Last Monday, we learned that the Office of Religious Freedom (ORF) just got a new external advisory committee composed of some 23 religious leaders - none of which were named at the time. Then, a day later, we learned that it's actually a committee of 23 religious leaders and a single agnostic. Furthermore, that agnostic is actually Eric Adriaans, the national director of CFI Canada.
Eric posted a short report on the inaugural meeting of the new committee over at the CFI blog.
Eric Adriaans says of the appointment, “My inclusion on this committee is a significant demonstration of the Office of Religious Freedom’s recognition of the diversity of perspective to be found in Canada on matters of religious freedom. Canada’s free-thinking, non-believing community should be encouraged to see evidence that the ORF has taken steps to include and welcome a representative from the growing non-believing community. It is an honour to have been appointed and an honour to represent the perspectives of the significant and growing community of individuals who may variously self-identify with such terms as humanist, secularist, secular humanist, atheist, agnostic, free-thinker or skeptic.That last highlighted part ties very nicely into a question I had for Eric. Namely, why did Fr. Raymond J. de Souza call him an agnostic in his revelatory article and why does Adriaans' bio on the official committee webpage lack the word atheist, agnostic or non-religious, settling only for secular humanism? I couldn't help but think perhaps he was watering down certain important facets of the organization to make it more palatable to committee members perhaps.
I asked Eric directly concerning this via email and here's the relevant response:
Was there any hesitation to use the word "atheist" in the bio or article to de Souza. Asking because by saying "agnostic" vs secular or humanist or atheist it may be interpreted by some readers as whitewashing.
If your question is whether I'm afraid to be identified as atheist, the answer is no. I chose "agnostic" for strategic reasons:
1) it is unexpected
2) it forces the kinds of questions you are asking
3) it doesn't sit comfortably and contentedly
4) as these things go, it is a contrarian term
I also don't want anybody thinking they know my (or CFICs) agenda before I have a chance to speak. I want people to listen - both on the committee and in the broad community.... not just shut down due to an arbitrary and partial label.
I embrace both atheist and agnostic. In fact, like you've done, I think the two should be paired more frequently. I wish I had thought of that when I was speaking with DeSouza.
On any given day you could accurately say I'm a pragmatic atheist-agnostic with an assertively anti-authoritarian streak who is trying to accomplish progressive humanist-humanitarian changes; I admit that my skeptical approach is tainted by a slightly cynical attitude but I'm stoic enough not to worry myself over it.
Adriaans is referring to a previous email where I identified myself as an agnostic atheist, which I believe is truly the honest position. In a very real sense, we're all agnostic... even the other 23 committee members. I'm also a big cynic too!
It's a shame there isn't an umbrella term which could be used -- perhaps an acronym comparable to LGBT. As it stands though, Eric did remind me that this was from a single article, by someone else, completely in passing, in an article about a completely different topic. So I don't think we should make much of this right now.
All this said, the most important thing is what can be achieved for atheists being oppressed by religious groups, governments and majorities across the globe.
“Working for change in Canada and around the world requires CFI Canada to earn trust and respect across a variety of communities - within the diverse secularist community and with those who continue in a religious or spiritual community,” said Adriaans, ” We must take the opportunity to engage on equal footing and with full commitment to processes such as the ORF’s External Advisory Committee if we wish to see positive change on religious freedoms – and freedom from religion.”
The Office of Religious Freedom recently announced the launch of an International Contact Group on Freedom of Religion or Belief with Canada as a Chair. Meanwhile, CFI Canada was a driving force behind the formation of the International Coalition Against Blasphemy Laws earlier in 2015. It is clear that Canadians have much to offer to the world when it comes to bringing diverse voices together – and that CFI Canada is unique in Canadian history as an advocate for secularism, free-thinking and non-belief in all of (its) diversity.
I'm all for working with religious leaders to improve the situation of those being oppressed in the name of religion. I'm looking forward to see what can be achieved over the committee's first one year mandate!