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Harvard Humanist chaplain speaks at Brandeis in Humanist club’s first event

By Emily Frost

Section: News

October 19, 2007

Greg M. Epstein, the Humanist Chaplain of Harvard University, spoke Thursday night in the Lurias at the newly-formed Brandeis Humanists first event. Epstein, an ordained Humanist Rabbi, explained his personal journey to humanism, the movements history, and prospects for the future. Approximately 40 students attended the talk.

According to Epstein, humanism is a progressive life stance that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and our responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment, aspiring to the greater good of humanity. He added that, as in all religions, there is no one definition for the belief-system.

He described Humanism as a response to the question: Where do we get the strength, wisdom, and hope to meet the challenges of life? In his view, Humanism teaches that people have the strength inside themselves to deal with lifes challenges. In times of weakness, he said, people can rely on others for support.

He also stressed the Humanist belief that no supernatural being created a single purpose in life for everyone. He said, We have the freedom and the responsibility to find our own meaning.

In addition, Epstein discussed the need for the Humanist community to turn away from the question [of] what we should we call ourselves and move towards determining what [we] are for.

Audience reaction was supportive of the club and Epsteins views. Nora Epstein 10, a self-described Humanist of no relation to the speaker, was surprised at the number of people who came and excited to witness the formation of a community [shes] never seen on campus before. Jonah Cohen 10, echoed these views, stating that Humanism has the potential to be a powerful movement, especially on college campuses.

The Brandeis Humanists, who characterize themselves as a newly recognized group on campus seeking to cultivate a humanist community by representing secular students or those who are still refining their religious views, hosted the event. Club co-founder Joyce Wang 10, thought the event was very successful and was pleased with the turnout. She commented that [Epstein] spoke well and gave people a good idea of what Humanism is about. She hoped the talk will influence more people and make them more interested in Humanism and [the club].

In his talk, Epstein recounted his personal journey, coming from a Reform Jewish background, to studying Eastern religion, and eventually hearing about and adopting Humanism. He grew up in a diverse, immigrant neighborhood where there was a pervasive sense of equality. He studied Eastern religion in and traveled to Asia during his undergraduate years at the University of Michigan. During his quest for truth, he realized that, as stated on his website harvardhumanist.org, Eastern religions do not necessarily have greater access to truth than Western ones. Later, after stints in rock music and law school, a friend who was studying to be a Humanist Rabbi exposed him to the movement. He was attracted to its ability to bring people together in a community not willing to contradict science. He earned a Masters in Theology from the Harvard Divinity School and in his role as Humanist Chaplain, is involved in building, educating and nurturing a diverse community of Humanists, atheists, agnostics, and the nonreligious at Harvard and beyond.

In his view, there are redeeming aspects of religion which can be translated into a Humanist context. Religious traditions, such as celebrating holidays, are important to human happiness but can be done from a Humanist perspective. Just because weve ceased to believe in God doesnt mean weve ceased to believe in life.

Epstein expressed an optimistic outlook for the future of Humanism. He said the Humanist community will continue to grow as people realize its power to connect people through the belief that we all have one thing in common;

we are just trying to live a good life.

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