Harvard Elects 'Progressive' Atheist as Head ‘Chaplain’
'We don’t look to a god for answers'
Harvard University has unanimously elected a progressive atheist as president of its chaplains’ organization.
44-year-old Greg Epstein, who was raised as Jewish, will start his new role as president of Harvard.
I'm obliged and honored to share personal news: I've been elected president of my @HarvardChaplain colleagues, and the brilliant @emmabgo wrote about it for the @nytimes. Will add a 🧵here, later today.— Greg M. Epstein (@gregmepstein) August 26, 2021
"The New Chief Chaplain at Harvard? An Atheist."https://t.co/m5rZEqHnQV
Epstein, who wrote the book 'Good Without God,' told the New York Times:
“There is a rising group of people who no longer identify with any religious tradition but still experience a real need for conversation and support around what it means to be a good human and live an ethical life."
“We don’t look to a god for answers,” he said.
“We are each other’s answers.”
Since 2005, Epstein has served as Harvard’s humanist chaplain and has been “teaching students about the progressive movement that centers people’s relationships with one another instead of with God," the Times reports.
I have tried to show my kid around a paper copy of @nytimes on a weekly basis since he was 2 or 3, and I want to say that bought me 1 second of excitement from him, to see his dad's picture in print today. But I don't want to overstate the case!— Greg M. Epstein (@gregmepstein) August 27, 2021
Epstein’s special areas of interest include “ethics in technology; meaning and purpose beyond religion; existentialism and humanism in literature and popular culture; developing healthy masculinity from a feminist perspective; secular humanistic Judaism; racial justice and healing; and the philosophy and practice of interfaith work," according to his bio.
Harvard’s Christian Science chaplain, Margit Hammerstrom, said she believes electing an atheist “works."
“Greg is known for wanting to keep lines of communication open between different faiths,” she said.
Epstein mentors “dozens of students” who “have found a source of meaning in the school’s organization of humanists, atheists, and agnostics."
Charlotte Nickerson, 20, an electrical engineering student, said:
“Greg’s leadership isn’t about theology."
“It’s about cooperation between people of different faiths and bringing together people who wouldn’t normally consider themselves religious.”
Young Americans are now rejecting faith in God and organized worship, according to a recent survey from the Cultural Research Center (CRC) at Arizona Christian University.
The American Worldview Inventory (AWVI) 2021 found that even though 57 percent of Millennials (born 1984-2002) consider themselves Christian, 43% “don’t know, care, or believe that God exists.”
The survey also found that young people define morality and success in terms of personal happiness.
It also observes that just 8 percent of Millennials say one should “treat others as you want them to treat you.”
Epstein counsels students struggling with both personal and theological issues such as social media pressures, family, and job-hunting.
Students attracted to Epstein’s humanist group have left their traditional faiths.
One student, Adelle Goldenberg, raised in the Hasidic community in Brooklyn, was attracted to Epstein’s humanist group and described his mentorship as having a secular rabbi.
“When the pandemic hit, I was like, ‘Greg, do you have time to talk about the meaning of life,’” Goldenberg said.
“He showed me that it’s possible to find community outside a traditional religious context, that you can have the value-add religion has provided for centuries, which is that it’s there when things seem chaotic.”
But Harvard's decision to elect an atheist as head chaplain drew backlash.
One Twitter user said:
“Completely missing the point of the role of a chaplain,” adding as well the election makes the Harvard label “less prestigious.”
Making that Harvard label less prestigious by completely missing the role of a chaplain. Nicely done, you dopes.— Suz Carragher (@TheRedDogInn) August 27, 2021
According to a Pew Research Center poll from 2019, Christianity is continuing to decline rapidly, with more than 20% of the U.S defining themselves as an atheist, agnostic, or non-religious.
The research also found that religious people are likely to describe themselves as “very happy" compared to non-religious people.