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Progress Report:
The Continuing Growth of Our Movement

by Paul Kurtz


The following article is from the Secular Humanist Bulletin, Volume 16, Number 4.


October 15, 2000, marks the twentieth anniversary of the publication of the Secular Humanist Declaration. This was endorsed by 58 leading humanists, philosophers, and scientists, including Francis Crick, Isaac Asimov, B.F. Skinner, Albert Ellis, Sidney Hook, Barbara Wootton, Dora Russell, and Milovan Djilas, among others.

The Declaration was issued at a time when the Moral Majority was running riot, complaining that the "religion of secular humanism" was the chief architect of America's alleged "moral decline." We responded-"Who, us?" Secular humanism, we said, was not a religion, but incorporated the most advanced scientific and philosophical thinking of the day; it was skeptical of the claims that Moses and Jesus were divine or that the Bible was "divinely inspired"; it affirmed its support of the moral education of children; and it defended the separation of church and state. We were thrilled when the Secular Humanist Declaration made the front page of the New York Times and was widely reported by the media worldwide.

October 15, 2000, also marks the publication of the first issue of Free Inquiry and the official founding of the organization now called the Council for Secular Humanism. These efforts were the first by secular humanists in the United States and the world to organize. There had been and still are other humanist organizations, but in our view they compromised secular humanism by claiming that they were or could be a "religion." In any case, none of them were willing to forthrightly defend unbelief-including atheism, skepticism, or agnosticism-as we did at the same time that we affirmed a strong commitment to basic humanist moral values.

It was with great fanfare and excitement that we launched Free Inquiry; it took off immediately, and captured the imagination of many observers, but it also engendered considerable controversy. Indeed, the second issue of Free Inquiry published some of the columns of protest from Phyllis Schlafly, Patrick Buchanan, John Roche, and others. During the early Reagan years there were many politicians who condemned secular humanism incessantly. It's been a long hard but exhilarating road that we have traveled ever since, and it has been particularly gratifying to welcome the thousands and thousands of dedicated supporters who have marshaled under our banner.

The work of Free Inquiry and the Council was strengthened from the start because of its cooperative alliance with two other rationalist organizations that are also located in Amherst, New York: (1) the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, which was founded in 1976 (its magazine, the Skeptical Inquirer, now enjoys almost 50,000 circulation, and CSICOP has given birth to a great number of skeptics groups in North America and throughout the world); and (2) Prometheus Books, which had been established in 1969 as an independent company and is now entering its 32nd year. Prometheus is now considered to be one of the top book publishers in the United States, and is the most important freethought press in the world. It publishes approximately 250 editions a year-one book every work day! This includes 100 new books that will be published in 2000. Prometheus Books now goes into all the major bookstores in North America. Its books have been translated into over 35 languages and are distributed throughout the world. Thus it has reached millions of book buyers over the years.

A significant change in the secular humanist movement occurred in the early nineties when we decided to formally incorporate the Center for Inquiry as an independent organization that would provide synergistic support to the Council, CSICOP, and other organizations that shared our goals and would join us. The Center for Inquiry, adjacent to the Amherst, New York, campus of the State University of New York at Buffalo, now includes several independent and autonomous organizations and divisions, each with separate programs-but sharing a common commitment to science, reason, and free inquiry. CSICOP and the Skeptical Inquirer continue to specialize in the paranormal, antiscience, and fringe claims, and they deal with religious claims only insofar as they are empirically testable. Its goal is public education in the methods of science. The Council and Free Inquiry, of course, uniquely focus on religious claims, including biblical and Koranic criticism, and it attempts to provide an ethical alternative for those who reject traditional or New Age religions and are seeking meaning within a naturalistic and humanistic framework. I have called this a eupraxsophy (good practical wisdom in conduct). It emphasizes the need to build secular humanist communities, where like-minded folk can meet and share ideas and values.

We are especially proud of our Campus Freethought Alliance, our newest and brightest project-an effort to bring secular humanism to college and university students to provide a basis for identity and collegiality.

I think we can say, with all due modesty, that the Center for Inquiry is home to the largest freethought movement in the history of this country. If you add up the subscribers, readers, supporters, and members, of our various publication activities they come to well over 100,000 persons-though we actually maintain a total list of 248,000 names.

At the Center for Inquiry we publish 12 magazines and newsletters: Free Inquiry, Skeptical Inquirer, Philo, Secular Humanist Bulletin, Skeptical Briefs, SOS International Newsletter, African-Americans for Humanism Examiner, Family Matters (now incorporated into Secular Humanist Bulletin), Secular Islam (on the Web), the Ingersoll Report, the Campus Freethinker, and the newest, The American Rationalist. Prometheus Books adds two other magazines to the mix: Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine and a forthcoming magazine, which will be announced in early 2001, the Scientific Review of Mental-Health Practice. Added to this is the fact that we have originated literally tens and tens of thousands of news stories on radio, television, newspapers, magazines, the Internet, and other forms of the media over the years-so that our views are now known to millions of people worldwide.

We are also proud of the fact that we have helped form or are associated with several hundred local and regional groups, a very impressive achievement! There are 97 secular humanist Alliance of Secular Humanist Societies (ASHS) groups, approximately 101 skeptics groups (47 in North America and 54 throughout the rest of the world), 73 Campus Freethought Alliance groups, and an estimated 500 SOS groups, which are in constant flux (this includes some 150 groups in prisons and 50 foreign groups). Moreover, we now have satellite operations in Los Angeles and Boulder, Colorado; and we have recently opened a CSICOP/European Skeptics office in Germany, support research in England, Russia, Italy, Peru, and we have helped develop over 60 new skeptical and humanist journals and newsletters in Africa, Asia, Europe, Australia, and Latin America. The Center for Inquiry and the Council are thus truly global in impact. CSH works closely with the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU).

We could only achieve these gains by the dedicated hard work of our staff. All told, we have approximately 75 employees in Amherst, New York, and at our various operations throughout the country, including Albuquerque, New Mexico; Los Angeles, California; North Jersey/New York, and elsewhere; and we provide subsidies for activities in Germany, England, Russia, Poland, Peru, and other parts of the world.

I should point out that, as a nonprofit organization, it is often difficult to maintain cash flow, but we have prevailed in spite of that, and we have built multimillion-dollar budgets and endowment funds; at the same time our continued growth depends upon the continued support of our readers, who have generously contributed to our fund drives. We are grateful to our supporters who share our goals and appreciate the important tasks that we are fulfilling. Ranged against us on the other side are the hundreds of thousands of religious and paranormal organizations and publications, which raise an excess of $70 billion a year!

Our method of governance is rather unique. There are eight independent, self-governing boards of our various operations. One problem that we have noticed is that many other like-minded organizations have boards, but board politics is often such that it becomes difficult to advance the humanist cause, and more time is spent on internal politicking than anything else. Basically, we have enjoyed unparalleled unity of purpose.

I think that the reason why we have come as far as we have is because of our three-point strategy of development. (1) We have tried to use business methods in our operations. Some people are surprised that employees are required to punch in and out, that they are held accountable for excessive absences and tardiness, and that they are evaluated each year on performance and productivity. (2) We are also entrepreneurial, in the sense that we attempt to provide maximum autonomy to our staff members-managers, editors, and heads of departments. (3) Moreover, we are experimental in that we constantly try new methods and projects. We emphasize creative innovation. Some people claim that we do too many things; I respond that so much more needs to be accomplished if we are to build a movement.

We are somewhat amused to learn that we have suffered various forms of criticism at the hands of our detractors, particularly from sister humanist, rationalist, and atheist groups who differ with our method of governance.

I should point out that the Council was able to move ahead only by vigorously pursuing its strategies, and these have been eminently successful. As the founder of our three main organizations, I have always emphasized the need to maximize team spirit, and I am consciously aware of the necessity of developing new younger spokespersons for the movement. We now have at least a dozen-and-a-half new shakers and movers. Since we have come on the scene, humanism and skepticism have grown exponentially.

Admittedly, we have had some growing pains, particularly in the past three years as we have added new members to our team. But we are impressed by the fact that many staff members have been with us for five, ten, fifteen, even twenty years, and they have worked together harmoniously. Indeed, departures from our staff are lower than at similar dynamic growing organizations. I am pleased to say that our momentum is strong, our impact is powerful, our gains continue, and, in spite of occasional departures from our ranks, that we remain confident about our prospects for future growth and development. Indeed, our goal is to double our staff members and budget in the next five years!

We face great challenges from the broader media-driven banal culture that we live in, which is becoming increasingly irrational, anti-scientific, spiritual, and supernatural. We believe that we have an enormous responsibility to criticize these claims and to expound an affirmative humanist alternative.

The Council thus has a vital role to play in culture. Although our publications (and Web sites) will continue to play an important role on the national and international levels, we believe that the highest priority must be to build new autonomous grass-roots organizations. Here we have emphasized participatory democracy, and each of our local and regional groups are self-governing. We are committed to do whatever we can to work with them to achieve our common goals. In our considered judgment, we need a new cultural renaissance, which will emphasize critical thinking and the scientific and rational outlook but at the same time define and practice humanist ethics: we need to demonstrate that the good life of creative fulfillment and shared experiences within humanist communities is eminently realizable.

As secular humanists, we often feel like the lone voice in the wilderness-particularly in the face of the recent political campaigns in the United States, where the leading candidates for office of both major parties profess pious declarations of religious faith, and where the media constantly propounds a similar view, virtually without dissent; and where religious organizations are completely unchallenged.

Secular humanism, we believe, can contribute significantly to the future of our planetary community. We need to educate people who agree with us to join our ranks. We need your support if we are to achieve these high ideals. Our focus is twofold: to encourage skepticism about untested religious and paranormal claims and to demonstrate that there is a positive humanist alternative to the reigning orthodoxies. The good life of creative fulfillment is possible here and now.

 


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