I’m Greg. You may have heard of me through my job– I work as the Humanist chaplain at Harvard University. Which means I’m used to being introduced in ways that can seem overly formal. So one of the reasons I’ve decided to start this blog is to create a space where I can share something of myself, less as a Humanist chaplain and more as…just a human.
I was born in New York City in 1977, and grew up in Flushing, Queens, New York– one of the most ethnically and religiously diverse neighborhoods on the face of the earth by the 80’s and early 90’s. My friends and I shared every type of religious and cultural experience together. We attended each other’s holidays and confirmations, even funerals. We didn’t talk much about beliefs: religion was more of a cultural identity for most of us, but one that could be viscerally important, and often quite beautiful. Meanwhile, it was an environment in which white kids like me (blonde, even!) whose families had been in the US for a whole generation already, were beyond rare. These days every TV show has to feature an array of ethnicities and perspectives, but back then it wasn’t the case. We were ahead of the curve. So my earliest experiences of political and social awareness involved feeling disappointed, sometimes indignant, that the whole country didn’t get what we knew so well– that America really was for everyone, regardless of belief or background or culture or skin color or sexuality or whatever. I remember wanting to do something about it, maybe even something political. I wanted to help make the country a more accepting, uplifting place for everyone. My mother? I think she was a little worried that politics might be a thankless, stressful path. She thought I should just become the first Jewish televangelist.
Now I am well into a career I could never have predicted back then. I’d never even heard the word Humanism before until 2000, at age 23. But I guess there are some real parallels between what interested me growing up and what I do now. I still believe few things are as important as fighting for a world in which every person is treated with dignity. This belief has only grown stronger with the Humanist realization that I’ll only get one shot at life–there is no do-over after we die– and so I’d better try to use my short time on this earth well, for my own sake and for yours.
And I’m still an ENFP, a shy extrovert who loves people but can tend to think so much about the meaning of life that if you pass me on the street I might have a hard time looking up from my thoughts to remember to smile and wave. I’m working on that. Always. And yes, as a rabbi (ordained in 2005, after 5 years of study, in a ceremony that featured zero prayers, but many hugs) who might never have discovered Humanism at all were it not for the unique institution that is Humanistic Judaism, sometimes I do pretty much feel like a (culturally) Jewish televangelist.
I wrote a book called Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe. It was published by HarperCollins in late 2009 and it spent some time on the New York Times bestseller list in 2010. At the time it felt like it was, for me at least, a definitive statement about Humanism as a way of living with purpose, compassion, and community and without religion. But I’ve since experienced how much Humanism, like the world we live in, and like me– is constantly changing, growing. Who I am, who we are, what we ought to believe in and stand for– some of it does stay constant over time but much of it evolves as the world does. So I thought this might be a way to share my thoughts and feelings with you as they evolve. I plan on doing a few different types of blogging here, all at once: I’ll post daily meditations on the humanist ideas that inspire me and give me motivation and strength to continue to grow; I’ll reflect on some of the ongoing political and social issues of our time– with a positive emphasis on what is good in the world and what could be, not just on the gods and magical ideas I think we could do without; and maybe I’ll share just a few more of my personal reflections, stories, hopes, dreams, and embarrassing anecdotes.
Regardless of what some might assume about the nature of my job, I don’t think of myself as someone specially interested in giving a lot of advice about how to live or how the world should be. I certainly don’t claim any special authority to do so, nor is such a thing even possible in a Humanist understanding of the world. I’d just like this blog to be a place where I can explore my own evolving views, and also get your input on what it means to be a Humanist and a human being. Maybe we can enter into a kind of conversation that allows each of us to discover something new in ourselves and in the world, something that wouldn’t and couldn’t exist in a vacuum.
I believe Humanism, at its best, is a kind of community. I hope this blog can help create part of that community, for you and for me.