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.