Is “Atheist Chaplain” an Oxymoron?

Talk about weird ....

Harvard University was begun specifically as an institution of higher learning to train Christian ministers. Of course, over the years it has moved very far away from that goal. It is now a very diverse institution that is focused on many other things.

Still, it does have a connection to spiritual things. Did you know that it has over 40 university chaplains who minister to a wide variety of religious communities including Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, and many other religious communities? In fact, the chaplains group is large enough that it has its own organization – and recently, they unanimously elected Greg Epstein as their president.

Strange thing about Epstein, though, while he was raised Jewish, he doesn’t identify with his Jewish roots. Rather he considers himself a humanist. That’s right, he is an Atheist chaplain.

While it does seem rather strange that Atheists would have a chaplain, they do at Harvard. Epstein contends that “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.” He goes on to say, “We don’t look to a god for answers, we are each other’s answers.”

But according to Epstein, and the other chaplains who elected him president of their group, he is the perfect person to fill that position. They consider that as a man with no clear religious affinity, he is the perfect candidate to organize the various religious group activities across the campus. I guess the idea is that he can somehow be neutral and objective when dealing with all of the other religious groups.

The only problem is, he is not neutral and objective. And he does have a very clear religious affinity. The idea that there is such a thing as “no religious beliefs” is simply a lie. The fact that Atheism is not typically recognized as a religion, and that there is not a Church of Atheism, does not mean that Atheism is not a religion. In fact, it is very much a religion.

Most Atheists like to say they don’t have any beliefs, but they do. Saying they “don’t believe in God” does not mean that they don’t have any beliefs at all. Maybe they don’t believe in God, but they do believe something – that the natural universe, operating by natural laws, is all that exists.

If you dig down into that even a little bit, it becomes apparent very quickly that the aforementioned statement is, itself, a religious belief. There is no science in existence to back up the belief that the natural universe, operating by natural laws, is all that exists. Atheists who believe that must believe it by faith. It is a religious belief.

So Epstein is not the neutral, non-religious person that he (and the other chaplains) believes himself to be. He has a specific set of beliefs concerning God, man, and salvation that he adheres to and promotes. And the groups of people that he “ministers to” who have “a real need for conversation and support around what it means to be a good human and live an ethical life” ... when he meets with them, they are in their church.

But this is what so much of American society has come to. It is the result of a societal mindset that everyone can believe what they want to believe, and whatever that is, it is perfectly fine.

Reality does not operate that way, however. There is a way reality actually exists, and it does not exist any other way. Either God exists or He does not. And if he does, He exists in a particular way and not any other way. This whole Postmodern notion that everyone’s beliefs are “true for them” is pure poppycock.

Christians need to understand this if they want to be able to understand what is going on in modern society. The culture war that we see occurring in the country is not really a “culture” war – it is a religious war. Those who are Atheists are looking for their agenda to dominate society. As Christians, we need to recognize the nature of this conflict and prepare ourselves to engage them, not as cultural opponents, but as people who need to have their lives changed through a relationship with Jesus Christ. And once we see the truth of the situation, we need to equip ourselves to share the gospel across this barrier.




Freddy Davis is the president of MarketFaith Ministries. He is the author of numerous books and has a background as an international missionary, pastor, radio host, worldview trainer, and entrepreneur. Freddy is a graduate of Florida State University with a BS in Communication, and holds MDiv and DMin degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a popular speaker, particularly on the topic of worldview and its practical implications for the Christian life. He lives in Tallahassee, FL, with his wife Deborah.

You may also contact Freddy at Leadership Speakers Bureau to schedule him for speaking or leadership engagements.

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