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Stanford University Hires Humanist Chaplain to Counsel Atheist Students

( [email protected] ) Jan 15, 2013 09:02 AM EST
Stanford University has appointed an atheist “chaplain” to serve its non-believing students. Chaplain John Figdor counsels those in need and visits the sick, according to reports. And he works with Stanford students under the Office of Religious Life, joining 17 other chaplains and individuals that reach out to students of various faiths.
Stanford University has appointed an atheist ''chaplain'' to serve its non-believing students. Jawed Karim

Stanford University has appointed an atheist “chaplain” to serve its non-believing students.

Chaplain John Figdor counsels those in need and visits the sick, according to reports. And he works with Stanford students under the Office of Religious Life, joining 17 other chaplains and individuals that reach out to students of various faiths.

“People are shocked when I tell them,” Figdor said. “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 nontheist to talk to,” he told the SF Chronicles.

Figdor, who has a seminary degree from Harvard School of Divinity, first served as a chaplain at Harvard before moving west to work with students. It is stated that a Unitarian Universalist minister named Scotty McLellan, who heads the department, urged Stanford to hire an atheistic chaplain. Figdor was then later given the job by the Humanist Community on campus.

Figdor states that his goal is to foster an environment where those who do not believe in God can socialize.

“What I really want to do is create a vibrant, humanist community here in Silicon Valley, where people can find babysitters for their kids and young people can meet each other,” he said, adding that he has also been a part of movie nights and other events.

However, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that at first some atheist students did not want a chaplain. The campus president of Atheists, Humanists and Agnostics, Armand Rundquist, said that at first there was not much interest in having the new appointee, but since he helped get them tickets to an atheist movie in the area, they have welcomed Figdor.

While McLellan helped land Figdor the job in part due to his belief that Stanford’s Memorial Church had been founded on “inclusion,” Nathan Harden, editor of online US student magazine College Fix, disagreed with his conclusion.

“If you read a little about the church’s history, you learn that Jane Stanford, the woman who paid for the construction of the Memorial Church, also spurred the ouster of the church’s first minister, R. Herber Newton, only a few months after the church opened — all because his Christian theological teachings were too liberal,” he explained. “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,” said Harden.