Paul Kurtz has died.

While I knew of the man, I admittedly knew very little about him.  It seems nearly criminal at this point to acknowledge that I’ve read all of Lee Strobel’s books, but none penned by Kurtz.  He was simply not one of my heroes.

The only side of Kurtz I got to see was the aging man who it seemed would rather hobble his creation, the CFI (and all its various organizations), rather than let it go.  As the CFI’s student conference was my first, and arguably most important interaction with organized atheism outside of my small Missouri campus (save for the books of Sam Harris), I admit, to my shame, that my impression of Kurtz in life was largely negative.

Then I read Hemant’s post about Kurtz’s life.

Before the New Atheists went mainstream, it’s arguable that Kurtz did more to spread Humanism and skepticism than anyone else in modern history. If you read books written by Christian apologists prior to the year 2000, their enemy-in-chief wasn’t Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens. It was Paul Kurtz. They feared him.

His resume is lengthy, but many of his crowning achievements are still making an impact in our community today. What he helped begin, we are all continuing.

He founded Prometheus Books, the first publishing company to print books exclusively for and about the skeptical world. Some of their books include George H. Smith‘s Atheism: The Case Against God and Victor Stenger‘s God: The Failed Hypothesis (the company’s first New York Times bestseller).

And now I wish I had known the man better.  Being aware of the gratitude the man deserved would have undoubtedly tempered my impression of him.  For all his failings, the man was both kind and brilliant.

God: The Failed Hypothesis and several work from the library of Richard Carrier came through Prometheus, and have been among the more influential books I’ve ever read.  Along with his formation of CFI and his work with Prometheus, Paul Kurtz was instrumental in who I am and in what I have done in this movement.

And I feel guilty it taking his death for me to realize that.

  • neXus

    Then I too must share that guilt – I’ve never even heard of the man until now, and I wish I had heard of him much earlier in life.

  • indradawn

    Wow. This man’s work was a staple in our home when I was growing up. My father, as a years-long subscriber, had shelves of Skeptical Inquirer, and I read his copy of The Transcendental Temptation when I was a teenager. Many books from Prometheus found their way to our home’s library, including several notable works from James Randi. Reading SI as a kid, and having these books and ideas close at hand, gave me ground to stand on when I was a child and fighting off the religious indoctrination of persistent family members and a bible-belt culture at school. I wasn’t alone, in large part, because of you–thank you, Mr. Kurtz.