No Room for Non-Theists at Boston Interfaith Service

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A quick review of Greg Epstein’s Facebook page and Twitter feed shows the Humanist chaplain at Harvard University responding to the needs of his community during a tragedy—providing pastoral care and other services customarily performed by chaplains.


On these pages one can find information about vigils, as well as emergency contact information for those students stranded during the city lockdown in the course of the manhunt for the two bombing suspects. Epstein’s Facebook profile picture has been changed to a photograph of Celeste Corcoran and her 18-year-old daughter, Sydney. (Celeste, close friend to a senior member of Epstein’s staff, lost both her legs at the knees in one of the bomb blasts, and her daughter suffered severe injuries after being hit by shrapnel.)

A press release issued by the Secular Coalition of America (SCA) documented that to date, the Humanist Community at Harvard has played a significant role in raising nearly $281,837 for a fund established to help the Corcorans. Also, at the time of this writing, WeAreAtheism.com, the Boston Atheists, the Humanist Community at Harvard, and the Secular Coalition for Massachusetts have raised $26,856 to assist victims. 

But though Epstein has considerable experience organizing memorial vigils—and has addressed over 45,000 people in attendance at these events during his decade of service as a humanist chaplain—he was not invited or included to participate in “Healing Our City.” This interfaith memorial event, held at Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston on Wednesday, April 18, was attended by President Obama along with representatives from the Protestant, Greek Orthodox, Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim faiths.

Written By: Becky Garrison
continue to source article at religiondispatches.org

31 COMMENTS

    • In reply to #1 by jjbircham:

      I guess the clue is the word interfaith, you can’t have your cake and eat it.

      Maybe they should start calling it “community memorials” so they can include everyone within the community.

      • In reply to #2 by Kim Probable:

        In reply to #1 by jjbircham:

        I guess the clue is the word interfaith, you can’t have your cake and eat it.

        Maybe they should start calling it “community memorials” so they can include everyone within the community.

        They wouldn’t be call it community memorials because that would be admitting that we’re part of the community. The part that the religious would rather ignore.

    • In reply to #1 by jjbircham:

      I guess the clue is the word interfaith, you can’t have your cake and eat it.

      Who’s having their cake and eating it? The point of it is to be inclusive, no? That has failed, and so there should be something other than an interfaith service in circumstances like these. In the mean time, I guess the non-religious groups will be forced to have an extrafaith service.

  1. I wonder which one of those in the photograph is right. You know… the one who’s god is the real god. According to each one of them his / her god is the real god. So which one of them is right. Or are they all blind to the fact they are all wrong, that the concept of god is a mental delusion and that it is religion that is the driver of most of the hatred and violence in the world. Who wants want to bet against the proposition that the Boston bombers acted in the name of their god and were seeking the fast track to heaven?

    • In reply to #3 by Os:

      I wonder which one of those in the photograph is right. You know… the one who’s god is the real god. According to each one of them his / her god is the real god. So which one of them is right. Or are they all blind to the fact they are all wrong, that the concept of god is a mental delusion and that it is religion that is the driver of most of the hatred and violence in the world. Who wants want to bet against the proposition that the Boston bombers acted in the name of their god and were seeking the fast track to heaven?

      Isn’t it a little hard to accept that a guy who makes it to the rank of cardinal or above actually believes what he’s peddling? All the invited speakers have the same god, the one who makes his appearance in the first act of the old testament, and he gets tarted up in different ways … same as they do. No other god’s were welcome.

  2. And where was God, of whatever name or flavour these priests believe in ?

    As usual, nowhere to be found !

    This lot remind me of ambulance chasing lawyers. “Now look here, my God has far more compassion and love than that Jewish/Christian/Muslim guy’s God.” Frankly the atheist was well out of it. Bloody mind twisters and blood suckers the lot of them. 400 years ago, they’d have happily burnt the likes of me.

    • In reply to #5 by Mr DArcy:

      And where was God, of whatever name or flavour these priests believe in ?

      I’ll tell you where God was, in the heads of the deluded boys who did this atrocity, screwing up their brains. Yes, that’s where the bastard was, let them keep the interfaith crap to themselves, they just don’t get it!

  3. I live a few miles outside of Boston and I can say that in the last 24 hours there’s been little else on TV other than the intensive coverage of the chase and capture of the Boston Marathon bomber suspect. It was on international, national and local TV channels simultaneously. Coverage included tidbits of facts and observations by reporters, speculations by reporters that were later shown to be true or false, and in between all of this, when the action on the street had stalled, bystanders were hauled in front of the camera and prompted to describe their interpretation of the situation and express their emotions.

    You know where I’m going with this…the sobbing, eye rolling, outpouring of their gratefulness to God for sparing them from getting their legs blown off and for sparing their own child while some other child had died, etc. The whole memorial service was a parade of religious leaders and politicians who are either delusional to some degree or just plain liars who want to be reelected and know that they have to blabber on about their invisible friend in the sky to get the votes.

    In these difficult days for our city I’ve seen all of these leaders, political and religious stand on podiums in front of the City, Country and World engaging in what can only be the most pitiful and blatant example of cognitive dissonance that I have ever witnessed. The general pattern was for the speaker to express shock and disgust at the senseless death and maiming of innocent spectators which is all well and good, but inevitably this led straight into groveling to big daddy in the sky for not letting it be worse than it was and thanks for conveniently having all those first responders right there to care for the poor victims, etc.

    One of the Christian clergy who spoke at the memorial actually worried me by quickly alternating these two ideas in close succession-A terrible thing has happened-Our God is a loving God-Many people are grievously injured- God is on our side and ever watchful-Three innocent, wonderful people are dead-Our God is a loving God…on and on. The whole thing made me very nervous and I realized that although I started off with a snarky, shitty attitude about that whole memorial service, I ended up feeling tremendous pity for all of those people who have similar negative feedback loops circling through their minds.

    One difference I’ve noticed between Atheists and religious people is that the Atheists get on with their grieving and aren’t tripped up in the process from grappling with what role God had in all of this horribleness and what his intensions and hidden meanings are. It would have been an important public demonstration of how rational thinkers mourn and grieve and support each other and our whole community without groveling to a cruel and/or incompetent deity. Many religious people aren’t aware that there is any other way to go about these things except to head off to the church and get down on their knees to the very entity that they must admit has either caused this to happen or he let it happen and didn’t stop it. They might be interested to know that there is another way to experience grief. The Humanists could have demonstrated this for them.

    kamel says:

    I don’t get it,why would any atheist organisation want to take part in a religious interfaith hypocrisy service?

    I do relate to that sentiment, but by the end of that memorial service I was feeling so sorry for all the religious sheep sitting there who were so obviously trying to understand how this tragedy could have happened in the presence and under the ever loving and ever watchful God, that I really do wish that the Humanists/Atheists had been given an opportunity to explain how we try to understand how and why this could have happened. I just think that we at least have some sort of tool box with an assortment of different cognitive skills and maybe some knowledge of human behavior derived from reading and academic work that serves us better in understanding that people have a great capacity for good but also a potential for actions that are dastardly and downright evil. But what I saw through these past few days are people who are stuck in the dysfunctional mind-virus loop of “This is horrible, I can’t process it- My God is a loving God, He takes care of me…” Their tool box is empty except for one rusty old bent screwdriver.

    • In reply to #9 by Street Logician:

      This makes me sick. Those two psychos were motivated by faith. I want nothing to do with an interfaith anything.

      Did anyone at the meeting ask the muslim what he thought about terrorism?

        • In reply to #21 by LaurieB:

          In reply to #20 by Aber ration:Did anyone at the meeting ask the muslim what he thought about terrorism?Why bother asking that when we all know what the answer will be – That is not the true Islam!

          That’s what they always say. It’s called using morality to define what is religious. It’s what they always do, and it’s the opposite of what they always claim – that they use their religion to define what is moral.

      • In reply to #20 by Aber ration:

        In reply to #9 by Street Logician:

        This makes me sick. Those two psychos were motivated by faith. I want nothing to do with an interfaith anything.

        Did anyone at the meeting ask the muslim what he thought about terrorism?

        Irrelevant. That person was not one of the two who planted the bombs who clearly identified as jihadists.

        • In reply to #27 by Street Logician:

          In reply to #20 by Aber ration:

          In reply to #9 by Street Logician:

          This makes me sick. Those two psychos were motivated by faith. I want nothing to do with an interfaith anything.

          Did anyone at the meeting ask the muslim what he thought about terrorism?

          Irrelevant. That person was not one of the two who planted the bombs who clearly identified as jihadists.

          He does, however, associate with the same holy writings, the same historical tradition, and many of the same overlapping beliefs, he bases his own faith on the same grounds, and he endorses islam. To use an analogy, a devoted and publicly announced Stalinist who decries a person who murders capitalists and “class traitors” is either being a self-defeating hypocrite – in which case, he is shooting his own message by associating with them in the first place – or secretly doesn’t believe his own condemnation of the murders. His very methodology – using faith to justify harmless beliefs – is the same as the ones used to justify the dangerous beliefs of jihadists, so he again either proves a self-defeating hypocrite or a two-faced liar. Either way, he legitimizes the association to bystanders, encouraging the same faulty thinking and policy.

  4. Apologies in advance for this long post, but I’m from Massachusetts, live in the Boston area, have been near the finish line of the Marathon, went to school in Cambridge and like many know the site where the campus patrolman was murdered, and the gas station where the Mercedes was hijacked. I can close my eyes and see out their windshield as they drove. Certainly not unique . Thanks for your indulgence.

    Before the news media got their act together, I heard the ethnic Chechen, native Dagestan (technically Russian by possession and domination) Islamic bombers referred to as “Russian” and “godless”. Russians and Atheists alike can take umbrage.

    It wasn’t a complete surprise when they held that service in the cathedral of our local favorite horse in the recent papal pomposity. I put it on TV, placed a bet that there’d have to be a rabbi in the batting order but against any secular or Buddhist (there are a number of groups locally, from ones that draw members from the general and student community as well as Cambodian, Korean and Chinese). No Hindus, guess the Indian community all converted. As I said, I put it on TV but then didn’t bother to watch it.

    4/17/13. http://www.bostonglobe.con provides the the following information on performers, …oh, I mean speakers and performers at “Healing ‘OUR’ City” {my emphasis}

    President Obama; … Yo-Yo Ma, cellist; …Rev. Nancy Taylor, senior minister of Old South Church, “The coming together is creating a space of unity and community in defiance of that kind of cruelty and violence.”; … Rev. Liz Walker, Roxbury Presbyterian Church, former WBZ-TV news anchor, “When these kinds of tragedies happen, we always ask, ‘Where is God?’ and ‘Why do bad things happen to good people?’ ”, “I don’t have an answer, but I do know God is in this coming together as a community.”; … Boston Children’s Chorus; … Metropolitan Methodios, hierarch of the Greek Orthodox church in Boston; … Rev. Roberto Miranda, Congregacion Leon de Juda in Roxbury; … Nasser S. Weddady, chair, New England Interfaith Council { I’m not sure this exists, or is it the American Islamic Congress? see (#) below … }; … Rabbi Ronne Friedman, Temple Israel in Brookline; … Rev. John Borders III, Morningstar Baptist Church in Mattapan; … Mayor Thomas M. Menino; … Gov. Deval Patrick; … Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, Roman Catholic archbishop of Boston

    So it seems that there is no Islamic component of our community worthy of inclusion? NOPE, it gets more interesting. According to this http://weaselzippers.us/2013/04/19/muslim-brotherhood-imam-originally-scheduled-to-speak-at-boston-bombing-interfaith-service/ “The imam of a mosque that is managed by the Muslim Brotherhood-founded Muslim American Society was initially invited to speak … was later rescinded ….” There is The Boston Interfaith Council (sure sounds interfaith doesn’t it? not) tied to the American Islamic Congress. That’s as close as you can get to sneaking a stealth muslim in under the radar.

    The gymnasium of Cathedral High School will offer additional space for public seating. Read: No other public, private or church facilities were available to facilitate unity, community and healing. Oh, let’s just be honest, it’s appropriately designed for families etc., and an unabashed social, flesh-pressing, news and photo opportunity for the power elite, politicians, movers and shakers. If you aren’t part of that picture or don’t matter as a voting block, no one gives a crap about you no matter who or what you are. None of the closeted secularists in the audience objected or walked out did they? The lists of the killed, injured, traumatized, or rescuers or members of the community must have been scoured to reveal that there were only “believers” effected in any way, or else they aren’t holding up their hands.

    Apparently upset at not being invited, “The fundamentalist Westboro Baptist Church, of Westboro, Kan., has said it will picket Thursday’s service, as well as the funerals of the bombing victims. Since Monday, the group has been celebrating the Marathon bombings as divine retribution for Massachusetts’ embrace of gay marriage.
    :D Bring it on. :D … don’t know if they came, doubt it. If they do, they’re likely to get a taste of Boston hospitality; for instance, see what they do to their neighbors in this ’77 Pulitzer Prize photo from the proud era of bussing in Boston, The Soiling of Old Glory by Stanley Forman, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Soiling_of_Old_Glory

    “First Church Somerville, a United Church of Christ congregation, announced plans to “offer our bodies and our prayers and our love as a living wall” between the Westboro group and those attending the service. First Church said it will not hold signs or chant.” I rather think Old Glory drives home the point with less ambiguity.

  5. The problem isn’t that atheists are excluded from interfaith services. The problem is that interFAITH services are what society assumes are the correct response to situations like this. The proper solution is to have a COMMUNITY service, and not call it an interfaith one, that phrasing would include both believers and unbelievers.

  6. What an appalling waste of time and what hippocracy. Healing our City is a truly excellent example of religious bigotry. The religious hierarchy call a gathering at which they stir up grief and emotion to screaming point and then tell the watching world that god is taking care of us all and will take care of the victims who have gone to a better place blah blah blah…. while in fact it is just another opportunity for the godly to flounce around in their outfits and milk a terrible event for all its worth to promote their dogma. This is religious pomposity at its most vile. Exploiting the shock and grief of thousands of people for the aggrandisement of religious myths is sick and it is what religion does. It’s how religion empowers itself over the masses. It exploits grief and emotion for its own ends. How wonderful it would have been if the clerics had put on boots and fatigues and asked every one to come out onto the streets to start tidying up the mess and raising money for the families of the victims. Far better to roll up their sleeves than putting hands together and mouthing platitudes in the vain hope of godly intervention. But this will never happen because the clerics know that if they allow people to feel good about themselves through doing good without mentioning god then the flock would realise that ‘hey we don’t really need to praise god to get things done’. The pious messengers of god would soon loose their strangle hold on the throat of humanity. And don’t forget that it is very likely that the Boston bombers were seeking the fast track to god in the first place.

  7. There is no future for religion!

    A future for humanity necessitates a culture based upon rational inquiry, which is the scientific method. That is the only way forward. A future based on religion, is no future at all, as it is the method of irrationality, binding humanity to division and stupidity, repeating a path of self destructive behavior.

    But I preach to the converted.

  8. It’s ironic though that the bombing was inspired by blind religious faith, and they seriously believe that the best solution for blind religious faith, is even more blind religious faith.

    But I guess this is nothing dissimilar to a political ideology that believes that a crippling debt spiral can be solved by an even more crippling debt spiral.

    This is like believing that the solution to alcoholism, is more alcohol.

    It’s insanity from top to bottom.

    • In reply to #18 by LaurieB:

      Today at 5pm the Humanists are holding a memorial service for the victims of the Boston Marathon.

      Correction:
      I should say-for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombers. As an event, the marathon has no intention to injure anyone.

  9. For me the reason why a large minority of the community was left out of this ‘interfaith coming together’ was because all these religions are simply prejudiced against us. I have been asked in all seriousness when saying I’m an atheist; ‘What’s it like to be empty?’ I kid you not. Their bigotry is twisted deep into the dogma of centuries. We all know the torments and punishments non believers are due from the sky policeman when we die. We are empty spiritual holes to them.

    I would suggest most religious people have never heard of a humanist chaplin, and even if they have they think it simply a term for non-believer, any activities by such a person would be suspicious in the extreme. And in the end that’s what they care most about. Sometimes I think atheists to them are just empty bags of skin god has put on earth to confuse and test them, and how they become unconfused is by ignoring killing or hating them, or all three.

    One final point. The humanist chaplin at Harvard is obviously an exception but what we do not have is the centuries old machinery of comfort totally intertwined in the culture. They have professional comforters, supported by incredible music and history performing in some of the most striking architecture the species has so far come up with. Plus the magic book from which comes the mesmerising poetic prose. These things are incredibly hypnotic. We cannot compete on this level at all. And while I’m very sure the clergy of all faiths are sincere in their ministrations to the bereaved and injured, I will always maintain: false consolation is no consolation.

    My thoughts are with the dead and injured in Boston.

  10. i disagree with the idea that atheists have no place in an interfaith ceremony. most do after all have faith in humanity, inter-faith-in-invisible-people maybe a different thing

    the motive is straightforward though. fear of death is still religions trump card, an atheist coming to terms with loss or injuty of a loved one in a community setting makes a mockery of religion and it’s primary role as the place to go for comfort in times of grief.

    if that were allowed people would start to see that everyone’s the same and the common thread of coming to terms with trajedy is a sense of inclusivity.

    then we’d start to live in a better world for everyone (appart from the men-in-dresses trying to find proper jobs)

    • In reply to #29 by SaganTheCat:

      i disagree with the idea that atheists have no place in an interfaith ceremony. most do after all have faith in humanity, inter-faith-in-invisible-people maybe a different thing

      The only reason those are labelled “faith” is because of the contradictory and fuzzy nature of the English language. They are NOT what is meant by the term “faith” in the word “interfaith”. Don’t fall for the error of assuming that because it looks like the same word that means it is. Trust in a thing you have knowledge that it exists is not the same thing as belief in a proposition a thing exists without evidence, even though both ambiguously use the same term “faith”.

      When someone says “I have faith in humanity” they don’t mean the same thing as “faith in god”. They’re not saying, “Yes! I indeed DO believe that humanity is more than just a figment of my imagination! NO! I really do think humans do in fact exist even though I can’t prove it to you!”

      It is a false equivocation fallacy to pretend those two different meanings of faith are the same thing just because they use the same term.

      It would be a bit like hearing someone say “I arrived at your house in the van” and thinking they meant “van” as in “the front of a procession” rather than a type of vehicle.

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