The Sect of
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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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