My encounter with Paul Kurtz

by Innaiah Narisetti

Although the first time I met Paul Kurtz in 1992 at the Center for Inquiry Headquarters in Buffalo, NY, he was an icon in India and in several parts of world well before that. He toured India a couple of times prior to this, but unfortunately I missed him then. During my first visit to the US, Paul invited me to meet him; he received me heartily and I spent the whole day with him exchanging views and discussing a wide-range of topics. During this meeting, he inquired if I could work for CFI by opening a center in India. That was a new role and task for me but I accepted the challenge wholeheartedly, to his delight. Soon after, Paul introduced me to the staff and colleagues in the center; there I met Mr. Tom Flynn, D J Grothe, Tim Madigan and a few others for the first time--it was a very pleasant encounter.

Paul provided me with literature and magazines for the center in India. I kept my promise and opened the CFI branch in India with its headquarters in South Indian city Hyderabad and other chapters in Pune and Delhi to start with. We worked with several humanist, rationalist, and atheist organizations to organize seminars, symposia, discussions and meetings. Since then, the center has established its name and grown beyond its early roots. Throughout this growth, Paul gave me advice and relevant literature to help the process.

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The Neo-humanism of Paul Kurtz

Presented by Harold W.Wood, Jr.

at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Visalia

August 29, 2010

Paul Kurtz – one of America’s leading humanists, the author of several editions of the “Humanist Manifesto” has often been called —”the father of secular humanism.” As a member of the American Humanist Association, and a long-time editor of its magazine, The Humanist, he contributed to the writing of Humanist Manifesto II in 1973, which was an update on the original 1933 document. Before Kurtz embraced the term "secular humanism," which had received wide publicity through fundamentalist Christians in the 1980s, humanism was more widely perceived as a religion that did not include the supernatural. This can be seen in the first article of the original Humanist Manifesto in 1933 which refers to "Religious Humanists," by the major development of humanism as a religious philosophy which began to be taught in Unitarian Universalists theological seminaries in the 40s and 50s, and by Charles and Clara Potter's influential 1930 book Humanism: A New Religion. But there has been recent controversy among the ranks of the secular humanists. In May of 2010, Dr. Paul Kurtz, resigned from the Center for Inquiry, the world’s foremost secular humanist organization, which he founded in 1991. Kurtz’s resignation stems from both managerial and philosophical disagreements with the direction of CFI. One of the reasons is this: in 2009, the Center for Inquiry announced “Blasphemy Day,” which established September 30th “as a day to promote free speech and to stand up in a show of solidarity for the freedom to challenge, criticize, and satirize religion without fear of murder, litigation, or reprisal.” The announcement of this event was met with mixed reactions in the humanist community.

Among the most vocal critics of “Blasphemy Day” was Kurtz. He wrote at the time: The celebrating of “Blasphemy Day” by the Center for Inquiry by sponsoring a contest encouraging new forms of blasphemy, I believe is most unwise. It betrays the civic virtues of democracy. I support the premise that religion should be open to the critical examination of its claims, like all other institutions in society. I do have serious reservations about the forms that these criticisms take. 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.

Another of the off-shoots from this controversy is Paul Kurtz is now leading the way to not only promote greater tolerance, but to support the “greening” of humanism. Paul Kurz and other leading humanists are now advocating a new statement for modern humanism, called “Neo-humanism.” Their recently issued document, largely written by Dr. Kurtz, is entitled the “NEO-HUMANIST STATEMENT OF SECULAR PRINCIPLES AND VALUES: PERSONAL, PROGRESSIVE, AND PLANETARY. So far, this new statement is being signed by dozens of leading humanists, skeptics, and free-thinkers, though of course not by many in the “New Atheists” movement or some of the more traditional humanists. Despite his use of the term “secular,” this statement calls for an ongoing relationship with the world’s religions, rather than outright rejection of them. I find these statements to be much closer to the philosophy of Unitarian Universalism than the current Humanist Manifestos I, II, or III. In fact, among the signers of the Neo-Humanism Statement include some of our leading UU Humanists, including William R Murray, Unitarian Minister, Past President and Dean of Meadville Lombard Theological School, David Schafer, President, UU Hmanists Association (Unitarian Universalist Humanists), and by Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow who many of us know through his speaking events here – the author of Thank God for Evolution. This form of neo-humanism clearly represents a major evolution of “humanist teachings,” which is part of our Fifth Source. For example, among the first 16 points in Paul Kurz sixteen recommendations for neo-humanists is this



1. aspire to be more inclusive by appealing to both non-religious and religious humanists and to religious believers who share common goals;

2. are critical of theism;

3. are best defined by what they are for, not what they are against.

The statement on Neo-humanism acknowledges the traditional split between Religious Believers and atheists, but points out that a black and white approach of opposition between these two camps is neither realistic nor productive. The statement on Neo-humanism recognizes, “the community of religious dissenters includes not only atheists, but secular and religious humanists, agnostics, skeptics, and even a significant number of religiously affiliated individuals.” The statement recognizes “Among the self-described religious humanists, we may find people identified with liberal Protestant denominations and Unitarian Universalists, secular Jews, lapsed Catholics, Muslims, or Hindus. Although they are naturalistic humanists rather than super naturalists and do not believe in a transcendent God, they wish to encourage a new humanist cultural identity based primarily on ethical ideals that are humanistic.” Just like traditional Humanists, Neo-Humanists “wish to use critical thinking, evidence, and reason to evaluate claims to knowledge.” But neo-humanists go further. In Kurtz recommendations include the following key components, which again I find to be more in the camp of UUism than in traditional Humanism, tying in our same principles of social justice and for environmental protection flowing out of our respect for the inter-dependent web of all existence:


11. accept responsibility for the well-being of society, guaranteeing various rights, including those of women, racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities; and supporting education, health care, gainful employment, and other social benefits;

13. advocate population restraint, environmental protection, and the protection of other species.

The Neo-Humanist statement goes considerably beyond the previous Humanist Manifestos by stating: “We have an obligation to future generations yet unborn, and a moral responsibility to ecohumanism; namely, a loving care and concern for our planet and life on it.”  For those of us who accept and value the findings of science, yet find spiritual inspiration in scientific knowledge and the scientific method, I find this final quote I want to make from the Neo-humanist Statement to perhaps go even one step beyond our 7th principle of respect for the inter-dependent web of all existence: “Among the highest virtues that we can cultivate is some reverence for nature, and an appreciation of the bounty that it affords for the human and other species.”  Surely our study of the seven quintillion five quadrillion grains of sand on earth, and knowing, as  Carl Sagan said "The total number of stars in the Universe is larger than all the grains of sand on all the beaches of the planet Earth" helps us realize the science is not merely a source of scientific information and technology, but something that helps us cultivate a sense of wonder and even reverence for the mystery of the Universe.



Unbelievers claim a new label for friendly skeptics -- 'Neo Humanist'

Meet the newborn Neo Humanists.


That's a label offered up by Paul Kurtz, the original founder of the secular-humanist Center for Inquiry in 1991, who recently broke from his own group over issues of "inclusivity."


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Secular Humanist Takes On New Atheism

Richard Dawkins

March 23, 2010 -- Concerned that his positive vision of humanism is being threatened and perhaps eclipsed with a new brand of acerbic atheism, Paul Kurtz has drafted and released just this week a new "Neo-Humanist Statement of Secular Values and Principles."

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“Neo-Humanist” statement calls for a global parliament


UNPA: Neo-Humanist Statement calls for a global parliament


The Weekly E-Book Reading List - 9/24/2011

Superheroes: The Best of Philosophy and Pop Culture edited by William Irwin

Alex’s Review: by Alex Knapp, Contributing Author

As appeared in Forbes Magazine

This is a compilation of the “best of” essays from the various superhero books in the Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture series. I’ve read a few books like this and have a couple on the shelves. Being a fan of both superheroes and philosophy, it wasn’t hard to like this book. For me, though, there were three standout essays, two of which were both by Professor Mark D. White, aka the Comics Professor. The first is “Captain America and the Virtue of Modesty” by Mark D. White, which explores how modesty and honesty can be reconciled, especially for someone with superpowers. The other White essay that I really enjoyed was “Why Doesn’t Batman Kill the Joker?” which is an excellent analysis the the issue from both utilitarian and deontological perspectives. It even managed to use the Trolley Problem in a way that didn’t make me want to throw the Kindle across the room. (For the record, I consider the Trolley Problem to be one of the most ridiculous, pointless, unenlightening thought experiments in ethical philosophy. I should write an essay on that one day.)

But for me, the gem of the book was the essay “Does Peter Parker Have a Good Life?” by Neil Mussett, which explores the question of the Meaning of Life in the context of Spider-Man, using viewpoints from the secular humanist Paul Kurtz, Objectivist Ayn Rand, Stoic Epictetus, Psychologist Viktor Frankl and Saint Thomas Aquinas. It’s a really fabulous read and one of the best pop culture/philosophy essays I’ve read, period.

All in all, it was a really fun read. And best of all, right now it’s free!





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