30 September 2009

Paul Kurtz: Stick. In. The. Mud.

Of all the personalities at CFI, I've always been the least impressed with Paul Kurtz. At the CFI World Conference in Bethesda, he did little to change my opinion of him. His latest contribution to rationalism (which can be found, undissected, by clicking on the title of this blog) has actually earned him negative points.

The celebrating of "Blasphemy Day" by the Center for Inquiry by sponsoring a contest encouraging new forms of blasphemy, I believe is most unwise. It betrays the civic virtues of democracy. I support the premise that religion should be open to the critical examination of its claims, like all other institutions in society. I do have serious reservations about the forms that these criticisms take. For example, cartoons have been recently circulated ridiculing key figures in Christianity, such as a cartoon depicting a feminine Jesus painting his "nails" with red nail polish, or the drawing of the Pope with a long nose like Pinocchio.


This could be translated, faithfully as, You know I'm all for free speech when I am arguing against religious claims, or challenging religious authority, but when the speech violates my rather prudish sensiblities I'm going to have, ahem, serious reservations.

Clearly a humourless guy, Kurtz has no need of things like satire and ridicule to punch through the thin facade of power and authority the holds many hostage in religious communities, or even those living outside religious observance. Sometimes the comics, satire and ridicule that so offends Kurtz's refined sensiblities, are exactly the prescription for cutting through the anesthetic of religious influence. Holy crap that cartoon, just said what I have been thinking for years! Out loud! Think of the importance of such experiences in some people's lives. Do you not see the power of a single satirical image? Are you so dense that you fail to see the usefulness of such images?

When we defended the right of a Danish newspaper to publish cartoons deploring the violence of Muslim suicide bombers, we were supporting freedom of the press. The right to publish dissenting critiques of religion should be accepted as basic to freedom of expression.


It was also assumed by many, the contributors to CFI, and its readers, that you were also defending the freedom of expression of the artists themselves. The cartoons, while certainly conveying the messages, were doing nothing terribly different than the pope-pinnochio-nose image you deplore. You cannot have one freedom without the other. Either you really are for freedom of the press and freedom of expression or you are simply for that which you agree with, and is framed in the way least likely to cause offense taking by some person, somewhere.

But for CFI itself to sponsor the lampooning of Christianity by encouraging anti-Catholic, anti-Protestant, or any other anti-religious cartoons goes beyond the bounds of civilized discourse in pluralistic society. It is not dissimilar to the anti-semitic cartoons of the Nazi era.


Here you make your most ridiculous blunder. It is completely dissimilar my orthodox PC friend. You will note that in both of the cartoons you mention (recent submissions I presume) it is not Catholics, or Christians generally who are being lampooned, or charcteritured, but leaders or icons of a particular faith tradition. These are attacks on ideologies and leaders in said traditions. Anti-semitism is racism, not criticism. Anti-semitism is less about Jewish ideology and much more about hating a racial identity.

Yet there are some fundamentalist atheists who have resorted to such vulgar antics to gain press attention. In doing so they have dishonored the basic ethical principles of what the Center for Inquiry has resolutely stood for until now: the toleration of opposing viewpoints.


Now you are just being silly Paul. Fundamentalist atheists? Fuck you. How is that for tolerating an opposing viewpoint? Vulgarity? Grow the fuck up. No one has dishonored, and certainly never violated (until now no less) your basic tolerance principle. The CFI, indeed all skeptical endeavors, in both small and large ways are always engaged in acts of intolerance of ideas. It is why we criticise a thing.

Now skeptics and freethinkers tend to be happy letting people believe what they want, which is certainly tolerance in the most important sense of the concept. However, it doesn't follow though that we should suddenly not be heavy handed with ideas, or utilize scorn, ridicule, satire or some other form of harsh critique. And we certainly shouldn't not do it because you are going whine about it when we do. You may want to go scowl somewhere else Paul. Sometimes bold statements are vastly more useful than the long, academic critique.

It is one thing to examine the claims of religion in a responsible way by calling attention to Biblical, Koranic or scientific criticisms, it is quite another to violate the key humanistic principle of tolerance.


Again critique is a form of intolerance. Mild to be sure, but come on. Just say what you mean here Paul. You don't want people offending the liberal believers who contribute to and support CFI. That is what all this whinging is really about isn't it?

One may disagree with contending religious beliefs, but to denigrate them by rude caricatures borders on hate speech. What would humanists and skeptics say if religious believers insulted them in the same way? We would protest the lack of respect for alternative views in a democratic society. I apologize to my fellow citizens who have suffered these barbs of indignity.


Paul anyone nattering about hate speech simply does not really support free speech and expression, nor a free press, nor liberty in general. When I see some insulting image of atheists or free thinkers (and there are certainly no shortage of these), of some bit of parody or satire I simply try to address the arguments contained therein. I do not complain overmuch about the intolerance of the other side, I begin constucting arguments against their position to lay it bare. "These barbs of indignity" that so vex you, don't matter. What matters is that I can argue against them, and am permitted the freedoms necessary to do so.

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7 Comments:

At 1:14 PM , Blogger Jack said...

Oh Max, no Paul Kurtz, no CFI; No millions of dollars for the humanist movement; No Prometheus Books, the largest free-thought press in the world. No single person has done more for the acceptance of humanism and unbelief than this single man. Way before the “four horseman” there was Paul Kurtz in the trenches fighting for the dignity of atheists, agnostics and humanists. He is not a stick in the mud: he just wants to see the organizations he founded and ran with tender-loving-care for over 30 years continue to take the high road with a responsible and thoughtful critique of religion. You display much ignorance in your post about the history of the free thought/humanist movement.

 
At 1:37 PM , Blogger Max II said...

Jack,
Did I say anything about wishing Paul kurtz was not an important part of CFI? Did I denigrate his life's work? Did I say anything like "Man I wish that Paul Kurtz had never existed?"

Clearly I did not say anything of the sort. I appreciate the work Paul has done, but in this case I think is he is way, way off base. That is to say wrong.

He is, I maintain, being a stick in the mud in this particular case. I am displaying no such ignorance of the history of the freethought/humanist movement in making a valid critique of Kurtz's most recent essay.

 
At 9:24 AM , Blogger Diacanu said...

He actually said "fundamentalist atheists",...what a gimp...

Excellently dismantled, Max. :)

 
At 12:12 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

How could you be so hard on the guy who coined the popular word 'eupraxophy'? :)

Maybe it's a generational thing - the guy's 89 years old.

I had to explain to my dad (who would have been 92 this year) some humor on SNL once, when they did an impression of Bob Dole. My dad didn't like them making fun of veterans, but understood it when the real Bob Dole appeared on the show later in the season.

markg

 
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