There are giants in the collection of movements that make up the cause of secularism in the non-sectarian world demographic. We know their names rather well. Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennet, Harris, Stenger, etc. These authors have affected the lives of millions of unbelievers over the past several years, myself included. There was one individual, though, who had affected me before I even knew the other’s existed, and this individual was the catalyst for my philosophical world view.
I was a Humanist before I was an atheist. After having discovered through an anthropological essay on (and actually reading) ‘The Epic of Gilgamesh,‘ I realized that several of the fairy tales in the Christian Bible were plagiarized. This started me on a quest for knowledge, and it was the logical, reasoned writing of Paul Kurtz that was the catalyst for not only the destruction of my faith, but my journey into the sciences and eventual acknowledgment that I am, in fact, an atheist.
I’m in my study, typing away on my word processor with a copy of ‘Meaning and Value in a Secular Age. Why Eupraxsophy Matters.‘ This book contains the writing of Paul Kurtz, and was sent to me by Prometheus Books for a review. That will come, but for now, there are a couple of things that are taking precedence.I am sitting here…
I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with Mr. Kurtz only once in my life, and it was several years ago. The details don’t matter. What does matter is that I was in the presence of a giant, a man who, in my eyes, has done more for secularism than anyone, ever, living or dead. Today, you can read about the accomplishments of Mr. Kurtz in several venues, so I will not use this space for that purpose. I will, however, use it to reflect on his influence in my life.
If you’ve been reading this blog, or have purchased one of my books, you already know my point of view on the differences between atheism and Humanism. Atheism reflects my position on the existence of the divine. Humanism reflects the standards of which I gauge my behavior, has shaped my political points of view and is responsible for my entering into the field of civil rights advocacy and activism.
But, mostly, Humanism reflects my entire moral code. I’ve heard almost all the arguments that religion has proffered against secular morality, and have spent a considerable number of years debating on them. The main argument from the religious is that unbelievers have no reason to be moral, i.e., the prevailing belief is that a god is required for morality, and without the divine providing or that without God providing objective standards there’s no way to choose right from wrong.
While Humanism can be a complicated field of study, with several different sub-disciplines, Paul Kurtz did a wonderful job for me in extracting the devil from the details, so to speak. The various organizations that he either founded, expanded or were involved with were the first ones I became aware of, and much of my early writing reflects this. As I stated, before I even came to terms with my atheism, I learned that morality is a built-in condition of humanity. Humanism opened doors for me that gave me motivation to explore so many aspects of our existence, our evolution – both physical and psychological – as well as shaped my views on almost every aspect of life.
One of the aspects of Humanism that has served me best is the ability to make tough choices in situations that are themselves difficult. Because of Mr. Kurtz’ work in the development of Humanism, and his philosophies that I have delved into over the years, I had long ago put together a moral code that I have endeavored to have guide me. In my first book, I included this in the form of a codified set of moral guidelines, and it was through my cobbling together pieces from various humanist philosophers and some of my own insights that I first understood that the only savior humanity needs is humanity.
In honor of Paul Kurtz, I am ‘reprinting’ the following, which is pretty much how I see things. As I stated, some of it is mine, but most of it has been adapted from other sources. This matters not, as these words are a direct expression of the closest thing to a moral code I follow:
A Moral Code Of Sorts
- I am committed to the application of reason and science to the understanding of the universe and to the solving of human problems.
- I deplore efforts to denigrate human intelligence, to seek to explain the world in supernatural terms, and to look outside nature for salvation.
- I know that scientific discovery and technology can contribute to the betterment of human life.
- I know that an open, pluralistic and democratic society is the best guarantee of protecting human rights from authoritarian elites and repressive majorities.
- I am committed to the separation of church and state.
- I trust that negotiation and compromise is the only means of resolving differences and achieving understanding.
- I am concerned with securing justice and fairness in society and eliminating discrimination and intolerance.
- I support the disadvantaged and the handicapped so that they will be able to help themselves.
- I attempt to transcend divisive parochial loyalties based on race, religion, gender, nationality, creed, class, sexual orientation, or ethnicity, and strive to work together for the common good of humanity.
- I want to protect and enhance the earth, to preserve it for future generations, and to avoid inflicting needless suffering on other species.
- I believe in enjoying life here and now and in developing our creative talents to their fullest.
- I am committed to the cultivation of moral excellence.
- I respect the right to privacy. Mature adults should be allowed to fulfill their aspirations, to express their sexual preferences, to exercise reproductive freedom, to have access to comprehensive and informed health-care, and to die with dignity.
- I believe in the common moral decencies: altruism, integrity, honesty, truthfulness, responsibility. My ethics are amenable to critical, rational guidance. There are normative standards that we discover together. Moral principles are tested by their consequences.
- I am deeply concerned with the moral education of our children. I want to nourish reason and compassion.
- I am engaged by the arts no less than by the sciences.
- I am a citizen of the universe and am excited by discoveries still to be made in the cosmos.
- I am skeptical of untested claims to knowledge, and am open to novel ideas and seek new departures in my thinking.
- I maintain a worldview that is a realistic alternative to theologies of despair and ideologies of violence and as a source of rich personal significance and genuine satisfaction in the service to others.
- I am an optimist, rather than a pessimist. I have hope, rather than despair. I put learning in the place of dogma, truth in the stead of ignorance, joy in place of guilt or sin, tolerance in the place of fear, love instead of hatred, compassion over selfishness, beauty instead of ugliness and reason rather than blind faith or irrationality.
- I accept the fact that we can have the fullest realization of the best and noblest that we are capable of as human beings.
Morality cannot come from anywhere but within us. It is the result of our inherent instinct of self- preservation, the needs of our fellow humans and individual experience.
“Intelligence is the only moral guide” – Robert G. Ingersoll
December 21, 1925 – October 20, 2012