Chaplain Greg Epstein of the Harvard Humanist Chaplaincy isn’t your typical clergy member. For one thing, he doesn’t believe in God. For another, he used to be a rock star.
Epstein was a college student studying Buddhism in China when he joined a band. After recording a few albums with his group Sugar Pill, Epstein decided to focus his energies on Humanism. “Personally and professionally, I just felt a lot of people turn to music as a substitute for religion, and for all the rock scene has to offer, it’s not quite that,” he said.
In his new book “Good Without God,” Epstein introduces readers to Humanism, a philosophy that rejects supernaturalism while focusing on community, and community-based actions and decisions that lead to a more fulfilling and purposeful existence. In light of an emergent nonreligious population, the book seems well-timed, stressing that believers and nonbelievers are more alike than not.
Epstein has a straightforward speaking style, and his message is equally direct, while also being compassionate, real, and relatable. Yet he said he never really had plans to write a book. It all came to him in roundabout fashion.
As a graduate student at Harvard Divinity School, Epstein recalls reading about most of the world’s major religions, but nothing on Humanism. He asked Professor Diana Eck about that void, and the result is now in print.
“She said it was a great idea, and that I should start working on the book proposal right away. I really hadn’t meant it in terms of me writing a book,” he said, but quickly realized that most major books that focused on atheism highlighted what nonreligious people don’t believe, instead of what they embrace.
People often ask Epstein about his title as chaplain. “I just remind them that the word ‘chaplain’ comes from Christianity, but so does the word ‘doctor,’” he said. “Chaplain means a member of the clergy who serves outside a formal church, such as in the army, in a hospital, or at a university.”
He says that helping professionals for non-Christians in these environments are necessary.
“There are Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist chaplains. Why not Humanists? If it is an oxymoron to say that people who no longer believe in God still need caring and community, I’m proud to be a walking oxymoron.”