A Secular Humanist Chaplain?

Yesterday I shared about my participation with the Interfaith Youth Core’s conference on interfaith leadership. I sat on a panel with some wonderful people representing different faiths: Maha ElGenaidi from the Islamic networks Group; Rabbi Or Rose from Hebrew College, and Greg Epstein who serves as the Humanist Chaplain at Harvard. Yes, you heard that right…Harvard has a secular humanist chaplain, and they’ve had the position for over 30 years. Last week I wrote a post about atheism having its own form of fundamentalism. It was based on a report by NPR. Well, for the sake of fairness and balance, I think it’s only right to report that there are non-fundamentalist atheists as well. Greg Epstein is a good example. During our panel discussion he advocated passionately for his humanist position–he does not believe in God, he sees humanism as a more rational and intellectually honest worldview, and he firmly believes people can be “good without God”…which is also the title of his new book. But an interesting question was asked by a member of the audience. She asked Greg whether he considered himself a person of faith. He answers, “yes.” While Greg is pro-humanism, he is not anti-religion. Here’s a brief excerpt from his website:

The New Humanism does not spend all its energy blasting belief in God in all its forms and certainly avoids ad hominem attacks on those who identify themselves as religious. In other words, we know that not everyone who disagrees with us is an idiot. We don’t kid ourselves about the deleterious effects of some religion, and we don’t have to agree with any form of theism, but we don’t consider religion to be child abuse.

Visit the New Humanism website to read more about what Greg Epstein thinks about atheism, religion, and his advocacy for humanism. Obviously I disagree with Greg on many, perhaps even most, issues. But I was strangely encouraged to find an atheist who didn’t simply denounce all religion, and a humanist who recognizes the “religious” qualities of his belief system. He places his faith/trust in humanity rather than a god, and his mission is to pursue the “common good” while allowing many of lifes most fundamental questions to remain unanswered. What is the future of New Humanism? I’m not sure. But by placing secular humanism within the community of faiths, it certainly changes the rules of engagement. Perhaps atheism can no longer be held to a different standard, but instead be judged by the same quailites of other belief systems.


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