Sunday, June 7, 2009

Skeptic stuff: Paul Kurtz steps down.

For several years I was involved in organized skepticism and contributed to publications such as The Skeptical Inquirer.


Although I consider my involvement in skepticism to be an important part of my intellectual development, after several years I became badly burned out, in large part due to the actions of the parent organization which published the magazine.

Therefore it was with great interest that I read this blog post when it was shared on the skeptics list. My comments follow:

http://rjosephhoffmann.wordpress.com/2009/06/02/the-lion-in-winter-the-exile-of-paul-kurtz/


First thanks to the two people who posted this. I doubt very much if I would have heard of it otherwise.

Very interesting, particularly the blog post R. Joseph Hoffman. Although I am not familiar with Mr. Hoffman, he essentially states many things that fit my (occasionally unprovable) views on Kurtz. (And for the record, I've never met Kurtz either. By the time he actually came to this area to speak, I had been involved in skepticism and the local group so long and hard that I wanted nothing to do with him and just skipped the talk without comment.)

It implies:

1) Kurtz founded and tried to guide both magazines, the center and the publishing company, something that really is not a big deal but that they all somehow seemed quite anxious to hide from prying eyes.

2) His primary concern with these organizations was to combat Christianity and religion in general. Again, no big thing but when I became interested in skepticism I thought it was intended to promote truth and science, with there often being a strong overlap between the two. (Not always of course, but there is somewhat of an overlap.) I know that this was also a bit confusing or just plain missed by some who thought his organization was intended in large part to combat health fraud. (Which it did, but I'm aware of one case where a humanistic Christian MD oncologist donated to the center to support its work in skepticism and allegedly money put in the open fund was marked as being intended for promoting secular humanism.)

This really bothered me and increasingly so as I worked on the local group back in the '90s. There was this feeling on my part that the national organization with which we were somehow affiliated/yet not affiliated with had recruited us under false pretences and was intent on using us for something that I had no interest in supporting and never had signed up to be involved with. (As time went on I found CSICOP more of an embarrassment than anything else.)

3) He occasionally acted unethically (see second to last paragraph of Hoffman.) Of course, we all occasionally act unethically but this always really bothered me because his organization claimed to be advocating ethics and fighing for truth and ethics

4) There are hints of grandiosity and messianism, something I've suspected since he often gave things names and doctrines and invented "secular humanist ceremonies" of various kinds. (Again, this just plain struck me as strange. Personally, although undoubtedly many people are atheists -duh!-- I think most people just somehow cannot pull of being atheists for very long and then begin creating an odd sort of atheistic-religiosity, such as Kurtz was doing or the Communists did in China in the late '60s, early '70s.)

Again, very interesting and thank you for sharing.

Peter Huston

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