Greg Epstein, Harvard’s Humanist Chaplain

Greg Epstein, Harvard’s Humanist Chaplain March 28, 2011

An influential Chaplain has joined our lineup. Is it possible we are approaching legitimacy in the eyes of Fort Bragg? Let’s hope so.

“One billion people around the world, including over forty million Americans and over one in five Americans age 18 to 25 identify with no religion.

Imagine the positive impact these people could have on the world if, in the coming generations, they were to realize that Humanism is what they have in common.” – Greg Epstein

Greg M. Epstein serves as the Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University, and is author of the New York Times Bestselling book, Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe. He sits on the executive committee of the 36-member corps Harvard Chaplains. In 2005 he received ordination as a Humanist Rabbi from the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism, where he studied in Jerusalem and Michigan for five years. He holds a BA (Religion and Chinese) and an MA (Judaic Studies) from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and a Masters of Theological Studies from the Harvard Divinity School.

Epstein was the primary organizer of “The New Humanism,” an international conference in honor of the 30th anniversary of the Humanist Chaplaincy of Harvard University. He blogs for, Newsweek magazine and The Washington Post, and his work as a Humanist rabbi and Chaplain has recently been been featured by ABC World News with Diane Sawyer. He also chairs the Advisory Board of the national umbrella organization the Secular Student Alliance, joining such renowned nonbelievers as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.

Clearly, he is on the ‘same team’ as the so called New Atheists such as Dawkins and Hitchens. But he has famously contrasted that movement with what he calls New Humanism. Here are some highlights from the original article.

“…the title was chosen to contrast with “The New Atheism,” as the media have dubbed the work of writers such as Oxford scientist Richard Dawkins, Stanford doctoral student Sam Harris, and journalist Christopher Hitchens, each of whom had recently published a bestselling book promoting atheism. The intention was to use our conference to draw attention to the idea that Humanism, like atheism, is nontheistic and not traditionally religious, but unlike some popular atheism, Humanism is not necessarily an antireligious ideology…

The New Humanism does not differ with the New Atheism on every issue, or even on most issues. The first point of agreement both camps might find is that there is no overwhelming need for the term “new” in either appellation…

It is also important to note that the New Humanism and the New Atheism absolutely share the same views on questions such as whether God exists (almost certainly not), or how best to understand the nature of the world around us (science and empiricism). And as to whether we ought to fight for such causes as the separation of Church and State, the teaching of evolution, and the promotion of atheism and Humanism as valid, patriotically American ways of life, our answers are also the same as those of the New Atheists — you bet your life we ought to.”

It is a well established fact that there is a lot of overlap in the atheist and humanist spheres, but he makes an interesting case. The ‘divisive’ nature of the contrasting point of view is meant to provoke in and out-group discussion, but not to pit the two secular groups against each other. I’m absolutely sure he will fit right in with the atheists (new or otherwise) on our lineup.


Greg Epstein is an intellectual force in his own right, and we want to emulate his work at Harvard and even the group effort at the Secular Student Alliance (an effort shared by fellow RBB lineup members Hemant MehtaTodd Stiefel, and Richard Dawkins to name a few.)

Coupled with the recent addition of Nate Phelps, our lineup is taking an interesting turn. I’m not sure that Fort Bragg can continue to deny the legitimate need for the equal treatment of the non-religious segment of the Army. We’ve had some interesting positive developments recently, but the future of Rock Beyond Belief is still decidedly uncertain.

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