Blasphemy Day Rebuttal to Paul Kurtz

Blasphemy Day International is already past the halfway point for me here. Don’t forget that it’s still okay to blaspheme every day, unless you happen to live in one of those places where repressive legislation has given religious ideas special privileges which trump your rights to discuss them.

There was a post the day before Blasphemy Day that bothered me somewhat. That post is A Dissenting View About Blasphemy Day, authored by Paul Kurtz, the founder of the Center for Inquiry.

Let me preface my rebuttal regarding his dissent by stating that I have an immense amount of respect for Professor Kurtz. His accolades and achievements highlight a life of great advances for those of us who embrace the terms ‘secular’ and ‘skeptic’. As I often point out, and as Christians nearly always fail (or refuse) to understand, my respect for an individual has very little to do with any criticism I have regarding ideas or beliefs held by that person. I respect Paul Kurtz. Must I automatically respect his ideas regarding Blasphemy Day? No.

In his post, Professor Kurtz states the following:

The celebrating of “Blasphemy Day” by the Center for Inquiry by sponsoring a contest encouraging new forms of blasphemy, I believe is most unwise. It betrays the civic virtues of democracy. I support the premise that religion should be open to the critical examination of its claims, like all other institutions in society. I do have serious reservations about the forms that these criticisms take.

If I could, I would ask Prof. Kurtz to explain exactly what he means when he says, “It betrays the civic virtues of democracy.” I, personally, do not have any reservations about the forms of criticism of religion, as long as they are protected by the First Amendment. [I’m a US citizen. My posts will have a definite US bias in matters such as this.]

Prof. Kurtz continues:

When we defended the right of a Danish newspaper to publish cartoons deploring the violence of Muslim suicide bombers, we were supporting freedom of the press. The right to publish dissenting critiques of religion should be accepted as basic to freedom of expression. But for CFI itself to sponsor the lampooning of Christianity by encouraging anti-Catholic, anti-Protestant, or any other anti-religious cartoons goes beyond the bounds of civilized discourse in pluralistic society. It is not dissimilar to the anti-semitic cartoons of the Nazi era. Yet there are some fundamentalist atheists who have resorted to such vulgar antics to gain press attention. In doing so they have dishonored the basic ethical principles of what the Center for Inquiry has resolutely stood for until now: the toleration of opposing viewpoints.

My understanding is that Prof. Kurtz takes issue with the difference between support and encouragement, and where the CFI should stand in such regard. What I primarily disagree with is his reason why the CFI should not encourage such blasphemy. He thinks it “goes beyond the bounds of civilized discourse in pluralistic society.” I am frequently accused (and rightly so) of being uncivil in many of my discourses. So what? Prof. Kurtz, being forty years my senior, is from a very different era. Our ideas of civility are certainly very different, as is the importance we attach to such civility.

Godwin’s Law didn’t have to wait for the comments; it was there in the post itself. I really find it both laughable and pathetic that Prof. Kurtz compares the current lampooning of religion to anti-semitic cartoons of the Nazi era. It seems that anti-theism is now equal to racism. Does the professor believe that the attempted extermination of the Jews by the Nazis was based solely on their religion?!!? Do you know what else? I would fight to defend the rights of people to publish those anti-semitic cartoons, as long as they would otherwise be protected by the First Amendment.

Prof. Kurtz actually used the term ‘fundamentalist atheists’. What is that even supposed to mean? Then he mentions that they use ‘vulgar antics’ which somehow dishonor the CFI’s basic ethical principle of the toleration of opposing viewpoints. I really don’t understand this reasoning. Who is to judge what is vulgar? What’s wrong with being vulgar? Is vulgarity not worthy of protection? Prof. Kurtz seems to me to be implying that the opposing viewpoints which are religious should be tolerated, while something that he deems to be vulgar should not.

Prof. Kurtz ends his post with this:

It is one thing to examine the claims of religion in a responsible way by calling attention to Biblical, Koranic or scientific criticisms, it is quite another to violate the key humanistic principle of tolerance. One may disagree with contending religious beliefs, but to denigrate them by rude caricatures borders on hate speech. What would humanists and skeptics say if religious believers insulted them in the same way? We would protest the lack of respect for alternative views in a democratic society. I apologize to my fellow citizens who have suffered these barbs of indignity.

There were points where I had to stop and check to be certain that this post was indeed supposed to have been written by Paul Kurtz. Calling attention to criticism I have of religious (or other) ideas is okay, but calling them out as being silly or ridiculous is being intolerant? Disagreeing is okay, but ‘rude caricatures’ border on hate speech? What exactly is hate speech, Professor? Is personally criticizing a homosexual because you believe (because of your religious beliefs) that homosexuality is immoral a valid expression of your values, or is it homophobic hate speech? I find so-called hate speech useful in that it lets me see where people’s prejudices lie.

Do you know what I think hate speech is? I think it’s a way for some people to silence others by claiming that their sensitive feelings have been hurt by a hateful meanie. If someone cries “Hate speech!” when confronted by something they find offensive, and that speech isn’t already exempt from First Amendment protection by virtue of meeting other criteria, I’m going to tell that person to either get some thicker skin, shut their god damned ears, or get the fuck out of the conversation.

One that really threw me: “What would humanists and skeptics say if religious believers insulted them in the same way?You have got to be fucking kidding me. What country have you been living in, Professor Kurtz? Have you been sheltered from the realities of the way most of us live? Heck, I’ve already been insulted by your post because you use the utterly absurd term ‘fundamentalist atheists’ to describe people such as myself. We atheists are insulted and denigrated by the religious zealots in this country every single day. We are even prevented from holding public office by several states’ constitutions. I hate to be so blunt, Professor, but wake the fuck up!

Prof. Kurtz then gives his assumption as to how ‘we’ would respond to similar insults directed at us: “We would protest the lack of respect for alternative views in a democratic society.

Professor: We who are atheists respond to ridicule, insults, lies, disinformation, and misinformation nearly every day of our lives. Sometimes we respond with logical arguments. Sometimes we respond with facts. Sometimes we respond with ridicule. Sometimes we respond with loud, obnoxious, offensive language. What matters is that we respond. For too many centuries it has been far too dangerous for most of us to make any response at all.

I don’t intend to hold my tongue simply because my words might offend someone’s religious sensibilities. I’m not taking those backward steps.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.