Paul Kurtz - "I refuse to be defined... as an Atheist"

A few days ago on NPR I heard about a growing schism in the atheist movement. I was surprised it made the news at all. But that evening I also heard the Center for Inquiry podcast pitting Paul Kurtz, its founder, against the present leadership and the direction CFI is currently taking. Here is a part of that podcast and the issues at stake.

The entire podcast is 26 minutes and is the tip of what might become a defining moment in both the Atheist and Secular Humanist movement. A divide might become inevitable.

In the podcast Paul explains why he refuses to be defined as simply an atheist and why he is against Blasphemy Day.

From the Point of Inquiry podcast: "Paul Kurtz - A kinder, Gentler Secularism"
Posted on 8-14-2009, 26:12min.

Link to CFI podcast:

Here is a short transcription between D.J. Grothe and Paul Kurtz:

DJ: Paul, of course you are an atheist, you lack belief in god, and that’s what atheism means, right?

PK: No! It means many things; I’m a non-theist, I’m an agnostic, I do not believe in god, but I think it’s a terrible mistake to identify our whole movement with atheism, because that is negative, its what you DON’T believe in, and what is important is what we affirm! We believe in the fulfillment of human life, and social justice, and creativity, and that’s why I refuse to be defined simply as an atheist.


My 2 cents: As a somewhat militant agnostic (I’m still trying to leave the door open for the "possibility" of a god -- in the spirit of a true scientist), I nevertheless agree with Paul’s perspective, though I admit I didn’t before I heard the podcast.

Paul’s vision reflects his wisdom gained from countless years of experience in dealing with the human condition regarding these subjects and his focus remains on the primary goal! He relegates to lesser importance the real or imagined beliefs people contrive for themselves about the world, but how we respect and treat each other!

In that context Paul is, and remains, the torchbearer of reason behind the inquiring mind; not just the truth, but the greater capacity for good that it brings.

Thank you Paul Kurtz.

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Ah, good. I'm glad it seems to be a requirement that in maintaining my OWN viewpoint I am being an atheist. It's not how people think of me (define me) that causes or motivates me to be an atheist. Atheism is not a fashion statement, or a way to look desirable to others. It's a question of what's real and what's a sock puppet that allows me to choose with volition the atheist camp. Seems when people are more into sucking up to the sock puppeteers, they have to hedge nebulously as Mr Paul Kurtz has done.
"Chris Hitchens is essentially the Atheist version of Glenn Beck, only with a thesaurus and an accent. "

Ouch, ohh,LOL.

The way I look at it its semantics, like previous discrimated groups in history, like civil rights,feminism and gays, we have to embrace the label. I think this very important, no group ever got acceptane by consillation, when saying your an athiest becomesno different then saying your an agnostic. unitarian an catholic, then we will be at a cross roads, unitl then we shoulde stand up to our ourselves. Once we get to the place where we can say to people we are athieist an it causes no more eyebrowns raised then your saying your an christian then we are there. Atheistim has been tied to the pas to communisim, we need to demonstate that we are regualar people, with ordinary lives. I don't think doublespeak will help us any.
One of my favorite aspects of no religions is that we're not a united front. If we were, wouldn't that make us dogmatic? I wrote more about that here.
All good points. I still object to the idea that secular humanists should choose a political team or allie themselves either with or decidedly allie against liberal theists.

Essentially, what's being asked there is that in order to have more supporters of teaching evolution over make pretend, secular humanists should give Christians a break and not badger them about their religions.

I don't agree with that method at all, but even more importantly, I can't agree with the idea of uniting behind either position in this argument. Atheism does define you by what you don't believe and I'm OK with a negative defining me. I don't want to be defined by what I do believe. And I certainly don't think that all secularists or humanists or atheism should be fighting to keep creationism out of schools. I hope they will, but I don't need them to do it to accept their position on religions and gods. It's not like being a bad christian by not giving 10% of your income in tithing. Christians are pressured into being active in the christian community, Muslims are strong-armed into participating in Muslim events, I'm non-religious I'm an atheist. I accept that anyone else is an atheist as long as they're able to say they don't have a positive belief in any gods.

I don't need other humanists/atheists to unite on a whole bunches of causes just cause they happen to fit my worldview.
the whole tenor of the transcript is laced with negative undertones.
"lack" is a very negative word. i'd have taken issue with that before bothering with anything else. it means you are short of something that you would benefit from if you had it in ample supply. i don't "lack" belief in god. i don't even want to say i "don't believe in god" because that in some way implies a non-affirmation of something that might exist. why define yourself in negatives? semantics it may be, but let's be positive
Martin Allen: i don't even want to say i "don't believe in god" because that in some way implies a non-affirmation of something that might exist. why define yourself in negatives? semantics it may be, but let's be positive

I simply don't believe in "God", any god. How do I be positive about that? When I think of myself as atheist, I am referring to my mental condition, which has been arrived at over many decades of often difficult questioning of things. When I openly state that I am atheist, I want people to know that I am unconvinced about "God", and all that goes with that. I do not believe in heaven and hell. I do not believe in sin. I don't believe in divine judgement. Blah, blah, blah.

On top of that, I DO NOT want a further label saying what I am. I am me - probably unique. If people want to know what I am, they will need to get that from me on a one-to-one basis, (or by witnessing me communicate to another person on that basis - as in fora such as this). I don't want a label except the one which says that I don't need to put any god into the story of the universe, the story of how life began, the story of how biology became how it is today, the story of how geological formations came to be, blah, blah, blah, or how I live my own life.

For me, the term atheist is simply a tag which lets theists that know I am not one of them. It would be mistake on their part if they leapt to any conclusions of what I am, apart from the tautological ones I've already mentioned here. But such a mistaken conclusion by them is not my problem. I know what I am and that is enough.

BTW: I have been wondering whether there has been a mix-up between two possible classes meanings of the word "negative" . . .

1. Having the quality of something harmful or unpleasant;
2. Involving disadvantage or harm;

3. A reply of denial;
4. Vote against; refuse to endorse; refuse to assent.

For me atheism is certainly 3. and 4. but neither 1. nor 2. (sorry about all this semantics).

I do want to say that I don't believe in "God", because some other people do believe in "God". My atheism includes the open-mindedness to admit that a god might exist, but the evidence I have come across does not support this conclusion. My atheism is: "a non-affirmation of something that might exist".

How do I be more positive than thinking of myself as atheist or not believing in "God" ?
fair point. i just felt the transcript seemed to take as a starting point: god exists, you don't believe in something that exists, why?

while we're on the definitions, my search gives me lack:
–verb (used with object)
3. to be without or deficient in: to lack ability; to lack the necessities of life.
4. to fall short in respect of: He lacks three votes to win.
(1. and 2. were noun definitions - deficiency or absence of something needed, etc).

I don't believe in god but I don't think I lack the necessities of life or somehow fall short because of it.

My point about not particularly wanting to say I don't believe in god is this - there are so many discussions on this site about whether or not Jesus existed and what importance should be attached to his role. Most religions, Christianity included, will take as a starting point the things that they do believe in. A lot of atheists here start to define themselves by what they don't believe in. That, to me, is the negative aspect - to start by saying who you are not rather than who you are.

I hope I have one or two decent qualities. I think I am fair-minded and have a sense of justice, fair play and honesty. I hope that if anyone should ever talk about me they would praise my generosity, thoughtfulness or honesty, rather than say "oh, he doesn't believe in god".

I think that religion should be about the way you behave and not which figurehead you choose to follow. If you don't believe in any of those figureheads, you should still be judged on the way you conduct yourself and behave, not on your "lack of belief in god", That's what I mean about being positive - focus on who and what you are, not what you are not.
I use the term atheist, I also use white, female, Socially Super Liberal, Financially more Moderately liberal, mother, wife...etc I'm sure you get the idea. No one really wants to be defined as one thing it gives the 'single story' approach and makes an individual one dimensional.
To change the context a little I would look at this in political terms and what is happening. Right now the fight is about Health Care. Democrats are a super majority and still not passing the 'sweeping changes' they promised (weather we agree with Dems. or not is not the point, please bear with me) They are trying to place nice so we have the new younger groups like The Yes Men and Billionaires for Wealthcare to use stronger tactics. Both going on at the same time seems to work, "different strokes for different folks' (should that be on the masturbation thread?) There seems to be a similar difference here.
I don't really think it a 'schism', there is no 99 Thesis nailed to the CFI door (right?). It seems we are taking ourselves (not one of us personally, just in general) a bit seriously instead of taking what is important to us seriously. That is different for each of us, we all have different priorities and those change over time. The larger a group we become the less similar we are, that is a good thing.
I have often wondered about atheists' quoting of Kurtz. I really didn't see the point of most of those quotes. But I am now stand enlightned. Hearing his interview has clarified to me that he is simply godless religious person, content with the world as it is, except when it limits him. A religion probably ok with gays and evolution, but all the other same values of the religions I've heard about and read. Religions are "for the good of humanity" as is Kurtz.

IMO that's weakness. Of course anyone can write books about what a religion 'should' convey and what humanism "supposedly" conveys, but it's the a religion 'does'.

Kurtz corresponds to me as an appologist. His religious viewpoint is the very reason religions are so dominant in the world. Frankly I don't care if I ever read anything of his again. It's depressing.
I refuse to put a capital A for atheist
go figure. Notice how religions are just 'brand names' so they get capitals; sometimes :P

money, follow the money; it's laundered and wasted by design, not so intelligent god inc. design.

atheism is there not so much for profit (charities through atheist groups have been popping up) but for being able to sleep at night; hugh wah? another tangent perhaps

American realist, that's me. No wait, a male American citizen. BINGO!
screw the monarchies of faith or just wait and watch them screw/eat each other; LOL, sigh, seriously folks.

There's this notion I've used alot lately.
When someone says 'Jesus' for some reason or another, I say:
"which one, the first one or second one?" or third if you wanna get funnier.
"the dark skinned 1st, or white second coming"

word on the tube is the Pope is failing his traditions; 10pm instead of 12midnight mass?!? lame, no fun there.
This may seem like a non sequitur - but I just rented 'The Soloist' and watched it tonight. There is a 'cameo' send up of atheism - about two minutes. But, by the end, that seemed to come with a wink and a nod. Because the movie made me totally realize something in a light I had missed.

When I was in second and third grade I lived in Brussels - which is one of the political centers of the European Union partly because it is so proximal to so much of western Europe. Because of this and the massive curiosity of my mother - we traveled to a different country nearly every weekend. And I saw art, architecture, and diverse examples of culture, custom, and cuisine that left me awed at every turn. But I saw it as a 'child of god.'

This movie reminded me - as an atheist - that even the soaring cathedrals, the angels leaping down on me from the Sistine Chapel ceiling, and every other amazing work of wonder - were not the work of god, but the work of people. The glorious, graceful, moving, dizzying wonder - even in those things meant to 'glorify god' - does nothing but demonstrate how much beauty we are capable of producing despite the fact that HE DOES NOT EXIST! Imagine how much more beautiful when we throw off the shackles of religion and understand, like Dumbo the elephant, that we don't need a magic feather to fly! (okay - there are not flying elephants. I did a lot of acid when I was younger.)

I do value people with passions. And with this said, when we speak of a "torchbearer of reason behind the inquiring mind", it is quite appropriate to share that many people are required to hold up this torch. Paul may be exhibiting a more kinder, loving kindness approach to sharing and promoting knowledge, reason and such, yet this world is far from what any sane being would call ideal. It is home to people who embrace memes and who are hosts to pathologies that deny people the equality that secularists are working so hard to promote and to protect.

Certainly, I support agnostics, such as Paul, yet the work that anti-theists do to promote reason and equality is worthy of equal praise and celebration.

best wishes,
demetri b.


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