Paul Kurtz, Fought for Non-Believers, Dies at 86

Jewish-Born Philosopher Battled Prejudice Against Athiests

By Reuters

Published October 22, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Paul Kurtz, a leading American philosopher who devoted his life to fighting prejudice against people who reject belief in a god and and promoting a non-religious stance in life, has died at the age of 86, websites reported on Monday.

Paul Kurtz
courtesy of center for inquiry
Paul Kurtz

The secular humanist Center for Inquiry (CFI), which he founded in 1991, said the one-time Buffalo university professor - who as a young soldier helped liberate the Dachau concentration camp in 1945 - died in Amherst, New York, at the weekend.

“He was one of the most influential figures in the humanist and sceptical movements from the late 1960s through the first decade of the 21st century,” said an obituary issued by CFI -which he had left over a succession dispute in 2010.

In Geneva, he was hailed by Roy Brown, chief representative at the United Nations Human Rights Council for the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) which Kurtz co-chaired from 1986-1994, as “a giant of our movement”.

Brown, a former IHEU president, said Kurtz was especially important for founding in 1969 the not-for-profit publishing house Prometheus Books that issues works critical of religion that many other publishers are reluctant to handle.

In recent years, the U.S.-based Prometheus has brushed aside threats to publish studies on the origins of Islam that question the traditional history of the faith, and on the situation of atheists and agnostics in Muslim countries.

Kurtz, born into a New York Jewish family in 1925, wrote or edited more than 50 books on ethics without religion, critiques of religion and the paranormal, and on skepticism, or the challenging of received wisdom.

When receiving a lifetime award for his work in 2007, he declared: “I am a secular humanist because I am not religious. I draw my inspiration not from religion or spirituality but from science, ethics, philosophy and the arts.”

His last book, “What is Secular Humanism?”, appeared in 2006. 30 years earlier he founded the journal “Free Inquiry” which circulates widely in U.S. universities and is credited with driving a shift from religion among younger Americans.

Kurtz is widely seen as the forerunner of what is sometimes dubbed the “New Atheist” movement - represented by figures like British biologist Richard Dawkins, French philosopher Michel Onfray and U.S. professor Daniel Dennett.

He is also known for inventing the term “eupraxsophy” to describe philosophies of life like secular humanism that reject supernatural belief and emphasise the importance of living an ethical life based on reason, logic and science.

His “Center for Inquiry” - aimed at fostering a secular society based on those principles - spawned a movement that spread from the United States across the world from the 1990s, and today has offshoots in Asia, Africa and Latin America.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.