July 17, 2024

Where are the Asian Faces of Freethought?

This quote from John Xu…

“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.”

It inspired the idea for the panel discussion tonight on ftbcon.org at 6:00 PM CST. Unfortunately, for us John can’t make it tonight because he is getting married today. We taped his part of the discussion, since his quote inspired curiosity about why this so.


We will be talking to Hemant Mehta of The Friendly Atheist, Yau Man Chan of Skeptic Blog and Survivor Fiji, Razib Khan of Gene Expression of Discover, Vic Wang of Houston Atheists, and Cindy Cooper of Camp Quest Oklahoma and Texas. The topic is “Where are the Asian Faces of Freethought?”

Freethought is an ancient Asian tradition.
Freethought is an ancient Asian tradition.

7 thoughts on “Where are the Asian Faces of Freethought?

  1. Kind of makes me think of my wife, who’s Taiwanese, and her mostly Mandarin-speaking friends. My wife falls into the agnostic atheist category, but she very much buys into her cultural superstitions, getting frightened if I whistle at night because it “attracts ghosts” and pushing various Chinese folk medicine on me (which I, of course, supplement with medicine that’s actually been proven to work). Weird given she’s more educated than I am with a Master’s (which I’m still working on). The thing I’ve noticed is that these things aren’t categorized as religious or spiritual in her mind, but are simply “cultural,” so when I call her out on her BS she gets upset at my “cultural insensitivity.” Based on that my speculation is that superstitious thought is just tied in with asian culture more deeply than in the West at the moment, so it would take more effort for someone raised in that culture to break out of it. The explanation in the OP probably has something to do with it as well, and it amusingly reminds me of Sherlock Holmes.

    1. I do see a problem with superstition in Western countries as well. It seems very prevalent in Latin countries. But superstition still exists in other parts of North America and Western Europe as well. Although I do I think her superstitions are inspired by Asian folklore.

  2. I was able to view a good chunk of the discussion yesterday and they covered a lot of ground well. One thing I thought about was the Pew Forums poll done last year that showed that 8% of Asian-American respondents identified as being atheist/agnostic, which is higher than the general population (the majority being Chinese-Americans).

    Now, going over the whys and wherefores of the stuff holding Asian-Americans to various religious or superstitious belief systems is very useful, but there IS a population of us ethnically Asian nonbelievers already in existence. For someone like me who finds himself the only, or among a couple of, Asian-Americans in the secular groups or events I’ve become active in, the question then becomes, how do we attract more to get involved in the larger community? As a friend of mine, an atheist of Chinese descent, said, it’s difficult to get us involved in much of any type of activism, much less one that can drastically affect our ties to family and community. In the same way Lilandra Nelson described herself during the panel, I’ve always been a bit of a square peg to begin with, so it was a bit easier for me to get involved. But recently, I’ve also come to the realization that I could be part of a solution myself. Vic Wang made an excellent point about visibility when he spoke about a first timer coming to his group who told him she probably wouldn’t have come back if he hadn’t been there, and that made me think that those of us who are already here has something of a responsibility to be visible and especially welcoming.

    For sure, the cultural norm for “not-rocking-the-boat”, not pushing oneself forward, does play a part even in myself, where the idea of being so highly visible and promotional is uncomfortable. However, I decided to start a Facebook group for Secular Asian-Americans as well with the help of CFI friends. Hopefully, we’ll be able to make some new connections going forward, and I also hope to see even more of those faces on the panel in more discussions like this again.

  3. Thanks Michael Nam for the feedback. Please link me to it when you have it up. I am interested in joining it, and spreading the word about it. I am thinking about a new panel for FTBCon2, which may be as soon as the beginning of 2014. Tentatively, I am thinking about a panel focused on Asian alternative medicine, and having people to educate the public on how to evaluate medicine. I am open to suggestions too.

  4. Lilandra,

    How about talking about things like rhino horn ‘Viagra’ and shark fin soup? Or are those encompassed by alternative medicine?

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