News & Blog

Making Room for Non-Theists (guest post by Becky Garrison)

Even though humanist chaplain Greg Epstein and his staff played a key role in the outreach efforts following the Boston Marathon bombing and several members of their community were among those seriously injured as as I reported at Religion Dispatches and The Washington Post’s “On Faith” column, non-theists were not permitted to be seated in an official capacity during the interfaith service held in Boston and attended by President Obama.

Scott Campbell, United Methodist minister and President of The Harvard Chaplains reflects on the exclusion of non-theists from this communal gathering.

I think that the important loss in failing to be as comprehensively inclusive as possible is that whenever we fail to grasp an open, helping hand, extended in love and goodwill, we are the lesser for it.  Not a single victim of Monday’s horrific events stopped to ask the faith orientation of those who stooped to serve them in their hour of need.  Acts of heroism and compassion were accepted without question and lives were saved as a result.  The service on Thursday was a time to acknowledge gratefully the basic decency that made such a difference on Monday.  No tradition has a corner on compassion.  It was not a time to be drawing theological distinctions, but rather was a time to be thankful for the greater goodness that unites us as human beings.  To the extent that we failed to do that, we failed to live up to the best that was in us.

A petition has been circulated via Groundswell for Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Melissa Rogers, Director, White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships to “meet with the Humanist and non-theistic community to discuss how to ensure that future gatherings like the Interfaith Healing Service include ALL Americans.” This petition has been signed by a number of non-theistic and religious voices including American Atheist President David Silverman.

In the current issue of American Atheist magazine (2 Quarter 2013), my article “Going Global to do Good Without God” highlights the work of the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard in creating humanist communities for non-theists. This issue is now available on iPad and in select Barnes & Noble bookstores.