Date: Wed, 10 Apr 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for April 10, 1996 #7. AAN
Date: Wed, 10 Apr 1996 12:25:24 -0700
Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for April 10, 1996
Reply-To: firstname.lastname@example.org, AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net
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AND THIS GUY IS ON THE U.S. SUPREME COURT?
For once, maybe conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is
The Justice recently spoke to a prayer breakfast at Mississippi College
School of Law, a Baptist church-run institution. Expressing his philosophy
about religion and state-church separation, he told the audience of 600 that
"We are fools for Christ's sake...We must pray for courage to endure the
scorn of the sophisticated world.:
Paraphrasing religious author Franz Werfel, Scalia criticized those who
critically investigate claims about Easter and other alleged supernatural
miracles. "The wise do not investigate such silliness," he declared
sarcastically. Such skeptics "do not believe."
"One can be sophisticated and believe in God. Reason and intellect are
not to be laid aside where matters of religion are concerned," added Scalia.
(Werfel, author of "inspirational" books such as "Song of Bernadette", is
perhaps best remembered for his assertion that "Those who know do not ask,
and those who ask do not know." He made the remark in connection with
FEAR AND LOATHING IN THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS...
Another battle over "traditional values" is taking place in a public
school, this time in Merrimack, N.H. There, students have begun wearing
black armband and pink triangles in protest of a new school board policy
titled "Prohibition of Alternative Lifestyle Instruction," which effectively
bans any mention of topics such as homosexuality or AIDS in the class room.
The ban has forced many teacher to modify how they teach subjects as
diverse as biology and literature. Associated Press noted the case of one
instructor who no longer even discusses how Walt Whitman's homosexuality
affected his writing. Literary works such as "Of Mice and Men," "Moby Dick,"
and even Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" are discussed in a
sanitized version which omits any possible discussion of homosexuality.
The policy was implemented last August when a new conservative majority
took over the school board. That typifies what has been taking place
throughout the nation, as religious conservatives target local school board
elections, and attempt to alter curriculums which discuss birth control,
alternative lifestyle, and even the teachings of evolution.
In Merrimack, the situation has become so extreme that one mathematics
instructor says that he no longer allows students to clip newspaper stories
which cite statistics; he fears that someone might happen to bring in an
article mentioning AIDS or some other prohibited topic.
Remember the Aum Shinri Kyo or "Supreme Truth" cult in Japan? In March of
1995, cult members began a campaign to "speed up" the Apocalypse which had
been prophesized by their guru-leader who considered himself to be the
reincarnation of Jesus Christ and Buddah rolled into one. The doomsday
religion released deadly Sarin nerve gas in the Tokyo subway system on March
20, 1995 killing 12 people and injuring over 5,500 others. Police raids and
subsequent investigations by journalists revealed that the multi-billion
dollar cult, which fused new age, Buddhist and Christian beliefs, had even
more plans on the drawing board for its kill-fest.
Now, cult members are beginning to turn on the Aum group and their former
leader, Asahara. A medical doctor named Ikuo Hayashi who once operated a
clinic for members of the group, now has apologized for his role in the Sarin
attack, and insists that he was under the mental control of the Supreme
Truth's guru. Hayashi is also suspected of injecting drugs into at least one
kidnap victim. . Other cult members are now leaving and talking to the news
media. They confirm earlier reports that followers paid huge sums of money
for drinking Asahara's bath water and even his urine
In California, there has been yet another setback for abortion rights.
The State Supreme Court in a 4-3 ruling, has reinstated the 1987 law which
requires "parental consent" for girls under 18 who seek an abortion. Lower
courts ruled that the law was unfair and violated privacy rights guaranteed
in the state Constitution.
"Parental consent" strategies have been used by anti-abortion forces to
make abortions more cumbersome and difficult to obtain; a similar tactic
involves "husband-boyfriend" consent proposals, which would mandate that even
women over legal age receive written "permission" to abort a fetus.
Pro-choice groups insist that the parental consent law is simply part of a
wider strategy to someday outlaw abortion altogether.
Groups such as the Heritage Foundation have been promoting a sort of
pseudo-sociology to bolster then contention that religious belief is good for
you. The group has released a questionable "study" which purports to
demonstrate that happiness, long life and financial success (along with lower
divorce rates) accrue to those who believe in god and attend church.
But, like the man says, you can do just about ANYTHING with figures...
I noted a recent article in USA TODAY, for instance, which mentions yet
another of those coffee-studies. This new study suggests "that those who
drink at least two cups (of coffee) a day are less likely to commit suicide
or get into fatal car accidents." Seems that a Dr. Ichiro Kawachi of Harvard
Medical School had original thought to disprove any such connections. "We
found it hard to believe," admitted the good doctor. In the study, nurses
who consumed 2-3 cups of java per day were actually 70% less likely to commit
suicide than non-coffee drinkers. They were also 46% less likely to die in a
car wreck as well. And that's AFTER considering that coffee drinkers are
said to smoke more cigarettes and drink more booze than non java drinkers.
What to make of all of this?
Well, TW would probably be on at least the same epistemological and
methodological grounds as the Heritage Foundation if we declared that
Mormons, those non-coffee guzzling folks from the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter Day Saints, were, therefore, more suicide prone and more wreckless at
the wheel, than a random sample of espresso-drinking Atheists. It surely is
a tempting proposition, no?
I'd better think this about this one, though, over a cup of coffee.
There's more on today's lead story about Supreme Court Justice Antonin
Scalia. Our Internet Representative, Margie Wait, is busy faxing us all
sorts of juicy reports about the Justice's remarks which he made yesterday
during a prayer breakfast. Scalia related an incident where The Washington
Post reported on a priest who allegedly had developed the "stigmata" on his
hands, a phenomena which according to some replicates the wounds mentioned in
the tale of Jesus's crucifiction.
"The Washington Post sends out a team of reporters who produce a strangely
ambivalent story about this phenomena," said Scalia. "The thought occurred
to me: Why wasn't that church absolutely packed with non-believers?...Why
weren't The Washington Post reporters, if they couldn't explain the
phenomenon, absolute converts?"
I hardly thought the day would come when I'd have to lecture a Justice of
the Supreme Court, let alone a man who was described as one of the high-power
intellects on the bench, but here goes...
Dear Justice Scalia:
The reason churches are not "absolutely packed with non-believers" after
reports of alleged supernatural events take place is quite simple. These
reports often turn out to be hoaxes and frauds, collective delusions
sometimes based on natural events, wishful thinking, or events which are not
permitted to be examined thoroughly by qualified and dispassionate observers.
To illustrate: several years ago, I lived in a town where the head of a
local Greek Orthodox Church proclaimed that a copy of the bible which rested
on the church altar was actually bleeding. Thousands of people queued to
catch a brief glimpse of the miraculous "bleeding gospel," which by now many
insisted was actually emanating the "blood of Jesus Christ."
The local chapter of American Atheists then offered to pay for laboratory
studies of the red, oozing substance in question. Nearby is the University
of Arizona, one of the academic institution which studied a piece of the
Shroud of Turin. Surely, the U. of A. would have the facilities and
personnel to study this phenomena. Was it blood? If so, did it have any
distinctive genetic markers? If it truly was the blood of a god, was there
something miraculous or unusual about its chemical constitution? And would
the good priest who first discovered this miraculous apparition be willing to
submit a blood sample for purposes of control in the experiment?
Well, Justice Scalia, you can imagine how far THAT suggestion got!
Non-believers are not crowding into churches admidst reports of bleeding
books or sweating statues (another favorite) because there is no proof that
anything other than hoaxing or misinterpretation of prosaic events is taking
place. Non-believers, and even The Washington Post, do not have the
responsibility to DISPROVE these unusual claims, either. It is up to those
making the assertion to instead PROVE their case -- just as a prosecution
team must prove theirs. As a defendant is "innocent until proven guilty,"
claims of miracles must be considered "false unless proven otherwise."
Unusual claims, especially those concerning the religious, mystical and
paranormal, require extraordinary evidence.
An Atheist non-believer
Here's another name to pull out of your musty mental filing cabinet.
Remember Dan "You say Tomato, I say Tomatoe" Quayle, who was Vice President
under George Bush? In 1992 with the GOP lagging in the polls, Quayle joined
with Pat Buchanan and other religious conservatives to set off the "culture
wars" debate. Forget falling wages and un-employment, said the
kultur-warriors of the right, the REAL problem is whether kids are looking at
Penthouse, or Murphy Brown decides to have a kid on her own.
Quayle explored the political waters two years ago when he huddled with
advisors to decide on a possible crack at the big desk in the White House.
He was still trying to recover from the outcry over his remark that the
popular TV character Murphy Brown (played by Candice Bergen) was "mocking the
importance of fathers by bearing a child alone and calling it just another
lifestyle choice." THAT happened to sound a bit too much like the Monty
Python song, "Every Sperm is Sacred." Meanwhile, George Bush was suggesting
that Americans needed to emulate the Waltons instead of the Simpsons. That's
politics for you.
Both Dan and Marilyn Quayle have stayed active behind the scenes, though,
ever since Bill Clinton moved into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. If the polls
are any indication, Bill will still be there after the November election, and
Bob Dole will end up as just so much Kansas dust flying across the political
radar screen. But Dan might have plans for the 2000 AD race. Sounds
millennialist, doesn't it? "He's ready to rejoin the family values debate,"
today's issue of USA TODAY declares. And the latest pearl of wisdom from
Quayle is that corporal punishment -- spanking -- is good for kids.
The former VP has decided to jump back into the ephemeral American
cottage industry, grinding out a book on the topic of "values." His own
opus, "The American Family: Discovering the Virtues That Make Us Strong," is
due out next week from Harper-Collins. Meanwhile, wife Marilyn is pushing
her own book "The Campaign" published by the religious printing house
In his new role as kultur-guru and family psychologist, Quayle is quoted
as saying that parents should "approve of spanking a child for flagrant
disobedience as a means of asserting control over the child's well-being."
He adds that "The consensus on discipline is that children require limits
and parents are acting properly and lovingly when they spank their children
with fair warning..."
Sorry, Dan, but there is no consensus on that particular issue. A lot of
child rearing advocates disagree; and the "back to spanking" movement
promoted by religious conservatives like James Dobson, Bill Bennett and
yourself, often obscures a more sinister attempt to indoctrinate kids in
religious values (read: superstition).
And what's a guy like Quayle doing anyway yapping about spanking? If he's
a politician and wants to run for president, he should at least talk about
REAL issues other than whether or not to paddle the kids! Hmmm....let's see;
what would those REAL issues be that Dan isn't discussing? Could one be the
fact that college costs have gone up 260% since 1980, that auto insurance is
up 186%, that new cars cost 55% more? And that paychecks have, according to
some reckoning, actually declined in real purchasing power by 11% since 1975?
Politicians generally don't like to talk about those kinds of tough
economic or social questions, especially if they're more concerned with
saving souls than dealing with the real world. So, rather than talk about
social policy, the need for educational reform and other tough questions,
they harp about "family values", and how the problems of the world can be
solved by putting prayer into the classrooms, and spanking your kids.
You know, I've got a solution. Someone should try to paddle some sense in
Mr. Quayle. Hey, Dan, that's spelled S-E-N-S-E.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank