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Be Scofield
Be Scofield
Be Scofield is an activist and founder of www.decolonizingyoga.com. She is pursuing a Master of Divinity at Starr King School for the Ministry.



Atheists are Beautiful: A Religious Person Defends Atheism

Jun13

by: on June 13th, 2010 | 67 Comments »

Being an atheist in America means being less than human. I know from personal experience, not from being an atheist but from being raised Christian in a conservative Christian town and holding negative biases about atheists. Like many others I thought that a belief in God was the foundation of morality, that Christians were superior to others and that atheists were a threat to believers. I didn’t, however, reach this conclusion consciously after weighing the facts and examining the issue independently. But rather it was something so ingrained within the culture that it permeated the social conscience. And of course atheists were just one group among many targeted by some Christians. But for several years now there have been movements both religious and secular that have championed the rights of other marginalized groups such as gays, people of color and women. Now it’s time for religious and spiritual people to take a stand for non-believers of all varieties.

Recent years have seen the spread of whats called the new atheism. Led by Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennet who are dubbed the “four horsemen” they are known for their fiery rhetoric and passionate critique of all things religious. While they certainly don’t represent all atheists-some prefer a more moderate approach-they have provided an important voice of resistance and identity for a group that has remained painfully silent for to long. And atheism is one of the fastest growing identities in America. It’s now the third largest group behind Catholics and Baptists. People are fed up with the abuse scandals, hypocrisy, violence and rejection of scientific progress that is associated with so many religions and their teachings. Now that atheism has a renewed interest in the public sphere it is an excellent opportunity for religious people of all sorts to show kindness, compassion and understanding to atheists-all things which are central to their traditions.

I’m both a fan and a critic of the new atheists. I agree with much of what they say but disagree when they indict all of religion or reduce it to its most distasteful elements. I believe religion can serve a useful purpose in our world. It can offer a place of resistance, refuge, healing and renewal. But even as I support critiquing the new atheists I treat atheism like I do any other marginalized group that is targeted by a dominant culture. I liken their cause to other struggles for liberation and freedom. And that is why despite my disagreements I believe their response is just.

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God Bless the Whole World

Apr21

by: on April 21st, 2010 | 2 Comments »

I’m really excited to announce that my website has a new design and now features more content than it ever has before.

God Bless the Whole World is a free online educational resource that provides tools for personal and social transformation. The site feature hundreds of videos, audio files, articles and courses on social justice, spiritual activism, nonviolence, counter oppression, environmentalism and self care among many other subjects. For example you can watch a full length course on the African American Freedom Struggle taught by Stanford University professor Clayborne Carson or a class called Science, Magic and Religion from UCLA among many others. There are over 50 documentary films about Julia Butterfly Hill, Nietzsche, Nelson Mandela, Helen Keller, Buddha and Muhammad to name a few. And don’t miss great titles like Fog of War, Sicko and Guns, Germs and Steel. You can also watch talks by Van Jones, Michael Lerner, Arundhati Roy, Marianne Williamson, Thich Nhat Hanh, Dr. King, James Baldwin and Malcolm X in addition to hundreds more. In total there are well over 500 videos for your viewing pleasure. And I’m adding more every day. You can also read articles and speeches, explore podcasts, watch debates and listen to audio files.

I created the site because I’ve been extremely fortunate to have studied with, been mentored by and worked alongside some pioneers in the fields of social justice, spirituality, religion and counter oppression. I’ve invested a lot of time and money into my education and realize that many do not have the privileges that I have had to gain access to these opportunities. Thus, the goal of my site is to bring together the various people, ideas, resources and insights that have influenced me into an easy to use format that is free for the public. And the beautiful thing is that all of the material on my site is already available on the internet in some form or another. Universities are increasingly placing their full length courses on YouTube and in ItunesU. Organizations like TED have provided fascinating lectures by today’s leading thinkers. Full length documentary films are available online in addition to hundreds of talks, lectures and speeches by spiritual teachers, activists and visionaries.

Each week I will be posting to Tikkun a video with a short commentary that I’ve added to my website so be on the lookout. Additionally the site is always “under construction” so please feel free to send suggestions, ideas, links, design insights, resources…etc that you would like to see on the site. You can email them to godblessthewholeworld@gmail.com.

Satire vs. Empire

Apr14

by: on April 14th, 2010 | 1 Comment »

I don’t read the Onion very frequently but this recent headline story captured my attention and sparked my imagination as a powerful way to reflect upon U.S. Imperialism and Nationalism. However, the article with its suggestion to discontinue the use of the flag may stir up some questions even for progressives as many seek a balance between what they love and dislike about America. But at the end of the day the story is a creative use of satire to get people thinking about the U.S. flag, patriotism and nationalism – especially in the age of Obama, drones and Apache helicopters used to gun down journalists. And just to add a little fuel to the fire I will end with a quote from Leo Tolstoy from his essay “Patriotism and Government” which was the first thing I read at age 19 that introduced me to something other than the nationalistic fervor that surrounded me at the time. He wrote, “I have already several times expressed the thought that in our day the feeling of patriotism is an unnatural, irrational, and harmful feeling, and a cause of a great part of the ills from which mankind is suffering, and that, consequently, this feeling–should not be cultivated, as is now being done, but should, on the contrary, be suppressed and eradicated by all means available to rational men.”

The Onion – April 13th, “U.S. Flag Recalled After Causing 143 Million Deaths”

WASHINGTON—Citing a series of fatal malfunctions dating back to 1777, flag manufacturer Annin & Company announced Monday that it would be recalling all makes and models of its popular American flag from both foreign and domestic markets.

Representatives from the nation’s leading flag producer claimed that as many as 143 million deaths in the past two centuries can be attributed directly to the faulty U.S. models, which have been utilized extensively since the 18th century in sectors as diverse as government, the military, and public education.

“It has come to our attention that, due to the inherent risks and hazards it poses, the American flag is simply unfit for general use,” said Annin & Company president Ronald Burman, who confirmed that the number of flag-related deaths had noticeably spiked since 2003. “I would like to strongly urge all U.S. citizens: If you have an American flag hanging in your home or place of business, please discontinue using it immediately.”

Does God Have a Future?

Mar31

by: on March 31st, 2010 | 8 Comments »

If you like the most recent issue of Tikkun Magazine “God and the 21st Century” you might enjoy watching this recent debate called “Does God have a Future?” While heavyweights Deepak Chopra and Jean Houston make the case for God and religion Sam Harris and Michael Shermer try and deconstruct Chopra’s “woo-woo” language to quote Shermer.

While you probably know that Chopra and Houston are not defending the God of Pat Robertson or any particular religion, for Harris and Shermer any talk of God and religion is problematic. They take aim at Chopra when he conflates terms like non-locality and infinity with spirituality. On the other hand sparks fly when Chopra-fueled by a long standing feud with Shermer accuses him of being an extreme scientific reductionist. Houston for the most part avoids the God question and speaks about wisdom, healing and spirituality.

I never get tired of these sorts of engagements as I think they prove useful to furthering the discourse between religion and science. And I often find myself wanting to chime in here and there on both positions, thinking of how each side could challenge the other more. Who do you think won?

Hitchens Updates the Ten Commandments

Mar18

by: on March 18th, 2010 | 10 Comments »

Christopher Hitchens critiques the Ten Commandments and updates them for the 21st century. What do you think? What would your Ten Commandments look like?

Hitchens on Buddhist Atheism

Mar11

by: on March 11th, 2010 | 4 Comments »

Christopher Hitchens has an interesting praiseworthy comment for Stephen Batchelor’s new book “Confession of a Buddhist Atheist:”

“The human thirst for the transcendent, the numinous – even the ecstatic – is too universal and too important to be entrusted to the cultish and the archaic and the superstitious. In this honest and serious book of self-examination and critical scrutiny, Stephen Batchelor adds the universe of Buddhism to the many fields in which received truth and blind faith are now giving way to ethical and scientific humanism, in which lies our only real hope.”

Mark Vernon reviews Batchelors new book and reflects on Hitchens statement.

In God is Not Great, Christopher Hitchens writes of Buddhism as the sleep of reason, and of Buddhists as discarding their minds as well as their sandals. His passionate diatribe appeared in 2007. So what’s he doing now, just three years later, endorsing a book on Buddhism written by a Buddhist?

The new publication is Confession of a Buddhist Atheist. Its author, Stephen Batchelor, is at the vanguard of attempts to forge an authentically western Buddhism. He is probably best known for Buddhism Without Beliefs, in which he describes himself as an agnostic. Now he has decided on atheism, the significance of which is not just that he doesn’t believe in transcendent deities, but is also found in his stripping down of Buddhism to the basics.

Reincarnation and karma are rejected as Indian accretions: his study of the historical Siddhartha Gautama – one element in the new book – suggests the Buddha himself was probably indifferent to these doctrines. What Batchelor believes the Buddha did preach were four essentials. First, the conditioned nature of existence, which is to say everything continually comes and goes. Second, the practice of mindfulness, as the way to be awake to what is and what is not. Third, the tasks of knowing suffering, letting go of craving, experiencing cessation and the “noble path”. Fourth, the self-reliance of the individual, so that nothing is taken on authority, and everything is found through experience.

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Modern Day Slavery Museum Debuts

Mar3

by: on March 3rd, 2010 | 4 Comments »

I lived in Naples, FL for over eight years and never realized that there were human slaves toiling in the agricultural fields less than 45 minutes away. This is the case for much of the population of Naples, one of the wealthiest towns in America and the only city in the world that has two Ritz Carltons in it — the beach and golf resorts. Furthermore, it is the case for much of America. While the trendy green movement has led us to scrutinize trans fats and demand hybrid cars we haven’t paid enough attention to where our food comes from.

When I was 21 years old I visited Immokalee for the first time and began volunteering with a local organization that provided much needed goods and services to the community. I saw first hand the living conditions that many farm workers live in. Numerous families will often share one trailer home in terrible conditions and pay high rents due to greedy landlords and fear of being deported. I formed relationships with residents, listened to their stories and met people who had been slaves. I learned about the working conditions and injustice in the fields. But my education took a few years and very well may not have ever happened had I not visited Immokalee one day with my mother.

That’s why the latest project from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers is an important contribution to our understanding and awareness of food justice issues. After many successful campaigns to reform the agricultural industry resulted in a victories over some of the largest fast food giants-Taco Bell, McDonalds and Burger King the CIW has now launched a traveling modern day slavery museum. Perhaps with efforts like this more people will grow up in Naples knowing about how issues of justice are related to our food. Barry Estabrook recently visited the museum and wrote about it for the Atlantic Monthly:

Since the mid-1990s, more than 1,000 slaves have been freed in at least six cases in Florida…

Fittingly, the museum is housed in a 24-foot box truck once used to haul produce. The truck is a replica of one in which several men were kept locked up for as long as two and a half years until the slavery ring that held them was broken in 2007. They slept in the truck, urinated and defecated in one corner, and were driven in the truck daily to fields where they were forced to pick tomatoes, often for no pay. Some of the men who were imprisoned acted as “consultants” on the project to assure authenticity. In late 2008, several members of a family were sentenced to jail terms in the case.

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Christian Hegemony: The Power of Language

Feb24

by: on February 24th, 2010 | 6 Comments »

“You’re either with us or against us.” – from Matthew 12:30

“Language is the perfect instrument of empire.”- Antonia De Nebrija

I recommend checking out the latest booklet from Paul Kivel called “The Language of Dominant Christianity” (available as a downloadable PDF for only $3.50 or as a book for $4.95.) It is a short (85 page) A-Z dictionary of common vocabulary words in the English language that reveal how Christianity has influenced our thinking. In addition to defining a comprehensive list of words (64 pages) Kivel provides a section on “word groups” and points out how certain terms are found within our criminal/legal system, notions of morality, racial understandings, educational ideals and political ideology. And in the first part Kivel provides the context of why it is important to analyze and examine the Christian roots of our language.

This booklet is one part of Kivel’s latest project to name Christian dominance as one of the many systems of oppression. Kivel is a well respected violence prevention educator who wrote “Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Social Justice” among many other books on oppression. If you haven’t heard of him or want to know more about Paul’s work including his videos and interviews you can visit his website.

And in the spirit of my post last week where I pointed out how atheists are studying to be religious leaders at Starr King I want to emphasize that there are Christians who are equally concerned about Christian hegemony and are dedicating time and resources to ending it.

Paul Kivel describes Christian hegemony:

From www.christianhegemony.org

I define Christian hegemony as the everyday, pervasive, and systematic set of Christian values and beliefs, individuals and institutions that dominate all aspects of our society through the social, political, economic, and cultural power they wield. Nothing is unaffected by Christian hegemony (whether we are Christian or not) including our personal beliefs and values, our relationships to other people and to the natural environment, and our economic, political, education, health care, criminal/legal, housing, and other social systems.

Christian hegemony as a system of domination is complex, shifting, and operates through the agency of individuals, families, church communities, denominations, parachurch organizations, civil institutions, and through decisions made by members of the ruling class and power elite.

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Why Atheists Choose Religion

Feb18

by: on February 18th, 2010 | 42 Comments »

The idea “to be religious is to be a theist” as Christopher Hitchens stated in his debate with Lorenzo Albacete is a quite ethnocentric claim. It is true that in the West we have often associated a theistic God with religion, but this neglects Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Jainism and numerous religious traditions which have adopted a deistic, pantheistic, panentheistic or other understanding of God. And as I pointed out in my critique of Hitchens last week, Unitarian Universalism contains 19% of people who identify as atheist/agnostic.

In the over 140 comments I received from my post “Christopher Hitchens: The Orthodox Protestant Atheist” both on the Tikkun site and in the version crossposted on Alternet.org there was both surprise and disbelief that atheists could be religious leaders. I described how I am in seminary at Starr King School for the Minstry studying alongside atheists and agnostics who are in training to become religious leaders and ministers. This seemed to be an oxymoron as for some of the respondents all religion is evil and always associated with God. So I thought it would be helpful to include a few statements from atheist students in seminary studying to be religious leaders.

From a fellow atheist seminarian at Starr King:

First, I think there is a difference between being an atheist and being anti-religious. They are orthogonal. There is also a difference between being anti-religious and being opposed to the effects of particular religious traditions. These terms should not be conflated. Since when did not believing in God mean that you are opposed to other people believing in God and or practicing religion regardless of whether they believe? I am an atheist. Just to be clear, by that I mean I don’t believe that there is a god, a higher consciousness, or a spirit. I am also opposed to the effects of certain religious traditions. But I am not by any means anti-religious. I don’t deny the value that religion or religious practice, (whether actual belief in god and the afterlife, or simply liking the pretty candles at mass and multiple opportunities for community) brings to people including myself. Religion has a lot to offer and to deny that is to deny the complexity of the human condition.

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Christopher Hitchens: The Orthodox Protestant Atheist

Feb9

by: on February 9th, 2010 | 97 Comments »

Despite having engaged in numerous debates with Christians, Muslims and Jews across the liberal/conservative spectrum Christopher Hitchens still holds to an amazingly ignorant understanding of the liberal religious heritage. His understanding of who is and who isn’t a Christian is perhaps the most disappointing and surprising piece of evidence for his myopic interpretation of religion. While rejecting conservative Christians’ theological claims about God, the Bible and Jesus, he accepts their understanding of who is and is not able to be considered a Christian. In a recent interview with Marilyn Sewell, a Unitarian Universalist minister and self-professed liberal Christian, Christopher Hitchens paraphrased C.S. Lewis to explain the boundaries of who constitutes a Christian. It’s not surprising then that a recent blog post by Dr. Ray Pritchard of “Keep Believing Ministries” for a conservative Christian site called Crosswalk was entitled, “Christopher Hitchens Gets it Exactly Right.”

During a recent trip to Portland, Oregon, noted atheist Christopher Hitchens laid down some seriously good theology… In one of the delicious ironies of our time, an outspoken atheist grasps the central tenet of Christianity better than many Christians do. What you believe about Jesus Christ really does make a difference.

What did Hitchens say?

Sewell: The religion you cite in your book is generally the fundamentalist faith of various kinds. I’m a liberal Christian, and I don’t take the stories from the scripture literally. I don’t believe in the doctrine of atonement (that Jesus died for our sins, for example). Do you make any distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?

Hitchens: I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.

Why is Hitchens so quick to accept such an orthodox interpretation of the boundaries of Christianity? His brain seems to short-circuit when he has to think about religion in complex ways. He wants to hold firmly to an either/or dichotomy–the very same one which he is critiquing fundamentalism for. In debates he has stated that he is “Protestant atheist” meaning that he recognizes the validity of the various reformation movements which liberalized, expanded and diversified Christianity. But which denomination of protestant atheist is he? This isn’t clear but it is apparently not one which falls outside of his or C.S. Lewis’s orthodox boundaries of inclusion/exclusion. Isn’t is shocking that of all people, Christopher Hitchens is in agreement with the many forces in history which have led to the extermination, torture and destruction of “heretics” for simply believing the “wrong” form of Christianity? Since when is Hitchens so concerned about who is and isn’t a Christian?

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