It’s an oxymoronic world. An atheist has been hired by a nonprofit to serve as a Stanford “chaplain” to atheist students. From the San Francisco Chronicle story:
The chaplain is an atheist. “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.” 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.
Don’t we already have those? They are called counselors and mental-health professionals, mentors and life coaches.
The “atheist chaplain” is latest example of the ongoing postmodern assault on the meaning of language. When words and terms mean whatever people want, we lose common frames of reference.
Chaplains have always been associated with explicitly religious services or supporting the faith of those whom chaplains serve through prayer, scripture reading, etc. I mean, that function is inherent in the word’s definition. That doesn’t make it “better,” but it means that the counseling, listening, etc. comes from an explicitly religious core.
It is amusing how the irreligious so often seek to coopt religious terminology. But it can also be subversive because words and their accurate meaning are crucial to our ability to communicate.