Remembering Paul Kurtz

Paul Kurtz was a founder and a leader, more so than anyone else I have ever known. Before there were the new atheists and their best-selling books, there was Paul Kurtz promoting humanism and skepticism through his many publications and institutions.

When I first met Paul Kurtz in the early 1990s at a meeting of the Council for Secular Humanism (CSH), I was enthralled by his presentation in support of living a good and reasoned life without religion. Paul presented thoughtful arguments that described why such a philosophy would benefit humankind. As a skeptic, I pride myself in finding reasons to disagree at least on minor points with any speaker, so I was a little scared that I found none. I had thought that only religious people accepted 100 percent of what they hear from a leader. As a consequence, I became a strong supporter of Kurtz—and a regional director of the Council for Secular Humanism.

CSH was the only nontheistic organization I had known about, and its fine magazine Free Inquiry was the only such publication I had encountered. Prometheus Books, another creation of Paul Kurtz, was the only publisher I knew that was devoted to books about Freethought.

As I became more engaged in the secular movement, I began to agree with Paul Kurtz less than 100 percent of the time (a sign that I’m not religious, perhaps), and Kurtz became upset with me when I joined the board of the American Humanist Association (AHA). Both CSH and AHA seemed to be fine organizations worthy of my support, but I soon learned about their divisive history. Kurtz had been on the board of AHA and was the editor of the Humanist magazine, which was published by AHA. After Kurtz and the AHA parted ways in 1978 on less than friendly terms, Kurtz founded the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, the Council for Secular Humanism, and the Center for Inquiry.

Unfortunately, relations got worse before they got better. Kurtz had been a major contributor to Humanist Manifesto II in 1973, a better and more secular document than the Humanist Manifesto of 1933. Around 2000, both Kurtz and the AHA thought it was about time for Humanist Manifesto III, but who had the right to write it? Both sides threatened lawsuits, and I urged both Kurtz and the AHA to consider how damaging such a lawsuit would be to our movement—regardless of who was in the right.

Read remainder of article at the Washington Post's OnFaith.

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