Newsletter: 1998: November 1998
Internet Infidels Newsletter
In this issue:
By Edward J. Larson
What happened next was a bizarre mix of theatrics and law, enacted by William Jennings Bryan for the prosecution and Clarence Darrow for the defense. Though Darrow lost the trial, he made his point--and his career--by calling Bryan, a noted Bible expert, as a witness for the defense. Summer for the Gods is a remarkable retelling of the trial and the events leading up to it, proof positive that truth is stranger than science.
With 50 percent more eternal destinies than Christian theism, the discriminating afterlife shopper prefers Twelve Tribes' religious viewpoint over regular Christianity. In this month's there's hope for us yet.
We all have a high-visibility ally in John Stossel. His primetime television special, "The Power of Belief", addresses psychics, astrology, therapeutic touch, voodoo, alternative medicine, and near death experiences with a skeptical eye. A transcript of the show is available at ABC's web site at http://www.abcnews.com/onair/abcnewsspecials/transcripts/specials_belief981006pt1_trans.html.
That web site also has ordering information if you want to purchase a videotape, which I recommend.
While I'm not aware of any of the RRR organizations mounting a letter-writing campaign to ABC to complain about the skeptical television show, that doesn't mean individual members of the RRR aren't complaining to ABC.
I'd like to call on all freethinkers-especially those of you who can write a letter on your university's or organization's letterhead-to contact Stossel and ABC and let them know how much you appreciate the show. Stossel can be contacted via e-mail at stossel. Snail-mail letters to ABC concerning the show may be sent to:
Given how rare PRIMETIME skeptical television shows are, I think it's important we all take time out of our busy schedules to thank ABC for airing such a show.
Last month, we reported on the ongoing lawsuit instigated by the religious right group Oklahomans for Children and Families to ban the film The Tin Drum under Oklahoma Statute Title 21, Section 1021.2, Oklahoma's statute prohibiting child pornography. (See the October issue story.) Now, a federal district judge has ruled that the film contains no child pornography and may immediately be made available again on library and movie rental shelves.
Although the trial docket date was set for October 13th, U.S. District Judge Ralph Thompson did not rule on the case until October 17th, pending prelimiary dispositive motions.
Oklahoma County District Attorney Robert Macy argued on behalf of the State of Oklahoma that the police ban on the film should remain in place because the film contains three scenes where children are engaged in sexual acts. Defendants argued that, while the film did contain content of a sexual nature, it was only suggested. Further, the defendants pointed out that the sexually-suggested scenes were well within the broader artistic context of the film as a whole.
Judge Thompson found that Oklahoma's laws against child pornography apply only to clearly indecent materials as spelled out in the statute, and wrote in his ruling that:
Since The Tim Drum, based on Gunter Grass' novel of the same name, won critical aclaim that resulted in an Academy Award and Cannes International Film Festival prize, Judge Thompson found that the film was clearly a bona fide work of art with serious artistic value. (See Judge Thompson's Ruling: Tin Drum Not Porn.)
Defendants in the case were pleased with Judge Thompson's ruling. American Civil Liberties Union attorney Michael Salem told the Tulsa Oklahoman that the Tin Drum Controversy was "a case for people who would put fig leaves on Michelangelo's statue of David."
While District Attorney Macy can appeal Judge Thompson's decision, Oklahoma Department of Libraries reports that Macy told Oklahoma City's KWTV news that everyone can "get this all behind us now."
A related case filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, by both the ACLU and the Video Software Dealers Association is still pending. That case seeks to resolve the constitutionality of First and Fourth Amendment rights, to include unreasonable search and seizure from police confiscation of the video from libraries, retail outlets, their customers' homes.
Interested readers can view the history of the controversy at the Oklahoma Department of Libraries website located at http://www.state.ok.us/~odl/fyi/ifreedom.htm.
[James Still prepared this report.]
"You would not believe the industry that is being generated by this whole Y2K scare," Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) Executive Director Barry Lynn told a Portland audience on October 5th, 1998 during his talk on the radical religious right. "The Christian right is churning out books and producing video and audiotapes to warn of the coming doom when the world's computers shut down on January 1st, 2000."
The profits are enormous. Armageddon Books, the self-described "world's largest Bible prophecy bookstore" sells books, videos, meticulously detailed charts on armageddon, the antichrist, 666, tribulation, rapture, and the expected "revelation." Armageddon just released several books on the Y2K crisis just in time to capitalize on the fears of those who think that the end of the world is near. One title's dust jacket, entitled The Millennium Meltdown: The Year 2000 Computer Crisis, by Grant R. Jeffrey, reads:
The only things missing from this doomsday scenario are UFOs and black helicopters. More amusing is the title Y2K=666? by Doctors N.W. Hutchings and Larry Spargimno, which argues that "government payroll checks and Social Security checks may not be delivered." The authors morbidly conclude that Y2K will lead to international crisis, martial law, and the rise of the Antichrist prophecized in the Book of Revelation.
In an article entitled "What Does God Have to Say about Y2K?" Christian gloomster David Collins argues that Y2K "is not a computer problem" but rather a societal problem involving the "end times" spoken about by Jesus in Luke 17:26-29:
"We are plunging toward a day of reckoning, but people are oblivious," Collins continues, "Procrastination and denial are the same in every generation. In times past, God has shaken societies and He will continue to do so, but this time, we seem to have been shown God's timetable. It has a fixed date: January 1, 2000."
Such end-of-the-world hysteria finds an eager audience on the Internet. The Page of the End Times warns:
Gene Cunningham, of Basic Training Bible Ministries, has prepared a "Spiritual Survival Kit," replete with military combat references, to help prepare the Christian survivalist for the coming wrath when all hell breaks loose. The careful reader will notice a tension between these apocalyptic Christian right web sites. At issue is the worry among some Christians, called "post-tribulation millenialists" that they might be left behind to fend for themselves when the Antichrist ushers in the "New World Order." Other "pre-tribulation millenialists" believe that they will be rescued from the coming wrath before it starts. The post-tribulation millenialists or "post-tribs" stand in marked contrast to the pre-tribs who insist that Jesus will arrive in a single decisive "rapture" event just before the New World Order begins proper. Thus, while the post-tribs preach survival and advocate stocking up on food, water, guns, and essential supplies, the pre-tribs merely look up and wait.
The Bible offers no help to either side as to which outcome will happen. Some passages seem to support the pre-tribs, while other passages look as if the post-tribs have it right. As a result, both groups carefully scrutinize world financial markets, UFO abduction reports (which are really demonic visitations), celestial events, asteroid sightings, and of course Y2K updates from business magazines, in an attempt to predict when the party is over and the end times hangover begins.
The Kansas City Business Journal pokes fun at all of the hysteria over Y2K:
One thing we do know is that the radical religious right has gone completely overboard in its zeal to see even the tiniest blip as an indication of the long-awaited end of the world. What is the truth about the Y2K bug? Therein lies part of the problem. Experts disagree as to how many systems will be affected, to what extent, and how the problem can be measured and fixed. This uncertainty produces fertile ground for the growing hysteria on the Internet and elsewhere. According to the Economist:
Thus, the programmers and consultants who benefit most from the hysteria have an incentive to feed into the proliferating doomsday scenarios. Even businesses and government agencies with upgraded computers and software who have nothing to fear sometimes tend to second guess their own Information Technology departments. This leads to more business for the outside consultants who promise to provide the treasured prize: a full-compliance certificate that guarantees the nasty bug has been squashed for good.
Of course, the irony behind the global economic collapse predicted by the radical religious right and (to a lesser extent) others is that the Y2K hysteria will be somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Those who worry about the millenial glitches are likely to plan ahead by stocking up on food and supplies. This uneasiness among consumers is likely to spur economic growth in many sectors of the economy, leading to increased consumption of goods and services in the weeks and months prior to the event. If the uneasiness turns into panic, the Economist argues that:
The Antichrist might not be coming, but this does not mean that there will not be some effects from the Y2K bug in the new millenium. It is easy to forget just how reliant our modern lifestyles are upon technology. There will be disruptions, confusion, and glitches. In some parts of the world there might even be brief power outages and other disrupted services. However, alarmist talk of the Y2K bug bringing an end to the world is a gross exaggeration, which seeks only to prey (and profit) upon the fears of those gullible enough in the Christian right to believe it. After the videotapes and books, profits and losses, when the gloomsters finally have delivered their last apocalyptic rant, the world will still turn round, taking us along with it.
[James Still prepared this report. Want more information? Visit Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the End of the World!]
On October 8th, the Swedish Academy honored Portuguese novelist José Saramago with the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Saramago is also a member of the Communist Party and an outspoken atheist. His 1991 novel The Gospel According to Jesus Christ drew harsh criticism from the Vatican. The Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano wrote that Gospel is "testimony of a substantial anti-religious sentiment." Along with themes of separation and revolt, in his novels Saramago plays with an image of God as a despotic ruler, threatening his creation with torture or death. The Vatican "should just focus on their prayers and leave people in peace," Saramago told an audience at a Frankfurt book fair.
Since the Academy's announcement, Gospel has rocketed to Amazon.com's top seller from the 467th spot.
A recent Harris Poll of U.S. adults, taken in July 1998 and reprinted in World Opinion Update (vol. 22, no. 9, Sep. 1998), reports that 11 percent fewer U.S. adults believe in God today than they did in 1994.
Respondents were told, "I will read a list of things some people believe in. Please say for each one if you believe in it, or not." Other objects of belief, such as heaven, hell, the Devil, and astrology were statistically unchanged.
[Thanks to George King IV for submitting this information.]
by Jim Jeremiah
Secular, secular, secular. That word has been floating through my head forever. A common misconception is that I am some sort of heathen beast-a monster that stays awake every night carving false prophets out of gold and digital signals. I never talk about God, Christ or religion but I am constantly plagued in my mind about each subject.
"Secular" means a very textbook definition to many people but not for me. I myself am my own double standard, for the things a textbook describes I do not do. To me secular means a particular unnerving feeling I get whenever I get asked to participate in a "Christian fellowship activity." Secular is the feeling I get when I am plagued with a thousand questions from devout religious people. Secular means to me being sometimes weary of people, unfortunately. Secular means shuddering when a Christian pop song happens upon the radio waves. Secular means a thousand different ways of saying "Thank you, but I do not want to be at church in this point of my life... perhaps later." I anxiously await a "second great awakening" just so I can make a hundred or so people content with my lifestyle choices... but that can wait. Its not worth giving up yet.
Too many times I have been set up by religious people. The discussions are light, the mood is good, and then the religion strikes. Sometimes too there is too fine a line between friendship and "fellowship." Too many times (i.e., more than once) on my quest to find someone to love and cherish I have been mislead, thinking that which may have been a relationship had really been a quest on their part to add me to the ranks of the card-carrying devout.
Did I ever mention I didn't like the person I was when I did go to church? My inner feelings and love for God conflicted with the social/political forces inside the church, and its other parishioners but I was so convinced that I was making everyone happy by attending that I blindly followed directions and attended several functions, but I didn't like that person. It was as if I was on the outside of him, looking at him participating, when I would have rather enjoyed a nice contemplative session in front of a bible and a nice cup of tea.
Recently I have thought of myself as floating on a raft (my very personal third party beliefs) down the Mississippi (religious awareness) yet constantly being tipped over by a barge or a luxury liner (i.e., the cataclysmically devout). I can almost always get myself back up on the raft but not before an incredible bout of seasickness. Each blow of their brand of worship drives me further and further from them in theological viewpoints and further displaces my opinions of them, as if their wake is pushing me towards the shore a bit more every time.
Then why am I always the target of scorn? Why does everything need to be discussed, mulled, sanctified, shrink-wrapped, and "conform"-ed to everyday thinking? You would think that I wouldn't be a target since I keep my beliefs to myself. Something that pushes me away from the religious is the constant barrage of questions. Questions I cannot answer, yet it would seem to them that I should be a martyr thrust up for public display and concern. I am not a martyr, I simply learn more by observing others.
Anthropologist F.S. Wallace has defined "religion" as "a set of rituals, rationalized by myth, which mobilizes supernatural powers for purpose of achieving or preventing transformations of state in man and nature." What lies behind this definition is a recognition that people, when they cannot deal with serious problems that cause them anxiety through technological or organizational means, try to do so through the manipulation of supernatural beings and powers. This requires ritual, which Wallace sees as the primary phenomenon of religion, or "religion in action." Its major function is to reduce anxiety and keep confidence high, all of which serves to keep people in some sort of shape to cope with reality. It is this that gives religion survival value. The word religion comes from religare, to bind. As such it implies a loyalty to a set of principles and actions. Organized religion takes away from feelings of personal relevance. It says we know better than you feel. Do as we say.
Faith is different from religion, I think, mainly because of rites of intensification. The groups of people unite in a common effort in such a way that fear and confusion yield to collective action and a degree of optimism. It makes people feel good about the unknown. The God of my Understanding will always be the make up of the Trinity. But on my terms and understanding, not the Church's. The Father is in my life just as much as the person who goes to church faithfully everyday-he understands my wants and my needs. I've got a good idea of what I am supposed to do in this world and it is being done on a daily basis. Only because of my relationship with him and the faith that I exert...
To find religion first you need to approach it logically. Analyze everything about it like you would a Shakespearean play. Before long you will have found the right one, the one that gives you peace and comfort without actually telling you that that's what you've got. You may however look for a while.
Religion is personal to the secular me. Religion, for me needs to be humble and modest. Religion has an effect on my personal life but only in silence. Religion is secular to me, for lack of a better word.
No philosophy, sadly, has all the answers. No matter how assured we may be about certain aspects of our belief, there are always painful inconsistencies, exceptions, and contradictions. This is true in religion as it is in politics, and is self-evident to all except fanatics and the naive. As for the fanatics, whose number is legion in our own time, we might be advised to leave them to heaven. They will not, unfortunately, do us the same courtesy. They attack us and each other, and whatever their protestations to peaceful intent, the bloody record of history makes clear that they are easily disposed to restore to the sword. My own belief about God, then, is just that-a matter of belief, not knowledge. But even well-educated Christians are frustrated in their thirst for certainty about the beloved figure of their Saviour because of the undeniable ambiguity of the scriptural record. Such ambiguity is not apparent to children or fanatics, but every recognized Bible scholar is perfectly aware of it. Some Christians, alas, resort to formal lying to obscure such reality.
I hope you enjoyed your stay in the odd purgatory I have created for myself, don't let the lightning strike you on your way out (just kidding). I've been on the trail for some time. I wish I could show you the way. Even if I knew the way I think it would be wrong. It just seems we are all invited to get on the trail and seek the Way for ourselves, so when we find it, it belongs to us.
Religious dreamers think they can foist on us a "god", and some of them think that they have produced a convincing argument by saying that they can conceive of a perfect being; hence, it must exist. So where does this leave the argument that one cannot prove that god (invisible pink unicorns, grape jelly surrounding the universe, etc.) does not exist? Is there a nuance in the argument that I'm missing?
We are disappointed that Franklin Covey Co. is promoting superstition over reason with its recent editorial in Priorities magazine (Volume 2, Issue 5), stating that god-belief is a principle for happiness.
In the "Editor's Corner", Mark Cook, publisher and editor of Priorities, wrote that "One of my favorite John Stossel reports from ABC is "The Mystery of Happiness." If you adapt the ABC report and combine it with the extraordinary individual stories of success in this issue you get ten principles."
According to Cook, principle number five is, "Believe in God. Research shows that belief in God correlates significantly with happiness. Stossel reports that those he spoke with say that happiness comes from a knowledge and purpose gained by serving God. A commitment to a plan bigger than ourselves creates an overwhelming sense of fulfillment."
"While I am not familiar with the John Stossel special, 'The Mystery of Happiness,' I have a hard time reconciling Cook's statement with John Stossel's most recent special, The Power of Belief," said Internet Infidels President Jeffery Jay Lowder. "In that special, Stossel criticized psychics, astrology, therapeutic touch, voodoo, alternative medicine, and near death experiences. Stossel ended the show noting that, while belief in the supernatural may be comforting to some, he needed proof before he could believe in such things. According to Stossel, such proof is completely lacking."
Lowder did not dispute that many people who believe in God are happy. "I am perfectly content to grant that many people who believe in God live happy and fulfilling lives. But many people who lack belief in a god also live happy and fulfilling lives. The Priorities editorial suggests that belief in God is a requirement for happiness, but that is not the case. It's a shame that an otherwise outstanding magazine had to include this indirect jab at unbelievers," he said.
Please contact Priorities and politely inform them that belief in a god is not necessary for happiness: