Australian on Humanist Chaplains

Arthur, an Australian, comments on the National School Chaplaincy Programme which will support chaplains who help with students’ “spiritual and emotional wellbeing.” There are chaplains for just about every religious faith, and as it turns out, there are Humanist chaplains as well.

Arthur then talks about a Humanist chaplain that’s been in the news quite a bit lately: Greg Epstein of Harvard University. He draws some information from an interview Greg did with Humanist Network News.

He then writes the following which (I hesitate to say) had me laughing. Take a guess why that is:

[Epstein] sees humanist chaplains as part of a larger project to build a humanist community and institutions, and he also thinks humanists should get together and sing.

We also need to sing. We need to make the experience of being part of the humanist community sing, on a metaphorical level, to be able to read poetry together, and to sort of see the emotional side of life. But we also need to sing literally. Like you said, with Julia, to have those choruses. A song like John Lennon’s “Imagine,” great example.

In short, Epstein seems like a really, really annoying person. But perhaps he serves as a model for the kind of chaplain that those “values neutral” humanist and atheist students in high schools should, by rights, be granted access to under the Howard Government’s chaplaincy programme.

Let me just add that I like Greg Epstein and respect what he’s been able to do at Harvard. Hell, putting together a conference of the caliber he did, with the speakers he had, was just incredible. Even if the singing is a bit hokey, it’s nice to know there’s someone you can talk to when you need some help– someone who’s not going to invoke God as a remedy for your problems.


[tags]atheist, atheism, Australia, National School Chaplaincy Programme, Humanist, chaplain, Greg Epstein, Harvard University, Humanist Network News, John Lennon, Imagine[/tags]

  • Brett

    I grew up in a church that featured congregational singing (ie., not just a chorus) and it’s one of the reasons people liked church so much. I know a lot of places with a band and/or choir have music that people really enjoy. I think this is just one way in which church people create a.. um.. more enjoyable, comfortable environment? The one time I went to a “atheist meeting” (actually, to hear Hemant talk) I felt the lack of music.

    Of course, I know there are exceptions. Some religious people hate music. Some churches have bad music (read Hemant’s book) while other churches have awesome music (read Hemant’s book). By saying we should sing–whether metaphorically or not–I think Epstein is acknowledging that while agnostics/ atheists/ humanists/ whateverists say the world is more awesome without the concept of God to underlie/ explain it all, they have some problems in the presentation.

  • Richard Wade

    By saying we should sing–whether metaphorically or not–I think Epstein is acknowledging that while agnostics/ atheists/ humanists/ whateverists say the world is more awesome without the concept of God to underlie/ explain it all, they have some problems in the presentation.

    Maybe we should add this as an eleventh thing to Hemant’s list of things that Christians are better at than atheists. (Most Popular Posts)

    At first I was going to make fun of Epstein with a song parody until I thought of how I really like singing, and how being joyful and playful as a group is really healthy. If the Aussie guy thinks it’s corny or annoying, he should ‘ave anothah beeah an’ loosen up a bit. Eh, mite?

    Humanist Chaplain sounds like an interesting job. How do you get qualified for that? I’ve got the counseling skills, but do I need a degree in undivinity? Is there a college offering Humanism Studies?

  • Mriana

    I’ve never met Epstein, but I’ve heard him speak on HNN (and other Humanists programs) and I like what he has to say. I think he has some good ideas that can really help the Humanist community. I truly believe the non-religious can be spiritual without being religious. Yes, I know, spiritual has religious connotations, but I don’t mean it in a religious sense, but until we find a word that is just as powerful and meaningful to describe feelings of awe and wonder, that numinous feeling that is undescribable with words, and/or transcendence and alike, that’s the best the human language has to offer, even for the non-religious.

    Even so, Epstein does have some good ideas and they seem to have a good response.

  • http://lfab-uvm.blogspot.com/ C. L. Hanson

    I don’t get what’s funny about it. If humanists form communities based on shared values, it’s natural that song would play a role.

    I like singing Science-related songs with my sons for fun. One of my son Nico’s favorite songs to sing is the Schoolhouse Rock “Gravity” song (about Galileo: “…he did experiments with a force he could not see; he found that all things fall to Earth at the very same speed…”). Other fun ones include They Might Be Giants’ cover of “The Sun is a mass of incandescent gas…” and Monty Python’s “Galaxy” song, etc.

    Waxing sentimental, I’d love to be able to attend a program of my kids singing “We are all Earthlings” (from Sesame Street) with a bunch of other kids.

  • Richard Wade

    C.L., that’s a great start for a “hymn book.” Add to it Tom Lehrer’s “The Elements.” Anyone who can sing that all the way through gets to be an officer in the local chapter of Secular Student Alliance.

  • http://lfab-uvm.blogspot.com/ C. L. Hanson

    Richard — that is fabulous!!!

    I’m bookmarking that song and taking it as a personal challenge!!! ;^)

    I love all of the little images that flash on the screen for each element — like Superman for a split second for Krypton. (In truth my kids would rather sing about Spiderman than about science, but that’s okay. ;^) ). Plus I love the ending about how there may be more but that’s all Harvard has heard about. :D

  • Richard Wade

    C.L.,
    He wrote that song so long ago that several new elements have since been added to the table. Somewhere I saw a similar video with a list of the new ones added on at the end.

    I hesitated to mention two more of his songs since I don’t want to encourage negative or disrespectful treatment of religion, …but the temptation is too much. Click here and scroll down to read the lyrics to “A Christmas Carol,” and “The Vatican Rag.” Hilarious.

  • miller

    Funny, I’ve always hated church music. Also, I wish I could just pick out music I like without having to consider whatever ideas, ideals, cultures, or subcultures they represent. In other words, I like music for the music, and I wish that it didn’t all have this other conceptual baggage attached. I hate church music, but that shouldn’t say anything else about me.

  • http://fivepublicopinions.blogspot.com AV

    I didn’t really mean to knock Epstein (though I do think the singing is hokey). I’m sure he’s doing great work; indeed my point was that if the Australian government is going to fund religious chaplains in public schools, they ought to fund chaplains of a non-theistic background as well. Perhaps Epstein serves as a model of non-theistic chaplaincy.

    Yes, I know, spiritual has religious connotations, but I don’t mean it in a religious sense, but until we find a word that is just as powerful and meaningful to describe feelings of awe and wonder, that numinous feeling that is undescribable with words, and/or transcendence and alike, that’s the best the human language has to offer, even for the non-religious.

    The sublime?

  • Mriana

    Perhaps Epstein serves as a model of non-theistic chaplaincy.

    I think he does. While I don’t know him personally, I think he is filling his job as a Humanist Celebrant very well and meeting the requirements of the position very well from what I’ve been hearing. There are some things that aren’t perfect and need some honing, but he is trying. What more can one require of a human being who is helping to fulfill human needs? Thus why I think he would be a very good model. To be honest, IF I ever go through with becoming a Humanist Celebrant myself, I hope to remember his efforts and learn a few things from him along the way, even if it is indirectly.