“Unwise and untimely”

Frederick Sparks has an incisive post on Be Scofield on “new atheists” and racism.

In referring to Dr King and the civil rights movement, Scofield also falls into the trap of “the Civil Rights Movement, Brought To You By Black Church”…a bit of historical revisionism that ignores, as professor Anthony Pinn points out, the secular philosophical influences, and that King himself complained that most the black churches were not involved and were not supportive.

Didn’t he just. In the much-quoted Letter from Birmingham Jail for instance –

My Dear Fellow Clergymen: While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities “unwise and untimely.”…

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.

You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist.

And so on.

Frederick concludes with a stem-winder:

When the Scofields and Karen Armstrongs of the world talk about how the new atheists just aren’t aware of the liberal, tolerant, sativa smoking, feminist, genderqueer god concept, my response is “I don’t believe in that motherfucker, either.” She’s just as poorly evidenced as the old fashioned patriarchal god. She’s also not the predominant god concept impacting the African American community.

I don’t see an either or proposition between advocating for rational thought, where beliefs are based on evidence, and confronting issues of social justice. The idea that black people should be left alone in their clinging to Jesus due to their history of oppression smacks of just as much paternalism as what Scofield accuses the white new atheists of here.

More, actually.



  1. platyhelminthe says

    To be fair, Karen Armstrong is an equal opportunities liar. I would be willing to bet literally no-one on Earth believes in the God she pretends is central to all religions.

  2. says

    Scofield’s rant reads like ordinary old postmodernism. The intellectual left’s answer to the problems of multi-culturalism was to argue that western values are just as arbitrary as all others. Thus using science and reason to understand other cultures is just the same as 19th century racism and cultural imperialism. It’s no surprise that his understanding of real racism is about as accurate as his understanding of the methods of science.

  3. brucegee1962 says

    I don’t follow this post at all — it seems like a total non sequitur. I don’t know much about Dr. King’s attitude towards the black churches and civil rights, and I’d be interested in learning more. But to do so, why would I want to look at his letter from Birmingham Jail, which addresses itself entirely to a group of white ministers who urged him in a letter to the newspaper to have more patience in waiting for civil rights to come? None of the passages that you quote make any references to the black church whatsoever.

    If you’re going to convince me that this black minister was critical of the black church, you’re going to need to come up with some quotes that are actually relevant.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *