A few weeks ago, I mentioned an op-ed piece in which people at Tufts University declared their desire for their own Humanist Chaplain.
The Primary Source, a conservative magazine on campus, has pushed back and mischaracterized the position.
Thankfully, Stephen Goemen and David Johnson of the Tufts Freethought Society are there to respond:
… 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.
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.
It’s an excellent response to an ignorant charge.
We’ve all heard people say things like, “What do atheists do when they get together? Sit around and not pray?”
Well, no, we do quite a bit — Participate in discussions, hold debates, listen to speakers, do volunteer work…
Similarly, Humanist chaplains have a tough job to do — even if others may not know what that job entails — and I like the idea that there might be a counselor (of sorts) that I could visit when I need some personal help… one who understands my faith background and knows not to use god as part of any solution.