Bishop Barron is right about the very notion of an “atheist chaplain.”
Joe Bukuras summarizes the controversy for the Catholic News Agency (paragraphs reordered):
Last week the New York Times announced that Greg Epstein, an atheist and humanist chaplain at Harvard University, was unanimously elected as the “chief chaplain” of the Harvard Chaplains, the association of more than 40 chaplains serving Harvard students of various religious denominations. …
“What does bother me,” Barron wrote in an Aug. 31 op-ed for the New York Post, “is the complete and abject surrender on the part of the presumably religious leaders at Harvard who chose this man.”
“If a professed atheist counts as a chaplain — which is to say, a leader of religious services in a chapel — then ‘religion’ has quite obviously come to mean nothing at all,” he continued. Barron is the auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles and founder of Word on Fire Catholic media.
The Catholics at Harvard insist that “there really is no influence in the role other than the fact that he has the title.” Marvel at the clarity of thought: Epstein will be “representing the entire group but he’s not representing his own opinions if that makes sense.”
No, it doesn’t make sense. As Barron notes, “being a chaplain has something to do with the worship of God.” It’s definitional. Just like concepts like “man,” “woman,” and “marriage” have meanings, so does “chaplain.”
If our society wants to accommodate people who don’t fit easily in traditional norms (and often… but not always… we should), that’s fine. It shouldn’t require edging the exceptions into the rule. It shouldn’t require undermining definitions.
We’re well beyond the point of clarity that the objective of progressives is not a more-tolerant society. They want to make it impossible to believe things they do not believe. In your life, you can live as if marriage is an institution that consists of two people who are able to create children by means of their intimacy, but you cannot have a word that means that. In the privacy of your heart, you can believe that chapels are places for the worship of God, but you must be deprived of the language to differentiate that concept from something closer to group therapy.
Featured image of a decapitated statue of Jesus in Brooklyn, from the Catholic News Agency.