It is Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. and that means a holiday, a turkey dinner and people thanking god for just about everything. Thanksgiving actually has a fairly complex history but it didn’t become an annual tradition until 1863 when Thanksgiving Day was proclaimed by Lincoln during the middle of the Civil War (Thanksgiving). There is little doubt that Thanksgiving was primarily religious in nature. It was a day to reflect on the blessings and providence of god. For the religious, the day is a myopic one in that it focuses on the “good” things that have happened while ignoring or justifying the “bad” things. For some reason, the sovereign god gets a pass on calamity even though he says:
“I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.” Isa 45:7
“Therefore it shall come to pass, that as all good things are come upon you, which the LORD your God promised you; so shall the LORD bring upon you all evil things.” Josh 23:15
Even so, a day to reflect and be thankful for “blessings” isn’t a bad thing, especially when it comes with mass quantities of food. But if an atheist can’t thank god, what or who can he thank? What can an atheist be thankful for if there is no sovereign sky god to thank?
I obviously can’t speak for all atheists, but on this day I am thankful (in no particular order) for:
– I am thankful to be alive and to be me. As Richard Dawkins said:
“We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Sahara. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively outnumbers the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.”
Of all the possible genetic combinations, of all the possible parents, of all the possible times and all the possible countries – Here I am in this spot in time and space. For all my faults and issues, my positives and negatives, here I am – a product of raw chance, natural selection and the laws of genetics. It’s pretty amazing and awe inspiring. As Dawkins said, so many combinations are not here and never will be. For better or worst, I am unique.
– I am thankful for my parents. Of all the possible combinations in the world, I have a wonderful set of parents and I was fortunate enough to know my grandparents and great grandparents. I can’t imagine the difficulties my grandparents, great grandparents and other relatives faced as they left Italy, some legally and some not, for an unknown, but potentially better, life in a new country. My parents are wonderful examples of perseverance through tough times as well as good. They always encouraged thought and highly valued education. As such they are lasting examples to me.
– I am thankful for my children, all 6 of them. They are wonderful people and get better all the time as they grow and mature and have children of their own. It is through them, that part of me will always live on. They have all enriched and changed my life oftentimes in ways that I could never foresee.
– I am thankful that in all possible times and places, I was born in the here and now. What an exciting time to live. I remember talking to my great grandfather a few years after the moon landing and having him remark that he didn’t believe it. In his lifetime, he went from horse and buggy to the moon! It was almost more than he could handle. So much progress so fast. And even now, we have technology only dreamed of in the original Star Trek series and it keeps coming. I live in a time that has unlocked the genetic code, delved into the understanding of the very small and very fast with quantum mechanics and relativity, and is beginning to understand the complexities of the universe and its creation. I stand in awe of the information we now have available to us with the touch of a button. Truly it is an exciting time to live, and by chance, here I am.
– As strange as it may sound, I am thankful for the rapid acceptance and proliferation of social media and online games. Why? Because I believe that the more people interact with others of different races, ethnicity, countries & beliefs the more people will see each other as friends, not enemies. Never has it been so easy to have friends in so many places. Hopefully there will be a time when a war is called and no one will come. It is hard to demonize another country, race or people, when you actually know and have friends in that place. Are you really going to take up arms against the person that just helped you clear out the Dungeon of Massive Evil or the person that you interacted with on Facebook? Maybe I’m naive but I think one of the best hopes for world peace is for people to get to know others and realize, that basically, we all share the same basic hopes, desires and dreams. As such, I am so thankful for my Facebook friends, many of which I will never see, but yet feel that I am a little bit “richer” because of them.
– I am also exceedingly thankful for an event that occurred more than a decade ago which woke me up and set me on a course to realize that there is no big daddy in the sky. Being freed from the slavery of religion was an emancipation of the mind and while it came with a lot of pain and difficulty, the benefits far outweigh the stigma of the “atheist” brand. Thanks to Dale and Mark for this revelation; although, both of them would be horrified to know that their actions set me on this course!
– I am thankful that I am responsible to my self and my fellow man, not to some mythical sky god. The weight of this responsibility can be almost crippling since there is no sovereign entity to appeal to or to use to justify the good as well as the bad. However, this responsibility also gives hope. What we do here and now counts. There is no divine plan. How this world turns out is up to all of us. As Woodrow Wilson said: “You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.”
I think that this atheist has a lot to be thankful for.