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Paul Kurtz - A Kinder, Gentler Secularism
Posted: 15 October 2009 07:56 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Paul Kurtz is founder and chair emeritus of the Center for Inquiry and founder of a number of other organizations. A Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, he is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Buffalo, chairman of the Committee for the Skeptical Inquiry, the Council for Secular Humanism, and Prometheus Books. He is the author or editor of almost fifty books, including The New Skepticism: Inquiry and Reliable Knowledge. Throughout the last four decades, Kurtz has been a leading defender of science and reason against the prevailing cults of irrationality in our society, and has been interviewed widely in the media on a wide range of subjects, including alternative medicine and communication with the dead, to the historicity of Jesus and parapsychology.

In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Paul Kurtz argues against associating secular humanism with atheism and explains whether or not he himself is an atheist. He reviews the history of the word “agnostic,” and shows how it “is not a creed but a method.” He explains why he is skeptical of the claims of theism. He denies that atheism is a necessary condition of secular humanism. He describes what he considers as the third “categorical imperative.” He explains why he considers some atheist activists to be “fundamentalist atheists,” arguing that their anti-religious stance stems from “being bruised” by religion.  He talks about why he is against CFI’s support of the International Blasphemy Day, and why why it is “blasphemous to the whole humanist outlook” and are contrary to the “civc virtues of democracy.”

http://www.pointofinquiry.org

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Posted: 15 October 2009 02:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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My impression from this show is that CFI has had a fundamental values shift.

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Posted: 15 October 2009 08:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Progress, evolution, or just smart?  wink

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Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful. - Seneca (ca. 4 BC –AD 65)

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Posted: 16 October 2009 05:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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gray1 - 15 October 2009 08:37 PM

Progress, evolution, or just smart?  wink

Adaptive evolution.  However, it leaves the former niche unoccupied.

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Posted: 16 October 2009 07:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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It seems that those who promote Blasphemy Day were following Paul Kurtz dictum to the letter: Tailor your message to the moment.

When Dr. K. was in dialogue with the Vatican, of course the situation called for seeking common ground.

But when artists’, publishers’, and diplomats’ lives were threatened because a Danish cartoonist depicted a centuries-dead Arab, Dr. Kurtz published those cartoons in full support of the right to do so.

Free speech now faces new, even more worrisome challenges: new restrictions are coming with government saber rattling. This is the impetus of Blasphemy Day in 2009, just like the riots in the Middle East made publishing the Danish cartoons sensible in 2006. In the past year, the Irish Parliament criminalized blasphemy and the UN Human Rights Commission has urged all other countries to do the same. The laws in many Islamic countries allow for the death penalty as punishment for blasphemy. In Pakistan, such laws give have given succor to religious vigilantes who’ve committed mass murder over simple rumors of blasphemy.

Let’s help the fundamentalists get used to it. One supreme point of Blasphemy Day is to reduce the seriousness with which anti-religious statements are treated. The public benefits from being desensitized to such statements, and from recognizing that no one dies or is in any way hurt when someone thinks their belief or lack of belief is nutty. Just like public displays of affection, blasphemy should be taken in stride (or with nothing more than a roll of the eyes) as an celebrated element of our free society.

[ Edited: 16 October 2009 07:09 AM by NH Baritone ]
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People often argue over the term “god” without defining it. It is almost as if they are using the same term to refer both to a penguin and to a quiche. While both may contain eggs, that’s hardly their most salient characteristic.

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Posted: 16 October 2009 07:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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NH Baritone - 16 October 2009 07:07 AM

When Dr. K. was in dialogue with the Vatican, of course the situation called for seeking common ground.
But when artists’, publishers’, and diplomats’ lives were threatened because a Danish cartoonist depicted a centuries-dead Arab, Dr. Kurtz published those cartoons in full support of the right to do so.

If the Pope was blowing things up, and someone drew a cartoon of him, and then the Catholic Church put out death threats against the cartoonist, then I suppose Dr. Kurtz would act in the same manner as he did with the Danish cartoonist.  I really don’t see your point.

In its own defense of blasphemy day, the new CFI has combined several senses of blasphemy into one, and declared them all worthwhile.  Dr. Kurtz was trying to make distinctions, but the new CFI’s proposed all-inclusive definition pretends to imply a contradiction in Kurtz’s positions.  Another false position taken by the new CFI is that all expressed disrespect or mocking of ideas and beliefs is not the same as disrespect for or injury to persons who hold them.  However, if one mocks the self-identity of people publicly, then the intent is for those people (a) to not engage in dialogue and (b) to react with shame or anger.  The new CFI seems to miss this point completely, that an attack on ideas in some contexts is an attack on persons.

The new values shift at CFI has more to do with the passions than with reason.  The exuberance and energy of the new atheists has inspired atheists groups to stand tall and proud, and it ihas moved groups whose members have similar concerns (like CFI) to adopt new attitudes and approaches. 

While some see this new face of CFI as a mark of solidarity with other groups and perhaps a sign of new power and certainty among the nonreligious, I see it is as loss of diversity among the groups.  I am truly mourning the loss.  I hope to find a group whose concerns and approaches track more closely with Kurtz’s vision.

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Posted: 16 October 2009 08:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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NHBaritone-

Let’s help the fundamentalists get used to it. One supreme point of Blasphemy Day is to reduce the seriousness with which anti-religious statements are treated. The public benefits from being desensitized to such statements, and from recognizing that no one dies or is in any way hurt when someone thinks their belief or lack of belief is nutty. Just like public displays of affection, blasphemy should be taken in stride (or with nothing more than a roll of the eyes) as an celebrated element of our free society.

Bingo!! Excellent point-one I’ve also stated here at times.
We lose when the public enforces a contrived, traditional sense of reverence towards wing-nuts like Hare-Krishnas, or even followers of a religion whose symbol is a man nailed to a cross, bleeding.

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Row row row your boat gently down the stream.  Merrily Merrily merrily merrily life is but a dream!

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Posted: 16 October 2009 08:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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One should at least be thankful to fate (if that’s all he has) to have been born in a country which allows open mockery of traditional values and beliefs.  The danger remains that the sum total of “wing-nuts” might just constitute a majority opinion as well as majority vote.  In other words, the worm that finally turns might turn out to be a really big snake.  That said, I suggest that CFI as an institution should remain quite civil in all aspects of dealings and leave the petty mean spiritedness to various individuals who seem so capable.  I think that is what Mr. Kurtz is saying.

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Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful. - Seneca (ca. 4 BC –AD 65)

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Posted: 16 October 2009 09:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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gray1 - 16 October 2009 08:46 AM

One should at least be thankful to fate (if that’s all he has) to have been born in a country which allows open mockery of traditional values and beliefs.  The danger remains that the sum total of “wing-nuts” might just constitute a majority opinion as well as majority vote.  In other words, the worm that finally turns might turn out to be a really big snake.  That said, I suggest that CFI as an institution should remain quite civil in all aspects of dealings and leave the petty mean spiritedness to various individuals who seem so capable.  I think that is what Mr. Kurtz is saying.

Good points Gray1. Just remember that we need to objectively decide what is mean spirited, and not apply prejudiced, contextual ideas of “spirited” predicated on that age-old idea of reverential cult of institutionalism.
Because all too often, commentary, or observations of the “religious” are seen as “mean spirited”, or low brow, or “sacrilegious”, when actually it is only an objective view of an item which is illogical.

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Row row row your boat gently down the stream.  Merrily Merrily merrily merrily life is but a dream!

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Posted: 16 October 2009 01:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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diogenes99 - 16 October 2009 07:58 AM

  While some see this new face of CFI as a mark of solidarity with other groups and perhaps a sign of new power and certainty among the nonreligious, I see it is as loss of diversity among the groups.  I am truly mourning the loss.  I hope to find a group whose concerns and approaches track more closely with Kurtz’s vision.

Are you Dr. Kurtz’ son?  cheese

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Church; where sheep congregate to worship a zombie on a stick that turns into a cracker on Sundays…

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Posted: 16 October 2009 02:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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asanta - 16 October 2009 01:52 PM

Are you Dr. Kurtz’ son?  cheese

No. I live in Tn.

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Posted: 16 October 2009 04:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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I think D.J. Grothe, in his response questioning, got it right. Paul Kurtz is indeed an atheist, he just doesn’t like defining himself as such, to the extent he won’t even admit he’s one (yet he’ll admit he’s a non theist).

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Posted: 16 October 2009 04:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Michael De Dora Jr. - 16 October 2009 04:25 PM

I think D.J. Grothe, in his response questioning, got it right. Paul Kurtz is indeed an atheist, he just doesn’t like defining himself as such, to the extent he won’t even admit he’s one (yet he’ll admit he’s a non theist).

I disagree.  On a recent trip to Sweden, I discussed this issue with a few people who did not believe in god.  They claimed they were not atheists.  I think it is one of those slippery words, and Dr. Kurtz is being sensitive to the multiple meanings and wishes to avoid misunderstandings.  His self-identity is not rejection of god, but affirmation of the good life.

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Posted: 16 October 2009 05:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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In my view the “Danish cartoons” affair was intended from the beginning as a reactionary, racist provocation.

It went on to serve the War Party’s agenda of stampeding liberals and repentent former leftists toward the utterly fraudulent narrative of ‘freedom vs. isalmofascism’. I was sorry, though not entirely surprised, to see CFI get behind that effort. The support for ‘Blasphemy Day’ seems to be a further step in that direction.

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Posted: 16 October 2009 05:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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diogenes99 - 16 October 2009 04:35 PM
Michael De Dora Jr. - 16 October 2009 04:25 PM

I think D.J. Grothe, in his response questioning, got it right. Paul Kurtz is indeed an atheist, he just doesn’t like defining himself as such, to the extent he won’t even admit he’s one (yet he’ll admit he’s a non theist).

I disagree.  On a recent trip to Sweden, I discussed this issue with a few people who did not believe in god.  They claimed they were not atheists.  I think it is one of those slippery words, and Dr. Kurtz is being sensitive to the multiple meanings and wishes to avoid misunderstandings.  His self-identity is not rejection of god, but affirmation of the good life.

I don’t care what they claim. They’re without religion or God. They’re atheists. Using it or not is another matter.

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Posted: 16 October 2009 05:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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While atheism may be defined as anti-theism, non-theism, or a few other shades of meaning, I see the general concept as one that doesn’t accept the existence of one or more gods.  I see Humanism as a humanistic, humane, human centered philosophy, different from any of the versions of atheist, even though many of the former also fit into the idea of the latter.  However, once we stick the adjective “secular” in front of humanist, we’ve sort of shifted the discussion in a manner such that the two word term seems to include at least one of the meanings of atheism. 

If Kurtz has stuck with Humanism I wolud have agreed with his contention, but once Secular is there, I see him as trying to force the meanings he likes onto words that don’t match them.

Occam

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