Cenk Uygur, Humanist Media Award: It Can’t All Be True
Cenk Uygur was born in Turkey and immigrated to the United States with his family when he was eight years old, later becoming a naturalized citizen. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business and Columbia Law School, and was a practicing attorney in Washington, DC, and New York. In 2002 Uygur left his lucrative career to launch the independent news show, The Young Turks, on Sirius Satellite Radio. Three years later the show became the first live, daily web video show, streaming from its Los Angeles studio. Today The Young Turks reaches millions through radio, its YouTube channel and, most recently, on Current TV. In 2011 Uygur started a political action committee, named Wolf-PAC, with the explicit goal of forcing a constitutional convention and amending the U.S. Constitution to end corporate personhood, limit the private funding of elections, and end Super PACs. Uygur was awarded the American Humanist Association’s Humanist Media Award at the AHA’s 71st annual conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, on June 8, 2012. The following is adapted from his acceptance speech.
I like to say I’ve evolved, having grown up in Turkey in a family that was both secular and Muslim, which in Turkey is very common because the country’s founder, Mustafa Kemel Ataturk, really stressed secularism. Turkey was very proudly secular, lately not as much but we’re trying to get back there.
In college I started taking classes in different religions—Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, and so on—and I was stunned by the lack of reason in all of them. The story that really cemented my nonbelief was actually from the Bible, not the Koran. It’s the Tower of Babel story, in which rational, reasonable people work together and build this great tower. But God gets angry. He’s threatened and decries our hubris. Now, if my son built something great, would I be jealous? No, I’d be incredibly proud. But that’s not the God in the Bible. He says, all right, since you guys actually dare to be decent human beings, I’m going to destroy your tower. I’m going to make you all speak different languages and spread you throughout the land so that you can never work together again.
There’s a saying in Turkish: you close a book when you’re done with it and you drink a cold glass of water. I closed the Bible and I said somebody get me a cold glass of water, because I’m done with this. If this is God then I’m against him. I’m for humanity.
Now, I understand there aren’t a lot of open agnostics or atheists or humanists on TV, which is part of the reason I’m here. And I watch Bill O’Reilly from time to time, and whenever he uses the term “secular humanist,” he spits it out: those ssssecular humanists. I don’t get it—secularism is great. I mean, even if you’re religious, you shouldn’t want to mix religion and government. One, it hurts your religion overall; and two, which religion gets to dictate the law? And then with the term humanist—who’s against human beings?