John Xu Appointed Acting Director for Centre for Inquiry in Toronto

I don’t usually post about various leadership changes within our movement, but this one was particularly interesting because I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Chinese person’s name on the masthead for any national atheist group, at least in North America. (If I’m wrong, please correct me.)

John Xu, who began volunteering at CFI in 2007 and started his own secular student group at York University, has just been appointed the Acting Director of CFI Canada’s Toronto branch. It’s a temporary position as they search for a new Executive Director, but that makes him one of the few non-white leaders we have.

I asked John if he would tell us about himself and what he makes of that distinction:

My name is John Xu (sounds like “shoe”). I was born in Beijing and lived in Shanghai until the age of 10, when I immigrated to Canada. Issues of racial identity and discrimination were never much of an issue to me, having had a German-Canadian for a stepfather, and lived in one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world — Toronto. In this way I have been very fortunate.

Chinese society, when I left it in 1997, was encouraging of scientific and technological development as a matter of national pride. This helped foster in me an early love of science and the natural world. After being exposed to the works of intellectual heroes such as Carl Sagan and Paul Kurtz, I knew that my purpose in this world was to leave it a bit more rational and humane than I found it. Deep down, I never thought of myself as a Chinese or a Canadian — but rather a human sharing our fragile Spaceship Earth with 6 (and now 7) billion others.

I have often remarked how little interest people of my ethnicity have for secularist and freethought issues. My theory is that this is because they are the product of very complicated and difficult social, political, and intellectual turmoils of the 20th Century. Most Chinese people I know are brought up with a single-minded concern about generating wealth and a general apathy about philosophical matters. This is likely because their parents lived through such hard times.

I hope this apathy will change over time, because while Chinese people are largely atheistic, they are no better critical thinkers than any other people. China is rapidly becoming an important power on the planet, and its citizens more influential in its own governance. [Billions of] Chinese spread around the world are a force to be reckoned with. It would bode well for the world if they became more rational and humanistic. Thus I challenge my brethren to take more interest in philosophical, political and ethical issues and be a part of the movement towards reason and rationality.

I asked Ron Lindsay, CEO of the Center for Inquiry, what he thought about the appointment and he sent along this message:

Obviously we are very pleased at this appointment which reflects both the increasing diversity of the nonreligious population in North America and the ability of the secular movement to appeal to and engage a wide range of ethnic groups.

Congratulations to John in his new position!

(via Canadian Atheist)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Simon3456

    It should also be noted that while CFI Canada shares a name with CFI Transnational they are a completely separate organization.

  • von flue choke

    C’mon Hemant, do you want people to write articles about your skin colour or just your accolades.

    • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Tanner B James

      What does skin color have to do with culture. There are still a number of British colonists living in Hong Kong and parts unknown in China. It is probable that they have even taken traditional Chinese surnames. By your analogy do you consider those people as having a different skin tone?

    • Tim

      It is important that our movement is diverse – is terms of culture, nationality, skin colour, gender, etc etc – both so it can serve nations which are diverse and so it can;t be dismissed as a “white, liberal, male elitist thing”
      John Xu’s Chinese hertitage may not be the most interesting thing about the man, but it isn;t irrelevant either.

  • Veronica Abbass

    The Canadian Atheist post highlights the
    characteristics that make John an ideal
    Acting Director of CFI Canada’s Toronto branch. John’s Chinese name or his country of origin is not an issue.

    Veronica Abbass


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