For Germany, as with the emergent Russian Confederation, Scientology is
essentially a foreign and cultish belief system, one of the "new religions"
competing with established churches. E-meters, glitzy celebrity centers and
strange tales about Xenu may find an audience in Hollywood, or in the wider
American belief marketplace; but getting respectability in Europe may be the
Church's own Mission Impossible.
THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS
Imagine the outcry that would ensue were some government body attempting
to prohibit inmates in a jail or prison from, say, attending church services
or organizing a Bible study group. Charlie Colson's Prison Ministries, Inc.
would likely be leading the protest -- perhaps followed at a close second by
President Clinton -- along with every conceivable Catholic, Protestant,
Jewish or Muslim sect in the country. After all, the eerie and brutal world
of incarcerated inmates has become a fertile recruiting ground for religious
groups. And some states like Texas are turning over entire inmate blocks to
religious organizations, ostensibly to help and "rehabilitate" prisoners.
Whether Bible clubs or Koran study groups are any substitute for job
training and education remains to be seen.
But there isn't a lot of enthusiasm in South Carolina for the "religious
liberties" of four inmates at the Dutchman Correctional Institute in Enoree.
The American Center for Law and Justice, or the Rutherford Institute, or any
of the other groups which insist that religious belief in America is under
attack, and that those evanescent "people of faith" are being persecuted by
secularists and atheists, are no where to be seen. Why? It appears that the
four inmates in question say that they are being denied access to the Satanic
Bible and other items they need to worship to the devil.
Each of the prisoners has filed suit seeking $500,000 in damages and $25
million in punitive damages; they insist that their First Amendment rights
are being violated by the South Carolina Corrections Department, which does
not recognize Satan worship as a bona fide religion.
Ah, there's the rub. From the Atheist-Separationist perspective, the
state should engage in a policy of blind neutrality toward religious
exercise, neither encouraging nor discouraging the voluntary exercise of any
particular sect. There's good historical reason for that; religious groups
are simply notorious at "establishing" themselves, currying favor with the
government, and seeking to ensconce themselves as the officially-approved
Ironically, what works in South Carolina, though, doesn't wash with the
U.S. Army. Uncle Sam acknowledges satanism as a legitimate religious
expression, and even describes the beliefs and goals of a group called The
Church of Satan in its official religious manual for the chaplaincy.
There is one last ironic twist in this story. We keep hearing how
religious belief (often the fundamentalist Christian flavor) is beneficial in
leading a wholesome, productive and happy life. From the miracle cures of
huckster televangelists to the dubious claims of some health practitioners,
steady doses of religious indoctrination are said to have manifold benefits
in helping one live longer, maintain better relationships, or even accumulate
more material wealth. Yet, it is in prisons and jails where religious
practice thrives; and we're informed that according to some surveys, only
about 2% of the inmate population identifies themselves as Atheists -- only
about 20% of the number for the rest of society. Of course, Atheists may be
committing crime, but just getting away with it in greater numbers. Or,
perhaps the stereotypes concerning atheism and religious belief are not
Watch the sparks fly this evening on the Larry King Show. Jerry Falwell
and Larry Flynt are scheduled to debate; check your local listings.
In Iran, that nation's clerical government is facing mounting opposition
not only from secularists but the small Sunni Muslim minority. Recall that
the Sunni and Shiite tendencies in Islam differ over some matters of
doctrine, including the prophetic order of success to the inventor of the
religion, Mohammed. Sunni Saudi Arabia reflects many of the superstitious
and authoritarian strictures of the Shiite regime in Iran -- in terms of
attitudes toward women, civil liberties and secular institutions, Sunnis and
Shiites are simply different sides of the same coin. Nevertheless, the two
groups find it difficult to tolerate each other.
Last month, there were reports of riots in the southwest Iranian
community of Bakhtaran following the death of a Sunni religious leader. The
government insists that Mullah Mohammad Rabii merely suffered a fatal heart
attack, but supporters claim that he was the victim of a plot by the Tehran
regime. "Hundreds" of protesters clashed with internal security police in
Ravansar and Javanrud according to a report in the Washington Post, and a
total of five persons were allegedly killed.
There are several opposition groups working for the downfall of the
clerical regime in Iran, but the Sunni religious minority is linked to a
group known as the Mujahedeen Khalq, based in neighboring Iraq.
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