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Saturday, May 28, 2005

Chaplain at 'the galactic headquarters of scientism.'

Rich Barlow seems to be profiling Boston-area college chaplains one by one. This week it's the Rev. Amy McCreath, the priest who runs the Episcopal chaplaincy and its Technology and Culture Forum at "the galactic headquarters of scientism" (aka MIT).

McCreath said she counsels several students a year who attend forum events and then find themselves questioning whether careers in science are what they really want. By hearing speakers from journalism, nonprofits, and other fields beyond science, students sample career options they might not have considered.

Scientists are stereotypically an agnostic bunch, and about 1,000 students, one-tenth of MIT's undergraduate and graduate enrollment, participate in religious activities, McCreath said. Still, religion is the launching pad for some students' ethical questions. . . .

"Serving Episcopal students through worship, Bible study, and doing pastoral care is important, but it's not enough," McCreath said. "To really join God and what God is about at a place like MIT necessitates being out in the midst of the academic and technical life of the institute."

I haven't met McCreath, but Mrs Philocrites — and some of our other friends who have been involved in religious activities at MIT — give her a thumbs-up.

Humanist in the basement of Harvard's Memorial Church.

Two weeks ago, I meant to mention an earlier Barlow column about Harvard's humanist chaplaincy — which for more than three decades has been the work of Thomas Ferrick, a nice enough man who, strangely, never once seemed to reach out to the Unitarian Universalist students at Harvard Divinity School in the four years I was there. The good news in the story is that Ferrick has an heir apparent in 28-year-old Greg Epstein.

Unitarian Universalists will be intrigued to see that our "language of reverence" controversy is also playing out among Harvard's humanists:

"The two things that I think we [humanists] need to learn how to do," [Epstein] says, "are to sing, in the metaphorical sense and the literal sense, and to build."

Liberal and conservative believers bicker over the particulars of belief, and humanists are no different, frequently disagreeing over the meaning of humanism and even vocabulary. Take a simple word like faith.

"I personally see a humanist as a person of faith," Epstein says. "Humanism is a faith that people do have the strength to solve enough of their problems, if they work together and they care about one another, to live meaningful lives" without a belief in an almighty god.

But as he talks, senior Kerry Dingle, joining him and other humanists for a group interview, shakes her head. "I really, really hate the word 'faith,'" she says. "Faith is by definition believing something without evidence."

Raised Catholic, Dingle spurned the sacrament of Confirmation when she was 14 "because I didn't really believe in it."

"I grew up with religion," she adds. "I've determined that there's nothing that religion has to offer me. People can talk to me until they're blue in the face about their religion, and it's not going to make a difference."

Epstein, 28, offers a more seasoned take. Just as believers can learn from humanists, he says, "I do think that there's a tremendous amount that we can learn from religious people. I'm particularly appreciative of the way that they take care of one another . . . I believe that there's a word, the human 'spirit,' that does signify something that we do believe exists, which is an emotional desire to live a good life and to search for sources of inspiration and empowerment."

Cutler acknowledges feeling hostility toward conservative evangelical Christians, but also says: "They were in the Sudan and advocating for intervention in the Sudan long before almost anyone else. I don't think the humanist community can assert itself, unless it's willing to take action."

("At MIT, a New Dimension of Ministry, Rich Barlow, Boston Globe 5.28.05, reg req'd; "For Harvard Humanists, End of an Era," Rich Barlow, Boston Globe 5.14.05, reg req'd)

Copyright © 2005 by Philocrites | Posted 28 May 2005 at 4:11 PM

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May 31, 2005 09:17 AM | Permalink for this comment

The Rev. "Mother" Amy is excellent people. Like Mrs. P, I know her and see her quite a bit at a certain monastic institution. She seems the perfect person right now to minister to the galatic HQ.

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