Minister-turned-atheist Teresa MacBain loses Harvard job after inflating resume

AUSTIN, Texas — A former United Methodist minister-turned-atheist was dismissed from her high-profile position at Harvard University on Thursday after … Continued

AUSTIN, Texas — A former United Methodist minister-turned-atheist was dismissed from her high-profile position at Harvard University on Thursday after it was revealed she falsified her resume.

Teresa MacBain, one of the most high-profile nonbelievers in the country after profiles by NPR, The New York Times and Religion News Service, was fired from her newly created position with the Humanist Community at Harvard.

MacBain, who started her job at the beginning of September, had planned to travel the country starting humanist communities at schools and organizations nationwide.

In a statement posted on Facebook Thursday (Sept. 26), MacBain acknowledged she had misrepresented her education to Harvard, to the broader atheist community and to reporters.

“I have committed a grave error in judgment that I deeply regret,” MacBain wrote. “While I did not do anything with malice or with intention to harm others, my actions were still wrong.”

The deception was discovered after a New York Times story about her new position at Harvard appeared earlier this month. In it, reporter Samuel Freedman reported that MacBain had a master’s of divinity from Duke University. Officials at Duke said she attended a summer course at the school.

MacBain acknowledged as much in her Facebook statement.

“While it is true that I attended Duke Divinity under a special program for pastors transferring from another denomination, I did not earn a standard divinity degree,” she wrote. “As I’ve worked among you, I claimed the latter degree status instead of explaining the true nature of my theological education.”

MacBain said the deception started when someone else misrepresented her credentials and she let it stand.

In March 2012, MacBain stood at a podium before hundreds of people in a Maryland hotel ballroom at the national convention of American Atheists and told them that, after a lifetime as a Christian and 15 years as a pulpit pastor, she had lost her faith.

She eventually lost her pulpit, many circles of friends and family members. Going public as an atheist, she learned, carried risks.

“Go for it, but be prepared,” MacBain said in an interview earlier this year. “They should be prepared for unexpected love and acceptance from the freethought community and they should be prepared for the worst from friends and family and people you would have never imagined.”

Greg Epstein, Harvard’s humanist chaplain and director of its humanist community, declined to be interviewed but issued a statement on the chaplaincy’s website.

“Many of us at HCH have come to care very much about Teresa as a person,” he wrote. “We wish her the very best in the future. We will also learn a great deal from this experience as we move forward with energy and renewed determination.

The dismissal has sent an undercurrent of sadness through the nontheist community, which has struggled to establish an image of morality in the absence of faith — “Good without God” is the American Humanist Association’s motto.

“I do not believe any one mistake by any one individual will define or derail us,” said Paul Fidalgo, director of communications for the Center for Inquiry, an organization founded by Paul Kurtz, author of The Humanist Manifesto.

“We, as a community, define who we are every day in millions of ways, large and small, by how we interact with those around us. And that’s a very positive story.”

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  • NewAllDay

    Ethical Culture and Unitarian Universalism both failed to establish and maintain communities of disbelievers. Paul Kurtz and the Humanist Manifesto crowd insinuated themselves into the Unitarian Universalists but could not maintain an inspiration from “Reason” that could still feed the sheep. Atheism is not new, and has had every opportunity to justify and legitimize itself over the centuries, to little avail. Its qualities were sharply noted by the father of the scientific method, Francis Bacon, in his essay “On Atheism” (1601):

    It is true, that a little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion. …

    … atheists will ever be talking of that their opinion, as if they fainted in it, within themselves, and would be glad to be strengthened, by the consent of others. Nay more, you shall have atheists strive to get disciples, as it fareth with other sects. And, which is most of all, you shall have of them, that will suffer for atheism, and not recant; whereas if they did truly think, that there were no such thing as God, why should they trouble themselves? …

    The Indians of the West, have names for their particular gods, though they have no name for God, … which shows that even those barbarous people have the notion, though they have not the latitude and extent of it. So that against atheists, the very savages take part, with the very subtlest philosophers. …

    But the great atheists, indeed are hypocrites; which are ever handling holy things, but without feeling; so as they must needs be cauterized in the end. …

    The causes of atheism are: divisions in religion, if they be many; for any one main division, addeth zeal to both sides; but many divisions introduce atheism. Another is, scandal of priests; … A third is, custom of profane scoffing in holy matters; …And lastly, learned times, specially with peace and prosperity; for troubles and adversities do more bow men’s minds to religion.

  • efavorite

    ethlcal culture and unitarianism have been around for over a hundred years

  • JDale_123

    I guess that before last year she was just used to dealing with idiots who would believe whatever she told them, and wasn’t really ready to move into the real world where facts/truth matter. A valuable lesson for the other former preachers following the same path.