An Atheist Rabbi May Make a Good University Chaplain, but His Secular Humanist Vision Is Unlikely to Be Sustainable

Last week, Harvard University announced that its new chief chaplain is a nonbeliever—Greg Epstein, who received his quasi-rabbinic ordination, naturally, from the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism. While the news item invited much mockery, Samuel Goldman takes seriously both Epstein’s ideas, which he outlined in his book Good without God, and the aptness of a secular chaplain at an institution like Harvard:

Epstein argues that religious practices such as ritual, meditation, or textual study meet irreducible human needs that conventional atheists neglect. At Harvard and in his previous position as leader of the Humanist Community Project, Epstein organized interfaith dialogues, weekly services including sermons, musical performances, and other activities that resemble traditional worship without appealing to a personal deity. He also provides counseling to students facing personal or ethical problems. . . . It’s an intriguing proposal at a time when the unaffiliated are the fastest-growing religious group.

Yet the prospects for Epstein’s humanism are dimmer than he might admit. One reason is that it seems most appealing to people who were brought up in demanding religious communities but no longer accept all of their teachings or lifestyle prescriptions. . . . Individuals in this position may find genuine comfort in humanism, but will they pass on that disposition to their children, who will lack the same rigorous formation? Given the difficulty even conventionally devout parents have in transmitting their beliefs, they probably won’t be successful. Yet one of the central goals of organized humanism is creating communities that can be sustained across generations.

The implications of Epstein’s selection as head chaplain are also dubious. On the one hand, there’s nothing wrong with him occupying an administrative position for which he’s demonstrated ability over many years of service. On the other, the decision implies that there’s nothing special about theistic religion or appeals to transcendent authority that justify a distinctive status.

That may seem uncontroversial in the 21st century. But it raises uncomfortable questions about the very purpose of a university. . . . For Harvard’s founders, truth was worth pursuing because it set man in the right relationship with God. Harvard’s present leadership can only claim, like the administration of Faber College in [the film] Animal House, that “knowledge is good.”

Read more at The Week

More about: Academia, American Religion, Atheism, Harvard, Humanism

Hamas’s Hostage Diplomacy

Ron Ben-Yishai explains Hamas’s current calculations:

Strategically speaking, Hamas is hoping to add more and more days to the pause currently in effect, setting a new reality in stone, one which will convince the United States to get Israel to end the war. At the same time, they still have most of the hostages hidden in every underground crevice they could find, and hope to exchange those with as many Hamas and Islamic Jihad prisoners currently in Israeli prisons, planning on “revitalizing” their terrorist inclinations to even the odds against the seemingly unstoppable Israeli war machine.

Chances are that if pressured to do so by Qatar and Egypt, they will release men over 60 with the same “three-for-one” deal they’ve had in place so far, but when Israeli soldiers are all they have left to exchange, they are unlikely to extend the arrangement, instead insisting that for every IDF soldier released, thousands of their people would be set free.

In one of his last speeches prior to October 7, the Gaza-based Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar said, “remember the number one, one, one, one.” While he did not elaborate, it is believed he meant he wants 1,111 Hamas terrorists held in Israel released for every Israeli soldier, and those words came out of his mouth before he could even believe he would be able to abduct Israelis in the hundreds. This added leverage is likely to get him to aim for the release for all prisoners from Israeli facilities, not just some or even most.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli Security