MIT ditches graduation prayer — and may soon gain a humanist chaplain

Print More
MIT doctoral student Aaron Scheinberg.

MIT doctoral student Aaron Scheinberg. Photo by Frank Centinello, courtesty Scheinberg.

Active RNS subscribers and members can view this content by logging-in here.

MIT doctoral student Aaron Scheinberg explains why he worked to remove MIT's official graduation prayer, and why the experience convinced him to create a Humanist chaplaincy.

  • This is curious. Is the goal to not offend? Or to be inclusive? Or to respect others? What if those who are from Musilm, Christian, Jewish traditions are offended by the “inclusive, secular invocation”? Wouldn’t a more just solution been to have both traditions present instead of dropping the one that probably represents more of the students? (I am asking this in all seriousness, not mockery.)

  • Jon

    Dorothy –

    The point is that the inclusive prayer is a neutral prayer to include everyone, not that the inclusive prayer is an Atheist prayer. Thus, the inclusive prayer represents the most students – all of them.

    Your question reminds me of how things went in my family a few years ago.

    At Thanksgiving, our diverse family would sit down to dinner. In the past, grace was a short “thank you, Amen” type of grace. However, a new marriage in the family brought in someone who wanted to say the grace. When he did, it was a long fire and brimstone, Jesus this, Jesus that type graces, clearly excluded many of us.

    I mentioned to my father in law that we should use an inclusive grace. He responded that it wouldn’t be fair to just go completely in the direction of my family, and that maybe we could compromise by having a few less Jesuses in the grace. I pointed out to him that I *was* suggesting a compromise, and that going “completely in my direction” would give a grace like this:

    “We give thanks today for those many people who gave their lives helping us see that we can be free from harmful, false ideas like Hell or a jealous, petty, punishing god. We celebrate our ability to live our lives for the benefit of all humanity, which is still recovering from the slavery, bigotry, wars and hatred caused by Christianity. Let us enjoy this food in appreciation to those who made it.”

    It was only then that he realized how it felt to be excluded by grace, and that I don’t want my kids exposed to that, just as our fundamentalist family members wouldn’t want to have the above grace used.

    The same goes for the graduation invocation. The inclusive grace is for everyone. It is a compromise already. This discussion shows how easy it is for us to miss the Christian Privilege around us every day.

  • Adam Rodriguez

    Because it doesn’t actually represent more of the students; I believe that a survey of the joint undergraduate and graduate communities yielded fewer than 50% of each cohort (each undergrad year, plus a supersenior cohort and a graduate cohort) who actually believed in a god. With the exception of freshmen (at 48% belief) all cohorts surveyed indicated rates of belief in a small-g god between 38 and 43%; this would presumably include Hindus (many small-g gods) as well as other non-Abrahamic religious traditions. Quite simply, we have more students here who are likely to be offended by an Abrahamic invocation than are likely to take comfort in it.

    I’m still not entirely sure how you could have two separate invocations in the manner that you’re describing without turning the resulting ceremony into a bit of a farce, and I feel like the secular invocation is better than no invocation at all, better than two (series or parallel) invocations, and definitely better than leaving the religious one as is.

    If there turns out to be a major issue with people feeling uncomfortable or excluded or whatever word people want to use, then perhaps post-graduation receptions for people who want to commemorate the occasion with the deity of their choice?

  • bw

    This is really sad. Just another article showing how another part of our society is turning their back on God. There needs to be more prayer, not to just anybody but to God. I am glad we honor our soldiers who serve and died for our freedom. Why do we not honor Jesus who was sinless and died and rose from the dead? Because of him we have freedom from the bondage of sin and have hope in eternal life with Jesus. People need to study the Bible and not religion. John 14:6 says: “Jesus answered, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Romans 3:23 says: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Acts 4:12 says: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” The world offers us no hope. Ask yourself a question, if you were to die today are you 100% certain you will spend eternity in heaven? Please visit

  • AR

    The prayer at MIT’s commecement is not a long standing tradition, it started in 2009 if I am not mistaken.

  • Larry

    If something doesn’t represent EVERY student, then it has no place at a graduation at all. Secular by its nature is neutral, compromised, inclusive, safe.

    Your version of God is not the only one worthy of consideration. Insulting or excluding people on the basis of believing differently from you is Unamerican, yet very Christian.

    There is no need for you to put the “tramp stamp” of your religious belief on everything in public view. Nobody else has to fill your need for constant praise of God. Religious freedom means I never have to care what you think God is saying.

  • jd

    If your going to make it neutral, and you’re not going to pray to any deity or non-deity, then why bother! Just to keep a tradition going?

  • Getting a locksmith license. These professionals will emerge with their own fully load truck with latest tools and
    equipments their friendly and specialized locksmiths ensure that you are a freelancer where have you worked before?

  • Pingback: The Weekly Upchuck June 9, 2014 | Being Christian()

  • Best Place To Buy wholesale cheap Bears jerseys china