Stanford’s Humanist Chaplain Gets Positive Press

It’s been about two months since John Figdor was announced as Chaplain of the new Humanist Community at Stanford:

This weekend, he’s getting some positive attention from the San Francisco Chronicle:

Figdor, 28, is one of a growing number of faith-free chaplains at universities, in the military and in the community who believe that nonbelievers can benefit from just about everything religion offers except God.

“A lot of people go back to religious organizations when they start having children,” whether or not they believe in God, because religion offers community, Figdor said. “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.”

Once you get past his title (which a bunch of you are stubbornly unable to do), you realize what he’s doing at Stanford will make a huge difference in the lives of Humanists on campus. Just having someone whose full-time job (!) it is to do things like set up events for non-religious students, bring them together for service projects, and provide counseling when they need it is incredible.

How many of us would have benefitted from having someone like that at college? Even the best atheist student groups have to reinvent the wheel every year or two when new leadership comes in, but having a staffer whose job it is to look out for your best interests is a game-changer for atheists. Just ask religious students who visit Hillel House or the Newman Center what that permanent presence does for their well-being and you’ll get a glimpse of what non-theistic students at Stanford have in store for them if they choose to take advantage of it.

John is offering them all the things religion does well… without ever asking students to leave their brains at the door. We would all be better off with more people in positions like his.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1351473675 Matthew Baker

    Its always interesting being one of the firsts of what I am sure is a much needed type of position to provide guidance for those have a need for it without the religious baggage. Chaplain does have a religious connotation that might be hard to over come but I don’t know if we have a word that would fill the niche.

  • Cat’s Staff

    one of a growing number of faith-free chaplains…in the military

    Are there any faith-free chaplains in the military yet?

  • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

    I saw that the other day! Front page story, too.

    Although, frankly, if there’s one place that doesn’t need secular humanist communities, it’s the San Francisco Bay Area. I’ve lived my entire life here, and I can’t imagine that having a social life devoid of religion has ever been a problem for anyone.

    “A lot of people go back to religious organizations when they start having children,” whether or not they believe in God, because religion offers community, Figdor said. “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.”

    I appreciate the intention, I suppose, but this sort of project is better suited to the Bible Belt. It’s incredibly easy to find vibrant Bay Area communities where people don’t talk about religion. I never once set foot inside a church growing up, but my family had a busy, busy social life full of secular activities in secular groups. It was never hard to meet people or find babysitters or anything like that. Religion didn’t come up, ever.

    I really don’t like this trend of atheists aping church culture. I’d rather we get away from the idea that church-like communities are a good thing and focus on the positives of having secular organizations where all people can join and feel comfortable. They already exist here, but in many other areas of the country, they are sorely lacking. Why can’t we look to places like Sweden and Denmark and see what they’re doing there?


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