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You Can’t Take God Out of the Convocation

January 28th, 2009

A repeat post from March 2006. Then it was University of Toronto athiests who wanted to take God out of the convocation ceremonies. This time it’s University of Alberta, who is changing the charge for grandaunts to use their degrees, “for the glory of God and the honour of your country.” The atheist/agnostic community, the same people who don’t want you to think about such issues, objected. Instead of expelling them for being obviously too stupid for a university education, the University of Alberta will change the the charge for the grandaunts to use their degrees “for the uplifting of the whole people; to inspire the human spirit; for all who believe, to serve your God; and to pursue more steadfastly whatsoever things are true.”

Here’s what I wrote back un 2006:

Being a practicing Agnostic, a great undecided in the poll of life, people like this make me cringe:

A student group wants to do away with prayer at the University of Toronto’s convocation this spring, saying it is “disgusted” that graduates have to listen to words like “Eternal God” during the process.

“The prayer refers to God as the source of power, hope and aspiration,” Toronto Secular Alliance president Justin Trottier said yesterday. “As an atheist, that’s a depressing source of aspiration. It takes away from individual, personal effort and attributes it to a deity.

The U. of T. students complaining of the word God in their convocation ceremonies are probably better off skipping the ceremonies altogether. Much of the customs they will witness and engage in are mediaeval in origin and have much to do with God.

The ceremony itself, the “convocation for the conferment of degrees” – convocation itself means a calling together – has been done , and called that since the beginnings of universities.

A student attending convocation wears a gown in the university colours. This gown is modeled after the same gowns worn by students of past eras. In the Middle Ages the gown would have been worn as every day clothes, often the only outer clothes the student would own. He would use it to keep warm in the unheated university. The gown itself is insignificant to the ceremony, it is the hood they place over your head that means something. While our atheist friends think they have gone to school for the degree, it is the hood that they are truly being honoured with today. It confers placement upon them, shows them to the world as graduant, instead of mere student. It signifies ascention within the university structure, and the student will kneel in front of the Chancellor to receive the hood, as the Chancellor is superior to them. Sure hope the students atheists aren’t also socialists.

In mediaeval times a grad student had earned the right to wear the hood, and would have done so as every day clothing. It may have been the first hat that the student had owned, and the right to study with warm ears was earned by virtue of the first degree, while poor undergrad students would have worked with frosty lobes.

Of course, their student ancestors studied God, that is what the university was formed for in the first place, because to have knowledge of God was to know God. Without the God that the U of T atheists find so disgusting, higher learning wouldn’t exist. In those early days they would have been studying for the church, to find God, not to eschew Him. That is why the gown they will wear so closely resembles a priest’s vestments or a Monk’s robe: because they are. The garments worn by church officials and the garments worn by students and academics evolved from the same churchly roots. Taking God out of the wording of the ceremony will hardly take Him from the ceremony itself. The students should remember as they receive their degrees, they are dressed as Priests. God will be ever present in their day, whatever their beliefs.

Debates like this make me think that the university should make a course on University history and traditions mandatory before graduation. That way those who might be offended by those traditions can stay home and have their degree conferred upon them by Canada Post. Alas, then they wouldn’t have the opportunity to prove how little of value they got for their education.

Personally, if I was their mediaeval history professor, I would retroactively fail the lot of them!


  1. LogicallySpeaking
    January 28th, 2009 at 11:14 | #1

    Of course, using your logic, we should worship the Greek gods (or whatever came before those), not the Christian one. Argument from tradition is no argument at all. They might fail history (although I’m not sure how – history is about knowledge and understanding, not respect), but you just failed first year philosophy.

  2. January 28th, 2009 at 12:14 | #2

    You completely miss the point. The convocation ceremony is steeped in religion. Removing the word God from the charge, or removing a prayer is not going to change that. If the word God is so offensive to someone, then the ceremony itself should be offensive to them, as it is, in effect, a religious ceremony.

  3. Cameron
    January 28th, 2009 at 13:41 | #3

    But they didn’t remove the reference to go.

    So what are you on about.

  4. Cameron
    January 28th, 2009 at 16:21 | #4

    God. not go…. though why there would be a reference to a Chinese game I have no idea.

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