Irresponsible Criticism of CFI

May 13, 2010

Kurtz-approved cartoon

The June/July issue of Free Inquiry may be coming to your mailbox soon. The lead editorial by my colleague Paul Kurtz contains some sharp criticism of the current management of the Center for Inquiry (CFI) and its affiliates, including the Council for Secular Humanism (Council).

Kurtz has every right to express his disagreement with actions undertaken by management. But critics, especially those who embrace humanist ethics, do have some responsibilities. Their criticism must be supported by facts and must not misrepresent the actions or positions criticized. Regrettably, Kurtz's editorial fails to meet these standards.

In his editorial, Kurtz suggests that readers new to Free Inquiry may not realize that CFI and the Council used to sponsor academic conferences; he implies that CFI and the Council now focus on "buffoonery." Not unexpectedly, he repeats his tiresome and fallacious objections to Blasphemy Day. (There is no need to delve into that issue again, but you can look at my post from last year if you want to.)

However, he also maintains he has new evidence to support his claim that CFI and its affiliates have now adopted ridicule as the preferred method for critiquing religious beliefs. He points to the Council's Free Expression Cartoon Contest, voicing his outrage at the winning entry , which features a Catholic bishop walking into a room with ten altar boys and musing, "God! It's like everyone I've ever slept with is here." Tsk, tsk, says Dr. Paul. CFI and the Council should not "engage in such forms of lampooning." Nothing so tawdry would have run in the pages of Free Inquiry when he was in charge.

But the facts contradict Kurtz's claims and demonstrate that his objections are intellectually dishonest.

To begin, please look at your last issue of FI , which featured articles based on papers delivered at CFI's conference on John Dewey. Was Dewey a buffoon? In addition, just a couple of weeks ago, I received a report from Ibn Warraq, CFI's noted Islamic scholar, commenting of the Inarah conference which was sponsored in part by CFI. (The Inarah conference focuses on studies of the early history of Islam.) The fact is CFI and the Council continue to support scholarship to the extent we have the financial means to do so (more on that below).

Second, the principal judges for the Free Expression Cartoon Contest were not employees of CFI or the Council. Instead, outside judges were used. And leading the panel of judges was Steve Benson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist for the Arizona Republic . Benson found the winning entry "wickedly humorous, brutally direct . . . a stinging indictment of the Church's pedophilic priest scandal." He might have added that its tone was not very different from cartoons on the same topic appearing in newspapers and other publications throughout the country.

Finally, and most importantly, the winning entry was similar in tone to the cartoons that have appeared in the pages of Free Inquiry for decades. Indeed, FI published more such cartoons when CFI and the Council were under Kurtz's absolute control than after June 2008. ( FI has dramatically reduced its use of cartoons.)

Don't believe me? The cartoon that heads up my post is from the Spring 2003 issue of FI , and accompanied an article on the soft treatment pedophilic priests were receiving. The next cartoon is from the Fall 2002 issue, and accompanied an article on child abuse by priests. This latter cartoon strikes me as particularly crude as the bishop is actually salivating at the prospect of abusing a boy.

One cartoon that is very pointed I cannot, unfortunately, reproduce in my blog for copyright reasons, as FI paid the cartoonist from the Dayton Daily News for the rights to run the cartoon only in that particular issue (the Summer 2002 issue). But I can describe it: One priest is kneeling, confessing to another. The penitent priest says, "Forgive me, Father, I want to fondle little boys." The confessor shows relief, remarking, "Whew . . . I thought you were going to say you wanted to ordain women." 

Free Inquiry cartoons, of course, touched on issues other than child abuse. For example, FI published one wanly ridiculing the Salvation Army (Winter 2000/01), and another one showing a muscular, superhero Jesus in briefs (Spring 2003). You may recall that last year Paul Kurtz roundly criticized a painting that was displayed at the CFI Center in Washington, D. C., in part because it showed Jesus as effeminate. I guess he prefers the beefcake version.

Nor were contemptuous cartoons limited to the inside pages. Who can forget the notorious cover showing Uncle Sam about to marry a Pat Robertson look-alike with breasts? (Incongruously, the Robertson figure was also wearing a mitre -- apparently this is de rigueur for any religious caricature)

I could go on and on, but you get the point. Given this factual background about the contents of Free Inquiry when Kurtz controlled everything, there are two possible conclusions about Kurtz's recent criticism: 1. Kurtz has never actually read an issue of Free Inquiry , or seen any of its covers. 2. Kurtz's expression of outrage at the Cartoon Contest is feigned. There is no principled difference between him and current management. He has personal grievances, but because he knows it is not politic to acknowledge his personal grudge, he manufactures a dispute about the "wrong direction" of CFI.

Tired of the Kurtz melodrama? Yes, I am too. But Kurtz will not stop, and the sad reality is that Kurtz's constant carping and false claims are having an effect. CFI may be losing public support because some may be taken in by Kurtz's misrepresentations; others may just be sick of the never-ending disputes and will want to give their money elsewhere. CFI has had to cut some programs and staff already. More cuts may be forthcoming.

Apparently without any realization of its irony, Kurtz entitled his editorial "Toward a Kinder and Gentler Humanism." A worthy goal, but I'd settle for simple honesty and a sense of responsibility.


#1 BJ Kramer (Guest) on Thursday May 13, 2010 at 3:02pm

I suppose its possible that there’s a third possibility. Perhaps Kurtz has simply changed, and has not realized it.

Personally I find I agree with most of what he has said of late. I also thoroughly enjoy reading FI. I don’t see a very large gulf between the two, which leads credence to the ‘personal grudge’ theory. But perhaps if he has had a genuine change of temperament his recent complaints are at least not totally irrational.

#2 SimonSays on Thursday May 13, 2010 at 3:07pm

Kurtz’s expression of outrage at the Cartoon Contest is feigned. There is no principled difference between him and current management. He has personal grievances, but because he knows it is not politic to acknowledge his personal grudge, he manufactures a dispute about the “wrong direction” of CFI.

Agree 100%. I could not have said this better myself.

Kurtz will not stop, and the sad reality is that Kurtz’s constant carping and false claims are having an effect. CFI may be losing public support because some may be taken in by Kurtz’s misrepresentations; others may just be sick of the never-ending disputes and will want to give their money elsewhere.

Exactly. There’s a point at which vocal criticism (which as Ron showed this obviously is not even of the legitimate variety) turns into sabotage that goes counter to whatever good-will he claims to have for the organization.

Paul knows very well that people who’ve been with the organization a long time (ie those with the most intimate knowledge of the situation) have a personal affinity for him and don’t want to speak negatively of him publicly.

IMO he has abused this affinity to attack current management both on CFI publications as well as NPR and local media. This has to stop. You can say what you want about Ron, but to my knowledge anything he has said publicly about Paul has always been in direct response to some public criticism.

As a current donor and active volunteer of the DC branch, I call on Paul to cease. There are people on the ground that are affected by the continued drama, please do not treat this like some high-level academic grudge. Listen to Ron: the stakes are real and affect everyone. We are working hard in DC to do big events that engage the local community and we do NOT need this distraction. Even if Paul has objections with current CFI upper management, I urge him to please tone things down and try to cooperate for the sake of the rest of the staff, which wants nothing more than to keep advancing the mission that Paul started.

#3 diogenes99 on Thursday May 13, 2010 at 3:43pm

Things change.  You sell your house, the new owners paint it purple.  Drive by the house once, cry, and move on.

I am a member of CFI and I agree with Paul Kutz’s earlier criticism that we need an organization that is God-neutral to bridge the gulf between believers, non-believers and everyone in between.

However, unlike Kurtz, I am not a manifesto-signing humanist, since these manifestos seem like laundry lists of claims that need rational support, not unlike lists of religious moral claims. 

I don’t mind being a member of this new-CFI that says “We are notheists, and we are standing up to be counted.”  This new stance meets a need, even though it pisses people off.

There is still a need for a group that works to develop and publicize the religion-neutral nature of ethics—that repackages the best of relevant academic philosophy, history, anthropology, and neuroscience for general consumption.  And this group would have as its goal “making nice” with people don’t already buy into this research program.

#4 Ian (Guest) on Thursday May 13, 2010 at 4:05pm

I imagine Kurtz would argue that there’s a difference between publishing editorial cartoons in response to specific events (with articles attached) and holding an offend for the sake of it contest.

#5 DebGod on Thursday May 13, 2010 at 4:31pm

Hi Ian,

For clarification: The Free Inquiry cartoon contest was conducted as part of CFI’s Campaign for Free Expression, which was launched in response to the UN’s recent actions: “Various United Nations bodies, including the UN’s Human Rights Council, have recently adopted resolutions condemning so-called ‘defamation’ of religion.”  (From

Besides the Council’s Free Expression cartoon contest, a blasphemous phrase contest, and a student essay contest on the limits of free expression, CFI supported the grassroots Blasphemy Day International campaign and promoted celebration of the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week—all which were in line with the goals of the Campaign for Free Expression.

#6 Reba Boyd Wooden on Thursday May 13, 2010 at 4:41pm

I have been around this organization for quite a few years and we are working hard to support and maintain a local branch in Indiana.  I have respect for Dr. Kurtz, for the organization he has built, and especially the ideals it stands for.  However, I also support the current administration.  Dr. Kurtz needs to realize that he is hurting the organization he worked so hard to build by being so critical of those who are trying to further its mission. He needs to stop this unwarrented criticism.I concur with Simon in his comments that he is hurting those of us who are out in the field trying to further the ideals that he himself has advocated. By doing so, he is also damaging his own legacy.

#7 J. (Guest) on Thursday May 13, 2010 at 7:04pm

To my eye the “Kurtz-approved cartoon” makes a more accurate, nuanced, cogent and focused point that the winning cartoon - and it is funnier.

#8 Melody Hensley on Thursday May 13, 2010 at 7:45pm

I think Ron’s point (and others) is this has absolutely nothing to do with cartoons or the direction of CFI.

Simon said it best: “Paul knows very well that people who’ve been with the organization a long time (ie those with the most intimate knowledge of the situation) have a personal affinity for him and don’t want to speak negatively of him publicly.

IMO he has abused this affinity to attack current management both on CFI publications as well as NPR and local media.”

#9 J. (Guest) on Thursday May 13, 2010 at 9:15pm

There’s a lot more to what one says than what one says or means to say. Ron’s point here might have nothing to do with interpreting cartoons or the direction of CFI but mine does.

#10 asanta on Friday May 14, 2010 at 1:29am

I’d like to chalk it up to age, and early signs of senility. Anything else is too painful to contemplate…

#11 Reba Boyd Wooden on Friday May 14, 2010 at 2:23am

I think it is a combination of what asanta said:

I’d like to chalk it up to age, and early signs of senility. Anything else is too painful to contemplate…

And what diogenes99 said:

Things change.  You sell your house, the new owners paint it purple.  Drive by the house once, cry, and move on.

However, I don’t think anyone has painted CFI purple.  The mission is the same but it was time for someone else to take over the management and make needed changes to make sure that the organization not only survives but prospers in order to continue that mission. Paul needs to step back and move on.  He needs to concentrate on his philosophical writing and let someone else run the business.  I have likened it to a parent who has had their car keys taken away from them because they are no longer a safe driver.

#12 J. (Guest) on Friday May 14, 2010 at 9:49am

We have yet to read Kurtz’s remarks in full which have been represented in the form of paraphrase and a few brief quotes. And we will soon see if Kurt’s “irresponsible criticism” is so toxic as to justify a preemptive strike. The hostile and ad hominem remarks directed at Kurtz in some of the comments are perhaps an impulse to resolve through catharsis the frustration we all experience at the slow pace of realizing secularist goals. Our experience with such projects as Blasphemy Day contests falls short of reasoned and passionate discourse. When we take up blunt tools as a matter of policy we are unlikely to be effective.

#13 Ronald A. Lindsay on Friday May 14, 2010 at 11:03am

I do not think my post can be characterized as a preemptive strike, because distribution of the magazine began on Wednesday, but J makes a relevant point regarding the difficulty of judging the merits of my contentions without the benefit of seeing Kurtz’s editorial. Many of you will be seeing the actual editorial in couple of days when you receive your copy of the magazine, if you have not already, but here are the relevant paragraphs (any typos should be presumed to be my responsibility):
“Newer readers of Free Inquiry may be unaware that over many years we have enlisted numerous top scholars to participate in conferences on biblical criticism, including Van Harvey, R. Joseph Hoffmann, Gerd Ludemann, and Gerald LaRue; also we have sponsored seminars critical of the Qur’an led by Ibn Warraq and the eminent scholars he recruited. Thus we have chosen to take “the high road” and fill an important role in contemporary society. Our voices are not shrill, but they are on the mark, demonstrating that the Bible and the Qur’an are not divinely inspired. Were we to resort to ridicule as our strategy of criticism, we might as well say goodbye to the scientists and scholars who agree with our approach. Buffoonery has no place in a university committed to free inquiry, and it has no place, in my view, at the Center for Inquiry.
I must say, though some colleagues at the Center may disagree, that I have serious misgivings about recent programs undertaken by the Center and the Council that laid heavy stress on blasphemy. Although I agree it is vitally important to defend the right to blaspheme, I am displeased with the Center’s decision last year to celebrate Blasphemy Day as such. Similarly, although cartoons make a point and can be used, I am disturbed by poking fun at our fellow citizens in the public square. Speaking personally, I am particularly offended by the cartoon that won the Council’s Free Expression Cartoon Contest this year (see page 57). I think that it is in poor taste. I do not object to others in society doing this, but I do not think it is the role of the Council for Secular Humanism or the Center for Inquiry to engage in such forms of lampooning.”

#14 Ian (Guest) on Friday May 14, 2010 at 11:55am

Kurtz’s last (quoted) line makes an important point. The actions of an individual/organization define its public image. If that group wants to be taken seriously it ought to behave as such. I’m not saying there isn’t a place for lampooning and blasphemy, PZ Myers has carved a great niche on his blog doing just that, but we don’t want him lobbying the UN or governments for us. The Centre ought to trot very lightly if it hopes to continue with similar events.

My first point still stands too. Free speech is important, but that doesn’t mean speech is free from consequences (nor should it be). We don’t take the WBC seriously because of their messages even though they have the right to say them.

#15 SimonSays on Friday May 14, 2010 at 12:10pm

Ian, the point Ron is making is that Kurtz is employing a double standard with regards to cartoons and blasphemy, basically condemning the same behavior he himself engaged in not too long ago. Are you disagreeing on this central point?

And I agree that an individual’s behavior defines an organization’s public image. Especially when that individual is the founder. All the more reason for Paul to be responsible and consistent when criticizing current management.

#16 Ian (Guest) on Friday May 14, 2010 at 12:14pm

I do disagree since there is a difference between having editorial cartoons in a magazine (something that almost every newspaper and current affairs magazine does) versus holding a contest (even one in response to specific events) where the point is to blaspheme. The editorial cartoons are opinions targeted at specific events whereas the contest was more along the lines of ‘blaspheme to show you can.’

The latter is an important point to make, but an organization must be sensitive not to cross the line.

#17 SimonSays on Friday May 14, 2010 at 12:24pm

Ian, it WAS in relation to specific events as Debbie already answered to your earlier comment:

The Free Inquiry cartoon contest was conducted as part of CFI’s Campaign for Free Expression, which was launched in response to the UN’s recent actions: “Various United Nations bodies, including the UN’s Human Rights Council, have recently adopted resolutions condemning so-called ‘defamation’ of religion.”  (From

#18 Ronald A. Lindsay on Friday May 14, 2010 at 12:30pm

@Ian. I disagree with your analysis. The lampooning cartoons that were a regular feature of Free Inquiry for 28 years are more properly attributed to Council than the entries in the recent cartoon contest, because a conscious decision was made to commission those earlier cartoons. By contrast, the recent contest was open to entries of all sorts, including some with very subtle observations about religion (see the cartoons submitted by Donna Bartsow). Moreover, it’s worth reviewing the rules for the contest, which made it clear what we were not looking for:

“Let’s be clear what we’re not looking for: We’re not looking for cartoons that crudely mock a particular faith or engage in sacrilege for the fun of it. A well-conceived cartoon can do so much more than that. We’re looking for sophisticated, hard-hitting ideas and images that pose serious questions about belief and disbelief – cartoons that prod readers to think as they laugh (or maybe, cry).”

#19 SimonSays on Friday May 14, 2010 at 12:38pm

Ian, as Ron said, donor morale was affected. The question is: Do you think this is a big enough difference worth terminating paid positions for? Put yourself in the place of a center director who loses their livelihood and consider how big of a difference this really is in the grand scheme of things.

#20 j. (Guest) on Friday May 14, 2010 at 2:08pm

I agree with Dr. Lindsay that citing the more scholarly aspects of CFI programs, however familiar, is well worth recounting.

Kurtz’s use of the term, buffoonery is incorrect, immoderate and unfortunate but I hope that it will not prevent us from considering the gist of his criticism. Kurtz seems to think that in some sense the serious purposes of CFI are being undermined. It does seem to me that among the entries elicited and extolled by CFI’s sponsorship of Blasphemy Day some could be characterized as having a bellicose tone. Maybe bellicose is good, maybe not.

Independently of whatever enmity or hurt feelings of the protagonists I think is time to consider if these products are an aberration or in fact consistent with a conscious policy and most important if the policy is effective.

Dr. Lindsay does make valid points about what does or does not constitute a preemptive strike. Certainly the promptness of his response to Kurtz’s criticism does underline the importance of what is at stake in the dispute and it is for these reasons that we need to engage the questions.

#21 j. (Guest) on Friday May 14, 2010 at 2:13pm


I agree with **Kurtz** that citing the more scholarly aspects of CFI programs, however familiar, is well worth recounting.

#22 DJ Grothe on Friday May 14, 2010 at 7:58pm

I do not believe Paul Kurtz’s criticism of CFI is irresponsible. You may disagree with him, but to call him irresponsible for criticizing the direction of the organization he has spent decades of his life helping to build is going too far. In addition, I find the post to be disrespectful: why does Ron refer to Kurtz as “Dr. Paul”? And is Ron serious in arguing that either a) Kurtz has never read an issue of the magazine he has edited for decades, or b) that he is lying about his criticism about CFI’s direction? Might there be an obvious third possibility: That Kurtz, right or wrong, actually does disagree with Lindsay’s strategy for CFI.

The quote of Kurtz’s editorial above in Ron’s comment seems fair-minded, even if he is incorrect. And I, for one, see the point he is making, understanding that people of good will may disagree about what is the best approach to advancing humanism and secularism. Of course, there appears to be no good will between Ron Lindsay and Paul Kurtz, as shown by the continued spectacle on this blog.

Kurtz appears simply to think that the blasphemy cartoon contest was in poor taste. So, let him think that. Indeed, his free expression of the criticism seems to be viewed as beyond the pale; Ron is blaming Kurtz now for CFI’s financial woes, saying that “CFI has had to cut some programs and staff already. More cuts may be forthcoming.” But Kurtz certainly has earned the right to freely express his opinion on the matter, and even has the right to change his mind over time or modify his views.

Again, there is a lot of room for disagreement about strategy, but I can not comprehend why Ron lacks the capacity merely to let Kurtz disagree with him on CFI’s strategy. It is as if he takes the criticism to be a personal attack and feels wounded by it. Indeed, Ron seems to have been through the wringer with all of the turmoil at CFI, and appears to be unable to move past his old hurt feelings. I guess that this is understandable, but I think it is unfortunate.

#23 Melody on Friday May 14, 2010 at 8:32pm

D.J., I love you, really. But I find it disingenuous that you believe Ron is the one who is unable to move beyond old hurt feelings. I think Ron would be very happy to go one with his life and not have to defend the organization on a daily basis. Ron and CFI are under attack constantly, because of a GRUDGE, having NOTHING to do with the direction of CFI. Almost all of us who work for the organization know this. We are in constant defense mode and unable to properly defend ourselves out of loyalty to our founder. No one is going to disclose information to defame Paul Kurtz and this is at our own expense. The direction that Kurtz is criticizing was largely due to your influence, as you were the one directing Centers how to put on Blasphemy Day events and setting expectations. You were ecstatic about the press we received and applauded our efforts. Not once did you mention your concern for Paul’s feelings on the matter. I refuse to believe that you now think this is anything other than a case of “Founders Syndrome.” I think you know better. I hope not to damage our friendship, but I can’t read your response and stand by and say nothing.

#24 SimonSays on Friday May 14, 2010 at 8:37pm

Et tu DJ? Really? For someone like yourself who was a staunch advocate and orchestrator of blasphemy day and many of who’s policies Ron and the centers are carrying out, it’s quite disingenuous to make it seem as if you were just a passive observer last summer when you were in a leadership role at CFI. I’m on the Advisory Board of CFI DC and you yourself told us late last year that you thought that the next 10 years of CFI would be the best yet. So unless I misunderstood your words and your tone, you were pretty on board with the new leadership at that time and certainly did not give the impression that CFI was going in the “wrong direction”.

Why are you making it out like Ron is the instigator? You know darn well Kurtz did not “simply think it was in poor taste” and don’t make it out like this is the first time that we’ve heard the exact same thing. He went on Point of Inquiry (your show at the time) to state this. He went to NPR. He wrote this on the blog-all last year. You would think by now he would have had his say. But no, almost a year later Paul is at it again in Free Inquiry. Paul’s even on the record many months before this accusing Ron of a “palace coup”, so let’s not pretend like this is some principled disagreement over one specific policy. If that’s not “hurt feelings” then what is? I’d be happy to cite articles in other media outlets as well if you wish, but I’m pretty sure you have enough knowledge of the situation to not require this.

By your own admission above (if I am reading correctly), you appear to agree that Paul was “incorrect” in his criticism. And yet you are demonstrating my point that due to the affinity you have had with Paul after working with him for all those years, you still refuse to speak ill of him 5 months after leaving CFI to take a leadership role at JREF.

#25 D.J. Grothe (Guest) on Friday May 14, 2010 at 8:57pm

Melody and Simon: I am being sincere, and not in the least disingenuous. Kurtz could well be suffering from Founder’s Syndrome, and deserve various criticisms himself in that regard, but that is beside the point; he could be suffering from Founder’s Syndrome and also genuinely disagree with Ron on strategy for CFI’s future. And yes, he has disagreed with me on strategy many many times, as you suggest. But I never once thought his disagreement with me was “feigned.”

About your comment Melody about my not expressing concern to you about Kurtz’s feelings: I wouldnt have expressed my concern for Kurtz and his feelings to you, as it would have been inappropriate given my role at CFI at that time, but I often did express such concern in management meetings.

Now if you and I disagree, Melody, it certainly won’t damage our friendship in the least. I disagree with my friends, and even my spouse, all of the time. 

Now to repeat: I do believe Kurtz is sincerely concerned about CFI’s direction. I don’t think he is lying about it, or “feigning” it. I am not even at this point saying he is right to be concerned or that he is wrong, but only chiming in, contra Ron, to give my opinion that he is sincere in his criticism. To dismiss his op-ed in Free Inquiry or his other criticisms as being disingenuous or as a kind of lying, as Ron did in this blig post, is irresponsible in my view, and possibly a way to ignore the actual criticism.

As for my “refusing to speak ill of Paul,” Simon: I can disagree with someone, but that is no reason to speak ill of him or her.

Lastly, I want to say that I am leaving the country for about ten days, and so wont be able to respond to this thread. I just don’t want you to think I am ignoring the discussion.

#26 SimonSays on Friday May 14, 2010 at 9:05pm

DJ: Paul’s sincerity is beside the point. To clarify, my main problem is that Paul’s behavior is doing more harm than good. I believe we agree on this. By now, Paul should be able to recognize this, regardless of how sincere he is.

Bon Voyage!

#27 D.J. Grothe (Guest) on Friday May 14, 2010 at 9:16pm

Well, Simon, Ron made Paul’s sincerity the point of his blog post, arguing that Paul’s criticism is feigned, and that he doesn’t in reality disagree with Ron on strategy, but that he is merely pretending to. I think that is hullabaloo.

Yes, Paul’s criticism may be harming the organization, and on the other hand, certain strategies may be, or both may be, or neither may be. But should Paul refrain from open and sincere criticism of the organization he worked for decades to help build just in the name of not harming it—after all, he thinks it is being harmed and wants to help steer it in a different direction. I don’t think you’re arguing Paul should refrain in his honest and sincere criticism, are you? Incidentally, had Ron just ignored Paul’s op-ed, and not blogged about it, fewer people would even be up on the fact that Paul is persisting in his criticism of the direction of CFI.

I understand the desire to dismiss criticism if you perceive that it is harming your bottom line, or to tell people they shouldnt be making the criticism because it is “irresponsible.” Indeed, I would likely have the same motivations were i in your shoes. But to dismiss the criticism as “feigned,” as Ron did, is what I objected to. That’s all.

#28 SimonSays on Friday May 14, 2010 at 9:35pm

DJ, Paul’s criticism was in the category of “honest and sincere” the first two or three times he voiced it, but he we are way past that now.

I am arguing Paul should refrain from regurgitating the same tired arguments over and over, and that -as posed- they are simply not convincing. Incidentally I said the same thing last year when I heard them the first time.

Given the scope of the actual disagreement and the amount of airtime he’s received I believe it would be in the best interest of the organization for Paul to look beyond them. In my mind Ron is making a good case that Paul’s disagreement is not principled. At the end of the day only Paul knows how sincere he is, however after hearing the same thing over and over again from him I’m not going to blame Ron for suspecting something else might be at play given the facts. I hope you are correct that Paul is indeed sincere. If that is the case, I also hope he’ll listen to CFI staff and volunteers who share his good intentions, rather than continuing down the road of conflict and tension.

#29 Melody on Friday May 14, 2010 at 9:45pm

Ron made a good point, but perhaps did not use the correct word. Feigning concern? Probably not. Self-deluded due to Founders Syndrome would be a better description of what is going on. The only way that CFI has changed is that the staff is infinitely happier and we are far more organized. We still have the same mission and we still have the same good people on the ground doing the work.

#30 Reba Boyd Wooden on Saturday May 15, 2010 at 4:02am

In response to Ron’s post #13.  I am glad to read that you had (or have had in retrospect)misgivings about some of the activities connected with Blasphmy Day.  When I voiced the same concerns at the time, my comments were dismissed as “not understanding.” Also, I don’t think that the discussion would have decended to the level it did had you not continued to respond in kind. 

These are the only two disagreements I have had with Ron’s leadership.  Hopefully, he has learned or will learn from these mistakes.

I personally am encouraged with the direction that CFI is taking of becoming better organized and focused and I look forward to us all working together to put all this behind us and move on in a positive direction to advance the mission that Paul founded the organization to do and has worked very hard to promote over the years. 

Personally, I have spent my time and energy trying to build and support a strong community in Indiana and staying out of the controversy as much as possible.

To all of the supporters (and potential supporters) of CFI out there who may be reading this discussion, we need an organization like CFI more than ever and in my opinion we are moving in the right direction.  So, please support us in our efforts.  Thank you.

#31 diogenes99 on Saturday May 15, 2010 at 4:59am

My (new) impression, based on what the current CFI staff is saying, is that the whole dispute between the new and old guard is about PUBLIC RELATIONS.

The umbrella organization has (and had under Kurtz) many constituencies, activities and goals, and it presents itself to some audiences in one way and to others in another way.  CFI suffers (or enjoys) multiple personalities.  It has always had a playful personality, a poke-fun-at-religion personality, a take-inquiry-and-science-seriously personality, an academic-philosophy personality, and a humanist-diplomacy personality.  Under Kurtz, the most dominant personality (with respect to PR) was diplomacy, and under Lindsay the other personalities were given greater RELATIVE PR emphasis.

Kurtz blasphemous cartoons do not contradict his complaint. It’s about which of these many personalities defines CFI at the end of the day, and whether the emphasis of some personalities undermines the flourishing of others. 

Kurtz is right.  Lindsay is right.  Both Kurtz and Lindsay are wrong. It’s about PR. It’s about which mask is worn for which constituencies, and which is worn for most of the day.

#32 Ronald A. Lindsay on Saturday May 15, 2010 at 8:06am

@DJ Grothe It is disappointing that the president of the JREF, an organization that promotes critical reasoning, fails to address the relevant evidence before announcing his conclusions.

According to Kurtz, the immediate motivation for his editorial criticizing CFI and the Council was the awarding of the top prize in the Council’s cartoon contest to a cartoon that Kurtz found offensive.  Kurtz stated that he did believe CFI or the Council should “engage in such forms of lampooning.”  Leave aside the fact that the winning entry was decided by judges not associated with CFI or the Council.  In my blog post, I provided ample evidence that Free Inquiry had, while under Kurtz’s control, published many cartoons that were as mocking of religion as the winning entry.  Grothe does not explain how Kurtz could approve such cartoons during the years he was in control of Council and CFI, yet now find them to be evidence that CFI and the Council deal in “buffoonery.”  This stark inconsistency supports my view that Kurtz’s disagreement with management of CFI and Council is ultimately not one based on principle. Grothe says nothing to indicate my conclusion is unwarranted.

Granted, it is possible that Kurtz has changed his mind about the propriety of cartoons and other “popular” forms of criticism of religion. In that case, he should have said something like this: “The way in which CFI and the Council address religion is broadly consistent with the methods and tactics that were used when I had managerial control of the organizations.  Nonetheless, upon reflection, I believe that some of those tactics were misguided.  We should not use cartoons or other popular forms of criticism or tactics that might be considered confrontational.  Instead, we should focus exclusively on scholarly critiques of religion.” 

But that is not what Kurtz has said.  And he does not say that for the simple reason that it would deprive him of one of the themes of his constant criticism of CFI and its affiliates, namely that somehow there has been a radical change of direction in these organizations. I stand by my use of “feigned” until such time as Kurtz, Grothe or someone else can explain the inconsistency between approving 28 years of cartoons lampooning religion and taking such strong exception to the winning entry of the recent cartoon contest.

#33 Beth Ciesielski (Guest) on Saturday May 15, 2010 at 9:25am

I am quite worried for the future of CFI when anyone who questions or criticizes is personally attacked by CEO Dr. Lindsay and Derek Araujo, CFI

President Obama warned us that creating a toxic culture is poisonous for everyone, “We can’t expect to solve our problems if all we do is tear each
other down.”

Dr. Kurtz, in contrast to the new CFI leadership, is a positive gentleman who is rational, smart, kind and willing to admit mistakes. He created CFI and
raised the funds for a wonderful building with a world class library and magazines. He did not receive a salary; he and his wife contributed a great deal of money and time and their reputation to recruit donors for CFI.

It is quite incorrect to imply that he is in any way senile; publishing companies are eager to publish his newest books. He should use his hearing aid
more, but that is a rather minor criticism of a man who is so well respected for bringing together people who recognize the importance of inclusion, open minded debate, respect and well crafted arguments. I hope I will be as smart and kind as he is when I am his age. My children already think I need to check my hearing. Self depreciation helps keep us honest about ourselves. I’d like to see more smart humor in the CFI blogs, not more sharp weapons.

Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck types are not my models of how discussions should be held on any topic. I can be quite tenacious in presenting my views, but I
know that we lose respect for a speaker and turn them off when he/she makes personal attacks which are below any cultured, civilized and self especting

Perhaps the public is not aware that there is a new CFI mission statement that has not been approved by the board nor discussed with the international
representatives nor the members. Shouldn’t that be a
wonderful opportunity for a serious discussion on who we are today? A board of Directors sets policy not the staff. A new mission statement is a very
important policy change.

There is also a new memorandum of understanding (one size does not fit all) for the CFI Int’l branches which provides for a 90 dismissal with no reason, no
rationale. How does this promote a culture of thinking of open discussions? CFI can dismiss a long term partner who honors the mission statement, works hard, volunteers time and money but can be thrown out because perhaps they question or criticize what CFI staff is doing and saying?

We CFIers are all naturally opinionated…we are dissidents and thinkers. We must recognize that there is no preventing questions and criticisms. But both sides of an argument should show respect and self control to listen to the other viewpoint and not forget that people may disagree strongly because they care deeply for CFI.

When one CFI representative presented concerns about the new mission statement, “the total focus of the (new) CIF mission is to prohibit religion. It is
narrowing our vision for secular, free and humane
society.” Derek, also one of the two Int’l Coordinators, instead of explaining the intent of the changes replied that that was, “false”. “I
challenge anyone to explain how CFI’s current mission statement strays from its past mission.”  But it is his responsibility to explain, not to silence.

Derek has also made errors in accusing me of not including his statement about the new MOU and new mission statement to the other CFI reps when I
had and he had the evidence of that which he did not notice in his anger. He also accused me of misrepresenting what the board chairman said about
the MOU as not having read the final version. However, Mr. Schroeder sent us an email six days before Derek sent the MOU to us, referring to it as a draft three times. You have to wonder why would the chairman approve a change in a crucial policy draft in advance? Has the CFI board seen this or approved it? Derek has not acknowledged he has misjudged me.

Both he and Dr. Lindsay have not appreciated my questions about the CFI board of directors not having any women, few women speakers or bloggers.
It took two weeks of their sarcastic comparisons and comments about my being rude to finally get a copy f the CFI bylaws.  I did not join in their kind of
response, I just kept asking for the bylaws and questioned why the delay.

I previously complained about a barrage of false accusations from another CFI representative meant to discredit me. I was told by Derek not to “inflame him” as though I was the cause of the problem. Is this unsupported response somehow based on the self justification that I was somehow asking for it? Asking for trouble? No one asks to be lied about. What Derek did not mention was that another women and two other CFIers also complained about this same man. Where is the transparency in resolving problems within CFI? Is the CEO judge and jury? That is not a good system.

The European Humanist Federation in contrast provides the bylaws for their board of directors on line as well as the names, bios and email addresses of its board members. There are many women on the board! CFI does not provide any of this information. Why the secrecy?

Dr. Lindsay has also been fulsome in his criticism of me, calling me “belligerent, intolerant, and unreasonable, all characteristics which make her ill-suited to be identified with CFI”...among other comments about my personality. Perhaps he thought to discourage and intimidate me?

However, I will be speaking about the increasing lack of separation of church and state in Romania at the EHF Assembly in Stockholm, Sweden the end of the
month, sponsored by Dr. Kurtz and EHF. Mr. David Pollock attended my presentation in London to the CFI EU group and later invited me to Stockholm. I
have paid my way to four CFI conferences including the one in DC. Dr. Lindsay said there was no money for sponsoring me at the EHF conference despite my not receiving any salary or stipend from CFI and
despite having donated money to make CFI Romania possible.

It is a shame that CFI did not want to support a representative at this conference which includes an all day conference on women and religion.I was one
of the founders of a US women’s organization and volunteered with a Romanian women’s NGO, both considered excellent.I am interested in the treatment of women not just because I am one and have two daughters, but because it has been
proven that men lose when they keep women down….we all lose economically, socially and intellectually when we deny rights to all humans. In fact, I have
been expressly told I am not to speak for CFI at the EHF Assembly.

It is so nice to be appreciated and respected by others. Volunteers are the heart of any NGO. But appreciation is not my experience with the new
CFI management. I have explained all this so readers can understand that the personal attacks are not just against Dr. Kurtz but on anyone who questions or criticizes. This is an unhealthy attitude as it is about domination and intimidation. After all, who wants to stand up to nasty bullies?

It is not what I experienced when I joined CFI three years ago. There are many secular and Atheist organizations in the US to chose from. I had heard of the inclusive secular humanist wisdom of Dr. Kurtz for years and read his books. His promotion of “joyful exuberance” and his excellent personal
social skills and sincere support was why I chose CFI as our partnering organization.

I propose as a way to counteract the severe drop in funding for CFI, the declining membership, the closing of CFI offices in NYC, Tampa and Austin and
the severe reduction of professional programs and outreach,  the direct election of the board by members to encourage involvement, dialogue and
donations. Women and International reps should serve on the board to broaden its understanding of the needs and concerns of its members. Dr. Kurtz proposed this in the past to the board.

I have offered my service twice on a committee to recruit women and to blog for CFI. I have received no response from CFI. Information about the board and staff and how to run for the board should be posted on the CFI webpage. The CFI webpage should not be used for personal attacks on others. CFI staff should expect to be challenged and they should respond with facts and evidence. I served on an elected school board without pay and people could call me and question my decisions. I was voted against on some issues I thought were more
important than others. But I remember still a board and a superintendent whom I learned from and respected.

We may disagree on priorities and even artoons…not all cartoons are the same; some gain us more enemies than admiration. We have to be smart about our goals and our methods. But we gain respect, credibility and trust if we treatothers as we wish to be treated. It takes strength of character to refuse to be drawn into angry diatribes.

President Obama recently referred to name calling and angry rhetoric as posing a serious danger to democracy.  The CFI Board of directors is legally
responsible for the future of CFI; let us go forward with a democratic election of the board and the end to comments from Dr. Lindsay that “Dr. Kurtz is
smearing CFI”. On the contrary, it is obvious that Dr. Kurtz cares deeply about CFI, as do we all. Criticism is not smearing. The loyal opposition is an important function of democracy.

I welcome ideas for helping CFI. I would be sad if all this public animosity made very good people stay away. Please, good will has to be demonstrated every
day, not just talked about. We have to change the tenor of our conversations with each other or suffer the consequences of constantly shooting ourselves in
the foot.

#34 Amanda Peet (Guest) on Saturday May 15, 2010 at 12:51pm

Shame on you, Ron Lindsay.

Telling us all - pre-emptively - that Kurtz’s criticism is “irresponsible” goes against the very principles of CFI. Criticism is part and parcel of democracy and free enquiry. If you can’t stand the heat, then get out of the kitchen!

I am one of the many who find the “new” CFI management style to be less than impressive. By publishing defensive blustery blog posts like this, you only further strengthen my sense that my money will better be sent elsewhere.

#35 Ronald A. Lindsay on Saturday May 15, 2010 at 2:13pm

@ Amanda Peet. The paragraph of my post in which I discuss, in broad terms, my views regarding criticism is the second paragraph, reproduced below. I’d be curious to know exactly which propositions in that paragraph you disagree with.

“Kurtz has every right to express his disagreement with actions undertaken by management. But critics, especially those who embrace humanist ethics, do have some responsibilities. Their criticism must be supported by facts and must not misrepresent the actions or positions criticized.”

#36 J. (Guest) on Saturday May 15, 2010 at 3:35pm

CFI does well at promoting secularist goals by supporting scholarship, lobbying, advocacy and community building. But what’s so frustrating to me is that leadership has yet to acknowledge a change in the tone of how CFI presents it’s opposition to religious privilege at the grass roots level and that there may be some value in considering if it is likely to be productive.

#37 Ronald A. Lindsay on Saturday May 15, 2010 at 5:12pm

@J If you wanted to expand on your last comment, I’d be interested in hearing what you have to say. We want to be as effective as possible in communicating our message, and if you think some changes in our approach should be considered, especially at the grassroots level, then please let us know, whether by a comment here or by emailing us when it’s convenient for you: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) //';l[1]='a';l[2]='/';l[3]='<';l[4]=' 116';l[5]=' 101';l[6]=' 110';l[7]=' 46';l[8]=' 121';l[9]=' 114';l[10]=' 105';l[11]=' 117';l[12]=' 113';l[13]=' 110';l[14]=' 105';l[15]=' 114';l[16]=' 111';l[17]=' 102';l[18]=' 114';l[19]=' 101';l[20]=' 116';l[21]=' 110';l[22]=' 101';l[23]=' 99';l[24]=' 64';l[25]=' 111';l[26]=' 102';l[27]=' 110';l[28]=' 105';l[29]='>';l[30]='\"';l[31]=' 116';l[32]=' 101';l[33]=' 110';l[34]=' 46';l[35]=' 121';l[36]=' 114';l[37]=' 105';l[38]=' 117';l[39]=' 113';l[40]=' 110';l[41]=' 105';l[42]=' 114';l[43]=' 111';l[44]=' 102';l[45]=' 114';l[46]=' 101';l[47]=' 116';l[48]=' 110';l[49]=' 101';l[50]=' 99';l[51]=' 64';l[52]=' 111';l[53]=' 102';l[54]=' 110';l[55]=' 105';l[56]=':';l[57]='o';l[58]='t';l[59]='l';l[60]='i';l[61]='a';l[62]='m';l[63]='\"';l[64]='=';l[65]='f';l[66]='e';l[67]='r';l[68]='h';l[69]='a ';l[70]='<'; for (var i = l.length-1; i >= 0; i=i-1){ if (l[i].substring(0, 1) == ' ') output += "&#"+unescape(l[i].substring(1))+";"; else output += unescape(l[i]); } document.getElementById('eeEncEmail_szHRtiyhHa').innerHTML = output; //]]> .

#38 J. (Guest) on Saturday May 15, 2010 at 9:41pm

Dr. Lindsay, Your response to my posts is most welcome because it suggests a way out of this rancorous dispute. I hope that OPEN consideration of the recent criticisms of friends of CFI will have some influence on the direction of CFI.

Paul Kurtz aside, this issue has been brewing since CFI announced the blasphemy contest. To be up front I have to say that I am one of the critics, not that I arrogate to myself the role of policy maker, and I have been feeling stonewalled. Addressing my views, which are hardly unique, is one of my suggestions about how to be more effective at the grass roots level. Perhaps other friends will disagree.

My point is not that the blasphemy contest is offensive (a different question) and isn’t nice but that it alienates potential allies. I think we need allies. I think that religious beliefs are wrong but my issue is separation of church and state. I’m too impatient to wait till believers stop believieng.

(I beg the patience of our readers for discussion which some may find tiresome.) Your post focuses on the cartoon contest as a case in point which is instructive and in my opinion very much on point. I do agree that previously published cartoons are worse but that the new ones are less worse is a poor recommendation. The winning cartoon says something like RC clergy or some RC clergy or high ranking RC clergy sexually abused a lot of children. (I don’t dispute the fact.) The “Kurtz-approved cartoon” says something like the RC church asserts exemption for sexually abusing children from secular legal processes. The latter makes a far better point. The lesson to draw is that whatever the medium we ought to aim to express specific, well targeted and accurate positions which are likely to resonate with everyone who thinks that we should have some kind of separation of church and state - not just atheists - and the prescription, not just get the bastards.

We should be stressing social welfare and pressing for the sovereignty of secular law. There is less to be gained by criticizing religion as religion than how religion subverts our constitutional and human rights that most people want for themselves.

The New Atheism has had a beneficial effect of energizing atheists affiliated with CFI and other secularist organizations but without a well defined and worthy target our efforts become more cathartic than productive.

Dr. Lindsay, since you asked for my views, I ask you if you see any validity in my observations about the recent aspects of CFI sponsoring a blasphemy contest that seems to me brutish and ill advised, if you will solicit the views of other friends of CFI and if you will consider fine tuning our course.

#39 Melody on Saturday May 15, 2010 at 9:55pm

No one at CFI is admitting to a change in tone because we don’t believe there has been one. My local membership is thriving and stays away from these manufactured controversies. The only complaints I hear about tone are on forums like this discussing Paul Kurtz. We have not changed our programming or mission in any way since the change of leadership. The so called “radical change” at CFI has been completely contrived by a disgruntled Kurtz (hence the PR problem). I find it almost Orwellien that Kurtz can repeat himself so often (with no evidence) that people actually begin to believe it — perhaps even himself. 

It has taken me a year to come out and say this, as I felt I had an obligation to protect the man that we all, as Secular Humanists, owe a great deal to. I know others have struggled with this themselves. No one forgets that Paul Kurtz has done more for the cause of Secular Humanism in the last 30 years than any other single person. His legacy is worth preserving. But at this point it would be almost masochistic to stand by and say nothing when the entire organization is under constant attack, because of his personal grudge with the current leadership.

I have strong suspicions with anyone who says that CFI is not open to criticism. I have felt the freedom to communicate my objections at the highest levels without fear of retaliation. We not only welcome criticism within the organization and from our supporters, we actually give them a platform to express their criticism. I can’t say that for many other organizations.

#40 Melody on Saturday May 15, 2010 at 10:05pm

@J: Blasphemy Day aside, do you not think that religious privilege should be addressed by CFI? It is a part of the longer version of our mission statement.

“Fostering a secular society requires attention to many specific goals, but three goals in particular represent the focus of our activities:

- an end to the influence that religion and pseudoscience have on public policy

- an end to the privileged position that religion and pseudoscience continue to enjoy in many societies

- an end to the stigma attached to being a nonbeliever, whether the nonbeliever describes her/himself as an atheist, agnostic, humanist, freethinker or skeptic.”

If you do think that it should be a focus of the organization, how do you propose we address it?

#41 J. (Guest) on Sunday May 16, 2010 at 12:11am


There’s good reason not to put Blasphemy Day aside unless there’s nothing to learn from it about how to increase CFI’s persuasiveness beyond our circle of the already convinced. I was neither demeaning nor discussing any of the worthy goals of the mission statement that you cite. I was trying to make the case to value feedback from CFI friends and efficacy above affect. What I suggested is a more modest adjustment than turning the ship around.

What are your suggestions besides Paul Kurtz to just cut it out? Or do you think that otherwise things are just fine the way they are? The expressed enmity and volume of comments is an indication that something needs addressing.

Dr. Lindsay asked me to expand on my views which suggests at least that he feels that he can survive it, that it might be helpful for him to listen even if what I had to say was without value and I think that he was also sincere in wanting to know what I had to say. Kurtz, Lindsay and CFI are capable of tolerating conflict, coming out whole and learning something valuable. Even criticism can be productive. The crisis will be resolved but I do think that characterizing Kurtz as disgruntled and Orwellian or only almost, despite disclaimers and even if it were true is unkind, immoderate and unhelpful.

#42 diogenes99 on Sunday May 16, 2010 at 6:17am


I don’t think you are correct that these misgivings started with Kurtz’s objections.  Before the firestorm, I remember the humor contests and the videos with a stuffed animals that were very off-putting to me.  I think these kind of activities are best left to lower-ranking members in the organization than the CEO, or avoided altogether.

Kurtz carried himself as a CEO of a major, international corporation.  He maintained the image of a philosophy-diplomat—an image that was meant to relate to the public the seriousness and promise of the mission.

I ran a smaller advocacy organization, and I found that before people are willing to put their time and cash on the line, constituent members and potential donors need to know that the leaders embody the professionalism and seriousness of the cause.  That means doing the obvious things like: wear the right clothing to press and public events, avoid stupid jokes and insults that might appear in the press, don’t let inside disputes become public disputes, and respond to criticism politely with brevity (let the critics hang themselves with their own rope).  But more importantly, it means taking a hard look at the mission statement, and then picking one or two goals that are achievable and pursuing them publicly with the seriousness of medics saving lives on the battle field.  Everything else the group does should be back-page stuff, or abandoned.

I think the problem is that Kurtz’s persona was CFIs persona.  His demeanor said: diplomat and scholar. All the arguments about cartoons and contests will be history when CFI finds a new public persona by focusing on a couple concrete projects that rally the troops (with fewer irons in the fire), and by tamping down the image of the CEO as jester/defender/blasphemer and rolling out a management team that looks and acts like they are ready to run an international corporation. 

Focus, people.

#43 Ronald A. Lindsay on Sunday May 16, 2010 at 7:27am

@J Thanks. I can assure you that we are always interested in constructive criticism and suggestions on how we can improve our methods for conveying our message and carrying out our mission.  However, I am still not convinced that last year’s commemoration of Blasphemy Day represented a significant change in tone.  I say this principally for two reasons. 

First, often overlooked in discussions of Blasphemy Day is the fact that the events surrounding Blasphemy Day placed significant emphasis on education and discussion about the threats to free expression posed both by laws and informal social taboos restricting criticism of religion.  Most of our centers sponsored speeches, symposia or informal discussion groups. Critics of BD tend to focus on one or two aspects of BD, such as the blasphemous phrase contest or the art show in DC.  I do not believe either of these was unacceptable in tone or manifested inappropriate hostility to believers, but, in any event, they should not be taken to represent the entirety of our efforts to commemorate Blasphemy Day. 

Second, CFI and its affiliates have engaged in grassroots activity in the past that some criticized as being too confrontational and too hostile to the religious.  For example, in 2002 the Council for Secular Humanism was one of the sponsors of the Godless March on Washington.  (I believe the Council’s delegation included Ed Buckner, then executive director, DJ Grothe, and Toni Van Pelt.)  I was not with CFI at the time, but I have heard from others there was some discussion about whether Council should participate in the march.  Ultimately, it was decided that the march would be a good vehicle for engaging our supporters at the grassroots level and that the organization should not be that concerned about negative feedback from religious groups.  Some of the same reasoning went into our decision to proceed with the blasphemous phrase contest. 

So I do not think there has been a radical change either in our mission or in the ways in which we carry out our mission, although I will concede that some of our supporters seem to have this perception.  To me, this suggests we need to consider carefully how we structure and implement our various events and programs, which is one reason I find your observations and the observations of others helpful. 

@Diogenes 99 Thank you for your observations.  On the other hand, one criticism that has been made, especially by younger people, is that CFI is dull and boring and appears to be geared almost exclusively to old white men with advanced degrees.  As a 57 year-old white man with advanced degrees, I suppose that means I should have been content to continue without variation CFI’s methods for defining its public image. But the reality is that if we are to be a movement, and that is how everyone likes to describe it, we need to go beyond the academic image.  Obviously, we need to keep up our scholarship so our views will be seriously considered and our credibility can be maintained, but I do not consider occasional attempts to use humor to convey aspects of our message as necessarily detrimental to our reputation. But your comments are noted and they will be taken into account.

#44 diogenes99 on Sunday May 16, 2010 at 8:11am


You wrote: “On the other hand, one criticism that has been made, especially by younger people, is that CFI is dull and boring and appears to be geared almost exclusively to old white men with advanced degrees.”

This is the deadly straw man that will sink CFI.

Try to imagine the leaders of great movements that attracted many young people—but making videos with stuffed animals.  It just doesn’t work for me, nor for my 18 year old son.  He is going to college not because there are fun things to do, but because the subject matter engages him intellectually.

Offer intellectual stimulation.  Offer an achievable goal and ways people can participate and be recognized for participation.  Aim for something VERY important and act with all seriousness to achieve the goal.  Be our proxy and meet with movers and shakers, and don’t do things that will discredit yourself in their eyes.

CFI can be exciting without comedy, contests, warfare, insults, and attacks.

#45 DJ Grothe on Sunday May 16, 2010 at 8:14am

@Ron: I am sincerely sorry that my comment disagreeing with your claim that Paul Kurtz is faking or “feigning” his concern over CFI’s strategies disappointed you. But my disagreeing with you in no way reflects on the mission of the James Randi Educational Foundation to promote critical reasoning in society, if that’s what you were getting at by mentioning it. I believe Kurtz is sincere in his concern over current CFI strategy, whether or not his concern is justified. You believe for some reason that he is faking his concern. I think you are plumb wrong on that point. So be it.

You mention the 2002 Godless March on Washington in your comment above. I enthusiastically supported the march at the time, and helped to organize hundreds of CSH supporters to attend it. But I should point out that Paul Kurtz did not support the march one iota.  In fact, he argued emphatically and internally at CFI at the time that such a march would not be strategic for a number of reasons, such as that the hostility to the religious such a march may demonstrate (hostility that you suggest in your comment above) is not in keeping with the values of the organization he helped to create, not to mention that the secularist community would look paltry and insignificant when so few people showed up to the march (and so few did, as it turns out). Nonetheless, he deferred to Ed Buckner, who was running the Council for Secular Humanism at the time, and so CSH supported the march. Kurtz did not attend the march, and to this day thinks being involved with it was a mistake. I do not think he ever feigned his concern over the march, whether or not his concern was misplaced.

I should say that in the years since the Godless March on Washington, I have modified my views on such topics. I no longer think that it was the most effective way to advance CFI/CSH mission, and wrote on a couple of occasions in Free Inquiry generally on this topic of atheists and secularists aping strategies adopted during the civil rights struggles of racial and sexual minorities. ( )

But my point here is that Kurtz has been entirely consistent, and I suggest that his position is a principled one, even if I don’t entirely share his views. As I have said before, there is a lot of room for disagreement over best strategies to advance a mission as important at CFI’s. 

I have disagreed with Kurtz on strategy a number of times over the years. But I never publicly nor privately argued to dismiss his disagreements with me by insisting he was being insincere and just “feigning” the disagreement.

Lastly, let me say that I will get in trouble with my spouse, with whom I am on vacation in Belize right now, if I spend too much time on a blog talking about movement strategy. As such, I may not seem to be very responsive to this thread.

#46 Ronald A. Lindsay on Sunday May 16, 2010 at 8:36am

@DJ I still have not heard anyone offer an explanation for how Kurtz’s presumed approval of cartons lampooning religion for 20+ years can be rendered consistent with his current position that the publication of a cartoon he finds offensive is evidence that CFI and Council now focus on “buffoonery.” If he has changed his mind, he should explain his position as a change of mind. He has not offered such an explanation, which suggests that either he has not had a sincere change of outlook or he is pursuing another agenda.

Your discussion of the Godless March also suggests the possibility that Kurtz never wanted any cartoons in FI. Given the control he exercised over FI, that seems implausible, but even if true, it does not explain why he believes cartoons pre-2008 did not indicate CFI and Council specialized in buffoonery whereas cartoons post-2008 carry that implication.

Have a great vacation in Belize. I’m sure your break is well-deserved.

#47 J. (Guest) on Sunday May 16, 2010 at 9:25am


Your reply convinces me that I have yet to clearly express my views.

When I said that the dispute was brewing since CFI announced the blasphemy contest I was not referring to a change in tone but to the reaction among some friends of CFI. When it becomes evident that there is a change at the base I think it is wise to heed it at the top.

Neither the etiquette of unacceptable tone or expressed hostility to believers is my concern, rather the necessity to seek allies among the believers with whom we otherwise disagree.

I am not personally aware that anyone has criticized or perceived a change of our mission but I am sure that publication of a new mission statement is both eagerly awaited and likely to be the occasion for yet new discord.

#48 Ronald A. Lindsay on Sunday May 16, 2010 at 2:59pm

@J OK, I think I get your point. Thanks.

By the way, you and a couple of others have referred to a “new” mission statement, suggesting that either one has just been announced or one will be announced shortly. I don’t know how this misinformation got started. CFI’s revised mission statement was issued on July 13, 2009, and its release was accompanied by an announcement on our website.

The announcement read as follows:

“The Center for Inquiry has adopted a new mission statement, which makes its first appearance on our website on Monday, July 13. The new statement does not reflect a fundamental change in the work of the organization. However, we believe the new mission statement will indicate more clearly the purposes and goals of our work.

President & CEO Ronald A. Lindsay explains that “we believe the prior mission statement (actually statements, because there were a few different versions) lacked focus. It referenced the promotion of reason, science, and free inquiry—but for what purpose? By explicitly indicating that we aim to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values, we provide a defined goal and give direction to our activities.”

The longer version of the mission statement, or organizational description (found under the heading “About the Center for Inquiry” ), details the core competencies and activities of CFI. Significantly, it also provides three intermediate goals of CFI—ending the influence that religion and pseudoscience have on public policy, ending the privileged position enjoyed by religion and pseudoscience in many societies, and ending the stigma attached to being nonreligious—that establish priorities for the organization.”

#49 Melody on Sunday May 16, 2010 at 6:45pm

@J: “The crisis will be resolved but I do think that characterizing Kurtz as disgruntled and Orwellian or only almost, despite disclaimers and even if it were true is unkind, immoderate and unhelpful.”

Yes, I sincerely believe it to be true. And if it is true I think it’s entirely helpful to gain perspective on the situation. Moderation and/or silence has gotten us no where trying to resolve this conflict.

#50 J. (Guest) on Sunday May 16, 2010 at 8:13pm


I can see that moderation has gotten me nowhere. You’ve entirely demolished helpful but I’m going to stick my neck out and stand by kindness and moderation. Will you reconsider “almost Orwellien” or at least check the spelling if you insist on being literary?

Commenting is not available in this weblog entry.