I couldn’t believe, when I first read it, that Harvard’s chaplain is an atheist. Then I felt stupid for being surprised. That die was likely cast when Harvard’s overseers struck Christo et Ecclesiae from its place surrounding Veritas on the university’s seal. What need Christ and Church, after all, when we can have unadulterated truth? Somewhere in there they turned the third book on that seal outward as well, where before it had faced inward, symbolizing that man cannot know all the things of God. In an age when one of the most respected conservative theologians in America can claim to distinguish between God’s ultimate and penultimate goals however, I suppose we can forgive the smaller heresies of academic pagans.
Now it seems there’s some regret over striking that slogan from Harvard’s seal — at least the Ecclesiae part. Apparently people need something like church after all, hence this chaplain’s enthusiasm for playing at it by setting up congregations to perform all the traditional functions of church without the annoying God part. Now I read that the Christ-less churchman is aiming, inspired by President Obama’s nod to the faithless in his inaugural address, to take his model nationwide. Here I was thinking it already existed, going by the name of Starbucks.
I think what we see here is a compelling reply to the tired argument that men invented Christianity for solace in the face of a harsh world. It seems to me that view reflects a considerable ignorance of men, and of Christianity, and of the world, for that matter. If men were to set about inventing a self-therapeutic faith, I would expect them to invent something like, well, a church with no God to make demands on them. And who better to do that than a chaplain with no faith?