Values in Action (VIA) at the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard (HCH)
Values in Action, or VIA, is the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard’s interfaith and community service initiative. VIA began as a pilot program in November of 2010 with the creation of HCH’s inaugural Interfaith and Community Service Fellow position. In less than one year, the first ever program dedicated to interfaith and community service at a Humanist or atheist organization has already yielded significant and unusual results. As just one example: In September of 2011, HCH led an interfaith event in which nearly 200 people of diverse religious and nonreligious identities wrote hundreds of letters urging legislators to support famine relief and packaged over 10,000 meals for food-insecure children. The event was covered in print, television, and online media both locally and around the United States, showcasing the importance of this work to people in our community and beyond.
But we’ve only just begun. On the momentum of a successful year, we are ready to take this program to the next level with the launch of VIA.
According to Merriam-Webster, the word via means “by way of; through.” This definition gets at the heart of VIA’s three-fold goal—to better the conditions of life for others through service to humanity, build alliances between religious and nonreligious individuals and communities, and combat the misconception that the nonreligious do not contribute to society—in that via nods to the idea that we do not engage in service merely to benefit others, but because it also accomplishes many different kinds of social good when done in thoughtful ways.
We recognize the importance of social action in the here and now, and that it is a good in and of itself. By rooting this collaborative action to benefit others in shared values across lines of difference, we also aspire to achieve mutual understanding and tolerance between those with different—and often opposing—metaphysical convictions. In addition, by providing opportunities for Humanists to act upon their values, both as a community of Humanists and in cooperation with people of faith—we demonstrate that the stereotype of nontheists as immoral is false.
This program works in tandem with the Humanist Community Project because it has the potential to model to other Humanist communities why interfaith and philanthropic action has value, and ways of initiating it.
We are currently engaged in one large scale community service event a month—focusing on environmental sustainability, hunger, and homeless LGBT youth—along with other opportunities for philanthropic work and interfaith dialogue (including a week-long spring break service trip for students to work with homeless LGBT youth in Los Angeles), and we are looking to continue to sustain the rapid growth of this program and other programs like it.