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Humanist Hub Director to Serve Tech Leaders of Tomorrow

I am delighted to announce that the Humanist Hub has accepted a wonderful invitation to expand our work on campus. Having worked as the Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University since 2005, when I succeeded my friend and mentor Tom Ferrick, I now serve as the Humanist Chaplain at both Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In addition to joining MIT as its first humanist chaplain, I am particularly excited to to have also been appointed as a “Convener” by MIT’s Office of Religious Life. This new role, held by a handful of the approximately 30 chaplains to serve the Institute, will empower our organization to convene public conversations on many of the most pressing issues facing the broader MIT community. I and we have been invited into these roles by The Reverend Kirstin Boswell-Ford, who was appointed last summer as MIT’s new Chaplain to the Institute and Director of Religious Life. I consider Reverend Boswell-Ford to be a true visionary leader: someone with impeccable religious credentials and an extraordinary commitment to interfaith leadership, who fully and deeply understands how to include humanists, atheists and the nonreligious. We will be very fortunate to work with her and with the entire MIT Division of Student Life.

Over the past several months, as events leading to today’s announcement have developed, I’ve had many opportunities to reflect on just what kinds of conversations a humanist chaplaincy and community ought to convene. Inspired by conversations with many of our community members, and particularly by our wise and passionate Humanist Hub staff, I feel motivated to catalyze an ongoing dialogue on humanistic ethics in science, technology, business and society.

Kumail Nanjiani, star of HBO’s “Silicon Valley,” Oscar-nominated screenwriter of “The Big Sick,” and an atheist, recently spoke out about the frightening lack of ethics in (the real life) Silicon Valley culture:

“As a cast member on a show about tech, our job entails visiting tech companies/conferences, etc. We meet people eager to show off new tech…Often we’ll see tech that is scary. I don’t mean weapons, etc. I mean altering video, tech that violates privacy, stuff with obvious ethical issues…we’ll bring up our concerns to them. We are realizing that ZERO consideration seems to be given to the ethical implications of tech…”

The connections between Nanjiani’s concern and shocking recent current events are obvious. Wikileaks, Cambridge Analytica, cultural biases embedded in artificial intelligence, nuclear tests, and weapons manufacturing may only be the tip of an all-too-quickly melting iceberg.  And, with the war on science at the US federal level, it has never been more important for the good people of the STEM world to speak truth to power.

The more I talk with students and faculty at both MIT and Harvard, the more I realize humanism has something profound to offer in this decisive moment. We are all, equally, citizens of this pale blue dot. We have only this one life, between birth and death, to seek meaning and define our legacy. We must not accept the institutions of the past as adequate when we know we are so far from the justice we can envision together. Our ability to reason and think critically is our greatest tool for understanding and shaping the world for good. And we are only human: imperfect, vulnerable creatures who must continually learn to love ourselves and one another if we are to make the extraordinary improbability that is human life joyful, just, and sustainable.

We must ensure that the brightest young minds continually discuss, debate, and expand on ideas like these, as they learn the skills that will shape our world. And I’ve found the MIT community to be extraordinarily receptive to doing so. That is why Sarah, Rick, Nina and I, along with the Humanist Hub board, advisors, and so many of our community leaders, are thrilled by the possibility today represents to work with an institution that shares the mission of bettering the world for all.

As can and should happen in times of possibility and promise, some of the details of this next phase of our work are still coming together.  We look forward to finding the way forward with our expanded community.

Of course, this new beginning will bring challenges – perhaps the biggest challenge for us is that we have to continue and increase our fundraising efforts to be effective in this expanded role. As well known blogger Hemant (The Friendly Atheist) Mehta points out, neither Harvard nor MIT have been or will be paying us any money to support our work – not even towards my salary or benefits. While we might wish these universities compensated chaplains differently (or, indeed, at all), our financial independence is precisely what ensures our intellectual freedom advance a vibrant, uncompromising vision for humanism. If we are to make a meaningful difference in the lives and future of MIT students, we can only do so because of donations from supporters like you. Please make a generous one-time or recurring donation, today!

For more information, please visit the Humanist Hub website. We’ve posted a new FAQ, and our press release. You can also see my revised bio, which says a bit more about some of the issues that are most grabbing my attention these days. We’ll be posting additional updates and articles about this story as they are available — look for them first at the Humanist Hub’s Facebook & Twitter accounts, and/or on mine.

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