Harvard's new Chief Chaplain is an atheist

Greg Epstein is the New York Times-bestselling author of Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe. Since 2005, he's served as a Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University — an institute that was founded by Puritans, with the intention of educating the aspiring clergy. The school's original motto was "Truth for Christ and the Church."

And now, the university's 40+ chaplains — each representing a different religious community — have unanimously elected Epstein as the new Chief Chaplain.

From the New York Times:

"Maybe in a more conservative university climate there might be a question like 'What the heck are they doing at Harvard, having a humanist be the president of the chaplains?'" said Margit Hammerstrom, the Christian Science chaplain at Harvard. "But in this environment it works. Greg is known for wanting to keep lines of communication open between different faiths."

The dozens of students whom Mr. Epstein mentors have found a source of meaning in the school's organization of humanists, atheists and agnostics, reflecting a broader trend of young people across the United States who increasingly identify as spiritual but religiously nonaffiliated. That trend might be especially salient at Harvard; a Harvard Crimson survey of the class of 2019 found that those students were two times more likely to identify as atheist or agnostic than 18-year-olds in the general population.

The Guardian adds:

As Harvard University's new chief chaplain, Epstein will coordinate activities of over 40 chaplains from more than 20 different religious, spiritual and ethical traditions.

"I want to support students and the university community together around the fact that it's been an extraordinarily trying time and almost anybody could be expected to have lost a little faith in humanity in recent years," he told the Guardian on Friday.

"We have a lot that divides us theologically but we have a tremendous amount in common when it comes to our shared desires … to support the human beings in our community as they try to live lives of meaning and purpose in a world that can sometimes threaten to rob us of [those senses], regardless of our beliefs," he added.

Epstein, who was born to Jewish parents and raised in a Jewish household, was technically ordained as a Humanist Rabbi by the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism. (The Times of Israel article about his appointment specifically describes him as a "Jewish head chaplain — who doesn't believe in God.")

Greg Epstein, Humanist Chaplain [Harvard University]