The Center for Inquiry responds to the claims made by Paul Kurtz

| October 22, 2010 | 3 Replies

Until May 18, 2010, Paul Kurtz was a member of the boards of the the Center for Inquiry, the Council for Secular Humanism and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. He was also the Editor in Chief of CSH’s flagship publication, Free Inquiry. On May 18, 2010, these three organizations announced that Kurtz had resigned from each of these boards and as Editor in Chief.

At my request, Kurtz agreed to an interview, which I published here at Dangerous Intersection on October 2, 2010. On the day I published Kurtz’ interview, I invited the Center for Inquiry to respond. A few days later, I was contacted by Ron Lindsay, President and CEO of CFI.  Lindsay agreed to an interview of the same general format (both of these were written interviews and both were guided by about 20 questions from me. What follows is my interview with Ron Lindsay:

EV: What attracted you to join CFI? Briefly describe your association with CFI.

RL: For over 25 years, the Center for Inquiry or its affiliates have been an important part of my life. (CFI itself was not founded until 1991.) In 1983 or 1984, I became acquainted with the Council for Secular Humanism and its publication, Free Inquiry. (Paul Kurtz had contacted me about representing the Council in a church-state lawsuit.) Once I became familiar with the Council, I found myself in agreement with the approach that the organization took on key issues. In particular, I agreed that religion should not be spared from critical examination and that it was important to develop and foster a humanistic ethics, that is, a naturalistic ethics based on human interests. I’ve considered myself a secular humanist, as well as an atheist, ever since.

I did volunteer legal work for the Council and CFI over the next 20 years or so. I also had about a dozen articles published in Free Inquiry and was listed as a contributing editor or senior editor. I also served on the board of directors for the Council for roughly four years. (I believe I served from 1988 until 1992 or 1993.)

In March or April of 2006, Paul Kurtz contacted me regarding the opening of CFI’s Washington, D.C. office, and he asked me to assist the office in its work. I told him that might be difficult because I was in the process of leaving my law firm to take an in-house position with a corporation, and the corporation probably would not permit pro bono work for CFI or its affiliates. Paul then asked me to consider working for CFI as its in-house lawyer. We both understood that CFI could not pay me anywhere near what I would earn elsewhere, but I decided to accept this offer because of my commitment to the work of the organization. I thought that at this point in my life—I was 53 at the time—, I could sacrifice income to pursue an opportunity to work full-time on causes to which I was personally dedicated.

I worked in the D.C. office starting in July of 2006, and Paul Kurtz then promoted me to various positions. First, he made me a vice president; he then appointed me to CFI’s Executive Committee; and finally, he appointed me to the position of executive director for the Council for Secular Humanism. I did not request any of these positions, so presumably these appointments reflected Paul Kurtz’s confidence in my abilities and my dedication to secular humanism.

Then, on or about June 26, 2008, the board of directors (including Paul Kurtz) offered me the position of president and CEO. I have held this position since that time.

EV: Why is Paul Kurtz no longer a Board member of CFI, CSH, or CSI? Why is he no longer editor-in-chief of Free Inquiry?

RL: Paul Kurtz voluntarily resigned from his positions with CFI and all its affiliates, including his position as editor-in-chief of Free Inquiry. His email announcing his resignation from these positions stated that he was resigning because he believed he did not have any “effective authority in these organizations.” His resignation announcement made no reference to being placed under duress. Any suggestion that Paul Kurtz was forced to resign or was “expelled” is without factual support. No one who has made such a claim has ever provided any specifics regarding who supposedly pressured Paul Kurtz to resign, what pressure was applied, when the pressure was applied, and so forth. The myth of Paul Kurtz’s expulsion or ouster from CFI is just that: a myth that does not withstand critical examination.

EV: Do you contest the accuracy of any of the facts asserted by Mr. Kurtz in his interview?

RL: Yes. Virtually all of Paul Kurtz’s answers in his interview contain serious inaccuracies. I will highlight a select portion of them here.

First, Paul Kurtz falsely claims his resignation was done “under great duress.” It was not done under any duress. Note that Kurtz has completely failed to provide any specifics about the duress that he supposedly suffered.

Paul Kurtz stated that in June 2008 he was made chair emeritus and stripped of any authority. This is incorrect. He remained chair of the board of directors until June of 2009.

To ensure everyone understands the relevant sequence of events, a brief summary may be prudent: In June 2008, the board decided that day-to-day management of the organization should be given to someone other than Paul Kurtz. I was the person chosen, in part because I had known Paul for 25 years and we had never experienced any problems working together. The hope was that we would be able to continue work well together in our new roles. Those hopes were quickly dashed. Perhaps understandably, given his role in founding and leading the affiliated organizations for three decades, Paul was not comfortable with ceding any authority. This resulted in some deep disagreements and Paul Kurtz informed the board in June 2009 that he longer wished to remain chair if the CEO position was not restructured to remove much of the CEO’s responsibility. The board declined to change the management structure it had created, with the result that Paul Kurtz ceased to be chair of CFI and its affiliates (Richard Schroeder became chair). However, Kurtz remained a director and exercised the not inconsiderable authority of that position until his resignation in May of 2010.

Re Paul Kurtz’s contributions to the organizations, I do not dispute Paul Kurtz’s generosity, but I do dispute any suggestion that CFI and its affiliate organizations thrived solely because of Paul Kurtz. Throughout their existence, CFI and its affiliates have relied heavily on the dedication not only of their staff but of numerous volunteers, who have generously donated their time and expertise. As noted, I did a substantial amount of pro bono work for the organizations and the organizations made reference to my work in their fundraising efforts. Paul Kurtz should be recognized for his accomplishments, but recognition of his accomplishments should not obscure the important contributions of others.

With respect to Paul Kurtz’s claims of censorship, Paul Kurtz has had ample opportunity to express his views to the public about me, CFI management in general, and the board of directors. While he remained on the board of directors, he had several blog posts and editorials published that were startling in their viciousness and disregard for the facts. For example, he asserted that CFI was controlled by fundamentalist atheists and he compared Blasphemy Day to the anti-Semitism of the Nazis—a comparison that simultaneously demeaned the staff of CFI and trivialized the persecution of Jews under the Nazis.  In light of CFI’s willingness to allow these outrageous attacks on its web site and in the pages of its publications, the suggestion that Kurtz was muzzled is ludicrous.

My recollection is that while Kurtz was with the organization, he made one submission to Free Inquiry which was rejected by its editor, Tom Flynn. No one has an absolute right to have an article or book published. If that were the case, then all would-be authors could claim “censorship.”

In his interview, Paul Kurtz analogized himself to Galileo, after Galileo had been placed under house arrest. The analogy is inapt, to put it mildly. To my knowledge, Paul Kurtz is free to move about. Indeed, he just attended a conference of the Council for Secular Humanism where he gave a presentation and also made use of a question-and-answer opportunity to grill me about some of my decisions. The Galileo analogy is typical of Kurtz’s self-serving hyperbole.

Paul Kurtz was involved in day-to-day management prior to June of 2008, and he tried to be involved in day-to-day management after June 2008. I will provide further details in the response to question that addresses this specific issue.

Regarding the “mocking” of religion, for about twenty years, while Paul Kurtz was editor-in-chief of Free Inquiry, that magazine routinely published cartoons mocking religion. Furthermore, in 2006, after Free Inquiry had published several of the Danish cartoons that had featured Mohammad, Kurtz wrote a stern defense not only of the right to blaspheme but of blasphemy itself. Specifically, Kurtz wrote: “We need … to affirm the right to blaspheme by exercising it. Would that we lived in a polite world of scholarly debate. It is clear that one cartoon may be worth a thousand syllogisms” (emphasis added).
Either Kurtz is misrepresenting his own views when he now denounces CFI for sponsoring Blasphemy Rights Day and a cartoon contest or he has changed his mind on the propriety of blasphemy since 2006. If the latter, as a matter of intellectual honesty and integrity, he should make it clear to all that it is he who has changed his mind, not CFI that has changed its course.

Contrary to what Kurtz asserts, the current leadership of CFI has never exhibited antipathy toward the idea that part of CFI’s function is to be a think tank. In just a couple of months, CFI will be co-sponsoring with the University of Pennsylvania a two-day conference on the ethics of human enhancements. Several of the leading bioethicists in the United States will be presenting at this conference. I believe the quality of this conference compares favorably with any scholarly conference that was held during Paul Kurtz’s tenure.

Paul Kurtz has claimed that CFI has lost interest in promoting humanistic ethics. Nothing could be further from the truth and Kurtz cannot present a shred of evidence in support of such a claim. Ironically, the revised mission statement that was released in the summer of 2009 was the first one to expressly state that CFI seeks to foster a society based on humanist values.

Our branches in Washington, D.C. and New York City have not ceased operations. They are quite active and are staffed by executive directors.

Paul Kurtz’s claims about employee turnover under him as compared with employee turnover under me are false. In the two and-a-half years between January 2006 and the end of June, 2008 (when Kurtz was in charge) roughly 37 employees resigned, retired, or were laid off or terminated for cause. Since June 2008, the number of employees who have left (for all reasons) is roughly 24.

His boasts about managing employees by inspiring them constitute claims wholly uncontaminated by reality. A 2008 report prepared by Greyledge Consulting, a firm retained by the CFI board to advise them on, among other things, the management of the organization, found that there was widespread dissatisfaction among the staff at CFI because, among other things, Paul Kurtz was considered to be inconsistent and arbitrary in his dealings with staff. To the extent he showed any consistency, it was favoritism toward certain members of staff. After I became president & CEO, one of the first disputes we had resulted from my refusal to refrain from counseling an employee. Kurtz had urged me to ignore the employee’s misconduct because the employee was too “valuable.”

Kurtz’s attitude toward much of the staff unintentionally comes through in his claim that “CFI was founded to be an academic organization, especially for the leadership of editors, authors and spokespersons” (emphasis added). Leave aside the fact that this is an incorrect description of CFI’s purpose. This remark reveals how Kurtz implemented a class system: in the upper class there were those with advanced degrees or who were otherwise entitled to special treatment and in the lower class there was everyone else. I have a PhD myself, in addition to my law degree, so I respect scholars and scholarship. But I never thought a PhD granted one an exemption from generally applicable personnel rules. What Kurtz mischaracterizes as my “business corporation” model is a humanistic model. I believe all employees are entitled to be treated with the same dignity and respect. Kurtz thought otherwise.

In the last paragraph of Paul Kurtz’s interview, he manages a trifecta: three false statements in the space of one sentence. Kurtz was not “disempowered by CFI” in June of 2008 (he remained board chair); he was not “censored”; and he founded ISHV in 2010, not 2008.

EV: Did CFI or CSH ever refuse to print any articles or statements submitted by Paul Kurtz for publication?

RL: As indicated, my recollection is that Free Inquiry declined to publish one editorial that Paul Kurtz submitted. As also indicated, given Paul Kurtz’s numerous blog posts and editorials over the last couple of years, this had no material impact on his ability to disseminate his views.

EV: Whose idea was it to write the following statement as part of the joint announcement by the three boards that Paul had resigned: “In recent years the board had concerns about Dr. Kurtz’s day-to-day management of the organization”? Does CFI or CSH have any regret about publishing that specific assertion? Was Mr. Kurtz truly responsible for day-to-day management at CFI at any time over the past five years?

RL: My recollection is that Richard Schroeder, the chair of CFI’s board, and I collaborated on the draft. The draft was then approved by the board. I cannot recall whether others made any significant contribution. Because Kurtz’s resignation took the board by surprise, the board’s announcement was composed under a tight time schedule.

You would have to ask the board whether it regrets the statement you referenced. However, I do not see why it should since it is a true statement. Moreover, given Paul Kurtz’s repeated claims that he has been the victim of a “coup” and that the board’s removal of his executive authority in 2008 had nothing to do with his own performance, it was appropriate for the board to make a succinct observation setting the record straight.

Was Paul Kurtz responsible for day-to-day operations before June 26, 2008? Yes, of course. He was not only board chair, but he was the chief executive of the organization. Not only did he have executive authority, but one complaint of many on the staff was that he was a micromanager. This is noted in the report prepared by Greyledge Consulting. Documents that would confirm Kurtz’s interest in managing the details of the organization’s operations include his memorandum from early 2008 in which he issued instructions on lighting in the building (including bathrooms), specified the length of the lunch period, banned group lunches and dinners for the staff, required staff to obtain permission before they worked on weekends, and so forth. (This is also the memo that eliminated the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.) Thankfully, he stopped short of requiring staff to have hall passes.

On staff matters, Paul Kurtz had absolute control and many perceived that he exercised this control arbitrarily. I will limit myself to quoting former employee R. Joseph Hoffmann. Hoffmann is currently one of Kurtz’s strongest advocates, so presumably he is not someone who would criticize Kurtz unfairly. In an email memo he sent me in January 2008, he stated he could not “go on working in an organization whose structure is basically a throned god with minions who enjoy favor one day, and might be cast down the next. If the image is Near East, so are the politics.”

After June 2008, Kurtz was not supposed to be involved in day-to-day management. But he refused to respect the board’s resolution which specified my responsibilities. The organization was at an impasse throughout the fall of 2008 because, among other things, he insisted that I had no authority to make even modest budget cuts.

EV: In your opinion, to what extent do the many people familiar with CFI currently associate CFI with the work of Paul Kurtz?

RL: Most people familiar with CFI, including me, recognize that Paul Kurtz has made substantial contributions to the promotion of humanism and skepticism. However, I believe that they also recognize that CFI is not a one-man show. If that were the case, then Paul Kurtz would truly be a failure. I recall with some clarity the first dinner I had with Paul (Iron Gate Inn in DC). In our conversation, he emphasized to me the importance of building an organization that would not be identified with one individual. He said this was a problem with many freethought organizations, including O’Hair’s American Atheists, and always resulted in their decline.

EV: To what extent did Mr. Kurtz have access to the physical premises of CFI in past years that he no longer has? Did you ever ask that Mr. Kurtz hand over his keys to CFI? If so, when did you make such request(s) and what was the reason you made the request(s)? Do you intend to allow Mr. Kurtz to have an exterior door key to CFI ever again?

RL: I cannot speak to the years before 2008, but I assume his access after June of 2008 was similar to what it was in prior years. Prior to his resignation from all positions with CFI and its affiliates in May 2010, Paul Kurtz had a key to the exterior locks on CFI’s Amherst building.

Following his resignation, specifically on June 1, 2010, I did tell Paul Kurtz he should turn in his keys. This was after he had come into the building and caused a disruption by confronting me and yelling at me, twice calling me a “son-of-a-bitch.” Such an outburst did not seem consistent with a professional work environment. (Unfortunately, this was but the first of several unpleasant scenes over the last few months, in which Kurtz has loudly and angrily berated employees, usually because they have “betrayed” him.) But my principal reason for telling Kurtz that he should turn in his keys was that he had resigned, and it is standard practice in any organization that someone who resigns and severs their connection with the organization turn in keys. Moreover, one principle of humanist ethics—to my understanding—is that people should accept responsibility for their decisions. If someone resigns s/he should act consistently with that decision and accept the consequences of that decision. Kurtz, however, did not turn in his keys and I did not press the issue. Unlike Kurtz, who seems determined to continue to stir up as much controversy as possible—presumably with the hope that it will damage CFI—CFI would prefer to avoid controversy and resolve disputes quietly and as amicably as possible.

When management did decide to change the locks a couple of weeks ago, we did not issue Paul Kurtz a key because he was not entitled to one. It would be extraordinary to provide a key to someone who has not only voluntarily severed all connections to CFI, but has launched another organization (ISHV) that purports to be engaged in projects similar to CFI’s projects and is aggressively seeking funding—including funding from CFI donors. Kurtz has not only left CFI but he appears to be in competition with CFI. In any event, not having a key only means Kurtz cannot be in the building by himself, as he can enter the building whenever staff are present. There is no reason for Kurtz to be in the building by himself.

Forever is a long time. If circumstances change, e.g., Kurtz is voted onto the board again, he might obtain a key again. I note, however, that the current board chair, Richard Schroeder, does not have a key to the building, nor, to my knowledge, does any other director.

EV: Does CFI intend to allow Paul Kurtz to have free access to his physical office at CFI for the remainder of his life, both during regular office hours and otherwise? If not, please explain.

RL: First, let us be clear. Paul Kurtz does not have an assigned office at CFI’s facility in Amherst. He has no ongoing connection with CFI, as a result of his own decision to sever ties with CFI. From CFI’s perspective, Kurtz has a former office that we allow him to use, just like we continue to allow him to use the parking spot that had been reserved for him.

Bearing in mind that I could be overruled by the board of directors, it is my present intent to allow Kurtz to continue to use that office indefinitely, which he uses infrequently anyway. He does not do much, if any, work there (certainly no work for CFI); rather he uses it as a place to meet with people or store some belongings when he is elsewhere in the building. I have no intention of ever using that office, even if Kurtz removed all his property and made clear he was never returning. First, I am not board chair; Richard Schroeder is. Second, sitting there would remind me too much of the disillusionment I have experienced over the last couple of years.

EV: How many employees have left CFI over the past three years? How many of those have been asked to leave CFI? Is it true that the great majority of them were sympathetic to the views of Mr. Kurtz?

RL: If the purpose of this question is to determine how many people left CFI during my tenure as president & CEO, then the relevant time period is from the end of June, 2008 forward, and the answer is fewer employees left during that period than during a comparable period when Paul Kurtz was in charge. From January 2006 until the end of June 2008, roughly 37 employees left CFI. During my tenure, roughly 24 employees have left CFI. (“Left” here includes all separations, including resignations, retirements, layoffs, and terminations for cause.)

With respect to involuntary terminations during my tenure, we have had nine layoffs and two terminations for cause. No one has been asked to resign. Based on information provided me, Kurtz had more terminations for cause during a comparable period.

During my tenure, no one was asked to resign from CFI, so obviously no one was asked to resign because she or he held views sympathetic to Kurtz’s views, nor was anyone laid off or terminated for holding views sympathetic to Kurtz. I am not even sure what “sympathetic to the views of Mr. Kurtz” means. If it means holding views on humanism and skepticism similar to Kurtz’s views, then I and most, if not all, of the exempt staff are sympathetic to Kurtz’s views. If it means holding the view that the board’s resolutions are “bullshit”—to quote Kurtz—and that Kurtz had an absolute right to run the organization as he saw fit, then I can think of only one separated employee who may have shared such a view. There could have been more, but I would not know unless the employee publicized his or her views that Kurtz should be given absolute power.

One employee who did resign expressed dissatisfaction with management, but without any reference to the Kurtz-CFI controversy. All other employees who resigned left for personal reasons, e.g., better opportunities, desire to return to school, and so forth.

EV: Please state the names of current employees of CFI who have strong academic backgrounds who are doing academic research for CFI or CSH? Please describe the projects on which these people are currently working.

RL: “Strong academic backgrounds” is an ambiguous description. Certainly, some who do not have graduate degrees may believe they have strong academic backgrounds. Nonetheless, I will interpret this phrase to refer to individuals with advanced degrees. Employees or contractors working on research projects include the following:

Joe Nickell, PhD, has various research and investigative projects. One current project involves research on the concept of qi, as it is applied both in American and Chinese cultures. This research is being done in collaboration with the Chinese Research Institute for Science Popularization.

John Shook, PhD, and I, JD, PhD, are researching the ethics of human enhancements, in connection with a forthcoming conference at the University of Pennsylvania.

Derek Araujo, JD, oversees the production of CFI’s position papers, which address public policy issues and are rigorously researched. Derek recently authored a paper on the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

As was true throughout the Kurtz years, the principal vehicles for encouraging and disseminating research relevant to the mission of the organization remains our publications, such as Skeptical Inquirer, Free Inquiry, and Philo. These journals regularly publish original articles that reflect or incorporate research by academics. CFI has never had large numbers of academics on staff. Counting Kurtz himself, there were never more than seven PhDs on staff at any one time, and some of these individuals were engaged principally in administrative duties, not research. Furthermore, the hiring of multiple individuals with advanced degrees who would be devoting substantial time to research began only around 2004, so the organizations did well for a quarter-century without investing heavily in academic staff.

EV: What have you heard from the CFI community at large, and from those who have financially supported CFI, since Mr. Kurtz ceased being a member of the three boards and ceased being Editor in Chief of Free Inquiry?

RL: Some are curious about the reasons for Kurtz’s resignation; some are troubled by Kurtz’s resignation; some are pleased by the fact that Kurtz will no longer have a role in the organization.

EV: To what extent is the mission of CFI and CSH to rid the world of all organized religion? Please explain this in some detail.

RL: Neither CFI nor the Council is primarily a missionary organization.

CFI supports the critical examination of all beliefs, including religious beliefs, and given the lack of evidence for religious beliefs, these beliefs do not seem justifiable. However, as stated on its website in terms of goals, CFI’s focus is on reducing the influence of religion and pseudoscience on public policy, eliminating the privileged status of religion and pseudoscience, and ending the stigma attached to being a nonbeliever. These goals are realistic and can be achieved without persuading the entire world, or even a majority of the world’s population, to give up their religious beliefs.

EV: To what extent is CFI currently a big enough tent that it tolerates internal dissent? Please name a few people still employed at CFI who have openly sympathized with Paul Kurtz over the past two years.

RL: Again, this question is unclear what it means to have “openly sympathized” with Paul Kurtz over the past two years. If this means the employee expressed support for Paul Kurtz’s desire to regain absolute authority, only one employee might fit this category. That employee remained with the organization for about two years after I became president and CEO, even though the employee’s support for Paul Kurtz was well-known.

Almost all staff were unhappy to varying degrees with the Kurtz regime; some were profoundly dissatisfied with Kurtz’s mode of management. Thus, even if some have had issues with my management, as indicated, only one staffer ever expressed a desire for a return to the Kurtz regime (to my knowledge).

Internal dissent is tolerated at CFI. Several employees have expressed disagreement with various management decisions without any repercussions.

EV: To what extent does it further CFI’s cause to ridicule people who are members of religions or to support Blasphemy Day?

RL: This is an improperly phrased question. First, it is compound. Second, it also appears to equate blasphemy with personal ridicule, which is a mistake. Third, it falsely suggests that CFI supports ridiculing people.

Blasphemy is any denial or rejection of religious beliefs, even if phrased in polite terms. If you deny the reality of Allah in Pakistan as respectfully as possible, you still risk a blasphemy prosecution.

CFI’s position is that religious beliefs should be treated just like any other beliefs. They should be subject to criticism just like any other belief, and that criticism can take many different forms, including scholarly articles, detailed arguments, position papers, plays, paintings, speeches, cartoons, and jokes. What the appropriate form of criticism might be depends on the circumstances. As Paul Kurtz has memorably and insightfully noted: “One cartoon may be worth a thousand syllogisms.” CFI agrees wholeheartedly with this view of its founder.

So, yes, support for International Blasphemy Rights Day (its current name) does advance CFI’s cause because, among other things, it serves to emphasize the point that religious beliefs should be treated the same as other beliefs. In this regard, see CFI’s mission statement. http://www.centerforinquiry.net/about

CFI has never advocated ridiculing people. Anyone who says otherwise is mistaken about, or is misrepresenting, CFI’s position.

EV: To what extent does CFI agree with the following statement by Paul Kurtz: “We need to defend and explicate a positive agenda of humanism — relevant to all. It needs to be constructive, prescriptive, and ethical.” If it agrees, please provide some CFI page links that set this out in detail.

RL: This statement, although vague, seems consistent with CFI’s mission.

Here are some relevant links, including links to CFI position papers (some of which were approved by Paul Kurtz):

http://www.centerforinquiry.net/about

http://www.secularhumanism.org/

http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php?section=main&page=values

http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php?section=main&page=affirmations

http://www.centerforinquiry.net/opp/opp_work/category/positions

http://www.centerforinquiry.net/unitednations/news/center_for_inquiry_defends_freedom_of_expression/

EV: How has the mission of CFI changed since you became the CEO?

RL: The substance of our mission has not changed. Our tactics have changed. Also, the terms in which we express our mission have changed.

Prior to June 2008, CFI advocated the critical examination of all claims, including religious claims and pseudoscientific claims. That aspect of our mission remains unaltered.

Prior to June 2008, CFI emphasized the importance of developing and fostering humanistic ethics. That aspect of our mission remains unaltered.

Prior to June 2008, CFI worked to promote the strict separation of church and state. That aspect of our mission remains unaltered.

There are a few ways in which our tactics have changed. One notable change is the willingness of CFI and its affiliates to engage in collaborative efforts with other secular or skeptical organizations. Paul Kurtz was adamantly opposed to any such cooperation. I considered this policy short-sighted and inconsistent with the goals of the organization.

We have also made more efforts to engage our supporters, getting them involved in activities, soliciting their input and so forth. The contests we have held that Kurtz has so disdained (the student essay contest, the cartoon contest, the video contest) form part of this effort. Kurtz preferred a top-down model in which he, the oracle, issued pronouncements, which were then to be followed by those less learned than he.

Finally, a third difference is to end the neglect showed toward the skeptic side of our work. It is sometime overlooked that CFI has two affiliates, the Council for Secular Humanism and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI). Kurtz lost interest in the latter affiliate, which I believe was a mistake. Pseudoscience can be just as pernicious as religion and, like religion, it all too often goes unchallenged. Barry Karr, the executive director for CSI, has been given a mandate to reinvigorate the work of this organization.

Our mission statement was reworded in the summer of 2009. There were a couple of problems with the old statement, including the fact that the old statement was static: it described the nature of the organization instead of focusing on what the organization was trying to accomplish. However, as indicated, the reworded mission statement did not mark a radical change in mission. Instead, it made explicit objectives that had been implicit.

EV: What does the current vision of CFI and CSH differ (if it does) from the vision of Paul Kurtz as expressed in his Neo-Humanist Statement?

RL: The best way to answer that question is to have people compare the mission statement of CFI with the Neo-Humanist Statement. They can then draw their own conclusions.

I did have a blog post commenting on the Neo-Humanist Statement.  As I stated in that blog post, I found much merit in the Neo-Humanist Statement. I did disagree with portions of it, however, especially its unjustified criticism of atheism. I don’t think we should try to grow humanism by disparaging atheists.

EV: In the foreseeable future, to what extent will non-believers in the United States be seen as respectable by mainstream American society?

RL: To the extent they demand to be seen as respectable and demonstrate a willingness to act on these demands.

The lesson from other social movements that have tried to eliminate the stigma attached to being “different,” whether it is the movement for civil rights for African-Americans or the movement for civil and social equality for gays and lesbians, is that success can be obtained only when members of the stigmatized group make it clear they will no longer accept second-class status. As with gays and lesbians, an important aspect of the rejection of second-class status for the nonreligious is the willingness to make one’s identity known to the public. The nonreligious need to speak the truth about themselves and what they believe, and stop acting as though religion and religious beliefs are entitled to any special privileges. Deference to religion serves no purpose other than keeping the nonreligious in “their place.”

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Category: Current Events, Religion

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich and his wife, Anne Jay, live in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where they are raising their two extraordinary daughters.

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