Is it Hard Out Here for a Humanist?

My alma mater is turning up in religious news stories this week.  It turns out that the Yale Humanists have asked to join the consortium at Yale Religious Ministries, and have been turned down [further discussion at Friendly Atheist].

The organization in the ministry are “dedicated to the spiritual, ethical, intellectual, social, and physical welfare of students, faculty, and staff,” which, for the most part, sounds like a decent match for the Humanists.  I can come up with a couple reasons they might have been excluded, beyond their non-religious nature.

Perhaps it was a problem that they don’t belong to any overarching body (credal or otherwise); the YRM agreement, that all affiliates must sign, talks about groups being responsible to both Yale Religious Ministries and some specific “faith community” with which they must remain in good standing.  Or maybe it was a problem that humanism doesn’t entail anything beyond, as their website would have it, a rejection of revelation, a rejection of nihilism, and a rejection of positive theism (though not Deism or agnosticism).

I do wonder what other non-religious groups on campus might be able to join the Yale Religious Ministries if either of these constraints were relaxed.  I’ll admit that freshman me would have been tempted to start a Deontology group and show up politely on the Chaplain’s door with an application.  But if the Yale Religious Ministries expanded to all philosophy groups, not just those that are god(s)-focuses, I know one currently existing group that would presumably make the cut.

The Objectivist Study Group at Yale (OSGAY) does meaning of life questions, is affiliated with an outside tradition (the Ayn Rand Institute), and seeks dialogue (often over vodka and cookies) with weekly discussions of topics like “Should a Father be a Soldier?” and “Can Sacrifice Ever Be Rational?”

I’d be curious if Chris Stedman, the Coordinator of Humanist Life at Yale, thinks OSGAY should also be part of the discussion at Yale Religious Ministries.  Would it make more sense for there to be a larger umbrella for all Yale groups offering preparation for death (i.e. philosophy) that would include the Humanists, OSGAY, my hypothetical crew of Deontologists, and the members of the Yale Religious Ministries as a subset of this larger group?  Would it make sense for the explicitly religious groups to distinguish themselves in this larger conglomerate?

In the end, I suspect part of the problem for the Chaplain was related to two provisos in the agreement for affiliates of the Yale Religious Ministries:

5. As a member of YRM, I pledge respect and support for other recognized ministries on campus, and when acting in the name of YRM, I agree to do so in a nonsectarian manner while at the same time acknowledging the faith tradition I represent.

13. While acting in my capacity as member of YRM, I pledge that I will articulate information for the purpose of sharing knowledge about my faith community and will not undermine another faith community.

These would presumably limit the Humanists ability to run down other religions on campus or possibly to host prominent New Atheist speakers like Dawkins or Harris.  I remember, when I was an undergraduate, that I had Catholic friends who were disappointed that the campus church has signed this agreement and limited its ability to go after Protestants as heretics, instead of fellow affiliates.

I do wonder how tight the restrictions are for YRM members, and whether the Humanists would have found them tolerable.  Having roomed with a former President of OSGAY, I am certain that the Objectivists wouldn’t have been able to toe this line in good conscience.

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In the Moral Landscape, There Still Be Dragons
Life Lessons that Can't be Taught at College's Scale
The Uncharity of Ideological Containment
About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011 and lives in Washington DC. She works as a news writer for FiveThirtyEight by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."


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