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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.