Grateful TO WHOM? Atheists & The Thanksgiving Holiday

I am a Christian. So I don’t celebrate Kwanza, Hanukah, or the fast of Ramadan. This makes sense.

What doesn’t make sense are atheists participating in Thanksgiving.

I thought about this today while looking at this story about an atheist billboard campaign that will begin “after Thanksgiving.”

I think that would be best. Starting during Thanksgiving might provoke more skepticism about atheism. Judy Saint is the president of the Greater Sacramento Chapter of Freedom From Religion Foundation, which is sponsoring the billboard messages. “Saint said happiness and good actions can come without a higher being.” Exactly. Therefore, no Thanksgiving. There is no one to whom one owes thanks for one’s existence or one’s life.

But wait. Some atheists want a place at the turkey:

This week, millions of Americans will pause before diving into the turkey, stuffing and gravy to give thanks to God for the bounty on their table. But many of the nonreligious will also include a moment of thanks, as “secular grace” grows in popularity among atheists, humanists, agnostics, freethinkers and other so-called “nones.”

First of all, the issue isn’t just that act of giving thanks for the meal; it is the rationale for the entire holiday.

Secondly, who is thanked at this “moment of thanks”?

“We give thanks for what is happening here and now,” said Maggie Ardiente, director of development and communications for the American Humanist Association…

Give thanks to whom?

“It is important for us as nonbelievers to recognize that we are lucky in the grand scheme of the universe and to spend this time with our friends and family, and the tradition of doing that once a year, whether you are religious or not, is a valuable thing to do.”

Feeling lucky is not gratitude. Recognizing that one is lucky is not the same as giving thanks. Luck comes from coincidence of forces. There is no one to thank for it.

One atheist says that Thanksgiving is for thanking people, but people are not the reason why one is “lucky in the grand scheme of the universe.” The “grand scheme of the universe” includes being at the right place and the right time to benefit from friends and others. Thanksgiving is about not only giving thanks to friends but also giving thanks for friends. If there is no one to thank for the people you want to thank, there is ultimately no rationale for Thanksgiving.

One atheist daughter of an atheist says,

My father once said something like he is grateful that out of matter comes art and creativity and love. I suppose others would be grateful to a god or gods for that. In our case, it just is, but it does not change the level of appreciation.

But if art, creativity, and love come out of matter, that is just the way things are. There is no one to thank for it. Appreciating what “just is” is not giving thanks. It is a denial that thanks are appropriate.

(Is it just me or does claiming art, creativity, and love come “out of matter” sound like the superstition of spontaneous generation?)

I think atheists should start acting like it and stop trying to imitate the custom of giving thanks to God. But if they can’t give it up, then I encourage them to consider if their professed beliefs are inconsistent with reality.

Reality is a gift. We should thank the true and living God—who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—for it.