If you talk to older Humanists who have been part of the movement for a long time and ask who has done much in advancing secular humanism in the United States many people will mention Paul Kurtz. His energy and one could say his ego helped propel Humanism into the mainstream in the period before the Internet and social media. Rightly or wrongly he had a vision for secular humanism and due to his tireless work we have the movement we have today. Dr. Kurtz passed away on October 20th, 2012 at the age of 86.
Dr. Paul Kurtz was born December 21, 1925 in Newark, New Jersey. He graduated from New York University and received his advanced degrees from Columbia. He had also served in the US Army during World War II.
Dr. Kurtz is considered the father of Secular Humanism. Prior to the introduction of Secular Humanism, humanism had a more religious flavor even if it was not religious in the supernatural or God sense. It was also a reaction to the religious right claiming that humanism was a religion. Kurtz left the American Humanist Association and started what came to be known as the Council for Secular Humanism and issued “A Secular Humanist Declaration” in 1980.
Some other highlights of Kurtz’s legacy in Humanism:
Paul Kurtz served on the American Humanist Association Board of Directors from 1968-1981 and as editor of Humanist magazine from 1967-1978 before establishing the Council for Secular Humanism.
In 1973 he worked with Edwin H. Wilson and the American Humanist Association to create the draft of what would become the Humanist Manifesto II (an updated Humanist Manifesto III was adopted in 2003).
“Humanism has been shaped by many people since the beginning of the 20th century, and Paul Kurtz was one of the greatest contributors to the development of our nontheistic philosophy,” Speckhardt said.
Kurtz published over 800 articles and authored more than 40 books, many of which have been translated into scores of languages.
In his most recent major statement, Kurtz declared that “our planetary community is facing serious problems that can only be solved by cooperative global action.” In Neo-Humanism Statement of Secular Principles and Values: Personal, Progressive, and Planetary, published in 2010, Kurtz offered 16 detailed recommendations for a humanistic world.
Dr. Kurtz also started the first book publisher,Prometheus Books, that focused on freethought topics and authors.
Not everything with Dr. Kurtz was all rainbows, unicorns, and kittens.
For all the good he did for Humanism, Kurtz could also be obstinate about his vision for the movement. That was one reason he left the American Humanist Association in the late 70’s – he wanted to do things his way.
His need to do things his way also blocked the initial formation of a secular political lobbying group that eventually became the Secular Coalition for America.
No matter how we Humanists might feel about Dr. Paul Kurtz personally, he did leave a lasting legacy.