Pharyngula

Good news from the University of Alberta

The traditional U of A convocation speech used to urge all graduates to go out and serve some god. Thanks to Ian Bushfield, it’s been changed, and in a compromise it now has addition language to qualify it — now only students who are believers are asked to serve an invisible man in the sky. The unbelievers can go out and do good works and take actions that actually matter.

Comments

  1. #1 Glen Davidson
    January 27, 2009

    There’s still something odd about a center of learning telling anybody to, in essence, “serve nothing,” but it’s rather an improvement.

    Still complaining, though, I’d say it’s entirely up to even the believers whether or not they wish to “serve” what they claim to believe.

    I do understand the need to compromise on these things, certainly.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  2. #2 Ian
    January 27, 2009

    Believe me, I tried hard to get rid of the last vestiges of the religious tones from it, but I was up against an administration run by a guy who called the Archbishop of Edmonton for input on the debate. Not exactly non-partial on their part.

  3. #3 PlaydoPlato
    January 27, 2009

    FTA:

    The new charge tells students who believe to “serve your God.”

    I like my god served, medium rare, “with some fava beans and a nice chianti”

  4. #4 Zhatt
    January 27, 2009

    Speaking of Alberta:
    Atheist ad campaign targets Calgary
    http://www.cbc.ca/canada/calgary/story/2009/01/27/no-god.html?ref=rss

  5. #5 Big City
    January 27, 2009

    I was preparing to not be satisfied, but I think it’s a great compromise! Congratulations, Ian, and thanks!

  6. #6 Sastra
    January 27, 2009

    This will probably be used by some of the religious as an example of how “militant atheists” are rudely intruding their views into the public square and interfering with the rights of the religious. But imagine if the original convocation had no reference to God and so, at the request of theists, this acknowledgment was added. Any hypothetical protest over that by atheists would be framed the same way — atheists being ‘militant’ again.

    As it is, I agree that it’s a reasonable compromise. It’s like saying “if you are a soldier, then go out and fight; if you are a pacifist, then work for peace.” It’s not making a judgment either way.

    Of course, they probably won’t like the reference to “your God” — as if their God is not really “everybody’s God, whether they know it or not.” Tough. They don’t get to call dibs on reality.

  7. #7 itzac
    January 27, 2009

    Four years too late for me, but w00t nonetheless. I’m not really fond of the religious bit, but the rest of the new charge is actually really good.

  8. #8 Elwood Herring
    January 27, 2009

    Had to check the article in the end just to find out what the “U of A” was.

    Well, how should I know. I’m British!

  9. #9 bobxxxx
    January 27, 2009

    Serve your magic fairy? Are Canadians trying to be as hopelessly stupid as Americans?

  10. #10 Elwood Herring
    January 27, 2009

    Oops – didn’t notice it said “University of Alberta” in the title.

    Appy polly lodges.

  11. #11 Jadehawk
    January 27, 2009

    sounds like a good enough compromise for now. congratulations :-)

  12. #12 Rey Fox
    January 27, 2009

    Sheesh, convocation schmonvocation. As far as I can see, it’s just religion trying to own a monopoly on life-changing moments and rites of passage. How about just “Go out and kick some ass!”

    And if anyone complains because they don’t realize that the expression is being used metaphorically, they can be bent over and booted literally.

  13. #13 Mike from Ottawa
    January 27, 2009

    PZ: This not apropos the current post, but it is the latest post so I thought I’d put this here. In another forum I had cause to post a link to your post on “Rhabdomeric and ciliary eyes” from the original Pharynguala 4 years ago (hardly seems that long). I thought at the time it was one of the best examples of science reporting I’d ever seen. More than 4 years later, with a lot more competition on the web, I still think so.

  14. #14 NewEnglandBob
    January 27, 2009

    I think it is still a lousy compromise.

    Why not “serve mankind” or “serve humanity” or “be truthful and honest” or “do no harm” or “help improve society”, etc. etc.

  15. #15 cactusren
    January 27, 2009

    Not ideal, perhaps, but a definite improvement!

  16. #16 Nathan
    January 27, 2009

    good job on all your hard work Ian

  17. #17 Lowell
    January 27, 2009

    It’s an improvement, and I don’t mean to belittle Mr. Bushfield’s efforts, but doesn’t “serve your god” imply that everyone present has a god to serve?

  18. #18 Matt Heath
    January 27, 2009

    It’s an improvement, and I don’t mean to belittle Mr. Bushfield’s efforts, but doesn’t “serve your god” imply that everyone present has a god to serve?

    And just the one. And that they should wish to serve it (which ought to piss of the Zoroastrians). Maybe “Serve the set of gods that you believe worthy of your service”.

  19. #19 Brian D
    January 27, 2009

    Lowell, it’s not mentioned on the link, but the full charge is available at Ian’s blog (click his name in #2). It used to say that we were to use our degrees “for the glory of God and the honour of your country”. Now it charges us to use them:

    …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.

    There’s an IF statement in there that exempts nonbelievers, along with a decidedly humanist “inspire the human spirit” charge levied at everyone, and a “your” that extends the concept of God to those who don’t follow Abrahamic monotheism. It’s inclusive to the groups that were excluded in the previous charge, but retains the reference to God that seemed so important to the Christians.

    There’s also a bit of UofA history trivia there: “uplifting of the whole people” was part of the inaugrinal convocation back in 1908 spoken by the school’s first president, and “whatsoever things are true” is the English translation of the UofA’s motto quaecumqae vera. (The motto itself is drawn from scripture, which was one of the arguments used to oppose the change. I would like to note, for the record, that not a single Christian made a claim about “context” of this verse — the fact that it was in the Bible was enough for them to claim we weren’t secular, even though the line on its own harkens to a search for truth fitting a university.)

    Not a perfect change, but it’s a definite step in the right direction. After a century, I’d call it a victory.

  20. #20 littlejohn
    January 27, 2009

    Compromise, my ass. Higher education is the precise opposite of religion. U of A should make no reference to religion whatsoever.

  21. #21 Tabby Lavalamp
    January 27, 2009

    Sastra wrote:

    This will probably be used by some of the religious as an example of how “militant atheists” are rudely intruding their views into the public square and interfering with the rights of the religious.

    “Probably”? If you read the comments following the story, they already are.
    The comments are a fun read. It’s a compromise that still mentions their imaginary Bronze Age blood-thirsty psychotic father figure, but that’s not good enough. Any sort of compromise is an affront to their religion and their petty, petty deity. Which just goes to show that there is no compromise good enough. The recently overturned moments of silence in the States wouldn’t have been good enough even if they were left standing. It won’t be good enough until mandatory prayer is reintroduced to all public schools.
    Yes, there is some complaining here that the mention of the monster god is still too much, but it’s kept at reasonable level and with acceptance that at least a compromise can be reached.

    And yes, there is no compromise in my feelings on the Judeo-Christian-Islamic deity or my shock that anyone could ever possibly see it as “loving”.

  22. #22 Brownian
    January 27, 2009

    I hate to sound like a Framer, but those are great quotes and they make you sound like a terribly reasonable individual, despite your tendency–like that of all atheists, of course–to commit genocide at the mere mention of The One True God?.

    Great work, Ian!

    (I skipped my own convocations, but not because of the god business; I just don’t like pomp and ceremony. I can’t see myself ever getting married unless I can figure out how to do it in jeans and a T-shirt without my soon-to-be wife immediately calling it off. Okay, fine; I’ll throw on a collared shirt, but I draw the line at doing up the top button. See? I can compromise too.)

  23. #23 Tabby Lavalamp
    January 27, 2009

    littlejohn wrote:

    Compromise, my ass. Higher education is the precise opposite of religion. U of A should make no reference to religion whatsoever.

    I spoke to quickly about our side being willing to compromise, it seems. But in my defense, I’m at work and so the comment took me a while to write in between doing my job…

  24. #24 AdjacentOrigin
    January 27, 2009

    PZ was at the U of A? Damn, I live in Edmonton! Not more than several blocks away from the University. Oh well, I’m not a student enrolled at the campus anyways. Besides, I have my high school finals to attend to. Its’ still a missed oppurtunity for me though…

  25. #25 Lowell
    January 27, 2009

    Brian D #19,

    Thanks for the clarification. That’s much better than it used to be. Great work Ian!

  26. #26 DrBadger
    January 27, 2009

    71 council members voted in favour of the proposal, 17 voted against it, and 10 people abstained.

    I can tell you that it wouldn’t go this way if it was at any US university. Most likely no one would vote for it, 2 people would abstain and the rest would vote against it. Then there would be outraged christians talking about being persecuted.

  27. #27 bobxxxx
    January 27, 2009

    @14:

    I think it is still a lousy compromise.

    People should never compromise with idiots.

    “Serve your God” is insulting. It implies university students are insane. If people want to invoke a fairy who lives only in their tiny defective brains they should do it in their closet.

  28. #28 IceFarmer
    January 27, 2009

    Way to go Ian! Your hard work has paid off! Keep it up!

    PZ was great to have you in the Great White North for a bit. Enjoyed your session in Calgary and the beer and the Kilkenny afterwards. Sorry to hear about Edmonton not panning out as well as expected. You’ll always be welcome here!

  29. #29 JThompson
    January 27, 2009

    @Tabby: Yeah, but once we have mandatory prayer in schools back, then the real fun begins.
    Then they start fighting each other over what book of spells should be read.
    And once you have two sides that both see compromise as dealing with the devil, everyone goes batshit and they start killing one another.
    Even if they don’t know it, they’re lucky to have us mean ol’ atheists pushing back against prayer in schools. If they ever actually got it and there was no opposition, they’d probably wipe one another out within a few months.

  30. #30 Lowell
    January 27, 2009

    bobxxx #27,

    I was thinking the same thing until I read the full statement at #19. There’s a conditional “for those who believe” that I think represents a good compromise.

    I’m not sure if you saw that.

  31. #31 The Chemist
    January 27, 2009

    Serving man, serving god(s), both equally worthless endeavours. If god(s) existed then they wouldn’t need our help, and man doesn’t deserve it.

    Graduation speeches bring out the cynic in me.

  32. #32 KevinGreene
    January 27, 2009

    [twilightzone]
    ‘To Serve Your God’… It’s a cookbook!
    [/twilightzone]

  33. #33 LisaJ
    January 27, 2009

    #20:

    Compromise, my ass. Higher education is the precise opposite of religion. U of A should make no reference to religion whatsoever.

    I totally agree. In reading this post, the strongest feeling I had was one of extreme disappointment that a University, within my own country at that, sees nothing wrong with appealing to its graduating students to go on our there and promote a religious agenda. That’s just stupid. That said, congratulations to Ian on making a very important first step in turning this problem around.

  34. #34 Kate
    January 27, 2009

    I agree with many here in that this is a good compromise. I just wish the wording was more along the lines of “Use your degree for the betterment of mankind”, or an equivalent wording which is less exclusionary. This type of wording would convey the attitude that your education is not just for your own benefit, but for the benefit of all humans.

  35. #35 Dale O'Flaherty
    January 27, 2009

    I read your opinion piece in the focus celebrating 200 years of Darwin. It’s nice to hear the argument against evolution stopping for us. I think people just get caught up with the idea of living in a science fiction world that they dont really THINK about it.

  36. #36 Aphrodine
    January 27, 2009

    Maybe I should just submit to the fact that I need glasses. I first read the paragraph as this:

    “…urge all graduates to go out and do some good.

    And I was all like, “What’s the big deal? This is an excellent suggestion for a graduating class. Then I re-read it as:

    “…urge all graduates to go out and do some god.

    ‘Well that can’t be right,’ I thought to myself. ‘It’s very unlikely that graduates are told to have sexual relations with their god (but whatever floats their boat I guess). I finally accepted the fact that I need to get my eyes checked when the third time I read it I could have sworn it said

    “urge all graduates to go out and serve up some god.”

    :[ I don’t want glasses. They don’t frame my face very well…

  37. #37 Moose
    January 27, 2009

    As glad as I am to see at least some progress being made on campus, it’s depressing to find out the crazy shit that people think about atheists. The hate mail to the Gateway about changing the convocation was really ridiculous. And it’s depressing that most of it comes from engineers :( At least the propaganda on campus lately has been entertaining, to take one paragraph from a poster that someone just put up:

    “Man does not regularly ‘invent’ a whole new language, especially when the one he’s presently speaking is doing the job just fine. Therefore the 500 main languages that are on the earth, would have been here since day one. It’s highly unlikely that one language was on the earth and that man just happened to decide to invent 499 others. (But we know for a fact that because of the Tower of Babel, that God caused all the different languages.) So, if it?s a fact that languages definitely die at a far, far higher rate than they are born, this fact then just multiplied the odds against evolution by hundreds of trillions. Because this then says that 500 different humans, from the beginning of life, evolved ?separately? as they came into existence far away from each other, because they speak different languages that they each invented.”

    Ohh, Edmonton :( I still have hope for ye.

  38. #38 bobxxxx
    January 27, 2009

    #30:

    I was thinking the same thing until I read the full statement at #19. There’s a conditional “for those who believe” that I think represents a good compromise. I’m not sure if you saw that.

    No, I didn’t see that. I still don’t much care for the idea of being in an audience I would have had to be in if I was a student at that university, and being forced to listen some lunatic invoke his magic fairy. That kind of toxic drooling stupidity should be kept private.

  39. #39 Ted Dahlberg
    January 28, 2009

    God got served? About time.

  40. #40 IceFarmer
    January 28, 2009

    @Moose #37

    BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Take a picture of that and email it to me! Stupid crap like that deserves to be posted absolutely everywhere!

    I minored in religious studies at U of C (anthro major) and boy did those classes ever confirm my disbelief. That sounds like the total drivel espoused by the bible thumpers in the class that always argued with the profs when their beliefs were challenged in even the most minor ways.

    WE WANT A NICE HIGH RES PHOTO OF THAT SO IT CAN BE POSTED AND GIGGLED AT EVERYWHERE!

  41. #41 plum grenville
    January 28, 2009

    Wooohooo! How often does the town I grew up in get mentioned in the news, let alone in PZ’s blog!

    I attended the U. of A. but didn’t stick around graduate, so I had no idea about this convocation charge. If I were student there now, I’d file a human rights complaint. It singles out believers in theistic religions for special acknowledgement and label their activities as praiseworthy.

    The new language may be somewhat less offensive than the old language, but it’s still discriminatory. There is no compromise on discrimination. Would we praise it as a “reasonable compromise” to let black people sit in the middle of the bus?

    The problem with compromising with bigots is that you give up the opportunity to frame the public debate and educate people about the principle at stake.

    Changing the convocation charge is a secondary goal. The real goal is changing bigoted beliefs. If you have to drag people kicking and screaming into accepting this “compromise” language, you obviously haven’t succeeded in conveying to them what was wrong with the original language.

    I would rather have seen a vote on a charge with no religious language – even if it lost this time around. Although, if the vote was 71 – 17 in favour, with compromise language, I think it would still have passed without compromising the principle.

    A clear choice – religious language or secular language – would have forced everyone to take a clear stand on the principle. Everyone who voted for the secular language would have had to defend their position by arguing for the principles of non-discrimination and secular public institutions. People who opposed the change would have had to put their bigotry and illogic on display. That would have been a lot more powerful for the public to hear than mushy arguments for a mushy compromise.

    And all that aside, the generic directive “to serve your god” is ridiculous. It’s intellectually unworthy of a university. It’s incoherent to urge people follow contradictory belief systems. By definition, contradictory belief systems do NOT have equal value. Most religions, or all of them, are wrong.

  42. #42 Brian
    January 28, 2009

    Gotta second IceFarmer’s call for a nice photo of that poster.

  43. #43 Fourfields
    January 28, 2009

    Ridiculous. Yet another example of people getting upset over stupid things. “The unbelievers can go out and do good works and take actions that actually matter.” Really? I personally could go out and do things that matter with or without reference to anyone’s God. You know what’s not doing something that matters? Running around telling people to change things to suit your own beliefs. I have no idea when a supposedly smart group of people decided that the best way to champion rational thought was to become a group of self centred whiners…

    Some day I’m going to just for the heck of it do a linguistic analysis of an Atheist group message board, compare it with a Fundy Christian board, and laugh as the results come out the same.

    Thank humanity that I decided to get involved with the atheist cause. Cultural relativism my friends, that’s where its at.

  44. #44 Sastra
    January 28, 2009

    Fourfields #43 wrote:

    You know what’s not doing something that matters? Running around telling people to change things to suit your own beliefs.

    The status quo is not necessarily always right. The change in the convocation was not to suit the atheists’ beliefs — it was to take account of everyone’s beliefs. In a convocation which is supposed to inspire and embrace all the graduates, that matters.

    I think it petty for anyone to object to inclusive language.

    Thank humanity that I decided to get involved with the atheist cause. Cultural relativism my friends, that’s where its at.

    No, I think cultural relativism would have been insisting that people’s divisions are important, it defines them. The convocation was changed to be more universal — not less.

  45. #45 Rey Fox
    January 28, 2009

    Your concern is noted.

  46. #46 E.V.
    January 28, 2009

    Behold the GLORIOUS WISDOM that is FOURFIELDS! With a mighty dismissal of “RIDICULOUS!” he struts into the carnage. Identifyer of whiners and the sage we should obey so as not to offend the pious believers of GODS. Let’s all shout,”LIVE AND LET LIVE!” ” Halleujah!”

    pssst… Fourfields! …and the horse you rode in on, oh Smug One.

  47. #47 Wowbagger
    January 28, 2009

    I second Rey Fox’s noting of Fourfields’ concern.

  48. #48 rob
    January 28, 2009

    alberta you say? they have their gods:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Athabasca_Oil_Sands

  49. #49 plum grenville
    January 28, 2009

    The change in the convocation was not to suit the atheists’ beliefs — it was to take account of everyone’s beliefs. In a convocation which is supposed to inspire and embrace all the graduates, that matters.

    I think it petty for anyone to object to inclusive language.

    If the purpose of the change was to be inclusive, to suit everyone’s beliefs, why do the beliefs of one group (adherents of theistic religions) still get singled out for special mention and commendation?

    Scrapping religious language is not done to suit atheists’ beliefs; it is done because nobody’s religious beliefs are relevant at a graduation ceremony. Secularism is not catering to atheists. Secularism is sensible, neutral, and in many cases, required by law. Atheists are not the only people who want sensible, neutral, and legal policies at public and publicly funded functions.

  50. #50 Brian Barker
    February 1, 2009

    I agree with the tower of Babel comment.

    In today’s World the language problem is still relevant!

    If you have time, please check http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=_YHALnLV9XU as well as http://www.lernu.net

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