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December 21: Paul Kurtz and American Humanism

December 21, 2013
paulkurtzPaul Kurtz, the dean of American secular humanism and its organizer-in-chief for decades, was born in Newark, New Jersey on this date in 1925. Kurtz taught philosophy at SUNY Buffalo (and before that at Vassar and several other colleges) and was editor-in-chief of Free Inquiry, published by the Council for Secular Humanism. He also founded Prometheus Books, the key publisher of the secular humanistic world, in 1969; the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), publisher of The Skeptical Inquirer; the Council for Secular Humanism; and the Center for Inquiry, which now has some forty centers worldwide. Kurtz was a prolific writer of more than 800 articles and some 45 books, and was a key author of the “Humanist Manifesto II,” 1973, and the “Humanist Manifesto 2000,” both published in The Humanist, which he also edited for eleven years. His key work was The Transcendental Temptation, first published in 1986, in which Kurtz pondered, and offered alternatives to, religious mythology and the human attraction to it. Kurtz’s work rode more than one wave of religious fundamentalist resurgence in the U.S. as well as the upsurge of New Age spirituality in the 1970s and beyond. He died in October, 2012. The asteroid 6629 Kurtz is named in his honor. To see him speaking about “affirmative atheism” versus “angry atheism,” look below. “I have wondered at times if it is I who lacks a religious sense, and is this due to a defect of character? The tone-deaf are unable to fully appreciate the intensity of music, and the color-blind live in a world denuded of brightness and hue. Is mysticism . . . a special kind of experience that enables a person to break out of a limited perceptual and conceptual world? Perhaps. One leaves the possibility open.” —Paul Kurtz Special Note: Today is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Lockerbie bombing, the terrorist incident in which all 243 passengers and sixteen crew members aboard Pam Am 103 in a flight from London’s Heathrow Airport to JFK in Queens, NY were killed when the plane crashed into Lockerbie, Scotland. One of the passengers was Tony Hawkins, husband to Helen Engelhardt, a frequent contributor to Jewish Currents and a member of our Board of Directors. Earlier this year, Blue Thread published her very moving memoir, The Longest Night, which poignantly interweaves scenes from the twelve months after the bombing with vignettes from the first seven months and the final four months of her seventeen-year marriage to Hawkins. Blog-Shmog reported on a reading Helen gave at the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture in May. The Longest Night is available for sale at the Pushcart for $19.95.