Cyber Christ
Ejected From Court
by Chuck Shepherd

July, 1997

Winston Salem, North Carolina, mayoral candidate Rick Newton was tossed out of court by bailiffs after he walked in in a curly black wig and carrying a guitar and a red pillow shaped like lips, claiming he was Jesus.

He was there to answer charges that he violated a court order by harassing his estranged wife on the telephone.

Graphic Rule

Catholic Church
Investigates Itself

Vatican to Open
Some Inquisition Archives
by Conrad Goeringer
from AANEWS by American Atheists

January 13, 1998

A considerable body of writing has been assembled over the decades concerning the infamous and feared Holy Inquisition. What is remarkable is that all of this has been done without the benefit of access to the primary source materials and other records held under lock and key by the Vatican. That may change, though, following an announcement by the Church of Rome that they will open the secret archives of the Inquisition, in what the London Times described as an attempt by the pope to "square accounts with history" prior to the millennium.

The Times notes that a group of scholars picked by the Vatican will be given access to the archives, said to include the actual written records of interrogations. Some of the archive has supposedly been destroyed, but according to Professor Adriano Prosperi of Pisa University, the remaining records could enable scholars to understand "the activities of papal inquisitors on the spot and how these related to the overall strategy of the Church." The archive is said to include records going back to 1548.

There are problems, however, with any scholarship that might result from this "Perestroika" supposedly sweeping through the musty hallways and vaults of the Holy See. Rome is hand-picking those who will have access, and it is not clear whether all materials (or just some) will be made available, or ever reach the light of full public scrutiny and peer review. And 1548 is a late date, considering that "dangerous heretics" such as the Cathars and the Waldensians were targets of church wrath as far back as the 11th century. Indeed, the Inquisition was established by Pope Gregory IX ("Ugolino") who ruled from 1227-1241 CE, as part of his strategy to excommunicate Emperor Frederick II who wouldn't organize a crusade to the Holy Land.

The misnamed Pope Innocent IV authorized the Inquisition to use torture; this resulted in an insane standard of guilt or innocence which often meant that those considered innocent were, in fact, those who died at the hands of their interrogators. The Inquisition was also used against groups who questioned the dogma of the Church, as well as entire groups such as Jews and Moslems.

Secular Enlightenment curtailed these bloodthirsty excesses, and damaged the hold exercised by the Vatican on civil governments and nations. In 1908, the Inquisition was given the name Holy Office, and in 1965 was then presented for public consumption with the title of Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and remains today one of the most reactionary quarters of the church. It is headed by Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, a supporter of Pope John Paul II and a staunch advocate of belief in papal infallibility.

Graphic Rule

Gang Activity, Violence,
Disrespect Linked to Being
"Disconnected" From God

Did Vice President Gore
Smear Atheists?
by Conrad Goeringer
from AANEWS by American Atheists

January 23, 1998

It may be just more political bluster in anticipation of the next election; or, as some have suggested, it is a smear on nonbelief, and a harbinger that religion is sure to once again be a hot-button issue when the politicians go begging for votes.

In remarks presented Monday morning at the Ebenenzer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, Vice President Albert Gore delivered a half-hour long monologue laced with Biblical quotes and metaphors. Gore's appearance was in celebration of the nationwide Martin Luther King holiday; it was also the occasion for the White House to announce a boost in Justice Department funding to combat racial discrimination. Appropriately, Gore's speech writers chose racism as the topic, and then proceeded to tailor the Vice President's remarks to the church audience.

That might have prompted several lines from Mr. Gore, some of which clearly link disbelief in a deity with anti-social behavior.

The slip was first noticed by Rob Sherman, a Chicago area atheist civil rights activist who monitored the address and promptly wrote up a story on his web site,, and linked to Gore's remarks which were already presented on a part of the official White House site.

The most controversial portion of Gore's statement appears about three minutes into his talk, where he compared the story of Cain and Able with the "disrespect" supposedly felt by inner city youth.

"Why was Joseph, resplendent in his coat of many colors, thrown into that pit and left for dead by his brothers? They felt 'disrespected' because their father regarded them different from Joseph. Why do so many young men on the streets with empty lives and loaded guns slay their brothers? They tell us time and again that their brothers 'disrespected' them. And often what they are really feeling is that their fathers disrespected them by abandoning their mothers and them.

"Those who are quick to feel disrespected often have a spiritual vacuum in their lives, because they feel disconnected to the love of their Father in Heaven. False gods force their way into the hole in their hearts..."

In a statement to the media, American Atheists President Ellen Johnson took issue with the Vice President's statement. "Whether he intended to or not, Mr. Gore is unfairly connecting a lack of belief in a god with antisocial, criminal behavior. In 27 words, a leading public official managed to marginalize and insult the ten percent of Americans -- over 26 million persons -- who have no religious belief, and describe themselves as atheists, nonbelievers, freethinkers or skeptics of some kind. Would he have made that sort of remark about another minority group such as gays, or Buddhists?"

Ron Barrier, the National Media Coordinator for American Atheists, suggested that the Vice President was placing too much emphasis on religious faith as a panacea for social ills. Barrier also warned that, "in effect, Mr. Gore is unwittingly characterizing a large segment of the U.S. population as the next 'Willie Horton'. This is unfortunate and counterproductive to any dialogue between those who "believe' and those who don't."

Graphic Rule

Does Church Equal State?

Mississippi Governor:
January is "Month of
Prayer to End Abortion"
by Susan Crabb with Conrad Goeringer
from AANEWS by American Atheists

January, 1998

Mississippi Governor Kirk Fordice issued a proclamation which declared January, 1998 as a "Month of Prayer to End Abortion." According to a release by the Republican National Committee for Life, the declaration is "written in commemoration of the more than 25 million babies killed since 1973, asks for prayer that 'the hearts of mothers and fathers will be turned to their children, born and unborn; that churches in Mississippi will continue to respond appropriate to those considering abortion by offering loving alternatives to women in crisis; that government officials will continue to do all possible to protect the lives of the unborn; and that those to whom God has given the gift of heating [sic] will use their gift not to destroy lives, but to save them'"

The proclamation represents not only the shameful use of government as a tool of religious interests, but the conceptual confusion which religious groups and many anti-choice activists have employed. It remains highly debatable whether or not the "25 million babies killed since 1973" were "babies" in the sense most persons use the term. Like the phrase "partial birth abortion," the anti-choice movement attempts to establish a rhetorical beach head by redefining terms in the most evocative and emotional way possible -- thus equating the scraping away of clumps of fetal tissue with an act of murder carried out against a viable human infant living outside the womb.

Graphic Rule

Wants Cross Removed
From Public Land

Newspaper: Atheist
Has "Gone Too Far"
by Conrad Goeringer
from AANEWS by American Atheists

January 28, 1998

Margie Wait, Colorado State Director for American Atheists has gone "too far," at least according to a editorial in yesterday's Ft. Collins Coloradoan newspaper. You might recall that Ms. Wait has called upon public officials to remove a cross which stands on public land, specifically, Horsetooth Mountain Park. The four-foot-high religious symbol was erected as a memorial to an individual who died in a climbing accident on the Soderberg Trail back in 1987.

According to the Coloradoan, Larimer County Commissioner Jim Disney says that he has "trouble understanding how they [atheists] would get offended by something like this." He adds that the cross "seems a benefit to us because it serves as a reminder that if you do something like this you might be killed."

We certainly hope that Mr. Disney was referring to careless hiking, not protesting an unconstitutional violation of state-church separation. But for the record, if the "cross" is really just some warning sign to hikers, why aren't such symbols found throughout the state -- in public parks, or anywhere else people might be at risk? How about highways? Airport escalators? Around toxic waste dumps, or dotting the periphery of, say, the Rocky Flats radioactive materials dump?

The editors at the Coloradoan insist that "This goes to far..." We beg to disagree. Public officials Ms. Wait has complained to express the usual round of platitudes about the cross -- that it is not religious (being a warning sign), or that it can be de-religionized by a kind of "circumcision" where the tip of the cross is removed, thus making it into a wooden "T" or even modified slightly and tilted so that it is an "X."

That evasion of the intent of the First Amendment -- that government has no business promoting religious belief or a specific religion -- is what has gone "too far."

Graphic Rule

'Possessed' Cheerleader
Smothered In Long Island
by Conrad Goeringer
from AANEWS by American Atheists

January 28, 1998

We noted in our coverage of Pope John Paul II's visit to Cuba last week that the most popular religion in that small country isn't Roman Catholicism, or even Protestantism, but Santeria -- a blending of native superstitions and practices transmitted through the African slave trade with Christian teachings. Elders of the Santeria faith wanted to hunker down with John Paul, but Vatican officials nixed the idea -- what would the pontiff do with that chicken bone necklace?

Santeria is also a thriving faith in America, as an incident in Long Island last week reminds us. There, a teenage cheerleader was allegedly suffocated to death by her mother and sister who were endeavoring to free her from the possession of "demons." The 17-year old, who had been voted "most likely to succeed" at her suburban high school, was found dead in her Long Island, New York residence; according to the London Times, police discovered her mother and sister "chanting and praying over her body, both swaying as if in a trance."

Graphic Rule

Free Speech Allowed
in Kentucky
by Conrad Goeringer
from AANEWS by American Atheists

January 28, 1998

In Kentucky, state representatives have passed a bill which guarantees the right of students in public schools to pray and express religious viewpoints in the classroom to the same extent that nonreligious topics are discussed. It prohibits teachers, administrators and other officials from stopping students from praying during non-instructional time.

Gosh, and we thought that the First Amendment already allowed free speech...

Graphic Rule

"Psychic Friends" Goes For
Bankruptcy Protection
by Conrad Goeringer
from AANEWS by American Atheists

February 11, 1998

Whenever I drive by "Madame Zaha's Psychic Studio" and see the "by appointment only" sign, I often wonder why any appointment is really necessary. After all, if Madame Zaha is truly psychic, wouldn't she know that a customer is about to arrive? Couldn't her wonderful abilities which give her a special perspective into a "mysterious realm" at least give her a leg up in keeping a good appointment calendar?

I had a similar thought upon reading a story from Associated Press that the Psychic Friends Network, the nation's leading provider of 1-900 insight and spiritualist advice, was headed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The parent firm, Inphomation Communications, Inc. listed liabilities of $26 million and assets of approximately $1.2 million. Nearly 2,000 alleged psychics staffed the phone lines at the Psychic Friends Network, while spokeswoman Dionne Warwick smiled and schmoozed during countless infomercials. The pitches made Psychic Friends the second highest grossing infomercial on television, ahead of deceased casualties of the marketing wars like the Ginsu Knife and just on the heels of Jane Fonda's workout videos.

Informercial Marketing Report estimated that Inphomation's take was between $100 million and $125 million during the early 1990s, but had dropped to a modest $30 million or so recently. Still not bad. That is quite a fleecing of millions of bored, lonely, and possibly even desperate people out there whose only link to the outside world and social contact might be their telephone. But one would reasonably suppose that with 2,000 professed psychics able to divine so much with so little -- a tenuous connection over the phone lines -- at least one of those seers would have predicted financial calamity ahead. Apparently not.

Psychic Friends has plenty of competition now from other "Circles" and "Networks" that seem to use a generic formula in grinding out obnoxious television ads featuring "our certified psychics."

"Are you just absolutely amazed by what this woman has just told you??!!," demands one host/shill for a psychic hot line, her expression barely able to contain itself. And Psychic Friends was probably a victim of an inflationary outburst of give-aways that offered more and more "free time" with "your own personal psychic." Profit margins were being slashed, and there have been reports that the contract labor "psychics" in some hot line firms were suffering their own reduced hourly rates. (Why didn't they use their psychic abilities instead at the local racetrack or neighborhood poker game?)

Psychic Friends might be back, however, in a new incarnation. Chapter 11 allows a company to defer payment of debts and reorganize its finances. We can only wonder why, though, one of the Friends didn't see all of this coming.

Graphic Rule

Mayors' Prayer Breakfast
Letter Calls For 'Submission'
by Conrad Goeringer
from AANEWS by American Atheists

February 10, 1998

With Moslems and Christians now in a theological race to see which group can "submit" to their respective deities, citizens in Fresno, California should have little difficulty knowing which side their public officials happen to be on, at least based on a letter from the Mayor's Prayer Breakfast Committee.

A portion of the letter which promotes ticket sales for the March 17, 1998 gathering declares:

According to the Los Angeles Times, the tone of the letter has offended some people, including a local rabbi who termed the appeal "insensitive" and "bigoted."

Officials in Fresno were quick to point out that the city government is not affiliated with the breakfast, which has become a 40-year-old annual tradition put on by a coalition of local Christians. This year's speaker is none other than Bill McCartney, founder of the controversial Promise Keepers movement.

Graphic Rule