Harvard’s new chaplain is an atheist — and ‘Good Without God’

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This spiritual leader doesn’t need a higher power. 

Harvard University’s organization of chaplains is getting a new president to coordinate the campus’ Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist and assorted other religious communities. Only the new president, 44-year-old Greg Epstein, does not identify with any of those traditional religions himself.

He is an atheist. 

Despite his disbelief in any higher power, Harvard chaplains felt Epstein — author of the book “Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe” — was a good choice for the position due to young people’s increasing lack of religiosity. 

“There is a rising group of people who no longer identify with any religious tradition but still experience a real need for conversation and support around what it means to be a good human and live an ethical life,” Epstein, who grew up in a Jewish home, told the New York Times in an interview published Thursday.

“We don’t look to a god for answers,” he added. “We are each other’s answers.”

Harvard’s liberal values and desire to prioritize engagement over tradition make Epstein a great fit for the job, many insiders feel. Indeed, his election was unanimous. 

Greg Epstein, left, the humanist chaplain at Harvard University, poses with students after a group meeting on campus in Cambridge, Mass., Friday, March 6, 2009.
ASSOCIATED PRESS

“Maybe in a more conservative university climate there might be a question like ‘What the heck are they doing at Harvard, having a humanist be the president of the chaplains?’” Margit Hammerstrom, Harvard’s Christian Science chaplain, told the Times. “But in this environment it works. Greg is known for wanting to keep lines of communication open between different faiths.”

At a time defined by a strained, “war”-like identity culture for many college-age individuals, Epstein’s focus on collaboration is more relevant than one of simply maintaining the status quo of worship, students said.

greg-epstein-harvard
Greg Epstein, second from left, the humanist chaplain at Harvard University, speaks to students during a group meeting on campus in Cambridge, Mass., Friday, March 6, 2009.
AP

“Greg’s leadership isn’t about theology,” 20-year-old electrical engineering student Charlotte Nickerson told the Times. “It’s about cooperation between people of different faiths and bringing together people who wouldn’t normally consider themselves religious.”

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