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In Defense of Secular Humanism, by Paul Kurtz

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In Defense of Secular Humanism, by Paul Kurtz

In Defense of Secular Humanism, by Paul Kurtz

Does secular humanism represent a fundamental and corrosive threat to the future of America? Will it undermine important values and morals, bringing about the destruction of religion and free government? According to some on the religious right, the answers to those questions is “yes.” This book, then, serves as a rebuttal to such claims.


Title: In Defense of Secular Humanism
Author: Paul Kurtz
Publisher: Prometheus Books
ISBN: 0879752289

• Defends Secular Humanism against common complaints
• Explains nature and principles of Secular Humanism

• Written almost 20 years ago

• Numerous essays originally published elsewhere
• Defense of Secular Humanism against common allegations
• Explanation of what Secular Humanism is and is not

Book Review

Separating fact from fiction is not always an easy task, but Paul Kurtz’s book In Defense of Secular Humanism defends and explains Secular Humanism in a way that is easy to understand and provides some much needed balance to the attacks which are so much more common. As it turns out, these attacks say much more about the people making them than it does about their targets. By analyzing the claims, Kurtz is able to provide more insight about the goals and philosophy not only of Secular Humanism, but also about the goals and philosophies of critics.

One of the most interesting things about this book is that it was written nearly 20 years ago — back in 1983 when the Moral Majority was at its height and when modern American fundamentalism was experiencing a great deal of growth and power. Attacking the “humanist threat” was an important part of their strategy to increase membership and change the landscape of American culture. As this book consists of articles written in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, one would think that it would be rather outdated by now — more of a historical curiosity than anything else.

What is depressing, however, is that so little of it has become dated. As an example, the very first article which appears includes a critique of the claims made about Secular Humanism in the book The Battle for the Mind by Timothy LeHay, published back in 1980. This is the same Tim LeHay who has become rich and famous with his Left Behind series of fictional books based upon fundamentalist theology. The book addressed by Kurtz was actually republished in 2001 under the name Mind Siege, and it offers basically the same attacks and complaints, which means that Kurtz’s 20-year-old rebuttal is just as relevant now as it was then.

Much the same pattern is repeated throughout — whenever critiques or misconceptions about Secular Humanism are addressed, it turns out that no one really stopped repeating them. Because we hear the exact same things today, the exact same rebuttals and explanations continue to matter.

Throughout the book, however, it becomes clear that the attacks on Secular Humanism should more accurately be seen as attacks on modernity itself. The values and attitudes which fundamentalists focus upon — when they are not straw men — are characteristics not of humanists, but of the modern age in which we live. This helps reveal that the goal of the Religious Right is to turn back the clock to an age which never really existed, but which represents their ideal of less freedom, less individuality, and more authoritarian social structures.

In Defense of Secular Humanism, by Paul Kurtz

In Defense of Secular Humanism, by Paul Kurtz

    “They are opposed to modern science and the scientific revolution of our day. They are opposed to modern literature — everyone from Shakespeare to writers as diverse as Kurt Vonnegut, D. H. Lawrence, and Vladimir Nabokov. ...The fundamentalists are attacking modern education, including science, literature, the arts and philosophy. We must grant that the curriculum of modern education expresses secular values. But that is the nature of the modern world; it is not secular humanism per se that is at the root of all evil, as fundamentalists define it.”

Despite its age and the age of some of the essays, Paul Kurtz’s book is an excellent introduction to the philosophy and goals of Secular Humanism. This isn’t an extended explanation or defense of particular humanist ethical theories, religious critiques or political positions — those you will have to find in other books. What you will get, however, is a good source on the basics of humanist thought and attitudes.

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