A heretic’s chaplain

By By Stephen Janick and Alexander Howard

Published: Monday, September 27, 2010

Updated: Monday, September 27, 2010

In the fall of 2009, Tufts Freethought Society (TFS) inquired about the need and viability of hiring a Humanist chaplain for the benefit of the Tufts community. TFS communicated with university officials and alumni and, after a series of meetings, increased the likelihood of the realization of this goal.

As TFS starts the new school year, we feel the need to address particular reservations that members of the Tufts community maintain regarding issues utility and funding for a Humanist chaplain.

While TFS services the needs of its current membership through weekly meetings and the sponsorship of lecture series, its club status limits its ability to accommodate the needs of the broader non−religious community. The establishment of a Humanist chaplaincy at Tufts would provide non−religious Tufts students an organizational infrastructure and legitimacy greater than what TFS can provide.

The Enrolling Student Survey of the Class of 2012 reported that of the nearly 60 percent of students who responded to the question concerning religious affiliation, over 30 percent marked "none." While not all of these non−religious students would utilize the services of a Humanist chaplaincy, it is likely that a Humanist chaplaincy would see a rate of participation similar to other chaplaincies on campus.

In an article for the online publication Inside Higher Ed, Alexander W. Astin, the founding director of the Higher Education Research Institute at University of California, Los Angeles, wrote, "Most students — religious and non−religious — have an interest in what we consider to be spiritual issues: the meaning of life, their most deeply felt values, why they're in college, what kinds of lives they want to lead, how connected they feel to others, etc."

While the apathetic, solipsistic atheist has become a popular social perception of Humanists, we feel that this generalization of our worldview is detrimental to the Tufts community as a whole, and we are actively working to change this perception.

Some have raised the point that secular students can use other resources to fill their desire for community — that is, one could use the Leonard Carmichael Society to fulfill his philanthropic desires, or one could inquire about existential issues with one of her professors. While this may be true, the argument could just as easily be employed to counter the necessity of all other chaplaincies on campus as well. A Humanist chaplaincy is just as necessary as any of the existing chaplaincies.

We freethinkers desire one place on campus that can serve as a hub for secular guidance, philanthropy and community. The establishment of a university−supported Humanist community will not only provide a resource for students to contemplate secular answers to traditionally "spiritual issues," but it will also allow the secular worldview to have a valued social presence equal to that of the other belief systems present on our campus.

TFS desires to establish a Humanist chaplaincy that facilitates communal contemplation by promoting secular morality among non−religious people. We seek a prominent, published freethinker holding a degree from a divinity school to serve as the Humanist chaplain. The primary role of the chaplain will be to facilitate Humanist dialogue on campus through lectures and events and to help integrate the philanthropic efforts of the Humanist community with the efforts of other chaplaincies on campus. Furthermore, a Humanist chaplain will be able to extend the reach of TFS's philanthropic efforts to outside the Tufts community through collaborative efforts with local and national Humanist organizations, including the Center for Inquiry, the American Humanist Association and the Harvard Humanist Chaplaincy. All funding for the Humanist chaplaincy will be provided by prearranged private donors. The chaplaincy will, however, utilize school facilities to host events.

Ultimately, the decision to approve the establishment of a Humanist chaplaincy at Tufts rests with the university president and the Office of the University Chaplain, led by University Chaplain Father David O'Leary. We hope that university officials will recognize the need to establish a Humanist chaplaincy and that secular thought can be comfortably integrated under the umbrella of the Tufts Chaplaincy.



A different anonymous
Mon Oct 11 2010 17:43
Also, even if it did come from tuition, it would increase tuition by $6 approximately (assuming a $60,000 per year salary, which is most likely a rather high estimate), which is miniscule. It also would not necessarily increase it at all (efficiency gains elsewhere or changing priorities could make it nonexistent). That is not to mention that it is clear that this is not about money. Saying otherwise is very disingenuous. If we can't have an honest discussion, then why say anything at all? It is very unproductive for any purpose. Even if all you want is to convince the other side, you will not accomplish your goal through an evident ruse.

To address another post,
"It seems like the only justification for a humanist chaplain is that non-believing students feel left out...from praying to a higher power."
Really, that is the only thing a chaplain can be? What about the chaplains for religions without a higher power? Or, what about the fact that you could simply make an almost identical chaplain but with that one difference? How could what you are saying possibly be true? You are just trying to inflame, and are trolling to avoid actually addressing the issue.

Sat Oct 2 2010 19:39
"Why, exactly, do we need one more useless Tufts employee to drive up tuition costs even higher? I hope no one who demands that we get a humanist chaplain complains about his or her student loan debt. "

No Tufts student will have to pay a single cent of extra tuition under the Freethought Society's proposal. Please read more carefully next time.

Fri Oct 1 2010 21:21
Why, exactly, do we need one more useless Tufts employee to drive up tuition costs even higher? I hope no one who demands that we get a humanist chaplain complains about his or her student loan debt.
Wed Sep 29 2010 15:46
Response to:
"Anonymous Tue Sep 28 2010 20:52
The point of atheism is that you don't follow any religious authority. If you want counseling, you can go to a counselor. But a chaplain that helps you pray to...nothing? Not worthy my tuition dollars."

You really are a trout arent you? Read the article first, if you can, seeing as how it clearly addresses the fact that they will pay for it themselves.

Tue Sep 28 2010 20:52
The point of atheism is that you don't follow any religious authority. If you want counseling, you can go to a counselor. But a chaplain that helps you pray to...nothing? Not worthy my tuition dollars.
Tue Sep 28 2010 10:39
I'm a Tufts alumna and a Religious Humanist. I'm excited to see that there's discussion of having a Humanist chaplaincy. For those unfamiliar with Humanism, here's some background: There are Secular Humanists who do not consider their Humanism a religion -- some of whom might strongly object to a chaplain -- but Religious Humanists consider their Humanism a religion. It's not the only non-theistic religion around -- many forms of Buddhism are also non-theistic. For those who wonder how there can be religion without god(s) or sacred texts, of course it depends on one's definition of religion. Religious Humanism offers ways to join with others in exploring the nature of existence, defining and encouraging ethical behavior, appreciating beauty and emotions, and celebrating life's milestones (birth, adulthood, marriage, death, etc.). These are core functions of any religion. Arguments such as these persuaded the US federal government to recognize Humanism as a grounds for conscientious objection to bearing arms, during a military draft. Religious Humanist organizations in the US include HUUmanists (a subgroup of the Unitarian Universalist Church) and the Society for Ethical Culture. Check them out if you're curious!
Nick Commons-Miller
Tue Sep 28 2010 07:52
This role can be fulfilled by other people and does not have to come with someone else who also does not believe in anything supernatural. Preferably it comes from people best to fill the role. I suppose that there could be a chaplain, but I do not see why it would be necessary. I would rather create community around something other than religion. I guess if people want it though, it should happen. There's no harm in it, while there may be harm in denying people the kind of guidance they want.
Mon Sep 27 2010 17:37
Hiring a Humanist Chaplain just makes sense. There's a clear population that they would serve, and Harvard has had great success with theirs. Why would Tufts want to let Harvard pull out ahead in this crucial measure that impacts an estimated 30% of their customers?
Rick Berger
Mon Sep 27 2010 17:19
Humanism appeals to people, and people, as a general rule, move away from loneliness and toward community.

And yes, there's plenty of other ways to socialize. But why shouldn't we have the same opportunity that religious groups have; namely, to meet up with other people who share our (non)religious beliefs?

I suppose I could go to the movies, go hiking, get drunk, drop acid and watch Contact--all these recreational activities and many more. But suppose I want to get together with fellow nonreligious people? Nothing doing.

Denying nonreligious people an official place to congregate would be like denying Catholics the right to enter movie theaters. Sure, these Catholics could do plenty of other social activities, but what if they want to see a movie together? Same logic.

Let me know if my metaphor doesn't make any sense, I'll try to think of a new one. Drank too much coffee, sorry.

Mon Sep 27 2010 16:30
so humanism appeals to the lonely? are there not other ways to socialize?
Richard Berger
Mon Sep 27 2010 16:21
I'd address Anonymous, but there's so many of you!

I can't speak for all Humanists, but I don't feel left out from praying to a higher power. However, I do feel left out from the great sense of community that religious groups enjoy. Hell, at my Catholic high school I had to sit alone in the middle of a thousand empty seats, the object of not a few derisive stares, as all my classmates received Communion during Mass. Even for a self-proclaimed hermit and someone who decries labels, I'm in full support of a Humanist chaplaincy, if only to bring us together.

I have faith that something good will come of that. Sea what I did there?

Jonathan Figdor
Mon Sep 27 2010 16:15
Tufts students deserve the same services available to religious students - namely: a community organizer (chaplain) who can help student build valuable friendships and relationships, a compassionate person willing to listen to a student in a time of need, and a voice in the interfaith discussion representing the Atheist - Humanist perspective. For an example of an effective Humanist chaplaincy, check out www.harvardhumanist.org.

Well-played Tufts!

Mon Sep 27 2010 15:56
Does every ignorant poster on here still not know of the existence of the Harvard Humanist Chaplaincy??? It's been around for 30 years and is growing...I'd say that's pretty clear evidence that it fulfills a legitimate need...
Mon Sep 27 2010 14:08
wait, wouldnt hiring a "humanist chaplin" be defeating the point of humanism?
or, i suppose not, since we are all humans and know that much.
were the humanists asked if they needed "guidance"?
Mon Sep 27 2010 10:54
It seems like the only justification for a humanist chaplain is that non-believing students feel left out...from praying to a higher power.
Mon Sep 27 2010 10:36
The Fall 2009 TCU Senate survey indicated that no more than 5-10% of respondents felt their religious needs were met by what presently exists. Do a cross-tab between that question and the question that the survey asked about religious preferences -- I bet most of the non-affiliated are perfectly fine being non-affiliated.
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