October 23, 2012

A moment of silence for #PaulKurtz


Secularists, please take a moment of silence for Paul Kurtz.

If one could finger one person as a “founder” of modern, post-World War II secular humanism in the United States, it would be Kurtz, the creator of Humanist Manifesto II and an energizer of a more activist, more engaged secular humanism. Beyond that, he founded Prometheus Books to give secular humanism its own “voice.”

Well, he died today.

Sadly, in a power struggle and a philosophy struggle, the Council on Secular Humanism booted him from his leadership posts two years ago. Kurtz had opposed the rise of “New Atheism” or “Gnu Atheism” if you will, due to a confrontationalist psychology it espoused, which I have previously argued was and is a “tar baby” mirror of Christian fundamentalism’s evangelism style.

No, Kurtz wasn’t perfect, and perhaps could have been a better financial manager of CFI.

That said, Wikipedia’s entry well sums up Kurtz’s philosophy in one short paragraph:
Kurtz believed that the nonreligious members of the community should take a positive view on life. Religious skepticism, according to Paul Kurtz, is only one aspect of the secular humanistic outlook.
Indeed. And, vis a vis Gnu Atheism, Kurtz wanted to look at positive ways to collaborate with religious people of faith, positive ways to present what secular humanism is about and more.

I don’t know who will be the primary leader of his new (of 2009) institution, Institute for Science and Human Values. But, let’s hope that there’s a centralized voice for carrying on his vision about secular humanism.

For more about Kurtz, see his website

And, despite issues he had with CFI, it does him right with its obit

Prometheus Books has a good obit, too. 

Among mainstream media, Reuters' was decent. AP's was crappy, mainly by being short enough to not be much more than a death notice. Shockingly and disgustingly, the New York Times didn't have an obit of its own, and just ran the AP version. Even more disgusting, the Buffalo News ... this is where he lived, all those years of building secular humanism ... has had NOTHING so far.

Email NYTimes Public Editor Margaret Sullivan at public@nytimes.com and in Buffalo, contact Interim Editor Brian Connelly at editor@buffnews.com. With the News, you can also visit its Facebook page

Meanwhile, while Kurtz was not a "Gnu Atheist," he also wasn't a "religious humanist." And, having seen at least one religious humanist on Facebook trying to downplay his significance, this is why labels are important at times. 

Update, Oct. 23: The AP finally has a real obit, including interviewing an online friend of mine, Nathan Bupp, who was close to Kurtz. And the Buffalo News also finally got on the stick. The New York Times finally has its obit up ... squeaky wheels!

And a great tribute at CFI's website by John Shook, who identifies Kurtz as being, in part, a philosopher. And, an even better, in-depth one from Michael Shermer. Shermer notes Kurtz's work to "reach" people who aren't hard-core skeptics, but don't totally believe New Ageism, alleged paranormal actions, etc.

Finally, a personal comment. I never met Kurtz. But, after graduating from seminary (divinity school) and trying to figure out just where I stood theologically and philosophically, and specifically, metaphysically (or naturalistically) since metaphysics transcends both disciplines, Free Inquiry and The Humanist helped me through the transition, and with some comfort level the first year or two after I felt I was a confirmed secularist.

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