Why We Need Humanist Chaplaincies: The Rutgers Experience

Why We Need Humanist Chaplaincies: The Rutgers Experience  By Barry Klassel

“Successful society requires religion,” read the headline of an editorial in the March 23, 2011, edition of the Daily Targum, Rutgers student newspaper. It went on to suggest that, without religion, one loses one’s moral code and sense of purpose. I knew they would feel journalistically obligated to print my response because I’m a recognized spokesperson for a group whom the editorial offended. I’m the humanist chaplain at Rutgers University.

When a vigil was to be held to mourn the death of Tyler Clemente, a gay Rutgers student who committed suicide after some reported cyber-bullying, I asked to speak. It was appropriate that I be there, as the humanist chaplain, along with the leaders of two campus religious groups. The press was interested in my words because of my unusual job title, and I was featured in coverage by the major northern New Jersey newspaper, the Star-Ledger, and on the ABC local evening news broadcast.

When a Christian student asked, in all seriousness, “Why would someone get married if they weren’t looking for the blessing of God? What would be the point?” I told him about the beauty of two mortal human beings pledging their lives to each other and the communal celebration that engendered. The student posed his question to me because I’m the humanist chaplain. And because I’m the humanist chaplain, a non-religious student felt comfortable asking me to help him decide if he should come out as an atheist to his fundamentalist family knowing with certainty the disruption it would cause.

I told these stories to an audience gathered at the 70th Anniversary Conference of the American Humanist Association just a week and a half ago. They were at the session entitled “The Future of Humanism: Humanist Chaplaincies and Leadership on Campus and in the Military,” which featured talks by me and Gary Brill from Rutgers, Anne Klaeysen from Columbia University, Greg Epstein and Jonathan Figdor from Harvard University and Jason Torpy of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers and board member of the American Humanist Association..." (read more above)

Barry Klassel is the Humanist Chaplain at Rutgers University and a certified Humanist Celebrant. The Humanist Chaplaincy at Rutgers University is sponsored by the Humanist Society, the New Jersey Humanist Network, and the Red Bank Humanists.

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