Two Different Understandings of Blasphemy—Two Different Visions of CFI

September 29, 2009

A notorious blasphemer

Contrary to the mistaken views of some, blasphemy cannot be equated with ridicule of religion. Blasphemy laws have suppressed free speech by prohibiting any denial or questioning of the dominant religious beliefs of the time, however well-reasoned the blasphemer's views. Among the earliest persons convicted of "impiety" or blasphemy were the philosophers Protagoras and Socrates.

Thomas Aikenhead was the last person executed for blasphemy in the United Kingdom (in 1697). His crime: denying the Incarnation and the Trinity and asserting the Bible was not credible. He also joked one cold evening that he would prefer to be in hell. On the gallows he had the temerity to state that morality was devised by humans and not the product of a divine command.

Fortunately, it is true that in most Western countries, people no longer fear execution for blasphemy, but in Islamic countries questioning religion remains dangerous. Iran has executed dozens for blasphemy and Pakistan has charged over four thousand people with blasphemy since the mid-1980s. Even in Western countries, restrictions remain, including the informal taboo that prohibits any criticism or comment about religion, whether by words or pictures. Other beliefs -- political, philosophical, economic and so forth -- are all subject to pointed criticism, but some still maintain that religion is off limits.

CFI has decided to sponsor International Blasphemy Day in part to draw attention to the threat to free expression posed by blasphemy laws. We also want to emphasize our long-standing position that religion should be treated just like any other belief, no better and no worse.

Surprisingly, Paul Kurtz, the founder of CFI, has taken issue with the organization's decision to commemorate Blasphemy Day , including some of the events we are holding in conjunction with Blasphemy Day.

As part of our commemoration of Blasphemy Day, a couple of our centers are holding art displays. Because some of this art can be interpreted as unsparing in its criticism of religion, Kurtz objects vigorously. But this art is comparable to the cartoons that have been published for years in Free Inquiry, when this journal was under the editorial control of Paul Kurtz. In any event, I do not believe we should suppress art because it may offend the religious sensibilities of some. We would not suppress a cartoon of Obama with a Pinocchio nose, nor should we suppress a drawing of the Pope with a Pinocchio nose. In my view, both of these pictures are appropriate parts of our social and civil discourse, and it is staggering to me that an erstwhile defender or free expression such as Paul Kurtz would claim CFI's art displays "betray the civic virtues of democracy."

There is no right not to be offended. It is fundamental to the humanist ethic that we respect the worth and dignity of persons, but that presupposes that we treat others as our equals and not condescend to them as though they were children who cannot accept criticism of their beliefs.

It is a tragedy that beggars description to witness Paul Kurtz repudiate his own words and positions. He argues in his post that although CFI defended the right of the Danish artists to publish their cartoons on Mohammed, CFI should never express itself in terms that might be considered blasphemous or encourage others to do so. To begin, the pages of Free Inquiry probably have had a 50% blasphemy content throughout the years, as the pages of this journal have contained countless denials of God in her/his various forms-many of these denials being authored by Kurtz. Moreover, a scant three years ago, Kurtz stated in an editorial exactly the opposite of what he sets forth in his current blog entry:

The right of expression is precious and needs to be defended. Political satire is a vital part of any exchange of ideas and values in a democratic society. The pen is mightier than the sword. It should not be censored.
There is currently a movement worldwide to prohibit any form of expression that blasphemes a religion; cartoons critical of religion would no doubt be considered blasphemous. We need to defend that right-to affirm the right to blaspheme by exercising it. Would that we lived in a polite world of scholarly debate. It is clear that one cartoon may be worth a thousand syllogisms.
If Free Inquiry had not printed these caricatures, that would betray the principles that we believe in. The previous issue of Free Inquiry has drawings of Jesus wearing a crusader's helmet. Should we have not published that because it may offend some people? To cave in would be to concede the case of those who wish to silence us.

Kurtz appears to be in a heated argument with himself. I can only hope that it is the 2006 version of Kurtz that ultimately prevails.

Kurtz's other arguments are specious, if not self-contradictory. In attacking those who have decided to commemorate Blasphemy Day, he borrows language from the Religious Right, referring to "fundamentalist atheists." I wish Kurtz would identify these individuals by name because I have yet to encounter a "fundamentalist atheist" at CFI. All the atheists I know maintain that beliefs, including their own, must be supported by evidence and are subject to refutation. Kurtz also makes desperate use of the last resort of all bad arguments: a Nazi analogy. Talk about bad taste. Comparing a campaign for free expression to a regime that ruthlessly suppressed free expression, and had blasphemy laws to boot, surpasses in its outlandishness any entry that we might receive in our blasphemy contest.

Paul Kurtz does offer to the readers of Free Thinking a choice between two starkly different views of CFI. There is the CFI that stands with those who believe we should be free to criticize religion just as we criticize other beliefs; then there is the neo-Kurtzian vision of a CFI that would tiptoe around criticism of religion for fear of giving offense. There is a CFI that believes that art, even when it might be considered crude or offensive to some, may have symbolic value, and, in any event, deserves protection; and then there is the neo-Kurtzian CFI that advocates censorship of art. There is the CFI that honors those who have risked everything to express their views about religion; and then there is the neo-Kurtzian CFI that equates critique of religion with hate speech.

CFI used to defend those heroes such as Socrates and Aikenhead; apparently Kurtz now believes Socrates deserved the hemlock and Aikenhead merited the gallows because of their crime of offending others.

Which CFI do you want?

Comments:

#1 Reba Boyd Wooden on Tuesday September 29, 2009 at 7:54pm

I am certainly a proponent of freedom of speech written, spoken, and artistic expression.  These are personal freedoms. However, I do think that CFI should take a higher road as an organization.  Yes, criticize religion in a scholarly way and express our opinion certainly but I think there is a line below which it becomes crude and lowers us to levels that I do not like to see the organization going.

#2 Steve Hall (Guest) on Tuesday September 29, 2009 at 8:31pm

I must say I was shocked when I read Kurtz using the phrase “fundamentalist atheist”.  I’m sorry to see him unhappy with the direction of his creation, but I must say I am happy that CFI has taken a strong stand against those who would try to outlaw outlandish mocking of religion.  I sent in my entry to the blasphemy contest.  I hope I win!

#3 Michael (Guest) on Tuesday September 29, 2009 at 9:05pm

I believe that the 2009 Kurtz is correct. If belief in non-real beings has an evolutionary and biological explanation, then we should refrain from teasing those captured in theism natural tangle.  There is a slow and rational way to lead physics students from Newtonian explanations to relativistic explanations.  And there is a similar rational path from theism to nontheism.  The physics teacher who teases should be ignored.

#4 Joreth (Guest) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 at 12:52am

Mark Crislip would say, “As Thomas Jefferson once said in a different context: Ridicule is the only weapon that can be used against unintelligible propositions.  Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them.”

There are many different approaches that can be taken to shake loose the hold that religion and irrational beliefs have in our society.  Shocking and offensive art is one.  Comedy, ridicule, and “crude” caricatures are another.  Rational and calm discourse is yet another, and heated debate and angry protest are even more.  All have function and all are necessary.

And an organization that stands for free speech and free thought ought to recognize the value that all these forms have and support them.

So thank you, CFI, for supporting them.

#5 DavidMWW on Wednesday September 30, 2009 at 4:06am

I agree with everything in this article except the first sentence. Of course blasphemy can be equated with ridicule of religion - that’s what makes it so important.

As Joreth (above) reminds us, ridicule is a powerful weapon against unintelligible propositions, and we should not be afraid to use it.

Yes, the religiously committed are more likely to be enraged than persuaded, but so what? It is good to cause psychological discomfort to the pious - they deserve it, and it might just cause them think twice before asserting themselves in the public square, and maybe even eventually encourage a reassessment of their fundamentals.

Ridicule also serves to discourage the undecided from following the ridiculous path. Why chose a belief system that leaves them open to such mockery? If your philosophy is immune to satire, you’re probably on solid ground.

Finally, ridicule - particularly blasphemous ridicule - can be very funny indeed, as I hope the best entries to CFI’s blasphemy contest will demonstrate.

Kurtz is being cranky.

#6 Strubie on Wednesday September 30, 2009 at 4:22am

Consider how a freethinker would respond to the following two situations: 
1.  The Catholic Church declares a day for ridiculing science and reason as methods of seeking truth and sponsors activities during that day.
2.  A priest, representing only himself, ridicules science and reason as methods of seeking truth in a large public gathering.
As a freethinker who believes that religious faith is a waste of time and energy, I would personally vigorously defend the priest, but I would strongly criticize the Catholic church for it’s stand.
I intend to blaspheme on my own behalf today and let everyone around me witness it, but I won’t enter the blasphemy contest, because I don’t want to represent CFI as a mud-slinging institution.

#7 Steven Carr (Guest) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 at 6:20am

I must agree with Strubie.  It degrades CFI’s reputation in the eyes of some (me for instance) to be actively involved in promoting blasphemy day, or anything that is aimed at demeaning the beliefs of others.

Any individual wanting to blaspheme at home or in public should feel free to do so.  The detriment to CFI of “participating” in blaspheme day far outweighs any benefit.  It sounds like so much pre-teen bleating… “I’m going to blaspheme and you can’t stop me! Na, na, na!”

IMHO, CFI’s promotion of such anti-religious behavior “puts off” many more people than you realize, including some nascent non-believers or seekers who otherwise would find their way into CFI’s camp.

Just sayin’

#8 DavidMWW on Wednesday September 30, 2009 at 6:57am

Strubie asks:

“Consider how a freethinker would respond to the following two situations: “

Laughter and ridicule in both cases. Why the inconsistency on your part?

#9 Will (Guest) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 at 7:00am

Ron, you seem to be verging into strawman territory. 

“It is one thing to examine the claims of religion in a responsible way by calling attention to Biblical, Koranic or scientific criticisms, it is quite another to violate the key humanistic principle of tolerance. One may disagree with contending religious beliefs, but to denigrate them by rude caricatures borders on hate speech. What would humanists and skeptics say if religious believers insulted them in the same way? We would protest the lack of respect for alternative views in a democratic society.”

I think Paul may have overstated his premise, but he seems to be saying that it’s not a good idea to be mean spirited and vulgar.  Criticism is all well and fine. 

I kind of lean towards this myself.  “Criticize, but don’t be a dick”. 

Pointing out that theists can be mean spirited towards atheists justifies nothing.  Two wrongs do not make a right.

#10 Michael (Guest) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 at 8:27am

DavidMWW wrote: “Ridicule also serves to discourage the undecided from following the ridiculous path. Why chose a belief system that leaves them open to such mockery?”

If this is CFI position, I want nothing to do with CFI. The reason I joined CFI was to try to help society move FROM the idea that good belief systems are a result of a result of psychological pressure TO the ideal that good belief systems are independent of psychological pressure and dependent on careful reasoning and evidence. 

The picture of Socrates above is telling—I don’t think he would join CFI.

I was greatly enthusiastic about CFI for several years.  I was a paid member.  No more.

#11 traveler on Wednesday September 30, 2009 at 8:39am

From the outside looking in, I cannot tell just how much of this bickering is viewpoint versus viewpoint and how much is man versus man.

Obviously we are all entitled to our own viewpoint. But as an organization, don’t we offer those who are searching for truth an island of reason? We are free to stick our tongues out to others as they do to us, but don’t we then both look silly?

I would not hide from blasphemy in some context, but I do not favor blasphemy for blasphemy’s sake. But that’s just me. Have fun everyone. You won’t hurt my feelings.

#12 Amanda Peet (Guest) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 at 9:13am

As a CFI member and benefactor, I’m saddened that powerful people in the leadership ranks are fighting publicly over CFI’s policy on tolerance, politeness and manners! I think the real question here is whether “in-your-face” tactics are likely to be productive for CFI. My limited experience in the university context in three countries over two decades indicates that the answer is probably no. Frankly, I think CFI leaders pushing “in-your-face” tactics owe the general membership a careful explanation of why such tactics are and will be helpful to CFI’s mission. Such a reasoned argument should presumably include references to published peer reviewed work showing the effectiveness of those tactics. Let me finish with two quotations.
“Rudeness is the weak man’s imitation of strength.” - Eric Hoffer.
“There is not a single outward mark of courtesy that does not have a deep moral basis.” - Goethe

#13 Adam Slagell (Guest) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 at 9:14am

I support free speech entirely. I support the *right* of neo-Nazis to make their hateful and disgusting speech. Furthermore, I would support the ACLU in taking the case of a neo-Nazi racist arguing for their free speech. However, I would NOT support them by hosting “Racism Day”.

I think the analogy holds here as well as most of the Blasphemy Day speech is not constructive criticism of religion, but more religion bashing intended to upset people. It will certainly be viewed as such by most people.

So instead of building bridges with liberal religionists who also value free speech, I think we are more likely to burn bridges. And I certainly don’t see us changing the minds of anyone with this tactic. In the end, there are simply better ways to promote free speech.

That being said, I don’t want the government to censor CFI. I am just a little embarrassed to be associated with the organization today.

#14 DavidMWW on Wednesday September 30, 2009 at 9:56am

How do you justify equating blasphemy with rudeness and discourtesy? How can you be discourteous to an idea?

If an organisation were to organise a competition for the funniest cartoon ridiculing Keynesian economics, would there be an outcry about transgressing the bounds of civilised discourse?

What makes a political or ecomomic opinion substantively different from a metaphysical one? Nothing. It’s just been that way for a long time, not least because when metaphysical opinions held power they discouraged dissent by law and with violence.

Time’s up for that idea. Good thing too. CFI is to be congratulated on its initiative.

#15 J. (Guest) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 at 10:34am

The issue is theocracy not the false belief in god. We have the right to blaspheme but sponsoring a blasphemy day is irrrelevent and more likely to alienate than to convince believers who share our social goals. Believers are more likely to make the interpretation that their beliefs are being disrespected and they’d be right. There’s no gain in that. Should the goals of the separation of church and state, freedom of speech, scientific social and economic policies be deferred untill believers acknowledge that they are wrong? Better to focus more directly on strengthening the secular functioning of society. When we engage the absurd question of the existance of god we play by the rules of the religious extremists. Rationality is not limited to knowing that religion is wrong but extends also to considering the efficacy of our behavior in achieving our goals.

#16 traveler on Wednesday September 30, 2009 at 10:35am

DavidMWW asks, How can you be discourteous to an idea?

That’s easy, I can say FU@K you, idea!

Of course the idea won’t be hurt, but as a reflection of all of those who hold the idea, they may be hurt - it depends on the idea. Keynesian economics is likely not a topic held close to the heart, so the sensitivity that my brain has evolved over the years says that I’m ok with a Keynesian joke (you know that).

This same evolved sensitivity tells me that, if I want people to approach me - or approach an organization to which I belong - to discuss reason, then I best not appear unreasonable.

Look, while I don’t believe in god, I do believe in people - that’s what makes me a humanist (not simply an atheist). I want them to ask me about my thoughts so that I might help them with theirs - or vice versa.  But that’s just me, and it is how I equate blasphemy (for its own sake) with rudeness. Best of luck with your approach to improving the world.

#17 Will (Guest) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 at 10:41am

It’s very clear that Ron and Paul hate each other.  They’re using this issue to snipe and bash each other.  Not what leaders of an organization should be doing, but humans are humans.

#18 Debbie Goddard on Wednesday September 30, 2009 at 11:11am

There’s a good article today in the Telegraph (UK), http://is.gd/3P2xv, called “International Blasphemy Day: from Danish cartoons to Jerry Springer - The Opera.”  The article takes a look at “some of the key moments in the history of the profane,” including the following:

================================

“The last successful prosecution for blasphemy under British law was surprisingly recent – 1977.
The publisher of the magazine Gay News was given a suspended sentence when he printed a poem, The Love That Dares To Speak Its Name, telling the story of a gay Roman centurion’s love for Jesus.”

================================

“In July 2009, the Dáil – the Irish Parliament – voted to make ‘publishing or uttering blasphemous material’ a crime punishable with a fine of up to 25,000 euros.”

================================

“A British schoolteacher was arrested in Sudan and sentenced to 15 days in prison for insulting the Prophet, after letting her class of seven-year-olds name a teddy bear Mohammed.
Following an international outcry she was released after eight days, despite calls from some Islamic hardliners in the country for her to be publicly flogged or even put to death.”

================================


Ron makes some very good points.  Blasphemy Day doesn’t exist just so that nonbelievers can be mean to people.  Examples:

Hypothetical Situation 1) Two people do not agree with intelligent design arguments.  Person A says ID is “IDiotic” and ridiculous.  Person B spends time making reasoned arguments against ID.

Well, sure, if Person A is trying to change the minds of “cdesign proponentsists”, then name-calling and being mean certainly isn’t the best way to do it.

Hypothetical Situation 2) Two people disagree with the beliefs of Islam/Christianity/Mormonism/some religion.  Person A calls says that the beliefs are idiotic and ridiculous.  Person B spends time making reasoned arguments against the religion, often drawing the conclusion that the prophet was mistaken (or a fraud), the God that the religion asserts is true doesn’t exist, and therefore, necessarily, the believers are mistaken.

The same thing that was said about the first two individuals applies here too.

But guess what the difference is for the second hypothetical?  In some places, there are laws in place that call for BOTH Person A AND Person B to be punished—or put to death—for their “blasphemy”.  Still.  And it’s not “hypothetical” that there are people *being punished and killed* for their cartoons, for their movies, documentaries, articles, teachings, books, and *ideas*.  It’s because of that that there is Blasphemy Day.

Sure, a piece of art that includes Jesus painting his “nails” is going to be seen as mean by some.  But isn’t it nice to remember that we can do that in the U.S.?  And isn’t it worthwhile to remind people that there are places where things like that can’t be done?  The artist isn’t going to have to start fearing for her life, or undergo round-the-clock security, or be “flogged”, or get thrown into prison, or be fined for “profaning” an idea that some think is sacred.

Think of the countries where Blasphemy Day events couldn’t happen.  Think of how nice it is that Free Inquiry can print irreverent cartoons, or articles that challenge the existence of gods, without seizure of the presses and punishment of the editors.  There are many types of free expression issues internationally; blasphemy is the kind of issue that we who live in places where we don’t really have to worry about it don’t think about enough.  It’s for these reasons that I support the event.

#19 Dennis (Guest) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 at 1:31pm

I agree with Paul Kurtz. Ridiculing a person’s beliefs is not engaging in a critical examination of religious claims, it’s acting like an asshole. The more atheists we have acting like assholes encourages public disdain of atheism. It’s that simple.

#20 Commenter123 (Guest) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 at 1:51pm

I agree with #17 - there seems to be some kind of conflict within CFI which is separate from the conflict over whether to support Blaspehmy Day or not.

To have this kind of public bickering serves nothing other than to highlight differences and promote the schismatic tendencies which have weakened and fractured skeptical/humanist organizations in the past. The cry of “which CFI do you want?” might as well say, “form into different camps, everyone, and begin the fractious debate. We reserve the right to forever ban and stigmatize the loser of this war.”

Gentlemen, for all our sakes, keep your personal arguments under wraps. You’re old enough to have intelligent conversations face-to-face, or (better yet) in a moderated fashion in one of CFI’s many printed publications.

#21 ckoproske on Wednesday September 30, 2009 at 2:45pm

There seems to be a lot of confusion among these comments between rights and policies.  Many are reacting as if CFI is initiating a new “Blasphemy Policy,” rather than celebrating a “Right to Blaspheme.”  The ‘Neo-Kurtzians’ are correct to be wary of crudely ridiculing religion, as it can be childish and hurt our cause.  But as far as I can tell, CFI is not endorsing crudeness as a tactic; it is simply calling attention to our fundamental right to do so without censorship.

It is absolutely imperative to remember that free speech works only if it protects everyone - even the childish and rude.  Blasphemy day and any shocking displays included therein are designed to remind us of this.  That’s why it was necessary to publish the Danish cartoons, not because they were wonderful works of art, but in defiance to those who deemed them too offensive.  This is about making a statement to those who would set limits on the bounds of our discussion - We ought to be able to criticize ideas and beliefs freely, with no official censor deciding what is and isn’t ‘proper.’

Kurtz and others should shout their disapproval of offensive behavior from the mountaintops… so long as they don’t try to stop Ron or anyone else from doing the same.  Blasphemy Day, in all its brash, brazen glory, is there to push the envelope - to ensure that all dissent is allowed, no matter how unpopular.  Endorsing our right to lambast religion, as CFI has done, is quite different from adopting meanness as a general practice, as some have implied here.

#22 Jerry (Guest) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 at 3:05pm

Kurtz and others should shout their disapproval of offensive behavior from the mountaintops… so long as they don’t try to stop Ron or anyone else from doing the same.

Paul Kurtz isn’t trying to stop Ron any more than Ron is trying to stop Paul Kurtz. I sense from Rom’s post that he has a lot of resentment against Paul Kurtz. Why, I do not know. It’s certainly not good for an organization that relies on contributions for its survival.

Blasphemy Day, in all its brash, brazen glory, is there to push the envelope

As Sonny Crockett said, “The secret to success, whether its women or money, is knowing when to quit.” How applicable to this case. Pushing the envelope for the sake of pushing the envelope doesn’t accomplish anything, nor does it make Ronald Lindsay unique. Larry Flynt, Opie and Anthony, and those people having sex at a Bills game in public “pushed the limit”. But this in your face nonsense only serves to hurt other people’s feelings. It doesn’t accomplish making the case for hte religious right, only inciting anger against it. Ronald Lindsay is giving atheists a bad name by perpetuating the boorish, angry atheist stereotype. He, or anyone who endorses this kind of thinking is not the face of an organization to which I want to donate any of my hard earned money.

#23 J. (Guest) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 at 5:13pm

CFI sponsorship of a Blasphemy Day and blasphemy contest ought to be considered in terms of how likely it is to further or to impede the stated mission: “The mission of the Center for Inquiry is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values.”

#24 Parrhesia (Guest) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 at 5:32pm

What #18, Debbie Goddard, said.

Blasphemy Day is to draw attention to what constitutes “blasphemy” in some countries: mere polite disagreement.

Also, in democratic countries, it is still seen by many as impolite and strategically impolitic to satirise religious beliefs, as evidenced by many of the comments here.  Yet it is considered fine to mimic, mock and ridicule celebrities and politicians PERSONALLY, and anyone who took it seriously and got offended would be labeled a bad sport.  It is this asymmetry that must be challenged in order to be revealed, and I for one say “Congratulations!” to CFI for doing so.

No special treatment for religious beliefs: subject them to the same treatment we subject any other beliefs.  No more pallid obsequious pandering.  I don’t see how that will turn people off atheism, I think it will make people on the fence more inclined to see religion as NOT deserving automatic deference. It’s possible atheism might seem more attractive due to humorousness and rebelliousness, whereas religion could be seen as a boring stick in the mud.  I don’t think we should blindly assume satirising and mocking religious beliefs will have a strategically negative effect for secularism.  In the past, satire and mockery has actually been a very effective weapon in the culture war.

#25 PLaClair on Thursday October 01, 2009 at 5:09am

It doesn’t matter what the word actually means. People will receive “Blasphemy Day” as an in-your-face attack on all religion. “Honesty in Religion Day” would have been a better title, and I’m sure there are better ones than that.

May I respectfully suggest that CFI consult with communications experts who understand these issues before in-your-face with the broader community. This was a dreadful mistake that CFI will spend years if not decades trying to undo.

#26 Stu Jordan (Guest) on Thursday October 01, 2009 at 5:17am

Having read most of the posts on this subject, I found the one by Amanda Peet (#12) the most thoughtful.  Knowing both of the principals in this debate (Paul Kurtz and Ron Lindsay), I have no doubt that both are entirely sincere in pursuing their somewhat different visions for the CFI.  My views follow.

I think the big question is what kind of CFI do we want.  In my opinion, this requires answering two further questions.  First, what is the right thing for CFI to do, on this issue or any other?  Second, how can this be best accomplish?

Amswering the first question involves ethics.  Answering the second invovles strategy and tactics.
But we should start with the first.

Roughly stating the three goals of the CFI as currently established, they are supporting church-state separation, promoting science and reason, and promoting humanism (or humanistic ethics).  I suggest that we should start with the third one stated.  Why do care about the first two?  If you look at the literature on the Enlightenment that jump-started America, the reason for supporting science and reason, and separating church and state, was to achive a better world for human beings.

I think this is right approach.  We may gain some temporary support from those who wish to vent their personal anger against religion, but I think we will lose in the long run if we abandon the moral high ground that CFI has traditionally held, especially among the educated, a group that inclues many of the tolerant religious.

Speaking as a long-term, well-tested, comfortable atheist, and the current science advisor to the CFI Office of Public Policy in Washington, I am confident that pursuits like Blasphemy Day will undermine our effectiveness in the promotion of science and reason with Congress, where we have finally achieved a documentable success.  We will be perceived as one more radical organization that likes to make as much moise as possible.  We will be politely received and largely ignored.

Perhaps it was good that we tried Blasphemy Day.  Once.  I hope there are no repeat performances.

As the laconic Indian said in the film “Dances with Wolves,” that’s my opinioon.  If the whole situation upsets some of us, I suggest we consider the advice of Mark Twain: “When angry, count four; when very angry, swear.”

Mark Twain was a great American secular humanist.  His favoite person was Robert Ingersoll.  I think both of them were invariably civil.  They could become as angry as anyone, and both wanted change badly.  But they knew one had to be patient as well.  It worked.

#27 Alphonsus (Guest) on Thursday October 01, 2009 at 6:09am

Perhaps the “neo-Kurtz” is more cautious because he understands that sponsoring a “Blasphemy Day” does nothing to advance CFI’s image with most Americans.  It’s just a non-religious form of preaching to the choir.

#28 libraryhound on Thursday October 01, 2009 at 9:57am

While I applaud CFI’s attempt at having a little fun (frankly, I think the academics and philosophers take themselves far too seriously), I think it’s participation in this event is ridiculous. CFI’s mission, at least until lately, has been to promote critical thinking and demand evidence to support claims, whether they be about religion, alternative medicine, or ghosts. As rationalists, our approach is to ENGAGE and weigh the evidence. Has CFI lost its way?
By comparison, would the World Wildlife Federation be as effective if it attacked and made fun of wildlife poachers? Or are they successful b/c they understand the problems (food, money, resources)behind the issue and take steps to provide mutual benefits? 

This event is not about free speech; it’s about cheap marketing and atheism.

Many CFI members are nonbelievers and should speak freely to challenge cultural norms, but it is not the place of the organization to speak for all of us.
If you are a bellicose atheist, join an atheist group.

And Mr. Lindsay: lose the bear.

#29 shonny (Guest) on Sunday October 04, 2009 at 7:52am

Just when did the religious show ANY consideration to the non-believers, unless it was from plain necessity?

Since any questioning of most religions is considered blasphemy towards that religion, be it considerate questioning, flippancy or mockery, then Blasphemy Day should be seen as what it is, the right to question the dogma and the validity of the myths that by decree are held as true and sacred.
Good on ya, Ron, you stand out as a person of dignity and integrity in a country that seemed heading back to the darkest middle ages!

#30 Will M. (Guest) on Sunday October 04, 2009 at 6:37pm

“Just when did the religious show ANY consideration to the non-believers, unless it was from plain necessity?”

Irrelevant.  Two wrongs don’t make a right.  We can and will act better than they can.

#31 drkoepsell on Sunday October 04, 2009 at 10:31pm

I’m just happy to see Paul Kurtz has come around to my viewpoint of three years ago. However, then, we seemed to be able to engage in the debate a bit more civilly.  I wish this debate could continue, since it’s important, without whatever personal animosities are behind it bubbling up. Stick to the issues gentlemen, and leave aside the accusations.  We are all on the same side of science, freedom of inquiry, and rational ethical alternatives.

#32 hugheen (Guest) on Monday October 05, 2009 at 6:50pm

I think there is “intelligent” blasphemy which is the result of critical thinking, is done day in and day out, and can result to some positive results and then there is “immature” blasphemy which is counterproductive and is simply malice masked as ridicule.

I think Blasphemy Day is a silly, sophomoric idea and will only create a backlash against CFI. Stu Gordon has it right, it will only serve to strengthen our enemies as they accuse of intolerance and hate speech. 

If CFI is seeking direction, I suggest they do some
self-examination and come up with intelligent, mature and substantive policies and ideas which will lead to progress for Humanism and not
reciprocal ridicule.

Resorting to bathroom graffiti to make a point just
hurts the dignity of CFI and Humanism.

Hugh Giblin

#33 Arie Stern (Guest) on Thursday October 15, 2009 at 10:21am

I thnk tha’s funny that CFI’s new leaders are now so obsessed with fighting Kurtz instead of the Religious Right. They have been silent if not opposite to Preident Obama’srationality in politics (x instance on the Health Reform) and still attached to the Bushie’s language -speaking on War on terror!!!!- So, yu shold do better trying to regin the momentum Paul Kurtz gave to CFI and the associated institutes.  And one more thing, don’t try to diminish him in order to look bigger, you should better try to grow, instead.

#34 shonny on Thursday October 15, 2009 at 1:22pm

Will, there is no two wrongs, only one. Atheists (or REALISTS, - the label I prefer) never prosecuted, killed, maimed, imprisoned, or in any way denied the religious to have their beliefs.
We question the truth of the stories, we point out errors in logic or in historical correctness, and we ridicule the dogmas, but that is very different from the different religious adherents approach.
So your concern for the religious is rather ill-founded, as we use logic, science and knowledge to underpin our views, and not myths, lies, and threats.

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