A Reminder That Working Together Has Its Benefits

Herb Silverman‘s remembrance of Paul Kurtz is a mix of reverence and respectful criticism. It touches on some of the behind-the-scenes conflicts that seem petty in retrospect but were (unfortunately) very big issues at the time:

Paul Kurtz’s greatest strengths were his ability to found and grow organizations. A true visionary, he gave meaning, substance, and a philosophical grounding to the importance of advancing ideas of reason and science over religion. He will be remembered as a significant, and perhaps the most significant, force in the second half of the 20th century in support of secular humanism and living a good life without religion.

In my mind, Paul’s greatest weakness was his less than enthusiastic willingness to play well with others. When I helped found the Secular Coalition for America in 2002, Kurtz wanted no part of it. He tended to view with suspicion organizations he didn’t lead or create, but shortly after Kurtz left [the Council for Secular Humanism], the organization joined the Secular Coalition. Like CSH, the [American Humanist Association] also declined at first to be one of the original member organizations, but sometimes it takes changes in leadership to emphasize cooperation over competition. The Secular Coalition now has 11 cooperative nontheistic member organizations.

It’s really only in the past decade that many of the atheist/Humanist organizations across the country began working together for the first time. Their leaders now work together frequently and gather in-person yearly to discuss issues important to everybody. Why that didn’t happen sooner has everything to do with the personalities involved in the leadership and that’s too bad. As I’ve heard Herb say on a number of occasions, “A rising tide lifts all boats,” and he’s absolutely right about that.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ trivialknot

    For years, I’ve disidentified with humanism primarily because I disagreed with everything I ever saw Paul Kurtz write.  More recently, I’ve discovered that maybe it was just Paul Kurtz I have a problem with, and that the American Humanist Association is actually pretty cool.  I was unaware that there was bad history between AHA and CSH, so this article was interesting to me.  But I’m disappointed that Herb didn’t get into details, and I suppose Kurtz’s death seems like an inappropriate time to discuss them.

  • HughInAz

    I never met Paul Kurtz put I once had  an exchange with  him back in the  days of snail mail, and found him to  be very gracious  and courteous. I wasn’t aware of the issue about not playing well with others. That’s what I find most dismaying about A+theism – their immaturity in insisting on 100% ideological purity and lockstep conformity with their ever-growing laundry list of victim-identity politics. (I didn’t even know “neurotypical” was a word, let along a non-PC thing to be, until this whole thing blew up.) Part of growing up is realizing that you are never going to meet a perfect clone of yourself, but you still have to work with other people, build coalitions with them, and get shit done rather than immaturely dismissing everyone else as misogynistic rapist poopieheads. I’m active in a number of progressive causes and often find myself working alongside religious people, and I’ve never had a problem with that – I don’t feel that atheism needs to be a one-stop shopping experience that subsumes every aspect of your life and self-identification.


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