Two Different Visions of the Center for Inquiry, Indeed

October 1, 2009

I read Ron Lindsay’s recent characterization of my misgivings about “Blasphemy Day” with dismay. I am so stunned by his blog that I can hardly believe what I read. He says that there are two different visions of CFI. His scenario of what I have advocated is totally false.  Mr. Lindsay states that:

“Paul Kurtz does offer to the readers of Free Inquiry a choice between two starkly different views if CFI. There is the CFI that stands with those who believe that 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 religion for fear of giving offense.”

Has Mr. Lindsay read any of my approximately 1000 articles and more than 50 books written over a long life dedicated to the critical examination of religion and the defense of secular humanism and scientific rationalism? I suppose so, but did he comprehend what I was trying to say?

Do I need to point out that I founded Prometheus Books (in 1969), which is now the largest publishing company in the world specializing in books critical of religion and the defense of humanism and secularism? Prometheus over the past 40 years has published more than 3,000 books, many of them powerful critiques of religion by renowned atheist and skeptical authors.

Do I need to point out that I also initiated the founding of CSICOP (in 1976), publisher of the Skeptical Inquirer , which defends the scientific outlook and has forthrightly criticized paranormal claims? Similarly, I founded the Council for Democratic and Secular Humanism, publisher of Free Inquiry (in 1980), and I have consistently said that we are committed to freedom of inquiry and that religion needs to be critically examined the same as all other claims.

The same thing is true for the establishment of the Center for Inquiry (in 1991), which is “committed to the use of reason, science and free inquiry in every area of human interest” (including, of course, religion.).

I have taken more than 100 trips all over the world encouraging the founding of Centers—from India and China to Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America—bringing the same message. And I have given thousands of talks and media appearances on similar themes. And now to be castigated for being a “tiptoer”? Wow, that’s gutsy!

The main difference between Mr. Lindsay’s approach and mine is that I have attempted to take “the high road,” if you will, by providing intelligent, responsible and judicious critiques. I am happy to say that as a result the Center for Inquiry has been considered one of the most respected organizations in North America, offering dignified critiques of the reigning orthodoxies and fanaticisms, and we had attracted many of the leading scholars and scientists in the world under our banner. Indeed, the Center for Inquiry had been the largest freethought organization in North America—larger in readership and resources than all of the other organizations committed to similar goals combined!

My objection to Blasphemy Day is that it can be rather sophomoric; particularly the holding of a contest to see who come up with the most pithy forms of blasphemy. I have consistently said that if we are to be taken seriously, we need to provide the best scholarly and scientific examination of claims. I have also forthrightly defended “the right to blaspheme;” but there are different ways of doing this, and I submit that poking fun at ones opponents is counterproductive. I do not think that “in your face” atheism will get us very far. I have defended the right of the Danish newspaper to publish cartoons critical of Muslim suicide bombers, and I am not unilaterally opposed to the use of cartoons, particularly where there is a political or social point that needs to be made. But this is different from purposely seeking to blaspheme to gain public notoriety.

My second and most important response to Mr. Lindsay is that he has totally ignored the main point of my life work, namely that we need to be affirmative and positive, providing constructive alternatives to religious systems of faith. And here the development of humanist ethical principles and values are crucial.

In my view, the main failure of “atheist fundamentalists”—and they do exist—is that they often are so eager to criticize theistic religions that they ignore the need to develop a genuine moral compass and the principles of personal morality.

I have been called “the father of secular humanism” (for well or for woe). I do not believe that atheism is a necessary condition of being a secular humanist. One may be an agnostic or skeptic, or simply indifferent to religion. Thus our appeal should be broad enough to attract a larger section of the general public, without asking that they pass the “atheist’s test” of purity. This will drive more people away than attract; and the argument is patently nonsensical.

The point to be made is that it is possible to lead a creative and meaningful life of joy and fulfillment, be concerned not only with one’s one self-interest, but with the needs of others, be empathetic and loving, a good parent and a conscientious citizen in the community, respecting those with whom we disagree, being committed to the use of reason—but also have a compassionate heart, exemplifying genuine affection and good will toward others.

There are indeed two different visions of the Center for Inquiry: The first insists that there ain’t no God. And that people who believe in him are foolish. The second agrees that there is insufficient evidence for God, but that humans have the opportunity to realize the fullness of life for themselves and society. The second vision is affirmative and constructive in scope, and has proven enormously successful thus far. It would be a tragedy of monumental proportions to abandon it now.


#1 Ronald A. Lindsay on Thursday October 01, 2009 at 10:45am

I do not believe it would be productive or beneficial to our cause or organization for me to respond to the substance of this post, so I will not do so. We need to move on. We have much work to accomplish, and internal disputes can only serve as a distraction.
One small point: Dr. Kurtz has taken to calling me “Mr. Lindsay” and has referred to me as “only” a lawyer. I am a lawyer, and proud of it. But, as Dr. Kurtz knows, I also have a PhD in philosophy from Georgetown University. I am not a stickler for titles, but since it has been suggested by some that I lack the requisite background to lead this organization because I am “only” a lawyer, I thought this issue merited clarification.

#2 diogenes99 on Thursday October 01, 2009 at 11:00am

This is so sad.  Dr. Lindsay worked with me on an issue concerning the courts in which we took the high road, and bent over backwards to respect persons with varied beliefs.  This strategy was not a tactic to “win,” but a strategy that was intended to set an example of how all parties should to be treated—with dignity and respect no matter where they were in the journey to find the truth.

Consider Socrates for a moment. I don’t believe he knew, or claimed to know, the truth about the gods or about ethics.  He said he did not know.  He attempted to help others think and thus to release them from dogma and unexamined beliefs.  He questioned people in different ways in order to prompt reflective thought, but he did not set out to insult. 

There are many people sitting on the fence about religion. These are the primary audience for CFI’s message. Insults close minds.  An open mind is a terrible thing to waste.

I hope CFI will once again follow in Socrates’s footsteps, and not Ann Coulter’s and Bill Maher’s.

#3 Noadi (Guest) on Thursday October 01, 2009 at 11:25am

I treat PEOPLE with dignity and respect, ideas and beliefs aren’t people and shouldn’t be accorded the same respect. Beliefs should not be protected from offense either by not criticizing at all or bending over backward to make the criticism conform to some ideal of what is the best approach. I found this article and the previous to be very condescending and patronizing, the kind Professor Kurtz is going to instruct us all on proper manners.

#4 just one voice (Guest) on Thursday October 01, 2009 at 11:48am

Just a bit of reflection from my own failings in dealing with issues in which I have chosen to differ. 

1) When dealing with the “negative” it serves the purpose of the organization (church, company, or in this case, the center for inquiry) for those who differ, NOT to say negatives in an impersonal way (i.e. emails, or comments to web pages.  Negatives should be spoken face to face, and privately so that there is no misunderstanding and for harmony’s sake.

2) When being positive, feel free to post any and all comments for any person to read in whatever format.

3)  What you need to do is follow the principles found in Matt. 18 (although you may not choose to do so, because you reject the Bible as authoritative) and go to one another, Dr. Kurtz and Dr. Lindsay as men and work through your differences.  You must do this privately to CONFESS your wrongs to one another, and FORGIVE one another.  If you are unable to work through your differences one on one, you should bring a friend alongside who can help you solve your differences.  For now you have(unfortunately) aired much of your dirty laundry in public and this will futher complicate your restoration.  I wish you both well and hope you can ultimately find, as Francis Schaeffer said, “True Truth.”

God bless.

#5 Randy on Thursday October 01, 2009 at 12:35pm

“The first insists that there ain’t no God. And that people who believe in him are foolish.”

So you see this group as specifically against the Abrahamic god, rather than denying all supernatural explanations?  That’s interesting, don’t you think?

#6 diogenes99 on Thursday October 01, 2009 at 12:37pm

Perhaps there is another explanation for this internal disagreement.  This is merely my speculation.

There are probably fewer donations to CFI rolling in because the recession has eliminated disposable income and because the “threat level” to atheists has been reduced. As cointerintuitive as it may seem, CFI probably received more donations when Bush, the far right, the conservatives on the Supreme Court, and the anti-gay marriage activists had the upper hand.

How do you raise money in the an Obama/recession Year? Direct mailings to the current members probably will not bring in the needed cash.  You need to get CFI in the papers, on cable news, and in other media.  Polite professors won’t make the cut.  You need some pizazz, some conflict, some edginess, some fun.  Blaspheme away, and CFI turns up on more people’s radars!  And more checks will roll in.  At least the theory.

It’s hard not to sell out when there is a payroll.

#7 Mike D. on Thursday October 01, 2009 at 1:15pm

Hello all, this is the executive director for the Center for Inquiry in New York City. I have a few thoughts.

I supported CFI’s role in Blasphemy Day International for two reasons. In many countries, both unbelievers and religious minorities cannot be themselves—let alone openly criticize religion—without fear of punishment. Moreover, while we indeed have it better in the U.S., where blasphemy laws do not exist, there are still societal barriers to openly discussing religion. Religious belief is largely thought to be “personal” and “private”; even marginally critiquing it is “offensive.” All of this keeps religion from public discussion. Both of these issues—the need to protect basic rights of expression and inquiry, and open religion to honest discussion – are dear to CFI, and must be brought to light. Blasphemy Day International is meant to accomplish that. 

To be sure, there is a difference between wanting to accomplish these goals and seeking to offend people while doing it. And while we support the right to offend—and I would briefly add, Ron Lindsay has made it clear the contest, another matter, is not about over-the-top offensiveness—CFI and its friends do not think we ought to carry out important, civil conversation by calling someone’s beliefs stupid or foolish. We might think that they are, and might even convey that to certain people in private, but I think it’s clear the two situations are completely different.

I must stress the difference in discourse approach outlined above. I don’t respect or tolerate certain beliefs, but I don’t necessarily call people idiots for having them either. I respectfully critique the beliefs knowing that I’m also dealing with other human beings. But I critique them nonetheless. And if this is offensive, we have major problems with our rules public discourse that need fixing. I believe we ought to strive to respect people—but not respect beliefs just because people hold them. Let us understand and acknowledge why a belief is there, and how important it is to a person, but at the same time realize that doesn’t make the belief any more true or any less ridiculous.

Lastly, none of this prevents us from producing and presenting positive, rational ethics to the public. CFI has been doing that for a long time, and will continue to do so. Yet at the same time, we as a society cannot move forward with these positive ethics unless we can have honest discussion about the reigning beliefs of this country, or this world.

#8 diogenes99 on Thursday October 01, 2009 at 2:08pm

Michael De Dora Jr.:  “Blaspheme” comes from the Greek word blaptein, “to injure.”  Blasphemy is not merely making statements contradictory to religious precepts. If you define blasphemy stripped of the insult (and the intended emotional response to the holder of the belief), then you depart from the generally understood definition, especially among believers.

#9 DJ Grothe on Thursday October 01, 2009 at 2:10pm

Am I naive in thinking that, in reality, Kurtz and Lindsay are saying much the same thing, and seeming to disagree more for other, completely unrelated, reasons?

They are both saying: yes, we defend the right to blaspheme but not to offend for merely the sake of offense, but instead in order to highlight that in many places in the US and around the world, officially or even just culturally, it is believed that religion should not be criticized. Blasphemy Day is about pushing back against that, and that is why I support it.

As Paul Kurtz said in an editorial a few years back:

We need “to affirm the right to blaspheme by exercising it.”

(Read his whole article, titled “Was It Right to Publish the Islam Cartoons? YES: In Defense of Blasphemy” here: )

#10 Ronald A. Lindsay on Thursday October 01, 2009 at 2:56pm

This comment is limited to Diogenes99’s latest comment. It is not directed at Dr. Kurtz’s post. I feel constrained to make it because one of the purposes of commemorating Blasphemy Day was educational.
First, blasphemy comes from a combination of Greek words meaning “to speak evil.” (You overlooked the “pheme” root.)
Etymology aside, it is simply incorrect to assert that blasphemy is limited to injurious insults. Nor is intent to offend a necessary element of blasphemy. Merely denying God’s existence is blasphemy and has been punished as such. As we emphasized in the many discussions held at our centers on Blasphemy Day, blasphemy regulations, and social taboos derived from such regulations, have been used to supress objective examination and criticism of religious beliefs.
Regarding intent to insult: As recently as 1977, courts in the United Kingdom ruled that intent to insult or outrage is not necessary to establish that the crime of blasphemy has been committed. (By the way, the UK abolished the crime of blasphemy only last year.)
It seems to me that part of the debate over the wisdom of commemorating Blasphemy Day is based on a misapprehension that some have of what constitutes blasphemy.
Perhaps believers want to ignore how blasphemy has been defined because it serves their purposes to characterize it as mere insult. But why should nonbelievers allow believers to frame the terms of the discussion—especially when their redefinition of blasphemy lacks factual support.

#11 diogenes99 on Thursday October 01, 2009 at 3:27pm

Dr. Lindsay:

There is the minimalist academic meaning, which is any statement contradictory to any religious belief.  But the popular and legal senses have an implied insult.  In Commonwealth v. Kneeland (1838, Scotland), David Hume wrote it is blasphemy…

“when it is done in a scoffing and railing manner; out of a reproachful disposition in the speaker, and, as it were, with passion against the Almighty, rather than with any purpose of propagating the irreverent opinion. The like sentiments uttered dispassionately or conveyed in any calm or advised form, are rather a heresy or an apostasy than a proper blasphemy.”

Yes, there are a range of definitions.  But having a blasphemy contest does not suggest the narrow, academic definition.  That’s the problem.

#12 Strubie on Thursday October 01, 2009 at 4:01pm

Both Kurtz and Lindsay are a credit to CFI and both have done much to further the mission of CFI. I am very grateful for all their efforts.  I think that Prometheus Books is the the best thing that ever happened to publishing.  I enjoyed Blasphemy Day and made it a point to blaspheme, but I did it with several quotes that intelligently criticized belief in gods and other inventions labeled as supernatural (many of which I got from Free Inquiry, The Skeptical Inquirer and books published by Prometheus).  I hope that’s the approach that others took, but I worry that some mud slinging got done that will alienate those that we should try hardest to reach.  The first rule of humanism should be, “Don’t be a dick.”

#13 Steven H (Guest) on Thursday October 01, 2009 at 4:35pm

I am a friend of the Center and have been reading Skeptical Inquirer and Free Inquiry for many years. I was a little surprised about CFI supporting “Blasphemy Day”. It just seems less than dignified for CFI to be engaged in such stunts. I am an atheist but my best friend is a Christian and goes to church every Sunday. We often discuss religion but keep to “the high road”. If I were to say something obviously blasphemous to him I would damage our friendship. I feel CFI can only damage its reputation by continuing such events.

#14 J. (Guest) on Thursday October 01, 2009 at 7:25pm

I feel that the social mission of CFI has not been well served by sponsoring a blasphemy contest and I hope that Dr. Lindsay will have occasion to consider and report if any of the numerous objections, in the light of the outcome, may possess some validity.

#15 PLaClair on Thursday October 01, 2009 at 8:28pm

Apparently this internecine mud-fight will have to run its course. Instead of maligning each other, why not get some data (what a concept!) about whether “Blasphemy Day” improved or diminished our public image. In my opinion, we weren’t served by “Blasphemy Day” and we certainly aren’t being served by continuing this squabbling under any circumstances, much less out in the open like this.

This sort of thing is one of the main reasons our movements do not make progress.

#16 Rebekah Bennetch on Thursday October 01, 2009 at 10:54pm

I’m a friend of the Centre (here in Saskatoon, Canada), a long-time listener of Point of Inquiry, long-time reader of Skeptical Inquirer, and a happily professed secular humanist. 

Yesterday when I took part in Blasphemy Day celebrations, it wasn’t just to poke fun at religion, but more to act out in a spirit of solidarity to support my secular brothers and sisters who live in countries where it isn’t possible for them to criticize/satirize/mock/or question religious dogmas.

Over the last few months, my confidence in CFI as an organization has been shaken by all this internal bickering that’s been aired out all over the internet.  While I’m not one to unreasonably put leaders on a pedestal, I always had a soft spot for what Dr. Kurtz has done for the secular movement—but now, I’m finding myself becoming more and more disappointed in how Dr. Kurtz has handled himself in these online discussions—whether here on the CFI blog or by voicing his dissent elsewhere on the internet. 

This last post of Dr. Kurtz’s appears to be more of an effort to tout his legacy than to reasonably address the concerns of Dr. Lindsay.  The fact that Dr. Kurtz resorted to listing his pedigree (which many here are already well aware of) I think shows just how bankrupt his response really was.

From the outside looking in, it’s just disappointing all around.

#17 Jerry Schwarz on Thursday October 01, 2009 at 11:44pm

I’m reminded of a old Tom Lehrer song intro that (from memory) goes: “The people defending pornography have to defend it on free speech grounds, but we all know what’s at stake; dirty books are fun.”

I feel the same way about blasphemy day.  Whatever high minded justification exists for it, many (I’m not onel) CFI supporters think insulting religion is fun.  And Blasphemy day is an outlet for that impulse.

Do we want to attract more such supporter?  Should CFI provide an outlet for them?  I thin Ron Lindsay would say yes to both those questions and Paul Kurz would say no. But I wouldn’t be surprised if both reject this description of their differences.

For me I would have been happier if the activities on blasphemy day had included more education about the state of blasphemy laws around the world and more directed action against those laws.

#18 Martin R (Guest) on Friday October 02, 2009 at 12:09am

Could I add a different perspective?

You’ve chosen the date of September 30 to mark the publication of the Danish cartoons. I can see why, given that’s what there has been most fuss about recently. And from a U.S. point of view, it may look simply like a free speech issue.

But let’s look again at the cartoon which caused particular offence - it was the one of Mohammed with a bomb in his turban. Not on the face of it a statement about suicide bombers - more an accusation against all Muslims. And, given that most Muslims world-wide do not actually support suicide bombing, a blatant lie.

In Europe we have active racist and fascist groups who are busily promoting this sort of hatred against Muslims. These are not people who are disinterested supporters of free speech - these are the same people who burn synagogues as well as mosques, desecrate Jewish cemeteries, and bomb gay pubs.

Yes, it was important to support free speech at the time the cartoon was published; but that episode is now over. Why choose September 30th rather than (for example) the anniversary of the publication of the Satanic Verses?

By promoting those cartoons as an exemplar of free speech, you are reviving the memory of a racist lie. And, like it or not, you are serving the interests of some very unpleasant and dangerous people.

#19 asanta on Friday October 02, 2009 at 1:04am

It is really inappropriate and detrimental to the image of CFI to have these kinds of back and forth accusations between two such widely respected leaders. Please stop.

#20 Will (Guest) on Friday October 02, 2009 at 1:27am

Just wanted to mention that I read all of these posts in comments in the person’s voices.

#21 Will (Guest) on Friday October 02, 2009 at 1:38am

My view:

1. There are clearly two differing definitions of “blasphemy” at use here. 

2. This would probably be a non-issue, but Ron and Paul have a real dislike for each other.  They seem to be using this as a chance to bash each other.

#22 asanta on Friday October 02, 2009 at 2:12am

@ Will re:#20 ROFLMAO! re:#21 I agree with your point #2,and this back and forth bickering is really unprofessional and sad. Please say what you have to say to each other privately, like adults, and stop dragging CFI through the mud.

#23 Damien on Friday October 02, 2009 at 9:45am

No evidence for the existence of god, no evidence for the existence of free will that I’ve ever seen.
No evidence for the existence of time travel, again, that I’ve ever seen. That seem to leave us humans and all other liveing things the current moment in which to act. Leaving god, freewill, and time travel out of the equation seems to leave physics via brain function doing the best it can in the current moment of our existence. Now comes the horror story of my post, the one no one want to hear about or talk about. “Punishment”, if that god thing and that freewill thing are left out punishment becomes irrational, non-rational, etc, etc.  If a person commits a harmful act against another they, the perpertrator are as much a victim as their victim.
If we punish them we are bring the old god/free will stuff in to the equation again and are therefor being non-rational again. Perpertrators of crimes may need to be restrained, perhaps even for life, but punishing seems to me to be non-rational.
All of the above is of course just my opinion. I just got frustrated and and needed to vent.
Which brings me at last finally to my point.
The people who are into are into Blasphemy Day are feeling the need to vent.  So what! Christians can be very frustrating and sometimes venting is the best way to get it off ones chest.  It’s better than hiting them over the head with sticks, or at least more rational.

#24 diogenes99 on Saturday October 03, 2009 at 7:02am

People say “use your rights or lose them.”

That’s what gun owners asserted when they brought guns to “use” their 2nd amendment rights at town hall meetings. I think this false assertion was used to support open megaphone and slogan blasphemy events. 

A slight modification makes the assertion true: “use your rights responsibly/thoughtfully and defend them rationally or lose them.”

#25 Jefferson Seaver on Saturday October 03, 2009 at 10:09am

The Center for Inquiry and Committee for Skeptical Inquiry have held annual “Superstition Bash” events for many years. These events feature skeptics skewering superstitious beliefs with activities such as Ladder Limbo, Dunk the Witch, Mis-fortune Telling, Mirror Smash, Homeopathic Juice Bar, and Pin the Big Nose on the Psychic. In my view, the Superstition Bash events closely parallel Blasphemy Day activities except that, if anything, they go further out of their way to ridicule superstitious beliefs and gain media attention.

I don’t recall any similar controversy over whether CFI/CSI should take the “high road” in speaking out about superstitious claims, stick to scientific critiques of pseudoscience, or avoid ridicule of patently ridiculous beliefs.

To the contrary, there is a photo of Paul Kurtz standing under a ladder and holding a sledgehammer to a mirror:

Imagine for a moment if Blasphemy Day had been called Religion Bash and Dr. Kurtz had been holding a sledge hammer to a stained glass window, or an ax to a cross. In saying this, I am not taking a position for or against Blasphemy Day or Superstition Bash, but I find it instructive that there is a tendency even in humanist/skeptic circles to afford more respect—or at least sensitivity—to superstitious religious claims than to other equally absurd beliefs.

#26 Reba Wooden (Guest) on Saturday October 03, 2009 at 6:02pm

“use your rights responsibly/thoughtfully and defend them rationally or lose them.”

Well said, Diogenes99.

#27 shonny on Sunday October 04, 2009 at 9:33am

A discussion like this (bickering, my ass!) is good for the CFI because it shows that people can have very different views within the same camp.
And having it out in the open is NOT detrimental to free speech, it is free speech.

I also thought that Kurtz’s appeal to authority and telling all he had done was rather misplaced. That added nothing of value to the discussion.

#28 DagoRed on Sunday October 04, 2009 at 2:14pm

Mr. Kurtz,

You are entirely wrong about this one issue.  If you cannot see the value of “atheist fundamentalism” (your term—it works for me) by now, you are relegating yourself to the pile of yesteryears humanist leaders already.  We are here to stay, whether you like it or not, and our tactics have had positive results.  As such, we have earned the right to redefine humanism in our terms.  Yes, we all have benefited from your lifelong work and we are also quite proud to sit upon your shoulders.  However, welcome to real life.  The past is only worth so much and your relevance today is being drawn into question here. No one likes people who merely rest upon their laurels and lobs complaints from their high balcony about how things used to be “better” in the past.

The bottom line is, the times are changing right now.  Your concept of taking “the high-road” is noted, still alive—but it is not the only tactic in the toolbox anymore.  You are completely right, it was the right thing for the day in which you were most active in the humanist movement.  You need to, however, recognize the changing face of humanism (which has responded to the changing face of religious fundamentalism).  It is more atheistic today.  It is more confrontational today.  Complaining about that is not going to change it. Deriding the newer, perhaps cruder tactics is merely going to alienate you from the movement you are the “father” of.  There is an intellectual position here that sees value in such “sophomoric” (as you call it) stunts and events as Blasphemy Day.  There is a track record, in fact, seen in most every poll showing a changing face of America toward more secularism.  We may argue about the causes for this, but to blindly think these so-called “sophomoric” efforts you know complain about as have nothing to do with it would be both unfounded and counter intuitive.

Moreover, you gain nothing by unfairly comparing this newer activism to Nazi’s or calling it sophomoric or fundamentalist when none of these terms are accurate.  Today’s tactics are merely different than yours.  Such comparisons, also, stand in stark contrast to your personal claims to taking a “high road”.  You seem only willing to take this high road with your enemies, but when it comes to criticizing your friends, you extend no such consideration?

The time has come for you to decide whether you are going to change with the times or drift off into a irrelevance.  You gain nothing arguing against the next generation of those who otherwise are fighting on your side.  By doing so you will see just how fast your decades of fine accomplishments are reduced to a stack of dusty books in a quiet and lonely part of the library. 

Regardless of your past, you still need to work just as hard to prove your relevance today as those younger leaders who think differently than you—otherwise you will find yourself with Michael Ruse, merely opining about the good ol’ days of humanism, when we were all so “sophisticated” and “civilized” rather than contributing anything relevant to the movement itself.

#29 Stefan Monsaureus (Guest) on Sunday October 04, 2009 at 5:13pm

DagoRed, in his last comment, is sadly conflating atheism and humanism. Atheist “fundamentalists” do little to advance humanism, even if they bring attention (and support) to a broader secularism. If organized humanism aligns too closely with the so-called New Atheists, it will have descended into irrelevance. Maybe after the newly ermergent atheist activists have finished de-converting the masses, we can get back to the business of articulating a positive philosophical and ethical stance.

#30 DagoRed on Sunday October 04, 2009 at 7:56pm

“sadly conflating atheism and humanism”

I am not conflating them, I am saying that the overlap has simply increased and people need to learn to deal with it rather than simply bitch about it. It’s quite ironic to hear from someone who wants to “get back to the business of articulating a positive philosophical and ethical stance” yet they can’t even accomplish this when dealing with a minor demographic change within their own camp.  Your derision of the atheists here is simply contemptible.  If anything will cause humanism to “descended into irrelevance” it will be negative attitudes like yours.

#31 drkoepsell on Sunday October 04, 2009 at 10:44pm

CFI has managed to survive through dissenting opinions before, about the Danish cartoons for instance when I was Executive Director of CSH.  The article linked to above was Kurtz’s reply to my opinion then, which is here:

Many disagreed with me then, and quite a number agreed.  CFI came through these disagreements as they should have, stronger for having had a decent, intelligent argument expressing heartfelt and reasonable opinions.  The ideas behind CFI are strong enough to tolerate dissent within the organization as long as it is expressed with mutual respect for the sincerity and good intentions of the speakers.  I hope Ron and Paul will keep this in mind, I know they both will keep the organization’s aims and future foremost, and trust they will set aside the hard feelings that seem to underlie this discussion.

It ain’t the apocalypse, people!

#32 Stefan Monsaureus (Guest) on Monday October 05, 2009 at 3:15am

DagoRed is clearly confusing (not merely conflating) atheism and humanism, and treating them as two warring factions on the verge of a schism. There is no demographic change - the vast majority of humanists (and certainly almost all who consider themselves ‘secular’ humanists) are and have been atheists. There is no derision toward atheists intended (or apparent) in my earlier message. The fact remains, though, that humanism has an identity separate and apart from its rejection of theism; that is, the two terms are not interchangeable. If organized humanism becomes nothing more than another brand of organized atheism, the humanist philosophy will become irrelevant.

Please read and try to understand the above before bitching about it.

#33 PLaClair on Monday October 05, 2009 at 4:56am

The discussion long ago lost focus on what is good for CFI and other secular and humanist organizations, and our movements in general.

Where’s the beef? (Where are the data?)

#34 DagoRed on Monday October 05, 2009 at 7:11am

Stephan Monsaureus,

You once again have completely mis-characterized my position and you are merely pointing out obvious facts that aren’t under contention.  Care to try again?

#35 Stu Jordan (Guest) on Wednesday October 07, 2009 at 2:49pm

The three Blogs stimulated by Blasphemy Day have made it clear there are two different visions for how the CFI should address the issue of church-state separation.  Those of one view argue the time is right for vigorously advancing atheism as a major step toward fostering a secular society.  The other side fears that this approach is likely to be counterproductive, by alienating many of the tolerant religious who are often our social and political allies.  I want to propose a possible resolution of these clearly different visions for the CFI.  I suppose this could be called an attempt at compromise.

While having already offered arguments favoring more the second option given above, I acknowledge the correctness of the argument that there have been some recent fundamental changes in our society to which we need to accommodate or be left behind.  In addition, there is little doubt that the younger generation of atheists has largely absorbed these changes and often prefers a more confrontational approach to issues of concern to them, along with a preference for the new electronically based modes of communication, over the more traditional ones we older members have mastered.  Thus the question becomes can this be accommodated productively, while not allowing the process to undermine our social and political effectiveness with the greater society, which remains somewhat addicted to the religious tradition, or without allowing the new “fast-track” media to overwhelm our ability to continue engaging in sober analyses and careful strategic assessments.

Is it possible that supporters of the CFI could cooperate within the organization, while recognizing the need to present two different faces of the organization to the public, depending on the activity in question?  To give one example, this would allow those Centers that wish to celebrate activities like Blasphemy Day to do so freely, while those functions of the organization that have a more political face would not require members to actively promote a purely atheist message.  It would give members involved in the latter activities the freedom to adapt to the more nuanced situations that will arise in many social and political encounters, while still honoring their commitment to secular humanism, or even their personal atheism if asked.  I have found this flexible approach to work rather well, and think we are all intelligent enough to implement it in different venues.  This approach has the further virtue that it adheres to the basic broadly defined principles of the organization without tying the hands of the members by forcing them into a narrow box where “one size fits all;” i.e., the sort of thing that many religions try to do with their members.  Of course this assumes that the members of the CFI are intelligent secular humanists who all embrace the basic goals of the organization: church-state separation, science and reason, and humanist ethics.  But isn’t this true?

I think this approach might address many of the concerns expressed in the three blogs that have emerged in response to Blasphemy Day.  It might even find resonance in most of the statements made by both Richard Dawkins in support of the new atheism and Eugenie Scott, whose public role is more attuned to the ground truth of dealing with a society still heavily saturated with religion and not likely to abandon it quickly.  The way in which the hippies and SDC radicals helped drive the American middle class into the hands of Reagan and the two Bushes definitely supports Genies’ analysis.  Yet Dawkins is a marvelous teacher, and atheism is clearly reaching more of the young.  Perhaps we can do both, if we are smart about it.  I think it’s worth a try.

#36 diogenes99 on Wednesday October 07, 2009 at 3:14pm

Stu Jordan:  My objection to certain Blasphemy Day events is not based on my squeamishness about confrontation.  I support confrontation that involves rational debate or dialectic. I reject confrontation that involves mere assertion of belief, psychological pressure, stigma, rhetoric, and other nonrational means of persuasion.  Waterboarding or giving out free chocolate might win many converts to atheism or secular humanism, and might be justified in someone’s utilitarian calculation, but the goal is to move everyone past inflicting and falling victim to nonrational persuasion.  If the “young atheists” enjoy nonrational confrontation, then they should not be accommodated, rather they need to be educated or directed to groups that make it their specialty.

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