Stanford University’s humanist chaplain is proof of ‘evangelical atheism’

Atheist chaplain John Figdor is the professional leader of the Humanist Community group at Stanford. Photo: Carlos Avila Gonzalez, The Chronicle/SF

Atheist chaplain John Figdor is the professional leader of the Humanist Community group at Stanford. Photo: Carlos Avila Gonzalez, The Chronicle/SF

NATHAN Harden, editor of the online US student magazine College Fix, is appalled that Stanford University has appointed an atheist – John Figdor – as a chaplain:

You would think that, of all people, atheists would be the last ones in need of chaplains.

He added:

Apparently, many atheist students are also perplexed. Stanford graduate student Armand Rundquist told The SF Chronicle that many atheists aren’t interested in having a chaplain, which leads us to wonder why anyone bothered to hire one. Although, Rundquist did say there was at least one tangible benefit: ‘He got us some discount tickets to the atheist film festival in San Francisco’.

Cheap movie tickets–what else is an atheist chaplain good for?

Harden pointed out that Stanford’s Memorial Church, a centerpiece on campus where Figdor will do much of his work, was funded by Jane Stanford, who was behind the ousting of R Herber Newton only a few months after the church opened because his Christian theological teachings were too liberal.

It’s true that the church was built to be a non-denominational Christian place of worship. But we hardly think Ms Stanford’s vision of ‘inclusion’ when she donated all that money to the university would have extended to the active spread of atheism among the student body.

More likely, she’s turning over in her grave about now.

Harden concluded:

We think this is a perfect example of the absurdity of modern-day, evangelical-style atheism. The inherent self-contradiction of financing a robust religious infrastructure for those who insist that religion is pointless is truly ridiculous. The need these atheists feel to engage in religious assembly and ritual undermines the entire rationale of human self-sufficiency that so many atheists profess.

As it is written somewhere: Thinking themselves to be wise, they became fools.

Figdor has a divinity degree from Harvard. He counsels those in need and visits the sick. And he works with Stanford students under the Office of Religious Life.

Figdor, 28, said that “people are shocked” when he tells them he’s an atheist.

But atheist, agnostic and humanist students suffer the same problems as religious students – deaths or illnesses in the family, questions about the meaning of life, etc – and would like a sympathetic non-theist to talk to.

Figdor, according to the Chronicle, is one of a growing number of faith-free chaplains at universities, in the military and in the community who believe that non-believers can benefit from just about everything religion offers except God.

Figdor says that belief in a supreme being isn’t a prerequisite to being a moral person.

In humanism we emphasize the values of compassion and empathy alongside reason and science,. Humanism is about using science and technology to solve human problems. But it’s also the belief that we should ask if something will create suffering or ameliorate it.

59 responses to “Stanford University’s humanist chaplain is proof of ‘evangelical atheism’”

  1. David Anderson says:

    That’s what I meant barriejohn. I read Broga’s post and that’s what made me think of Depak. “Your consciousness illuminates subjective choices.” (not Depak).

    The idea of atheist chaplains puts me in mind of the “philosopher” Alain de Botton and his stupid atheist cathedrals. I think these people are anxious to be accepted by religious people and form their ideas and volcabulary to suit, or as Harden said,”evangelical-style atheism.

    “Our consciousness explains intrinsic photons.” Another not Depak quote from the hilarious Depak Chopra qoute generator.

  2. RabbitOnAStick says:


    a south african friend of mine used to tell of his father who was a pilot of a bomber in WWII. He joined the RAF in WWII. He eft the boy when the boy was 5 or 6. His father was shot down and killed over Germany. The night he got shot down the chap said that his father visited him in his bedroom. Sat on his bed and told him to look after himself.

    It is a nice story.

    Just that. A story. Incapable of not just explanation but more importantly corroboration.
    It would be nice to believe. And as humans we sometimes do need such stories to help us believe we are not alone. But alas we are alone. On this small insignificant blue planet at the edge of the universe.

  3. RabbitOnAStick says:

    except if you believe in gawd. Then we are the centre of the universe.

  4. Daz says:

    Depak Chopra: Doh! Crap peak!

  5. Broga says:

    @Angela_K: I think a lot of people throw in phrases and hope (expect) that they will demonstrate their scientific knowledge. My scientific knowledge is minimal but I recognise that. There are three lay science magazines arrive at Broga Towers: New Scientist; Scientific American and Scientific American Mind. I enjoy reading them and particularly the mind boggling articles on astronomy. However, I can be enthralled and respond but I don’t fool myself that I know more than I do.

  6. barriejohn says:

    Daz: It’s Deepak!

    Ha! OK! Deep crap.

  7. barriejohn says:

    I can remember when Christians got very excited about the possible existence of “alternative universes”. In one of his Frost interviews (what on earth happened to that man’s brain?), Billy Graham was banging on about scientists saying that there could be a railway running right through your house (nothing new to me – there was a song about that when I was a nipper!), and you wouldn’t know anything about it. To them, this discovery just “proved” what their Bible had been saying all along, and the “spiritual” world existed all around us. Again I have to ask, if you have “faith” what does it matter what scientists say? “God said it; I believe it; and that settles it!”

  8. Ryan morrigan says:

    Philosophy is not solely the realm of religion. Neither is morality. Rather, I think that both are products of the human mind naturally. To suggest that atheists have no philosophy is to suggest they don’t have deep thoughts about anything. And to suggest that morality needs religion is to say that we are all inherently horrible people held back from murder and rape by a delusion. Well, I don’t murder or rape and I am an atheist. I am a good person because it makes sense to be one. I wouldn’t want to live in a world where everyone could act out on every impulse. Eventually, I would be the victim. THAT’S the basis of the golden rule, not religion. And also, as an atheist, I have much philosophy about the hows and whys of the universe, life and existence. But, as an atheist, and unlike the religious, I submit to the fact that my questions may never be answered and my theories never proven. And often times I ask myself how much further mankind would have come by now if the institutions of morality, philosophy, technology, art, literature, music, social justice, civil rights and law had not been held back by religion over the past millennia. Imagine the fine art painted by an atheist Raphael. I guess we’ll never see it. All we have is one (albeit beautiful) painting after another, all on the same monotonous religious crap. Just think what we’ve missed. Simply put, there is no aspect of humanity, including philosophy and morality, that comes from religion. Religion is just a filter to hold back any ideas that actually make sense, and an excuse to claim that terrible ideas are justified and sanctified by a god who is nothing more than a manifestation of the worst parts of ourselves.

  9. Daz says:

    Religion doesn’t teach morality. It teaches obedience.