To the Editors:
In your feature on Marsh Chapel [“A Ministry of Hospitality”, Nov. 15] published before Thanksgiving, the DFP quoted Rev. Langsdorf as saying: “Students are at a place where they’re okay to say … I’m not sure if any religion is absolutely correct — but there are all of these options for me to explore right in front of me.”
For all its tone of self-congratulation, this quote fails to acknowledge that there is a faith position (held by thousands at BU) conspicuously missing from the options available at Marsh: nontheism.
Back in 2008 Tim Martinez (CAS ‘11) and I started a group for students identifying with the naturalistic worldview of Humanism. We founded the Humanists of Boston University as an option for students who don’t believe in gods but who want a place where they feel they belong as they explore, celebrate, and practice their (non)faith. Looking toward the future, we requested that our Humanist group be affiliated with the other organizations at Marsh Chapel. Surprisingly, HBU was denied religious status, without process of appeal.
The “ministry of hospitality” turned out to be a special privilege afforded only to certain sorts of students, namely those holding belief in a higher power. The rest of us are denied the sanction and resources of the campus chaplaincy. Our Humanist community, BU seemed to say, was undeserving of aid or acknowledgement.
It’s growing hard to overlook the nonreligious, however. According to the latest American Religious Identity Survey, the fastest growing ‘religious’ demographic consists of people who don›t affiliate with any religion. These are the “nones,” including the atheists and Humanists who are coming together in a post-theistic pluralistic society to build new forms of values-based community. Data indicates that up to 25 percent of the Boston-area population identifies as religiously unaffiliated, with numbers highest among the youth.
Over the last few years, Humanism has continued to grow throughout the country. Campus chaplaincies have been founded at schools including Stanford and Rutgers. Secular congregations like Sunday Assembly are popping up all over the place. Increasingly, the practice of Humanism is adopting the model of traditional theistic traditions, with an emphasis on shared congregational experiences and on putting values into action through service and mutual aid.
I encourage the staff of Marsh Chapel to view these demographic trends as an invitation to ministerial leadership. If fewer students identify as theists, it isn›t time to double-down on the idea that only theists can be religious. Instead, it’s time to reexamine the purpose of a campus chapel, and make sure that chapel resources are delegated so as to support the ethical and personal development of as many students as possible.
Atheist students may eschew belief in the supernatural, but we are as firm as anyone in our belief that community matters. I am hopeful that Marsh Chapel will reconsider its exclusion of Humanism from the religious council, and make good on its promise to minister to students of every path, including the godless ones.
John James McCargar, CAS ‘11, Founder, Humanists of Boston University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Co-signed Patrick Moffat, CAS ‘15, President of Humanists of Boston University; Zachary Bos, GRS ‘10, Co-chair Secular Coalition for Massachusetts, State Director American Atheists