Tag Archives: Humanists

Harvard Chaplains Elect a Humanist as ‘Chief Chaplain’

According to their website, The Harvard Chaplains are a professional community of more than thirty chaplains, representing many of the world’s religious, spiritual, and ethical traditions, who share a collective commitment to serving the spiritual needs of the students, faculty, and staff of Harvard University. “

In August of 2021, it was reported that this organization elected a Humanist as their ‘Chief Chaplain’. As one may expect, such a generated media attention and is seen by some as a kind of controversy.

Greg Epstein, the subject of that controversy is one of the organization’s chaplains. Again, according to the organization’s website: Greg M. Epstein serves as the Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University, as well as the president of the Harvard Chaplains, Harvard University’s corps of over forty chaplains from more than 20 different religious, spiritual, and ethical traditions. Greg also serves the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as humanist chaplain and as Convener for Ethical Life at the MIT Office of Religious, Spiritual, and Ethical Life. For nearly two decades, he has built a unique career as one of the world’s most prominent humanist chaplains — professionally trained members of the clergy who support the ethical and communal lives of nonreligious people.

Described as a “godfather to the [humanist] movement” by The New York Times Magazine, Epstein was also named “one of the top faith and moral leaders in the United States” by Faithful Internet, a project coordinated by the United Church of Christ with assistance from the Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society, for his efforts to bring together atheists, agnostics, and allies, as part of an ancient and ever-evolving ethical tradition that can be called humanism. As Greg believes deeply: in a changing world where faith in humankind has become more difficult to maintain, it is more important than ever to fight for our common humanity, and for each other.

As an author, Greg’s New York Times bestselling book, “Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe,” continues to be influential years after its initial publication helped popularize the notion that the rapidly growing population of secular people can live lives of deep purpose, compassion, and connection. More recently,Greg’s 2018 move to join MIT, in addition to his work at Harvard, inspired an 18-month residency at the leading Silicon Valley publication TechCrunch, in which he published nearly 40 in-depth pieces exploring the ethics of technologies and companies that are shifting our definition of what it means to be human, often in troubling ways. Greg is currently writing a book on technology, religion, and humanism, based in part on this initial research. His writing on topics such as humanism, ethics, technology, and politics, has also appeared in The Boston Globe, CNN.com, The Washington Post, Newsweek, Salon, Critical Inquiry, and The Humanist.

In 2005, Greg received ordination as a Humanist Rabbi from the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism. He holds a B.A. (Religion and Chinese) and an M.A. (Judaic Studies) from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and a Masters of Theological Studies from the Harvard Divinity School, and he completed a year-long graduate fellowship at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

That Epstein’s appointment is a controversy is not really any great surprise. Whenever religion and organization politics (regardless of that organization’s nature) combine, controversy seems to be an automatic outcome. The real question here, is whether the controversy is about the right questions(s). In 2021, there are still a great many people who seem to feel it is perfectly acceptable to deride a person’s election to some form of public office based on whether they personally believe in a God.

The Harvard Chaplains unanimously elected Epstein. To those who are interested to object and cause snide, disrespectful and deriding headlines and commentary, is seems reasonable to ask two questions.

The first question is, “Since he was unanimously elected by his peaers, What’s the problem?” That question can easily be turned-into a two-or- even-three-parter, with a variety of follow-ups. But let’s leave that one as it is.

The second, and the more considerable question is, “Why do you think it’s OK to discriminate against someone who is merely living the best life that they can within their freedom not to believe what you happen to?”

It certainly seems that a world which continues to move toward allowing religious freedom and the freedom of belief must still be encouraged to recognize that these freedoms include, most fundamentally, the freedom not to believe. There’s the real controversy.


Citations, References And Other Reading

  1. Featured Photo Courtesy of
  2. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/09/20/harvards-atheist-chaplain-controversy
  3. https://www.ncregister.com/blog/harvard-not-heaven-0a2nx6py
  4. https://chaplains.harvard.edu/
  5. https://www.ncregister.com/cna/harvard-catholic-center-responds-to-spin-on-atheist-chaplain
  6. https://www.humanistchaplaincy.org/
  7. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9929315/New-Harvard-chief-chaplain-atheist-ordained-humanist-rabbi.html
  8. https://www.thecrimson.com/article/2021/9/2/greg-epstein-president-chaplains/
  9. https://www.christianpost.com/voices/can-an-atheist-chaplain-glorify-god.html
  10. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/26/us/harvard-chaplain-greg-epstein.html
  11. https://www.bostonglobe.com/2021/08/27/metro/harvards-new-head-chaplain-is-an-atheist-unanimously-elected-by-his-peers/
  12. https://angelusnews.com/faith/harvard-catholic-center-responds-to-spin-on-atheist-chaplain/
  13. https://nypost.com/2021/08/26/harvards-new-chaplain-is-an-atheist-and-good-without-god/
  14. https://www.thecrimson.com/article/2021/9/9/harvard-chaplain-atheist/
  15. https://www.washingtonpost.com/

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.

Most Senior Appointment YET For A humanist Pastoral Carer at an NHS Trust

Lindsay van Dijk has been appointed to head up the chaplaincy and pastoral care team at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which provides person-centred pastoral and spiritual care. As a head of service role, this is the most senior role a humanist pastoral carer has ever held in the NHS. She is also the youngest person to have held such a position. Humanists UK has congratulated Ms van Dijk. It hopes her appointment will encourage other trusts to embrace more inclusive and diverse pastoral care teams.

Research shows that only 4% of hospital visits by religious chaplains are to non-religious patients. This suggests that non-religious people’s pastoral needs are not met when an NHS trust only has religious chaplains. People in need of support should be able to choose to speak to someone who shares their worldview. Until recently, only religious chaplains provided this kind of service. But recently some NHS trusts have started to introduce non-religious pastoral carers.

Previously, Ms Van Dijk was Lead Chaplain at Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust. She is also the chair of the Non-Religious Pastoral Support Network (NRPSN), which is part of Humanists UK. She holds a BA and MA in humanist pastoral care from the University of Humanistic Studies in the Netherlands. She is currently studying for a PhD in humanist pastoral care. She worked at the Humanist Community at Harvard as a humanist pastoral carer. She held posts in a hospice and nursing home for elderly patients with advanced Alzheimer’s disease. She has also worked as a humanist pastoral carer at a UK secondary school. She is a member of the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy (BACP) and accredited by the UK Board of Healthcare Chaplaincy (UKBHC).

Welcoming the appointment, Humanists UK’s Head of Humanist Care Clare Elcombe Webber commented,

‘I am delighted that Lindsay has been appointed to such a senior role within an NHS Trust. A few years ago, such opportunities were not open to humanists. Non-religious people were not able to get the like-minded support that they needed. It is a mark of how far we have come that a humanist is a Head of Chaplaincy and Pastoral Care. We hope this appointment will be a catalyst not only for other trusts to embrace inclusion and diversity, but other public institutions such as the prison service and armed forces to do the same.’

On her appointment, Lindsay van Dijk commented,

‘It is a great honour to be appointed to this position. The heart of my role is to ensure that patients get the person-centred care that they need and is right for them.’

NHS England is currently reviewing its Chaplaincy Guidelines, which set out best practice across pastoral, spiritual, and religious care. Humanists UK is currently working with other religion and belief groups to make sure that the new guidelines address issues of equality and inclusion as standard practice. This includes the need for non-religious pastoral care.

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at press@humanists.uk or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.

Ms van Dijk has made an image available for use by media. Photo credit Edward Thompson. Twitter @_edthompson, Instagram @mredthompson.

Read more about Humanist Care.

Read more about the work of the Non-Religious Pastoral Support Network.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

In 2021, Humanists UK is celebrating its 125th anniversary with a renewed focus on its history. The new website Humanist Heritage is a rich new web resource that uncovers the untold story of humanism in the UK – a story of people, groups, objects, places, movements, publications, and ideas.


Citations, References And Other Reading

  1. Featured Photo Courtesy ofEdward Thompson. Twitter @_edthompson, Instagram @mredthompson.
  2. https://humanism.org.uk/2021/06/09/most-senior-appointment-yet-for-a-humanist-pastoral-carer-at-an-nhs-trust/

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.