Be Thankful for the Atheist

While the Thanksgiving holiday is over, I must bring up an issue I’ve noted before during this time of year and that is: Can an atheist be thankful? Now, the answer is, of course she can. I doubt there is an atheist alive who is not thankful for something. But is a sense of “thankfulness” reasonable or rational given the premises of most atheists? What happens if we dig deeper?

A sense of “thankfulness” requires a certain perspective toward the universe as a purposeful economy of meaningful gift and giver, that escapes a selfish motivation (the giver) and demands a humility on the part of the receiver (I did not do this nor do I necessarily deserve it).

If we believe that the ontological core of life and the universe itself is founded upon a “selfish” disposition, gene, or that such is the prevailing feature or driving force, then no motive can escape this taint. Even if we were to posit the notion we had “evolved” to move beyond selfishness, one would then wonder how we knew this was a move “beyond” or forward and not a move “backward” or a regress. Unless one assumes some objective standard for what “forward” and “backward” meant in this context, then how would he know this was an “evolution” and not simply a meaningless change or devolution? No matter how we might “psychologize” our way to thinking we were giving or receiving without a selfish motivation, we would simply be kidding ourselves, whence “thankfulness” then?

Further, if we believe the universe and life to be a deterministic iron cage of cause and effect, then whether we believe we are solely responsible for our station in life and what has come our way, or if we believe it is simply the determined end result of matter-in-motion, then to whom or what are we thankful? To ourselves? To an impersonal chance universe? To other humans who share this same fate and whose founding feature is selfishness? The very idea of being thankful becomes meaningless with such a view.

Being thankful means assuming a gift and a giver of gifts. Being thankful comes from a sense of the gratuitous part of life that bestows something called a “blessing” which is something we did not do ourselves and is done for us without any expectation of return. We normally don’t envision the good things in life as accidents, but as gifts given by something other than a roulette wheel like universe.

What does it say about a world-view that can make no sense of, or has no place for, this sense we call “thankfulness”? But never mind. The atheist can believe whatever she wants, but since she has to live in this reality, in this world, she must live (and she does) being thankful (which she is), and believing all the other things she has a hard time accounting for like free-will, grace, redemption, and what is meant by the “good” and the place of “evil” in the world. The atheist will always actually live his life as if those qualities and ideas mean something and truly matter, even if he then decides to spill much ink telling us they are cultural imaginings no more real or factual than our ideation regarding dragons and fairies; and, if we had imagined the very opposite, that would be “true” also. The atheist must talk and his talk reduces everything away and into nothing but he must live as well. And it is in the living that the game is given away. The atheist is thankful, loves, forgives, receives redemption, and is acutely aware of good and evil.

Let us be thankful for the atheist. What better testament or evidence could we ask for as to the strength of the Judeo-Christian world-view, than a contrary world-view that posits a view of life one cannot truly live, only talk about?

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5 Responses to Be Thankful for the Atheist

  1. Burk Braun says:

    Hi, Darrell-

    Thank you for your thanksgiving meditation.

    “to whom or what are we thankful?”

    I think you read too much into the customary transactional nature of thankfulness. We may be social beings, but reading sociality into our cosmic predicament is not correct.

    So the atheist is very generally thankful to be experiencing existence, rather than non-existence. Not that non-existence would be (will be; was) painful or unpleasant, but that existence has a special, powerful flavor and joy to it that, if one can savor it, one can also be thankful for.

    Not thankful to anyone or to anything, but just existentially thankful for being. Simple as that. I realize that, since this natural impulse is naturally susceptible to objectification, even idolotry, people typically conjure up deities, beings, statues, etc. to be thankful to, but that is really unnecessary. I mean, when you say thank you, does anyone reply with “you're welcome”?


  2. upwardcall says:

    Whoa. “Not thankful to anyone or to anything?!” That is pretty audacious.

    What is more, you actually contradict yourself is with the very next phrase. The phrase “…thankful for being” betrays an object of gratitude. It presumes that “being” is better than “non-being.” Whoops, that doesn't sound agnostic or atheistic to me. Actually, it is not far from Paul Tillich's famous term for God — “ground of being.” You don't need the “believers” to objectify your sentiments. You have done a good job of doing that by painting yourself in an elegant corner.

    Watch out Burk, you are treading on the edge of betraying the “atheistic creed.” Sounds like “being” has a “chance” (I use that word deliberately) of evolving into “god” for you.

    Once again, I ask you, “What or who are you willing to give your life for and why?” THAT question is close, if not identical with, the question of gratitude…


  3. Darrell says:

    One can see it now. The family is gathered around the table. Candles are lit as a fire burns in the fire place. Moon light reflects off the windowpane as a light snow begins to fall. The table is steaming with roast turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, corn, and hot rolls. There is also salad, small bowls of cranberry, pickles, olives, and butter. The kitchen counter is full of pumpkin, apple, and cherry pies along with apricot and peach cobblers. Along with the champagne, wine, and fruit juices being served, one can smell coffee brewing and the tea kettle is hot.

    The father, looking around at his healthy children and beautiful wife, raises his glass to make a Thanksgiving toast. His family and friends raise their glasses in expectation, looking his way, as they take in the moment. The father clears his throat, and states: “Let us be thankful we exist.” There is an awkward pause. Finally the youngest child asks, “Dad, you mean let’s be glad we’re not dead?” “Well,” the father replies but, before he can answer, the oldest daughter states: “But Dad, worms and maggots exist too—are they thankful?” “What I meant,” the Dad now stammered, “was, oh never mind, let’s just eat.”


  4. Burk Braun says:

    Sounds like you will soon be thanking the sun god for rising, the moon god for lighting the night, and the rain god for bringing rain. Let us be thankful, indeed!


  5. upwardcall says:

    I am not ashamed to say that I worship the one true God who created and set the sun and moon in their courses; and causes the rain to water the earth bringing forth fruit.

    Indeed, “this is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice (be thankful) and be glad in it.



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