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first_imgA sneeze rang out during a ceremonial open house Tuesday (Sept. 7) for the new humanist center at Harvard. On cultural autopilot, someone responded: “God bless you.” Oops. Sometimes God happens.At the mention of a deity, two Roman Catholics in the crowd of 30 — both undergraduates visiting with an atheist friend — traded high-fives. Everyone else laughed.The three-word sneeze sermon was an auspicious start — call it a secular blessing — for the new community center at 19 Arrow St. It’s the first of its kind on a U.S. campus, and the first official gathering spot for Harvard’s community of nonbelievers, estimated at 1,500.Non-Harvard nonbelievers are welcome at the center too, which receives no financial support from the University.“We’re trying to use this space to build the core of a community,” said Greg M. Epstein, Harvard humanist chaplain and author of the recent bestseller “Good Without God” (HarperCollins, 2009).He called the book’s title “the three words that still sum it up most quickly for me,” the idea that the world’s 1 billion nonreligious people have values that embrace personal morality and public charity.“It’s not about what we don’t believe,” Epstein told the small gathering. “Humanism is about what we do stand for.”A poster in the small space claimed that 40 million Americans call themselves humanists, atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, or just secular. But don’t try fitting all of them into the new community center. It’s a beautiful set of two rooms — all eccentric angles, muted colors, and high windows. But it’s compact.Snug as it is, the Arrow Street space is a long step up from Epstein’s closet-size office in the basement of Harvard’s Memorial Church. That was so small, said Sarah Chandonnet, M.T.S . ’09, that she often had to pull up a chair in the corridor. (Chandonnet is the Humanist Chaplaincy’s campus organizer.)“We’re going to try to use this space as creatively as we can,” said Epstein, who, by the way, will keep his church office.Plans for the center include: a monthly open house; weekly meetings of the Harvard Humanist Graduate Community and the Harvard Secular Society (for undergraduates); a biweekly meditation group on Saturdays; and a biweekly Humanist Forum on Sundays.The first forum, led by Epstein, will be held from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. this Sunday (Sept. 12). The next sessions will feature “Friendly Atheist” blogger Hemant Mehta (Sept. 19) and Sean Faircloth, director of the Secular Coalition for America (Oct. 3).The Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard will also host outspoken atheist and author Sam Harris on Oct. 15 at 8 p.m. in the Memorial Church.The new center has turned the Arrow Street neighborhood into a medley of religious (and irreligious) options. It’s across the street from the Harvard Catholic Student Center and around the corner from Harvard Hillel.“It’s a great symbol — a new way of envisioning life on campus,” said Epstein. “We intend to be neighbors and we intend to be good neighbors. And we intend to be thought-provoking neighbors.”The office has welcomed Catholic guests from across the street before, he said. “We should be culturally literate about each other as communities.”For the open house, Cameron Niven ’13, an atheist who was raised a charismatic Christian, brought along three Catholic friends.The humanist camaraderie will be welcome, she said, and the outreach too. There are a lot of misconceptions about the nonreligious, that they’re immoral, “and that we don’t do any good in the world,” said Niven, a neuroscience concentrator.Good deeds and right action do not rise out of religious values alone, said Epstein.“We live in a world, this one world, this natural world, that we experience from birth to death,” he said. “We can’t know of any life before this one or any life after this one. So we feel all the more pressure to make this life count, to do with it the very best we can for ourselves, for one another, and for the entire world.”last_img read more

first_imgLE MARS — Iowa Congressman Steve King says he expects to be placed back on several legislative committees in the near future.King, a Republican from Kiron, was removed from all committee assignments in January following a New York Times article where he addressed white supremacy. Speaking in Le Mars on Monday, King said he’s been talking with House leaders about restoring his status.“There is that possibility,” King says. “I’ve had some discussion with leadership as recently as just the end of last week. I expect to go back next week and pick up that discussion. I’ve let them know that I’m going to start to turn this up now. I’ve been too nice, too long.”During the Times interview, King said he didn’t understand how the phrases white supremacy, white nationalism and western civilization had developed negative connotations. King says he was misquoted. He says he deserves to have his assignments restored as there’s no precedent for how he’s being treated.“We asked the Congressional Research Services to go back through the history of the United States Congress and identify each member of Congress that had been removed from all of their committees, had served with no committees,” King says. “Since antiquity, as far back as they could go in the records, there have been four.”King is the fourth — and he says two previous representatives were convicted of serious crimes while the third is still facing trial. King points out, he’s never been charged with anything. “What have I been accused of? I’m accused of a misquote, by the way, for asking a politically incorrect, rhetorical question. That’s the level of it. This is something that cannot be allowed to stand,” King says. “If it stands, there will be speech sanctions against any member of Congress that speaks out, no matter how objectively true they are.”King says if he remains stripped of his committee assignments, then our constitutional rights will be jeopardized. “It supresses the freedom of speech, thought and expression for the entire nation,” King says. “People should think that if you can’t speak freely, neither can you even think freely because what good are those thoughts if you can’t express them and how do you measure them against someone else? Another way to put this is, you’ve gotta’ put people together, they’ve got to exchange ideas and have open conversation. Let their imaginations soar.”The 4th District Republican says he will continue to “put the heat on the leadership.”last_img read more

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