A ‘Ministry of Hospitality’… That Excludes Atheists

Daily Free Press, the student newspaper at Boston University, recently ran an article about the religious diversity on campus with a spotlight on the Interfaith Council:

[University Chaplain for International Students Rev. Brittany] Longsdorf also explained that there are multiple resources available for students to explore their faith, learn about other faiths, or even just voice their opinions.

“Students are at a place where they’re okay to say, ‘I’m not sure if this religion is absolutely correct — I’m not sure if any religion is absolutely correct — but there are all of these options for me to explore right in front of me,’” she said.

Just one problem with that. When the Humanists of Boston University applied for inclusion in the Religious Life Council on campus, they were rejected. And can you really be interfaith when “none of the above” isn’t even an option on the menu?

Group founder John James McCargar wrote a letter to the newspaper letting them know about this omission:

The “ministry of hospitality” turned out to be a special privilege afforded only to certain sorts of students, namely those holding belief in a higher power. The rest of us are denied the sanction and resources of the campus chaplaincy. Our Humanist community, BU seemed to say, was undeserving of aid or acknowledgement.

it’s time to reexamine the purpose of a campus chapel, and make sure that chapel resources are delegated so as to support the ethical and personal development of as many students as possible.

Atheist students may eschew belief in the supernatural, but we are as firm as anyone in our belief that community matters. I am hopeful that Marsh Chapel will reconsider its exclusion of Humanism from the religious council, and make good on its promise to minister to students of every path, including the godless ones.

We can have a debate over whether atheists should even want to be included in such a mix, but it’s hard to argue against the idea that atheists, too, should have access to counselors and trained chaplains who can help us through the tougher times in our lives and speak a language that makes sense to us.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Rain

    “Students are at a place where they’re okay to say, yada yada yada everything except be a humanist.

    Fixed…

  • paulalovescats

    Because atheism isn’t a faith?

    • Jack Lemon

      True, but people who aren’t believers, whatever you want to refer to them as, still have to live in the same world as believers. Because of this, it’s important that nonbelievers be allowed to speak and interact in the same forums as believers do.

    • Rain

      Because their god doesn’t command them to give them money. All of the legitimate beliefs have gods that command them to give them money.

    • Mario Strada

      Yet we ask and try to answer the very same questions. We live the same lives and we interact with the same people.
      Mostly we are affected by the same issues, weather we like it or not.
      “Faiths” don’t exist in a bubble. Often what they do affect everyone around them, including us. We, as humanists, atheists and skeptics, should have the same right to sit at their table as anyone else.

      • Castilliano

        I just read this today or yesterday, but one take is to call it a “faith position”. Yes, it’s a position of “none” or “not using it”, but it is an outlook on faith that legitimately belongs in the discussion.
        Especially in a service group forging a community and aiding exploring one’s path in life.

    • AxeGrrl

      Because the label ‘interfaith’ is the problem. That, inherently, automatically excludes those who don’t have it (faith).

      It should be called ‘InterWorldview’ or something, so that everyone has a place at the table and every worldview is acknowledged and welcomed.

      • meekinheritance

        Faith in humanity is faith. I admit that often, when I listen to the news of events national and international, my faith is tested sorely. But still I find enough evidence to maintain my faith in humanity, though I admit there is a lot of evidence suggesting it might be misplaced, and I should perhaps have faith in cockroaches and water bears.

        • baal

          We don’t have ‘faith’ in humanity. We’re (humanists) convinced that being decent to other people is the best rule for everyone to follow. That’s not a hope, dream, wish or assumption.

  • http://www.dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    I don’t have a problem with excluding atheists from anything with a mission to be “interfaith”. The vast majority of atheists do not operate in a faith mode of thinking, and are therefore fundamentally at odds with every other member in an interfaith organization.

    No, the problem isn’t the exclusion of atheists. The problem is that atheists are being denied some important resources of the university. It seems like the fix is to correct that, and preferably in some manner that doesn’t involve atheists needing to belong to an interfaith group.

    • Mario Strada

      The whole structure of “Interfaith” is wrong because it doesn’t represent the variety of personal belief. By excluding atheists or humanists they are basically saying that only certain groups have valid beliefs. That’s wrong on its face, but it starts by declaring the institution “interfaith” a better name is needed.

      • Randay

        BTW, you can write to the “Marsh Chapel Vocation Blog”.

        http://marshvocare.blogspot.fr/

      • AxeGrrl

        The whole structure of “Interfaith” is wrong because it doesn’t represent the variety of personal belief.

        THIS.

    • Lando

      Sometimes atheists get judged as ‘elitist’ and uncaring/uncompassionate, and I personally think a great way to get out and interact with people of faith. Many believers seem to have a hard time relating, since we have such differing beliefs – I mean, Christians and Muslims have a lot to debate, but they still believe that SOME supreme being created them. If nothing else, having a place where people can respectfully interact, and believers can see we aren’t just a bunch of baby-eating heathens is a plus, and anything that builds community and understanding is good in my book.

      -Disclaimer: I don’t do this. I would like to be more involved somehow, but I don’t have an outlet for that at the moment.

      • http://www.dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

        People should do what works for them. I live in a society where most people claim some sort of faith. I don’t need to go out of my way to interact with them. I can’t imagine going to some sort of interfaith function. But I think I represent atheism well in my community. Heck, people know I’m an atheist, and I still got elected to the school board. In America!

      • Castilliano

        Lando, most megachurches have clubs and other groups whose meetings are not centered around faith, i.e. biking & hiking, travel, art, or acting to name some I’ve seen. There can even be some volunteer work not centered around faith-spreading.

        Yes, they’ll weave faith into their agenda, but sometimes it’s as little as an intro & closing prayer.
        I’m not advising going undercover (as some do, to undermine), but as yourself. Yes, you’ll trigger their alarms once they realize you aren’t praying or attending their masses, and some will never warm up to you. But they’ll likely include you (and yes, hope to convert you.) Stay low-key, don’t flirt, or give them reason to suspect you’ll deconvert them or their friends, and you’ll be able to be a beacon of humanism.
        Cheers, JMK

        P.S. Sometimes Scottish Rite Temples, Universalists, and campuses will have groups & discussions that are open to all.

    • Randay

      What purpose do chapels and chaplaincies serve? Longsdorf’s BU biography says, “Rev. Brittany Longsdorf completed an undergraduate degree in Religion, Philosophy, and English at Graceland University. In 2013, she completed a Masters of Divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary with a focus on World Religions and Culture. As an ordained minister of the Community of Christ church, a progressive peace church with interdenominational roots, Rev. Brittany is a minister of the word and sacrament.”

      If a chaplain is there to listen to students’ concerns, help them through personal or social problems, then a minimum of psychological training should be required. Longsdorf has nothing of the sort. “They, too, are available to you for consultation, connection and counsel.” What is her salary and that of the others at the Marsh Chapel? A waste of resources.

      The BU Marsh Chapel, “Within this mission three top priorities stand out:
      to expand the national voice of Marsh Chapel
      to expand the ecumenical ethos of the chapel community that trains future clergy
      and to expand the hospitality and body of the congregation itself”
      I couldn’t find its annual budget, but still more waste of resources.

  • LesterBallard

    Well, it’s bullshit, but I wouldn’t want to join anyway.

  • Guillaume Bérubé

    You can question as much as you want as long as we like the answer. We even have a variety of answers we like. You can even say you don’t think any of our answers are perfect and be confused or lapsed about it but in the end if you choose none you can’t be a part of our group.

  • Imagine

    I’ve got a question: I’m not wrong in thinking this is kowtowing to religion, am I? http://www.nyas.org/landing/RethinkingMortality.aspx

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    Students are at a place where they’re okay to say… “I’m not sure if any religion is absolutely correct”…

    …just as long as they’re at least sure of the existence of an invisible spook. It doesn’t matter what name they call their invisible spook. Maybe they just call it “Invisible Spook” with a capital I and S, and they get pissed off if you spell it with lower case i and s. Maybe they’re unsure if the stories told about their invisible spook are “absolutely” correct, but our generous and gracious hospitality requires the minimum of a belief in an invisible spook. If they don’t believe in some kind of invisible spook, then they can go pound salt for all we care. Made up invisible spooks such as ridiculous ones invented in order to mock belief in a real invisible spook in highly publicized court cases do not count. We reserve the right to deny our services to anyone for any reason if our own invisible spook privately tells us to.

    Similar requirements of other “hospitable” groups:

    All races are welcome as long as they’re white.
    All genders are welcome as long as they’re natural born males.
    All sexual orientations are welcome as long as they’re straight.
    All categories of ability are welcome as long as they’re not disabled in any way.
    All languages are welcome as long as they speak English.
    All political views are welcome as long as they’re ultra conservative Republicans.
    All levels of economic status are welcome as long as they’re rich.
    All nationalities are welcome as long as they’re Americans.

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke, TOWAN

      as a representative of the “I——- S—- Must Not Be Spelled” religion, i object to your lack of inclusion in your post. your bigotry offends the I. S. ;-)

      • baal

        What is IS? And what is not IS is not.

        tada, first apologetic of IS.

        • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

          Well, maybe not the first, or at least there may have been a precursor:

          “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is. If the–if he–if ‘is’ means is and never has been, that is not–that is one thing. If it means there is none, that was a completely true statement….”

          –Billus Equivocus, Principalis Monicus

    • AxeGrrl

      You nailed it, Richard :)

    • joey_in_NC

      All races are welcome as long as they’re white.
      All genders are welcome as long as they’re natural born males.
      All sexual orientations are welcome as long as they’re straight.
      All categories of ability are welcome as long as they’re not disabled in any way.
      All languages are welcome as long as they speak English.
      All political views are welcome as long as they’re ultra conservative Republicans.
      All levels of economic status are welcome as long as they’re rich.
      All nationalities are welcome as long as they’re Americans.

      You may actually have a point if you consider Humanism or atheism a “faith”. Do you?

      • 3lemenope

        If a person was born without genitalia, or with skin that was bright blue, or was oriented towards asexuality, or spoke only a dead language, or did not belong to a political party, or did not participate in the market economy, or were stateless, is that an invitation to treat them as forever excluded from belonging in the community that claims to value inclusion and shun them from a place that claims to embody hospitality?

        • joey_in_NC

          I personally think Humanism is a faith, so Humanists who believe similarly should be included in the community. If it was the school’s athiests club that wanted in, then I would have objections with that.

          • baal

            A rational distinction but still sounds like bigotry to me. I’d ask if the atheist club did activities and support on a par with the religious ones. If so, they should be there.

            • joey_in_NC

              A rational distinction but still sounds like bigotry to me.

              If the school’s Dungeons and Dragons club wanted in and got rejected, would you label that “bigotry” as well?

              I’d ask if the atheist club did activities and support on a par with the religious ones.

              You would have a point there, if the clubs do those things.

              • baal

                If they did the activities of a religious group and provided similar support (& played D&D) then yes. The point is that any support / religious equivalent secular group should get the same access to university resources that the religious ones do. Adding +god isn’t a basis for getting more lucre than the next guy. You all aren’t demonstratively better at answering life’s little questions than we (secular folks) are.

          • 3lemenope

            I personally think Humanism is a faith, so Humanists who believe similarly should be included in the community.

            What are your criteria for considering something a faith?

            If it was the school’s athiests club that wanted in, then I would have objections with that.

            Please articulate those objections in light of my post above.

            • joey_in_NC

              Please articulate those objections in light of my post above.

              An atheist club that does nothing outside patting themselves on the back about not believing in gods would really be no different than the school’s Dungeons and Dragons club or archery club who also desire the resources the faith-based community enjoys (whatever those may be, which honestly I’m still foggy about).

              But baal does have a point that if the atheist club does similar activities to religious ones in terms of volunteerism and activism, then that would be different. But then again, where exactly do you draw the line for inclusion to this community? Sports teams sometimes volunteer as groups. Should they be included too?

  • atom the atheist

    So what I’m getting out of this, is they know that god is there for them (but we know he’s not ) so the time they spend actually caring about their fellow man , is miniscule compared to the time we “heathens” have…..so go to the Dean & demand equall rights? No. Go out & feed & blanket a homeless person, get involved with an organization that supports it’s neighborhood, be charitable at an old folks home. Be real my heathen brethren, for there is only one true Sun,…………see what I did there =) R’amen

  • TimfromMaine

    What happened to “not playing tennis isn’t a sport” and “not collecting stamps isn’t a hobby?” Hemant, you’re whining about not being invited to the church supper when they finally serve something good.

    • http://avengah.wordpress.com Matt Davis

      Interfaith groups often discuss shared issues that affect everyone, regardless of faith or lack thereof. Therefore, the things discussed in the meetings will be of relevance and importance to atheists. For example, that recent government interfaith and helping-the-community thing that included atheists (that xian groups were angry about).

      • AxeGrrl

        Interfaith groups often discuss shared issues that affect everyone, regardless of faith or lack thereof.

        Underscoring this point for Tim :)

    • UnePetiteAnana

      THANK YOU. This is exactly it. I’m guessing atheists couldn’t find enough to whine about so they chose to stir the pot on this.

  • Gavitron

    This need for inclusion comes off as desperate to me. Let the silly religious people have their little group. It’s like trying to crash a party you don’t even want to be at.

    • http://avengah.wordpress.com Matt Davis

      As I said before, interfaith groups often discuss shared issues that affect everyone, regardless of faith or lack thereof. Therefore, the things discussed in the meetings will be of relevance and importance to atheists. For example, that recent government interfaith and helping-the-community thing that included atheists (that xian groups were angry about).

  • Rain

    Just go ahead and call atheism a faith already and get it the hell over with. It solves a lot of problems. Take the red pill atheists.

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke, TOWAN

      just because people meet up regularly does not mean they are endorsing or supporting a religion. i know this simple fact confuses you believers, but you don’t call a softball team or a volunteer group of co workers a “religion.” don’t make that mistake with atheists. believe me when i say, i don’t believe.

    • Anat

      Atheism isn’t a faith, but it is a position about religious faiths.

  • SAPilgrim

    I’m involved in an interfaith group, with Christians, Muslims, Mormons, Buddhists, Wiccans, Hellenics, etc. As one of the only atheists, it often falls to me to point out when people are forgetting that atheists are part of communities, too. Also, to bring up issues of discrimination against atheists.

    It also feels important to me to learn about other religions. I can’t rightly reject a path if I know nothing about it, and learning from the people who practice it is generally the best way to go, in my opinion.

    • Cora Post

      As one of the Hellenics from the interfaith group, it has been a pleasure having the opinions of an atheist in our discussions.

      Any interfaith group runs the risk of being too heavy handed in pandering to one (majority) religion while ignoring other (minority) religions. In order for an interfaith group to work — and especially one that admits “Students are at a place where they’re okay to say, ‘I’m not sure if this religion is absolutely correct — I’m not sure if any religion is absolutely correct — but there are all of these options for me to explore right in front of me” — then it is impertinent that atheists are allowed to join the discussions.

      The point of these sort of groups is not to convert others to one’s own ideology or theology, but for us as humans to embrace humanity is all its variety. To deny atheists a seat at the interfaith table, and more importantly, to deny atheist resources is plain wrong.

      • AxeGrrl

        Beautifully said, Cora.

  • Bruce Martin

    So a beautiful building is made available as a meeting place for almost every student group at BU except for one. And people wonder if anything should be said about this?
    If this is the Ministry of Hospitality, where is the Ministry of Truth, and the Ministry of Love, and where is the rest of George Orwell’s 1984?
    All groups are equal, but some groups are way way way more “equal” than others.

    • SAPilgrim

      I just want a Ministry of Silly Walks.

  • UnePetiteAnana

    I laugh when I read this blog, and this is a prime example of what makes me laugh.

    Someone else said it too, but atheism isn’t a “faith” (well, as defined by atheists), so why would humanists want to join an Interfaith council? Probably to stir the pot because that’s really all y’all are collectively good for. That, and building a faith-nonfaith that mimics about every other faith out there. One example of that is that Humanist Hub opening in Boston.

    “… it’s time to reexamine the purpose of a campus chapel, and make sure that chapel resources are delegated so as to support the ethical and personal development of as many students as possible.”

    What? That’s like saying when I go to my Calc III class, I expect my professor to supply me with knowledge about organic chemistry, too.

    • 3lemenope

      …that’s really all y’all are collectively good for.

      A person who makes sweeping generalization about the value and worth of entire groups of human beings surely demonstrates their own quite clearly.

    • meekinheritance

      Faith in humanity is still faith. I admit that often, when I listen to the
      news of events national and international, my faith is tested sorely.
      But still I find enough evidence to maintain my faith in humanity,
      though I admit there is a lot of evidence suggesting it might be
      misplaced, and I should perhaps have faith in cockroaches and water
      bears.

      • baal

        did you copy pasta this comment multiple times?

        • meekinheritance

          Semi-accidentally. I had to add the word “still”. And I still have faith in humanity. ;-)

    • Oswald Carnes

      Wanna know what you’re good for? But first, are your teeth removable?

  • UnePetiteAnana

    Just because she was praying in her classroom doesn’t mean this was during instructional.

    • bearclover

      Une, did you actually read the news reports about the teacher? She WAS prostylizing in class she was also leading the students in bible study. Students can form their own bible study in school, but they must lead it, not teachers. If teachers lead it, it can appear as an endorsement by those in authority for this particular brand of religion.

      I grew up in a small town that was very heavily Catholic. All the parades in town, with the exception of the Fourth of July Parade, we’re Catholic based and you had to be Catholic to participate. When I was in Junior High, kids were let out of school early so they could attend catechism. The handful that remained were sent to “study hall” where no teacher led instruction or help was offered. Most of us read to pass the time, but even then, it wasn’t anything to do with school work.

      The irony in all this was that I wasn’t an atheist. My family was Southern Baptist. I was christian too, yet I was excluded. Because of the very strong presence of one flavor of religion over another, those of us who were not Catholic were often referred to as poor white trash. No one even tried to hide their opinion or ever spoke up that what they were saying we mean or that their actions of favoritism was hurtful because such a large percentage of the towns population shared the same version of faith.

      This experience as a child is what formed my strong belief in separation of church and state, especially in public schools. Atheism came later.


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