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Harvard's New Chief Chaplain Is an Atheist

Greg Epstein is author of 'Good Without God'
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 27, 2021 8:07 AM CDT
Harvard's New Chief Chaplain Is an Atheist
Harvard was founded in 1636 to educate Puritan clergymen.   (Getty Images/jorgeantonio)

(Newser) – In best-selling book Good Without God, Greg Epstein argues that belief in a higher being is not a mandatory requirement for leading a good, moral life. It's also not a requirement for becoming chief chaplain at Harvard. Epstein, the university's humanist chaplain since 2005, has been unanimously elected to lead more than 40 chaplains serving Harvard's religious communities, the New York Times reports. The committee that elected him included a "Lutheran, a Christian Scientist, an evangelical Christian and a Baha'i," says the Rev. Kathleen Reed, the Lutheran chaplain. A 2019 poll of freshmen found that almost 40% identified as atheist or agnostic, and Epstein said that group still has "a real need for conversation and support around what it means to be a good human and live an ethical life."

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"The focus is now, 'How can we provide a support network for them in the same way that a traditional church or congregation of any other kind might provide?" he told the Harvard Crimson in 2016. In his book, Epstein—a 44-year-old who grew up in a Jewish household and was ordained as a humanist rabbi in 2005—sought to counter the militant, confrontational atheism of figures like Richard Dawkins. Fellow chaplains say he was the obvious choice for leader, despite the university's Puritan roots. "Greg is known for wanting to keep lines of communication open between different faiths," Margit Hammerstrom, Harvard's Christian Science chaplain, tells the Times. (Read more atheism stories.)

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