November 22, 2006

Giving Thanks: An Atheist's Way

turkey in the oven

I have never considered Thanksgiving to be a religious holiday, although I have known many people who treat it as if it is. Their rationale, if questioned, is often that it is meaningless to be thankful without having a supernatural entity to which one gives thanks. I disagree. I've always had people in my life to whom I give thanks, and I've never had any problem expressing joy at positive circumstances. None of this has ever required me to posit a supernatural entity.

On past Thanksgivings spent with family, it was common for someone to ask everyone at the table to join hands, bow their heads and go around stating something they were particularly thankful for that year. Most of the time, no religious references were made. Nobody invoked various gods, and nobody said "amen." It never struck me that something supernatural was missing or that the exercise would be any more meaningful if I was thanking someone other than living persons or general good fortune.

Not surprisingly, I've also experienced an explicitly Christian version of this ritual on some of the occasions I spent Thanksgiving with friends' families rather than my own. This version is generally embedded in a prayer that includes Jesus references, and concludes with an "amen." I typically just omitted these parts because they struck me as incredibly silly and had nothing to do with Thanksgiving.

This year, I'm thankful for having a job that I look forward to on most days, for my increasing comfort with expressing what I believe in (and what I don't believe in), and for the optimism brought about by the growth of freethought and the many recent blows suffered by Christian extremists. Compared to the past few years, the future seems a bit brighter. I'm encouraged by what appears to be a shift in U.S. politics and by a rising secular community. You know what else? I'm thankful for you. Seriously. I can't tell you how much I've learned from your comments and how the interaction - whether it is through comments or posts on your own blogs - has inspired me. Enjoy your Thanksgiving.