Atheists In Their Own Words: Paul Kurtz On Fundamentalist Atheism

 

Paul Kurtz is well-known as the father of Secular Humanism. He is an atheist in the true sense of the word and a humanist who has been instrumental in popularizing humanistic thought. His book on ethics, Forbidden Fruit: The Ethics of Humanism, has a prominent spot on my library shelves, and I have consulted it often in developing my own ideas about morality. As an atheist he has not shied away from examining and criticizing religious belief, as in his book The Transcendental Temptation: A Critique of Religion and the Paranormal.

 However, perhaps the thing I have most appreciated about Kurtz, aside from his crisp thought and conversational writing style, is his more sympathetic attitude towards those who do give in to the "transcendental temptation."

 His article The True Unbeliever at the Council For Secular Humanism is online and can be read in its entirety by clicking the title. This article explores the question, "Do fundamentalist theists have their atheist counterparts?"

 From that article I have extracted the following passage:

Nonetheless, there still lingers among some true unbelievers an unflinching conviction toward atheismóGod does not exist, period; they are convinced of that! This kind of dogmatic attitude holds that this and only this is true and that anyone who deviates from it is a fool. This insults a great number of reflective believers...This form of militant atheism is often truncated and narrow-minded. It does not appreciate the cosmic setting of the human species in the nature of things. It lacks any ďnatural piety" ... and it is not concerned with the humanist values that ought to accompany the rejection of theism.

I have to say, as someone who enjoys reading the comments section on internet stories and articles (usually more than I do the articles!), that this insensitive and hubristic attitude is out there and far from rare. It is employed anytime someone even broaches a subject that hints of less than strict atheistic materialism, and the insinuation is always that the person who isn't a thoroughgoing atheist is weak-minded or stupid. I find this as off-putting as I do comments like "Jesus saves!" and "Jesus is the only way" whenever a controversial issue of our day is discussed.

What's worse, these attitudes - of both true believers and true unbelievers - make friendly, enlightening dialogue virtually impossible.


Wednesday 12/21/2011

Happy Birthday, Paul! I assume you are keeping up that healthy-walk-exercise. You are my model even though I am slower than ever. Congratulations on your new program. I am still on your team. You are one helluva guy and I prize our long association - Gerry Larue


 Friday 11/11/2011

Dear Professor Kurtz,

 

After I translated it a couple of years ago, as I wrote to you, your brilliant book "Forbidden Fruit" issued these days in Beirut in Arabic by the "Camel" publishing house, I use the pseudonym "Dia'a Assumery" because it is dangerous here in Iraq to be against religion.

 

Congratulation to you for this achievement wishing that our cooperation continues to translate more of your philosophy.

 

Sincerely,

Dia'a Assumery

 


Thursday 08/04/2011

Russian Humanists open International Summer School

 

Dear Paul,

 

Let me inform you that at the present time  the International Summer school is going in Moscow suburb. twenty-four people came to the Inquiry Center/Russia to study Secular Humanism, critical thinking, and discuss the prospect of the New Enlightenment in Russia and over the world. Four lecturers work with the participants; they are Andrzejy Dominochak (CSF-Poland), Floris van den Berg (CSF-Law Countries), Valerii Kuvakin (CFI-Russia), and Prof Dmitry Leont'ev (Moscow State University).

 

I am happy to say that we are doing very well. During ten days we plan to have the classes, round tables, and free discussions. Students from Russia and other countries like it very much.

 

Participants ask me to send the photo to you. I am doing that with the great respect and best wishes.

 

Yours,

Valerii

 


Thursday 3/3/2011

Dear Paul,

 

I'm inspired by the humanist statement I signed.  I'm depressed by the way the CFI is headed, from it's silly little games which promote ridicule and division, its defense of 'new atheism' which is antagonistic and backward moving, to its demolishing of everything progressive that the populace canít see, like a Jesus Project and international connections.  It seems to have plenty of coffee mugs, and T shirts, but completely lack vision. Is it now run by only middle class white american males?  It is not humanistic, and its leader is uninspiring (and bores me to tears when I listen to him speak).

 

 The Neo Secular Statement of Principles and Values is certainly comprehensive but no words are wasted and nothing is left out. Itís idealistic without being unrealistic, itís critical, but constructive rather than destructive, itís about prospering together in happiness and harmony (and good humor), itís about children, learning, itís about the environment and other species.  It's about continuing in constructive dialogue emphasizing our common values.  It's about personal character and personal morality.  It's not obsessed with religion but it's critical of fanaticism. Itís about inviting people from different points of view to join Ďin bringing about a better world in the new planetary civilization that is now emergingí.  It's inclusive and I noticed the diversity of belief perspectives I think among those I recognized who had signed.  It cares for the future, its creative, its imaginative and it encourages exploration. 

 

 I don't know what aspect of the new group needs volunteers.  I am willing to do anything (Kiwis can - not that I'm nationalistic!).  Maybe you need a secretary?  I would be sincerely grateful to be part of something so worthwhile, constructive and progressive.

 

 I look forward to talking with you, setting something up.

 

best wishes,

Stephanie Fisher

 


Wednesday 2/16/2011

Dear Paul,

 

We were deeply saddened by the news about the abominable power struggle going on at CFI. We were particularly outraged by the inappropriate attitude, to say the least, of the new management towards you. The reason is that we have always recognized you as a man with a mission, a very serious one, for which you dedicated your life and work. To bring that mission to light and to transmit it to the people, you founded the CFI and other related organizations which have efficiently spread the mission throughout the world for many decades. Moreover, due to your philosophical and political insight, you recognized the urgent need to address the rising conflict between Islam and the West in the nineties of the last century, at a time when most intellectuals were unaware of the potential dangers of such a conflict. We, therefore, joined forces with you to present the philosophy of Averroes as a philosophical and cultural remedy to close the gap between the Islamic world and the West and to start a dialogue which could lead to peace and progress. For that objective, we jointly organized and held two international conferences in 1994-95 on the theme of  Averroes and Enlightenment, the proceedings of which have  been published by Prometheus.

 

Since then we  have been working here in Egypt as a CFI branch according to  our joint mission to spread the values and ideals of secularization and enlightenment which foster and promote rational critical thinking. We have succeeded to gain the support of many liberal and secular intellectuals and still continue to do so. Holding on to the mission has finally paid off.

 

It is very sad that your colleagues at CFI do not recognize, neither do they understand, the reality of your mission. What is worse, they are systematically destroying it, and this can only serve the interests of the fundamentalists and enemies of secularism and enlightenment. Due to their narrow-mindedness and shortness of political imagination,, they fail to recognize the nature of the times we live in which require ever new tactics and ways to fight fundamentalism and gain ground. To succeed in our mission, we need to gain the support of liberal believers who embrace secular values, rather than defaming religions under the banner of religious critique while the real intention is to promote only non-believers..

 

We think that the critique of religions is a serious academic field which has to be undertaken  by efficient and serious scholars within a global movement of religious reformation like the one which took place in Europe 400 hundred years ago. This is the only anti-dote to religious fundamentalisms in all religions of the world.

 

Once more, we declare our full support for your mission and for you personally and we sincerely hope that you will be able to save CFI from destruction and bring it back to life more vibrant and stronger than before. We are confident that you are capable of achieving that goal.

 

With our most amicable support,

Mona Abousenna and Mourad Wahba

 

 


 

Tuesday 2/1/2011

Dear Dr. Kurtz,                                                                                                                                      

I know that you are inundated with E-mail messages begging for your valuable time, so I will be brief, and I understand that you may not be able to respond.

I learned about secular humanism because of you, and I joined and have supported the Council for Secular Humanism and the Center for Inquiry largely because of my respect and admiration for you.  I have been dismayed, confused and disgusted by your disappearance from the Council and the almost complete erasure of your presence from the web site, magazine and correspondence of the Council. I found the article "Secular Humanism Defined" by Tom Flynn particularly upsetting, truly disgusting, as he managed to use your name grudgingly one time in the article, when it was you who defined the movement, built the organization and spent your life molding it into the most important voice and hope of secular humanists around the world.  It also seems to me that the tone and philosophy of Free Inquiry has changed remarkably, and I don't like what I am now reading.

Dr. Kurtz I now find it difficult to continue to support CSH because it appears to me that they have insulted and demeaned you, but I don't know if I have misinterpreted the situation. Perhaps you had reasons to want to be separated from CSH but continue to support the organization?

I would be so grateful if you would advise me of your feelings toward the Council and the current leadership and your guidance in directing my support where it will be most effective.

I hope that you and your family and well and happy.  Thank you for all that you have done for me - you truly changed my life.  I hope that I may meet you one day.

With great respect,

Christine Baker
 

 

 

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