A Thanksgiving Celebration!

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Godless Thanksgiving: Who Do We Thank?
Author: Austin Cline

There's a common belief among many American Christians that the American Thanksgiving holiday is somehow religious. Aside from the apparent desire to turn everything into an expression of their religion, the primary reason behind this seems to be the idea that the whole point must be to give thanks to their god – not any other gods, just theirs, thus making it a Christian holiday too. If this is true, then it makes no sense for non-Christians, or at least non-theists, to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Having a Godless Thanksgiving:
It is a plain, undeniable reality that non-Christians and non-theists all over America participate in Thanksgiving observances. This proves that the insistence on the religious or Christian nature of Thanksgiving is false. It simply can’t be true, but this doesn’t tell us why it isn’t true. For that, it must be shown that giving thanks to God is unnecessary, or senseless, or that there are others to whom we can give thanks to, or preferably all three.

Giving Thanks to God?:
If it makes sense to give thanks to God at a regular meal or at Thanksgiving, then does it also make sense for sports players to give thanks to God when the win a game – as if God had intervened against the other team? Does it make sense for the survivor of an accident to thank God for their survival, as if all those who died somehow didn’t deserve God’s help? Upon close reflection, giving thanks to God doesn’t make sense in these situations because humans are responsible.

Giving Thanks to Farmers:
Perhaps the most obvious humans to whom we might give thanks to when we eat would be the farmers responsible for providing us with the food we eat. Although massive corporations have taken over significant aspects of food production and distribution, small farmers continue to play an important role in growing, raising, and providing what we eat every day. Most people are far removed from food production and forget what’s involved; maybe Thanksgiving is a good day to stop to think about this.

Giving Thanks to Soldiers and Veterans:

Also commonly forgotten are the sacrifices made by those in our military. Even those who never fight in any wars still sacrifice several years of their lives in order to be a part of an organization which helps keep America free. The government has too often misused the American military, but disagreements about policies should not cause people to forget what our military personnel have done for us.

Giving Thanks to Doctors and Modern Medicine:

It is difficult to comprehend how devastating diseases were in the recent past. It’s only been in the past few decades that doctors have been able to treat infections and other conditions reliably and consistently. Most of the medicine we take for granted is of recent vintage and medical research is helping make more and more conditions treatable, if not curable. Many of us would be dead several times over if it weren’t for modern medicine, a fact to be thankful for.

Giving Thanks to Engineers and Modern Technology:

The technology we have today, much of which was barely imaginable less than a century ago, has both saved lives and improved the way we live. Lives are saved via medical technology, safety devices, and better protection from the elements. Our lives are enriched by things like the internet, easier travel, and new ways to create art. Technology has also created problems, but the responsibility for problems lies with us, just as does the responsibility for the solutions.

Giving Thanks to Science and Scientists:
One of the defining features of our modern world is science, but too often basic science is overshadowed by the bright glow of what science produces. Science has been instrumental in improving what farmers can grow, what the military can accomplish, what doctors can treat, and what engineers can build. Science and scientists are the ones who have helped make our world more understandable and hence have improved our ability to live in it.

Giving Thanks to Friends and Family:

Those listed above are usually distant from us and easy to forget, thus making it important to stop to think of them, but we should also not forget those who are closest to us and who are easiest to take for granted. No person is an island; who we are is dependent upon those around us and we should stop to give thanks to friends and family who help us, support us, and generally make life worth living for us.

A Godless Thanksgiving, Because Gods are Irrelevant:
There are an awful lot of people to whom we should give thanks, all because of their responsibility in helping us either to live at all or to simply live better. A common thread in all of these cases is precisely the fact that it is humans who are responsible for that for which we should be thankful, and therefore it is humans whom we should be thanking. At no point are gods involved in any way. Gods are irrelevant because, even if they exist, they aren't responsible for that for which we should be thankful, thus there is no point in thanking them.

We find something similar in other situations where people thanks god. Sports players thank gods when they should be thanking their parents, coaches, and teammates who have helped them develop their skills and thus made their victories possible. People thank God when they survive an accident when they should be thanking the engineers who have designed planes and cars to help people survive accidents. People thank God that their child has survived a medical condition when they should be thanking the doctors and nurses who created the treatments and spent hours using skills developed over a lifetime.

Thanking irrelevant gods is ultimately an insult to the humans who are genuinely responsible for what happens to us. It suggests that all the time, effort, blood, sweat, and tears we expend in improving ourselves and in improving the lives of those around us are ultimately wasted because the outcome will be determined by God, regardless of what we do. Whether for good or for ill, our fates lie in our hands — we cause our own problems and must take responsibility for solving them.

Next Thanksgiving, don't waste time with prayers, poems about gods, or empty religious rituals. Instead, do something meaningful like talking to your children about all the human beings who work (generally anonymously) to improve our lives. Stop to reflect on these people and how your life has benefited.



Anonymous said...

Bravo!!! This is exactly how I feel, if the author doesn't mind, I would like to email this to a few people!

Anonymous said...

Of course you are american, and cannot see the rest of the world,

Anonymous said...

Well, although we do not have Thanksgiving over here, I think it would be a good idea to have one day every year to think of someone you are particularly grateful to and expressing that gratitude.

Anonymous said...

I was watching the news where recently a tornado set down in NC and killed so far, 10 victims and the locals where gathering their belongings strewn all over the place and one would say "God is good, God is mercyful, God is kind" I'm sure they meant for having spared them for their lives, but if God is so good and mercyful, why did God allow such a thing to happen in the first place??

Fundy responce! To either teach someone a lesson or bring them closer to the Lord...lol

That shit does not bring me any closer to any God!!!

DG said...

Rights are one of the greatest things we can be thankful for and the right to thank whomever we please for whatever we want is just about as free as we can have it. I may object to what Christians do, but I will defend to the death their right to do so. Christmas is another holiday the Christians have turned into a Religious Holiday. The Winter Solstice existed 1009 years before anyone of any importance was born in some oddball location in an area of the world that has been a thorn in the side of humanity since it existed.

Life is cyclical and we go through times of great knowledge, times of great wonder, and we never fail to throw in those times of stupidity and ignorance. I think those last two are threads that have a way of running through all other times. There will always be those who see all things as new and those who see all things as having a second or third run. If you want to rule the world and make people do all kinds of things and jump through all kinds of hoops, all you have to do is pick you time wisely. It’s all in the timing, just like comedy. WOW – I wonder if there is a correlation there?

Chris Shotwell said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Chris Shotwell said...

While I agree that Thanksgiving has essentially become a secular holiday, you're ignoring the roots of the celebration. The first Thanksgiving was a feast thrown by the Puritans in Massachusetts giving thanks to the Christian God for his provision, making it essentially a Christian holiday. Of course, secular humanists can celebrate the holiday if we wish, but it's nonsensical to call it a secular holiday.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting my podcast. I'm ready to spread the word for yet another year about this ritual that belongs to us, not the religious. Commemorating the passing of the seasons is ostensibly pagan, but has typically been secular. The secular have always kept these rituals alive.

Chris, if you listen to my podcast, you will learn that the "first Thanksgiving" feast was indeed not a "thanksgiving" at all, but rather a secular harvest feast. The Puritans have always banned and proclaimed "pagan" or "papist" any such celebration. A Thanksgiving was not a feast: it was fasting and prayer. So now you know.

It's a good thing you disagree so strongly with the practices and religion of the "founding" christians.

Anonymous said...

One thing is for sure, if the pilgrims had cooked a cat for thanksgiving, then everyone would be having roast cat for thanksgiving! emmm...roasted cat doesn't that sound good???

webmdave said...

Ah, well, the History channel has quite a bit to say on the subject:

The reason that we have so many myths associated with Thanksgiving is that it is an invented tradition. It doesn't originate in any one event. It is based on the New England puritan Thanksgiving, which is a religious Thanksgiving, and the traditional harvest celebrations of England and New England and maybe other ideas like commemorating the pilgrims. All of these have been gathered together and transformed into something different from the original parts.

- James W. Baker, Senior Historian at Plimoth Plantation

Myth: The first Thanksgiving was in 1621 and the pilgrims celebrated it every year thereafter.

Fact: The first feast wasn't repeated, so it wasn't the beginning of a tradition. In fact, the colonists didn't even call the day Thanksgiving. To them, a thanksgiving was a religious holiday in which they would go to church and thank God for a specific event, such as the winning of a battle. On such a religious day, the types of recreational activities that the pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians participated in during the 1621 harvest feast--dancing, singing secular songs, playing games--wouldn't have been allowed. The feast was a secular celebration, so it never would have been considered a thanksgiving in the pilgrims minds.

Myth: The original Thanksgiving feast took place on the fourth Thursday of November.

Fact: The original feast in 1621 occurred sometime between September 21 and November 11. Unlike our modern holiday, it was three days long. The event was based on English harvest festivals, which traditionally occurred around the 29th of September. After that first harvest was completed by the Plymouth colonists, Gov. William Bradford proclaimed a day of thanksgiving and prayer, shared by all the colonists and neighboring Indians. In 1623 a day of fasting and prayer during a period of drought was changed to one of thanksgiving because the rain came during the prayers. Gradually the custom prevailed in New England of annually celebrating thanksgiving after the harvest.

During the American Revolution a yearly day of national thanksgiving was suggested by the Continental Congress. In 1817 New York State adopted Thanksgiving Day as an annual custom, and by the middle of the 19th century many other states had done the same. In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln appointed a day of thanksgiving as the last Thursday in November, which he may have correlated it with the November 21, 1621, anchoring of the Mayflower at Cape Cod. Since then, each president has issued a Thanksgiving Day proclamation. President Franklin D. Roosevelt set the date for Thanksgiving to the fourth Thursday of November in 1939 (approved by Congress in 1941).


Anonymous said...

An attitude of Thanksgiving is very important to me personally. The opposite of this attitude is one of ingratitude. Ingratitude says, “You owe me” or “I’m entitled” and especially “I’m a victim”. These mindsets are as bad as the irresponsible fundie classic, “The Devil Made Me Do It”.

You make your own luck and yes, you will have to WORK for it. My experience is that 90% of the time when something bad has happened to me, I had something major to do with it. Get over it, forgive yourself, seek the forgiveness of others, learn from it and press on. This is why you have a brain and for this, you can be thankful !

Nevertheless, whether framed in a religious context or not, it is good to “count our good fortunes” (blessings?) with an understanding of HOW they came about as pointed out in this original text.
Without this periodic recounting, we run the danger of forgetting how important we are to one another.

Epicurienne said...

D. Laurier,

Yes, this is an American holiday we're talking about. I don't know where you're from, but I'm sure you have some holidays there that Americans do not have.

Just because the Americans who post here talk about an American holiday, that does NOT mean we "don't see the rest of the world." I think your remark was uncalled for.

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