The Primary Source of willful ignorance
Published: Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Updated: Wednesday, October 20, 2010 07:10
The Tufts Freethought Society (TFS) would like to formally thank The Primary Source for their blurb about the call for a Humanist chaplaincy in their Oct. 6 issue. As we write our op-eds, we consider whether the attacks against Humanism and the proposed chaplaincy are too akin to strawmen to warrant consideration, much less active rebutting, on our part. Do people actually harbor such simplistic and extreme beliefs about our proposal?
The Source puts our fears to rest when they write, "The freethinkers want an equal right to pray to … nothing and an equal right to spiritual advice for ... a soul they don't believe they have." This suggestion, clearly the result of a vain attempt to be thought-provoking or insightful, shows that the Source is ignorant of both what a Humanist chaplaincy is, as well as how mainstream theological chaplains function.
Not only are we insulted, but the other chaplains should be outraged as well. The comments made by the Source imply that chaplaincy work is limited in scope to prayer and concerns of the soul. Such comments completely ignore the considerable efforts put forth by Tufts' current chaplains: providing a sense of belonging, community and civic outreach, personal guidance, interfaith activism, ritual services, etc. The Source's comments demonstrate a clear lack of understanding of the role of a chaplain on campus. Furthermore, the Source put little time into researching what this role may be, or how a Humanist may serve as a chaplain. Perhaps the Source should spend more time ridiculing their fact checkers who seem to have overlooked the existence of the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard University, which has been providing non-believers at Harvard with a sense of belonging, access to secular community service and personal aid for over 30 years.
One is immediately reminded of the incident in 2006-07 when the Source published an article about Islam that managed to outrage even University President Lawrence Bacow, who wrote: "What is particularly troubling about the Source article is that, yet again, a discrete minority within our community has been singled out for ridicule. And once again, the article is unsigned. No one seems willing to take personal responsibility for this particular expression of opinion."
Such is the case with the latest drivel from the Source aimed directly at Tufts' potential Humanist chaplaincy. The piece is unsigned, written under the banner of "From the Elephant's Mouth." As firsthand witnesses of the community's support for our initiative to establish a Humanist chaplaincy, it strikes us as disingenuous and unfair to suggest that this offensive paragraph is a common opinion held by Jumbos, as the title implies.
Alright, so what about all of this prayer and soul business? We went back and counted the number of times TFS used the words "prayer" or "soul" in the last two years as a means of advocating for the Humanist chaplaincy through our own op-eds or articles written by members of the Daily. Not surprisingly, the number is zero. It is insulting that the Source would assume TFS to be so cloddish as to consider such obviously hypocritical ideas. Given the absurdity of these charges, it is difficult to decide how to move forward. We could present (i.e. repeat) arguments in our defense, write an unrelated op-ed or ignore the issue. It should be clear by now which path we have chosen.
Yes, the Humanist chaplain would be different from the other chaplains. We do not believe in God nor do we believe in the efficacy of prayer or the importance of the soul. However, we do care about our community, we care about philanthropy, and we have questions that counselors are not equipped to answer: questions about ethics or morality, for example. A good friend pointed out that one would not want to turn to a counselor or therapist who is trained in understanding mental problems when one has an ethical, moral or metaphysical dilemma. Just as a chaplain is not fully equipped to deal with depression or bipolar disorder, a counselor is not prepared to answer these kinds of questions from a non-religious and Humanist perspective. While there is some overlap between the supportive roles of a chaplain and a counselor, it by no means eradicates the need for either.
All of this talk about what TFS wants and does not want has been addressed before. But perhaps by reiterating our point here, we will increase the likelihood that someone from the Source will read our articles. If they do, they might be surprised to learn that we are not interested in prayer or souls and even have a response to their cute quip about counselors and therapists serving as secular advice givers. Perhaps the next blurb about the Humanist chaplaincy from the Source will demonstrate a clear understanding of the arguments presented here and elsewhere, or at any rate, will have someone willing to sign his or her name to it.
Stephen Goemen is a sophomore who has not yet declared a major. He is a member of the Tufts Freethought Society. David Johnson is a senior majoring in physics and philosophy. He is the president of the Tufts Freethought Society.