Gerald A. Larue, Humanist Laureate, 1916–2014

Andrea Szalanski

Gerald A. Larue, a senior editor of Free Inquiry and a Laureate of the International Academy of Humanism (a program of the Council for Secular Humanism), died September 17, 2014, at the age of ninety-eight.

Free Inquiry and the Council for Secular Humanism (then the Council for Democratic and Secular Humanism) were founded in 1980 by Paul Kurtz with the support of distinguished advocates of secularism and Enlightenment values and critics of the religious fundamentalism then arising to take control over public life in the United States and elsewhere. “A Secular Humanist Declaration,” published in the very first issue of FI, laid out their positions and principles.

Those principles included free inquiry, the use of reason, separation of church and state, religious skepticism, and more. A year later they led to the creation of the first subgroup with the Council, the Religion and Biblical Criticism Research Project (later, the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion). Dr. Larue was one of six signatories to the Project’s founding statement, published in the Spring 1982 issue of Free Inquiry. Later, he was its president. The Project not only conducted scholarly research but debunked such “miracles” as weeping religious statues and sightings of the Virgin Mary.

Observers of Dr. Larue’s early career would have been surprised at this later turn of events. After receiving bachelor of arts and bachelor of divinity degrees from the University of Alberta, Edmonton, he became a minister in the United Church of Canada and served congregations in Canada and the United States from 1945 to 1953. He obtained a doctor of theology degree at the Pacific School of Religion in California, where he developed doubts about religion and became known as “Heretic Larue.” He decided to leave the ministry: in an interview with the Orange County Register, he said that the existence of God was “an open question.”

In 1958, he became professor of biblical history and archaeology the University of Southern California (USC) School of Religion. His numerous archaeological expeditions in the Near East further cemented his agnosticism. He came to specialize in examining religious myths, folk tales, and legends and identifying the factual elements that could be substantiated, especially by archaeological evidence.

Tom Flynn, Council executive director, described Dr. Larue, along with Paul Kurtz and Professor Vern Bullough, as “the globe-hopping brain trust of secular humanism” in the Council’s early years. Dr. Larue took part in several Council conferences, including “Science, the Bible, and Darwin,” held in the centenary year of Darwin’s death in 1982, and he wrote numerous articles for Free Inquiry and the Council’s newsletter for the Secular Family Network, Family Matters. He could write for academic audiences on issues in society (“Creationism: 500 Years of Controversy,” FI, Summer 1982) or for children on how events in nature became the basis for rituals and religious observances (“Happy New Year,” Family Matters, Winter 2003/04). His seventeen books included the textbook, Old Testament Life and Literature (Allyn and Bacon, 1968); Sex and the Bible (Prometheus Books, 1983); and The Way of Ethical Humanism (Centerline Press, 1989).

Dr. Larue was also the founding president of the Hemlock Society. He was the recipient of numerous awards, including Humanist of the Year in 1989 and a Life­time Achievement Award from USC. Flynn said Larue “had a strong regard for truth and limited patience for obscurantism. He had one foot in the real world and one foot in the ivory tower.”

After retiring from the School of Re­ligion, Dr. Larue taught for another twenty-five years in the School of Ger­ontology. He retired from that in 2006 at the age of ninety to devote more time to his grandchildren.

— Andrea Szalanski, managing editor, Free Inquiry

Andrea Szalanski

Free Inquiry Managing Editor

Gerald A. Larue, a senior editor of Free Inquiry and a Laureate of the International Academy of Humanism (a program of the Council for Secular Humanism), died September 17, 2014, at the age of ninety-eight.

This article is available to subscribers only.
Subscribe now or log in to read this article.