Humanist Chaplains

Photo via Hackensack Meridian Mountainside Medical Center
Did you know that there are a number of universities now with Humanist chaplains on staff? Perhaps it seems strange to you that there are non-theistic religious professionals, but such people are uniquely qualified to serve new generations of religiously unaffiliated people. 

When Anne Klaeysen first applied to be the humanist chaplain at Adelphi University in Garden City, New York, in the mid-2000s, the deans interviewing her went straight to the point: “The other chaplains want to know,” they said, “if you’re a religion-hating atheist.” Klaeysen readily assured them that no, she didn’t hate religion, but wasn’t surprised by the assumption. (Humanist Chaplains Guide Nonreligious Students on Quest for Meaning, Religion News Service, June 2022)

How can someone who doesn't believe in the supernatural be a chaplain? It's actually quite simple. Professional chaplains are not allowed to proselytize for their faiths, but instead provide spiritual presence and counsel to people who desire it. Spirituality is a very human trait that does not really require gods. We are perfectly capable of pondering the big questions of life and determining how best we should live in the here and now without reference to some purported revelation. We can find the sacred in places and rituals that have meaning for us.

There are, for instance, groups dedicated to encouraging meaningful community and a pursuit of the good life without the divine, such as Ethical Culture, Sunday Assembly, Oasis, and the various chapters of the American Humanist Association. Each has its own unique history, culture, and approach. None involve spirits or impose commandments. Among them all, leaders will be found, both formal and informal. 

Humanist chaplains, working not just at universities but also medical facilities and other environments where such professionals may be found, work for the spiritual benefit of people within their own frameworks of thought and belief. The concern is for the whole person, not for particular ideas they might have about God or the afterlife. 

The Humanist Society, the same organization that endorses celebrants like me, also recognizes chaplains and works to ensure their preparation and qualifications. Don't be surprised if, sooner or later, you encounter a Humanist chaplain. A real professional will be someone you can count on for support, regardless of what faith you claim, if any. 

In the meantime, if you have a special milestone event to commemorate, such as baby welcoming, a wedding, or something else, Humanist celebrants are here to help as well. Contact me if I might be of assistance in this way.