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The Sect of Zarathustra


And when I shout, "Curse all cowardly devils in you who like to whine and fold their hands and pray," they shout, "Zarathustra is godless." And their teachers of resignation shout it especially; but it is precisely into their ears that I like to shout, "Yes, I am Zarathustra the godless!" These teachers of resignation! Whatever is small and sick and scabby, they crawl to like lice; and only my nausea prevents me from squashing them.

Well then, this is my preaching for their ears. I am Zarathustra the godless, who speaks: "Who is more godless than I, that I may delight in his instruction?"

I am Zarathustra the godless: where shall I find my equal? And all those are my equals who give themselves their own will and reject all resignation.

Last night I returned from an interesting weekend at the Council for Secular Humanism, where I began my new job. This morning I want to outline my plans as the Regional Coordinator, but first I want to try to convey to you something of my vision, and to ask you to consider sharing it with me.

Yesterday afternoon I shook hands with Paul Kurtz, who told me the project of laying the groundwork for a North Jersey/New York Center for Inquiry was in my hands. I told him I was enthusiastic, that my new position allowed me, for the first time in years, to combine all my time and energy into a single, meaningful mission, and that I felt I was standing at the beginning of an adventure. And all this I did feel. But I knew that inside me there was one wire that failed to connect, one spot that remained cold with reluctance: could I really step into the role of the kind of Secular Humanist staff I had met in recent months? I had just read the newsletters of a couple of the Metro area Humanist groups I will be coordinating. And there was this sense that I did not quite have the feel for this sort of thing.

Officially my duties include serving as traveling debater and speaker for the Campus Freethought Alliance. I will teach periodically as Professor of Biblical Criticism at the Center for Inquiry Institute. I will write, review, and edit for Free Inquiry and for the Journal of Higher Criticism, which will become part of Prometheus Books. I am to coordinate area meetings and conferences for the four other Secular Humanist groups in the area. I want to help organize Campus Freethought Alliance cells at Montclair State, Drew, and Princeton. But these chores are distinct from my work with our own group here, which would count as a fifth Humanist group and eventually form the basis for a Center of Inquiry with its own building, a kind of parish hall for area Humanists, Atheists, and Freethinkers. It is this last, the development of our own community, that interests me.

And this is where the question of vision becomes relevant. Here is where I am able to put my own imprint on things. Back to that parting moment with Paul Kurtz, and that missing piece I felt. My lingering doubt had to do with the character of Humanism as we know it. To me, to be blunt, Humanism as practiced is tepid, timid, vapid, torpid. It has all the excitement of a civics lesson, of a PBS telethon. Its partisans tend to champion the mundane, to lower the drop ceiling as far as they can. To exorcise the imagination, to fear myth, the exile the Muses along with the gods. Colorless, boring, Rotarian. Mired in political mud. If this is Humanism, if this is rationalism, you can forgive people for preferring superstition.

As I drove down the picturesque length of Route 81 from Syracuse to Scranton, a revelation began to settle upon me. Had Dr. Kurtz meant what he said? That it was now in my hands? I had to assume he did. And this made me ask myself what kind of a Humanist movement I would create if I had the chance? If I could have it the way I wanted? Without the compromises, the watering down I already expected to have to make? It was indeed to be my experiment. They had placed confidence in me, based on the response people had given to my... performances. They must want me to do my thing, even if they didn't quite know what that might amount to.

And I began to think back to an earlier revelatory experience. A couple of years ago, I was cooling my heels at a schedule-less and boring convention where I was ostensibly a guest speaker but in fact did no speaking. I spent a good deal of time in my room reading Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra. I had lately begun to wonder whether my teaching had any real purpose to it anymore, my having left the community of faith. Should I just put the whole religion thing behind me and move on? But to what? Reading Zarathustra galvanized me, gave me a vision. Suddenly I understood who I was, what was my destiny. It was to carry on for Zarathustra, to be a gadfly against the numbing forces of convention and superstition and conformism. To will the death of God and to proclaim it. To press beyond the torpor of agnosticism and liberal religion, to the practice of the absence of God.

And yesterday I knew the time had come. I knew the moment had arrived for me to create a Humanism in my own image, or in Zarathustra's image. Atheism is not enough. It is a fixation on what one does not believe. Agnosticism is the coward's haven, the kingdom of the mugwump. Even Humanism is insufficient for the reasons I have already mentioned. One must stand for something adventurous. One must valorize life with myth. And Nietzsche showed the way. The way of the Superman. That is the way I intend to take, and I hope you will take it with me.

I would like to continue Heretics Anonymous and the Grail as they are. But I would like to return to a more active schedule for Heretics. Perhaps twice a month. And, if it works out, I would like to revive the Skeptic Tank, an alternate weekend group to meet perhaps at the Library in Montclair. The point of this is to widen the membership and to acclimate us to meeting in a bigger space.

I'd also like to revive the Borders class under the name the Freethinkers Bible. And, speaking of the Bible, I may be writing the annotations for a Skeptics Annotated Bible for Prometheus Books.

Another pet project of mine would be to try to revive the defunct Fundamentalists Anonymous movement, along with an occasional counseling practice for people leaving religion, the whole thing to be called "Ex-Fundies." This would have as national a scope as I could give it, as the original Fundamentalists Anonymous had, but it would be, strictly speaking, a part of my outreach from here.

Aiding all this would be a radio call-in show I am hoping to sell.

And I'd revive the newsletter, which has gone under the titles The Epistle and The Encyclical. This time out it would bear the Nietzschean alias The Great Noon.

The Humanism I want to create is Nietzschean Humanism, Superhumanism, as I called it in an earlier sermon. It will embody myth and fiction, style, flair, irreverence and outrageousness. Movements depend on the gifts of a leader, or they sink into the kind of torpor from which Humanism presently suffers. I want to become the Anton LaVey, the Zarathustra, of Humanism. The Antichrist, the Ingersoll. I want to proclaim the death of God and the dawn of the Superman. 

Dr. Kurtz and I scanned the long list of similarly and generically named Humanist organizations associated with the Council for Secular Humanism, and he suggested naming our group, our little empire, with some label indistinguishable from the others. You know, like the Judean People's Front, the People's Front of Judea. You can't tell them apart. But driving down Route 81 I realized that's the last thing I want to do. We aren't one more pea in a pod. We will be noticed and remembered. This will be The Sect of Zarathustra. For the timid, the newsletter will stipulate that we are "affiliated with the Council for Secular Humanism." But its motto will run: Proclaiming the Death of God and the Dawn of the Superman. I'm not proposing it for some meek committee's fretful consideration; I'm telling you how it will be.

What a vision to advance! What a movement to join and to build! What a fiction, an epic, to live out! If we spend one second fretting that some will misunderstand, then we have misunderstood. If it is anything, the Humanism I envision raises its standard proudly and decisively without conducting focus groups first. When the Buddha raised the Golden Lotus and saw only a single face which smiled at his meaning, he did not think he had made a mistake. If this movement, this Sect of Zarathustra, thinks it has to ask permission to be itself, it has already betrayed itself. It has become decadent in the moment of its birth. 

But you'll never have to use the name if it frightens you. We'll still call this meeting the Grail, and the Friday evenings Heretics Anonymous. I love those names and the things they stand for. And if a building is ever built, it will no doubt be called the North Jersey Center for Inquiry. But my new Humanism, with the Dionysian flair of mockery, myth, and the Muse, will declare its debt to Nietzsche. It will celebrate the Superman, rejoice in irreverence, carry on a guerrilla campaign against the respectable illusions of established priestcraft. What about politics? Civics lessons? Getting "In God We Trust" off the coins? I leave those agendas to the Rotarians and Unitarians who can gaze no higher. I breathe a rarer atmosphere, the fire of the Empyrean.

God, I tell you, is dead. It is time to be gods ourselves.

June 12, 1999 




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