CFI Builds Bridges with the California Faith Community
March 20, 2018
The Center for Inquiry is many things, but one thing it decidedly is not is a “faith-based organization.” Nonetheless, in representing the interests of skeptics and the nonreligious, it is crucial that CFI and other secularist organizations are fully represented in discussions about the role of religion in public life. After all, the religiously unaffiliated make up almost a quarter of the U.S. population. That’s why CFI was proud to be represented by the executive director of CFI’s west coast operations, Jim Underdown, at an interfaith conference hosted by California Assemblymember Eloise Gomez Reyes on March 10.
The conference, held at at San Bernardino Valley College, was called The Bridge and was aimed at “bridging the gap between faith-based organizations, our community, and public officials,” and was the first of its kind in the state. In a plenary session, Jim addressed the entire conference, making the case for a strong secular voice in the political process, despite efforts to exclude us, and he reminded the attendees, “We’re not your enemies … We care about our communities and our country, and we want to participate in the work that will make our neighborhoods, our states, and our country good places to live. But we can’t work together until all of us are included.”
Here is the text of Jim’s address to The Bridge conference in its entirety.
Thank you, Assemblymember Eloise Reyes for organizing this event and inviting a truly diverse group to attend and participate.
In 2010, President Obama said, “this is a country that is still predominantly Christian, but we have Jews, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, and that their own path to grace is one that we have to revere and respect as much as our own.”
That may have been the first time ever that a sitting president of the United States made an inclusive statement about atheists and agnostics.
The Center for Inquiry where I work—a community of pro-science atheists, agnostics and secular humanists—work on a number of issues pertaining to science, extraordinary claims, and secular people both here in California and elsewhere. We’ve been debunking fake news since the 70s. Some items get our attention more than others.
We not only represent the 4 million atheists and agnostics in California, but to some degree the 11 million “nones” in this state. NONES not NUNS—The nones I’m talking about mark “none” on surveys when they are asked about their religious affiliation.
Imagine me repping nuns? Like putting Ted Nugent in charge of PETA.
Why is it important that secular organizations like the Center for Inquiry participate in government like faith-based organizations do?
First of all, we think ALL People should participate in the process of government.
We are firm believers in the separation of religion and state. But separation of religion and state doesn’t mean that religious people shouldn’t participate in government. It means that the great power of government shouldn’t favor one religion over another, or believers over non-believers.
But all Californians—all Americans—should participate in their local, state, and federal governments. We think all Americans—and I include immigrants and permanent residents here—ought to care about what their elected officials are up to, and should have a voice in policies.
I gotta tell you… we secular people often feel left out. We feel left out when we see 3500 people attend a National Prayer breakfast and get to eat with Members of Congress and the President of the United States.
Not a single atheist was invited. But you say it was a prayer breakfast, why should you get an invitation? Ok, I would buy that if the next month we got the invite to the national science breakfast, the national good without God breakfast, the national evolution breakfast, or the national secular democracy breakfast—except none of those breakfasts exists. So the reality is that 3500 religious folks get access to the most powerful elected officials in the country year after year, and we don’t.
The prayer breakfast is just one example. But really, any marginalized group knows how important access to power is. Any Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists here today – any non-Christian really—all know what it feels like to hold a minority belief in the greater American society. The irony with us is that we’re marginalized even though there are millions of us. There are millions of atheists and tens of million of NONES in this country. You’d think politicians would be fighting for a voting bloc that large. Why they don’t is a whole another discussion.
I guess what I’m here to say is, we’re not your enemies. I have devoutly religious friends and family that I love and would do anything for—and they for me. We’re your neighbors and friends and co-workers and family members. The vast majority of us of us obey the law, pay our taxes, and care about our fellow human beings as much as any religious person does. We care about our communities and our country, and we want to participate in the work that will make our neighborhoods, our states, and our country good places to live. But we can’t work together until all of us are included.
I thank you for the opportunity to speak, and look forward to building more bridges.