jump to navigation

Paul Kurtz, CFI’s Inspiring Leader December 2, 2008

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Commentary.
Tags: ,
add a comment

Many of you who read this blog know that it ‘s about the Center for Inquiry (CFI) and especially about the Office of Public Policy (OPP).  But you may not know about Paul Kurtz, the founder and leader of CFI.  Recently, Derek Araujo, executive director of CFI/New York City, introduced Dr. Kurtz and in the course of his introduction, gave a brief summary of his life and work.  We present it here with pride.

Paul Kurtz: An Introduction*

by Derek Araujo,

Executive Director, CfI/New York City


All of us in this room, and most particularly those who know him well, have grown to admire and respect Paul Kurtz — for his towering intellect, for his inspiring leadership, and for his love of all that is good in humanity. But while none of us needs reminding that we are in the presence of a truly remarkable man, some of us might benefit from being reminded of the astonishing number of ways in which he is remarkable.

Before taking his doctorate in philosophy from Columbia University, Paul served among the brave young men who helped liberate Europe from the bonds of Nazi fascism. Having participated in the Battle of the Bulge, he disproved conclusively and for all time the old canard that there are no nonbelievers in foxholes. Paul witnessed the Buchenwald and Dachau concentration camps after they were liberated, and saw firsthand the evils of Communism when he encountered Russian slave laborers who had been taken to Nazi Germany by force, but refused to return to the Soviet Union at the end of the war. And as he himself has told us, these experiences had a formative influence on his worldview.

Upon returning to the United States, he took his doctorate, as I said earlier, at Columbia University. He then embarked on a brilliant career in the academy that yielded appointments at some of the finest institutions of higher learning in the country, and scores of books and countless articles that have touched lives and inspired minds across the entire globe. But in the course of his brilliant career, let us not forget that he made the conscious and deliberate choice to do what would be unthinkable to most of his fellow philosophers and academic peers. Paul Kurtz made the courageous decision to join the extraordinary company of the likes of John Dewey and Bertrand Russell, by forsaking technical philosophy in favor of by giving his fellow men and women practical advice about how to live better lives, and how to build a better future for our common humanity.

From then on, his life has been a constant and stirring example of standing courageously against the tides of superstition, anti-science, and religious dogma. Many of us remember a time when that struggle seemed hopeless, and when voices of reason sounded like cries in the wilderness. We all have Paul Kurtz to thank for helping to turn that tide.

When widespread paranormalism, psychic frauds, and the hucksters of so-called alternative medicine threatened our intellectual well being and our health and safety, he established CSICOP, now the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, to seek truth and proclaim it loudly over the din some voices of irrationalism. When the Religious Right threatened to demolish the wall of separation between church and state and to overwhelm our politics and our public discourse, Paul Kurtz established the Council for Secular Humanism and Free Inquiry magazine, the only publication in broad circulation that dares to question the malicious influence of religious dogma on public policy and human affairs. When traditional, profit-driven book publishers refused to publish authors that criticized religion or spoke for reason, he founded his own publishing house, Prometheus Press, still the only major publishing house of its kind. And when everyone said that growing an international movement to promote Enlightenment values and humanist communities just couldn’t be done, Paul Kurtz spearheaded the Center for Inquiry movement, which now counts representatives on five continents and in dozens of cities and communities, and continues to flourish and grow every year.

In brief, Paul Kurtz is a man of extraordinary talent and singular vision. We count ourselves lucky to know him, and hope for our sake that we will have the benefit of his wisdom, his courage, and his guidance for many years to come. Paul Kurtz, thank you.

* Delivered at the 10th Anniversary of CFI Community of Long Island on November 21, 2008

* * * * *