Paul Kurtz at the World Humanist Conference

paul_kurtz.jpegEditors’ Note: Frank Robinson attended the 17th World Humanist Conference in Washington D.C., jointly sponsored by the International Humanist & Ethical Union (IHEU) and The American Humanist Association (AHA), during the weekend of June 5-8, 2008. More information about the conference is still available here and here.

Frank recorded, on his blog, commentary about various conference sessions/lectures that he had attended; his thoughtful descriptions deserved the attention of The Eloquent Atheist readership. Departing from his blog, we are including his expanded comments on particularly noteworthy performances, which might inform our readership of the current trends and issues that are prominent within the Humanist movement. Frank’s remarks will be published over several days.

Enjoy, Michael and Marilyn

Paul Kurtz spoke on The History of Humanism and the IHEU (International Humanist & Ethical Union). Over the past four decades, Kurtz is the closest thing to a humanist Pope. He is a Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at SUNY Buffalo, ex co-President of IHEU, founder of Prometheus Books, and Editor-in-chief of Free Inquiry Magazine.

Professor Kurtz started by saying that IHEU has actually failed in its great mission to create a powerful world secular organization. Perhaps; but perhaps putting the ambition that way reflects overstretch. Kurtz did expound upon some pretty creditable history.

Democratic Humanism, he said, was essential in the battle against Marxist totalitarianism during the Cold War, stressing the right of the individual to dissent. But the Cold War’s end has hurt the Humanist movement. As he saw it, humanists defended democracy, which was in some ways opposed by the political Right; but that battle has been won, and now the Right has seized the agenda of democracy as its own. Someone in the audience shouted something about “lip service.”

There was, indeed, some lively blowback on this point, highlighting the fraught relationship of today’s Left with the concept of democracy. The real problem is indeed that the political Right has co-opted it; President Bush’s second inaugural address made democracy his central concern, and of course anything Bush is for, the Left opposes. Thus the Left has painted itself into an intellectual cul-de-sac of cynicism about democracy.

Kurtz also adverted to the growth of secularism, especially in Europe. The free market and consumer culture, he said, promote secularism by raising living standards, and education (echoing Gregory Paul) is another key factor. Professor Kurtz said that today we are really defending a Humanism of the ‘50s and ‘60s, and it’s “too goddamn boring.” There needs to be fun in it, he asserted, and a new agenda. His suggestion for that agenda was “planetary ethics.”

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