Over at the Centre for Inquiry…

Update: Since this post appeared, Paul Kurtz has resigned as chair emeritus of the Center for Inquiry, from his seat on the board, and from editorship of the flagship periodicals, Skeptical Inquirer and Free Inquiry. This is the tragic denouement of a tragic fall, but one out of which grace may yet appear. Sad that our primary cipher for such a process is a religious one–the crucifixion–but it’s perhaps in circumstances like this that we learn to comprehend the power and subtlety of the religious symbol.

A debate is going on between the puissant professor Paul Kurtz and the unillustrious Ronald A. Lindsay, his replacement if not his successor.

Let me be the first to call for Mr Lindsay’s resignation.

In little more than two years, he has driven the organization deeply into debt, reduced both the prestige and intellectual capital of a once-serious contender to be the best humanist and secularist organization in the world, tried to use the CFI “pulpit” for his own narrow range of interests, basically First Amendment issues–and at some point in the near future will probably sell the whole kit and caboodle to a more stable organization, like Americans United. He will then wash his hands of the whole matter having mergered what he could not accomplish.

He is abetted in this by a board that wants the organization to heal itself, an interesting attitude from people who don’t believe in the paranormal, and co-workers who would have trouble finding executive positions at a sardine factory.

In the end, this debate is not about Kurtz v Lindsay (with interjections from onlookers like me and D J Grothe) but about vision.

There are a dozen organizations, more or less, that do what Mr Lindsay wants done. There are a number of adherents that want a full frontal atheist position from CFI, and an equal number that share what Mr Lindsay interprets to be the “political stance” of CFI–though that stance recedes daily into obscurity, if it was ever coherent to begin with.

CFI would be very foolish indeed to untether itself from its roots in the American secular and democratic form of humanism. But it needs to be asserted that the American form of humanism has been about tolerance, not ridicule–sophisticated critique of religion and dogma, not mockery.

It is fundamentally rude, wrong and treacherous to trade Paul Kurtz’s mentoring captaincy for a bunch of drunken sailors who think they know how to steer the ship. Clearly they don’t. The rocks are in view.

Let me also say, to Paul Kurtz and his defenders: Come away. The mission you are on, the game plan you are following, the chart you are looking at, is being invented day by day. Gertrude Stein could tell you: there is no there there, anymore than God is in his heaven.

It’s a plan at the mercy of every opportunistic wind, every atheist bestseller, every publicity stunt and anti-religious brainstorm that comes down the pike. There is no strategy here, just a weekly ad hocism that focuses on what lawsuit to join or what headline to chase.

True, CFI has always had an interest in being heard in the area of First Amendment matters. But that has always been a sidelight, not the headlight.

For my own part, I urge everyone who has an interest in the future of CFI to support Paul in pursuing the greater lights of his conscience and vision.

Call it what you will,humanism is too important a quest to be left to small minds who now only seem interested in perpetuating their incompetent blundering by challenging his advice, his wisdom and criticism.

Free inquiry? Give me a break.


14 thoughts on “Over at the Centre for Inquiry…

  1. So Lindsay is the wolf after all. How do you support Kurtz? The CFI is full of bad eggs now and has a bad name. Will Kurtz start something fresh or isn’t that realistic? Plenty of people have appreciated his vision, as demonstrated in the willingness to sign the Neo-Humanist Statement of Secular Principles and Values. What now?

  2. I ran across this blog while searching for reaction to Kurtz’s resignation. Although I attended the big CFI meeting in 2005 (if I recall), I’ve never been a member and haven’t been following the internal politics closely. I don’t think it’s an accident that I’ve been paying little attention to CFI lately, except for feeling that their Blasphemy Contest was unbelievably sophomoric: so many voices in skeptical/nontheist circles have moved in to fill the needed niche of sane, reasonable, welcoming community (Derek and Swoopy, the Skeptics Guide crew, DJ Grothe with his podcast and recent move to JREF, Phil Plait…).

    it needs to be asserted that the American form of humanism has been about tolerance, not ridicule–sophisticated critique of religion and dogma, not mockery. Yes indeed. Probably not coincidentally, I’ve just finished Rebecca Newberger Goldstein’s 36 Arguments for the Existence of God, which sits squarely in that tradition. So I wasn’t surprised to learn today, reading Paul K’s Neo-Humanist manifesto for the first time (like I said, I’ve been out of the loop with CFI), that she was a signatory.

  3. I came here as a result of finding a piece of newsprint regarding claims made here that Mr. Kurtz was “ousted”. In the newspiece, CSI states that he was not, and that “Joe was not there”.

    Interesting, that the original article the link lead to here is gone.

    At any rate, I’ve never much cared for the mechanisms behind any of these groups. It’s the results that matter.

  4. Atheism sells, Humanism has been hijacked by them for its clothes, and the money changes hands in the temple. Britain and the US are both seriously conflicted over religion, not the least of which is the puerile atheist component stirring the pot.

    It is up to Humanists to boycott religious acrimony and antipathy, and instead evolve an “inclusive sensibility for our species, planet and lives.”

    It is Kurtz’ word “secular” that created this tar pit, and ironic that this distinction became the confusing millstone that it is today.

    True Humanists must move on under their own command.

    • you’ve described that perfectly and you’re absolutely right. It’s the ‘secular’ that has become the millstone round humanism’s neck and opened the floodgates to all the bullyish atheisms that have given birth to the new ‘Humanisms’ today.

  5. @ Dwight Jones: I agree with everything you have stated about the new atheists having hijacked the humanist movement. It should be noted that Paul Kurtz has now abandoned the secular in humanism, as he too has come to realize that the emphasis fell on the secular and not the humanism.

    • I notice you too have dropped the ‘secular’ and picked up ‘naturalistic’ – is that what Paul Kurtz has done too? And what does ‘naturalistic’ suggest? I was wondering why humanism has to be qualified with any adjective, that’s all.

  6. Pingback: Paul Kurtz Resigns from Center For Inquiry

  7. I wonder whether you’ve heard about Michael Paulkovich, who published an article recently in Free Inquiry in which he claims to have pored over the works of 126 authors who “should’ve” mentioned Jesus if he existed, but didn’t.



    I know there’s no danger of any serious scholar in Biblical studies or “the relevant fields” taking Paulkovich seriously, but who know how many world-renowned biologists and assorted laypeople might?

    I find it appalling that this sort of thing is published in Free Inquiry, but then again I haven’t been reading it regularly lately, and for all I know, this is just par for the course.

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