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An Atheist on Thanksgiving

Updated on February 19, 2016
Kylyssa profile image

Kylyssa is an American atheist with high-functioning autism trying to navigate a mostly religious world with no well-beaten path to follow

Can An Atheist Be Thankful? Or Is God The Only Possible Focus For Thanks?

Many people make the claim that Thanksgiving is strictly a Christian holiday and that non-Christians ought not to celebrate it. Others claim to feel sorry for atheists at Thanksgiving, based on the belief that atheists have no one to be thankful to and the belief that atheists are too self-centered to be thankful for anything.

I'm an atheist and I believe that Thanksgiving is a holiday for everyone who has something to be thankful for.

photo by Rachel Spauldilng

photo by Christa Richert
photo by Christa Richert

How Could Atheists Be Thankful?

Who could atheists possibly express their thanks to?

Not believing God is real doesn't mean we can't be thankful. Atheists can easily be thankful to our fellow human beings who've loved us, nurtured us, taught us, grown our food, collected our garbage, fixed our cars, and thousands of other things.

Atheists believe our food came to our table by the loving hands of friends and family, grocery store employees, truckers, processors, and farmers and it does not diminish the goodness of it. Atheists are just as thankful for things as religious people are - we just direct our thanks toward people who provided them rather than toward a God.

Some may say that atheists being appreciative of our resourceful, inventive, hard-working, and compassionate fellow humans (instead of the Gods we don't believe in) means we are ingrates. I don't agree. I believe that it is good to thank people for what they do for us and I also believe that thanking God doesn't cover the same bases. I think it's important to be thankful to people who help you and people who are good to you. After all, they chose to be helpful and giving. I think it's important to recognize and appreciate that choice.

photo by Nossirom
photo by Nossirom

What Else Can an Atheist Be Thankful For?

Atheists can express their thanks to people but we can also be thankful for things for which the person or persons responsible are no longer alive. Being thankful doesn't require a target. A person can think, "I am thankful for these things" without having to be thankful to God. Thankfulness is, in these cases, simply a realization of how fortunate we are.

Here are a few such things I am thankful for:

Spoken Language - Spoken language gives us the ability to communicate with each other, to ease our loneliness in this world, to form relationships and friendships and to share knowledge. Spoken language also gives us the ability to share our thoughts and lives with others.

Agriculture - When people were hunter gatherers they roamed around seeking food wherever they could find it or hunt it down. The development of agriculture allowed us to settle down and have permanent dwellings. Not to mention we got to eat more regularly! Not only did agriculture lead to permanent dwellings it led to commerce and commerce led to written language!

Permanent Dwellings - Permanent dwellings let us sleep in the same place night after night in comfort with no need to seek shelter somewhere new. This gives us a sense of security and the concept of home.

Written Language - Written language gives us the ability to communicate across time and distance. We can see the thoughts of long dead or far away people. We can also record our thoughts to share with many others and even ourselves as time passes.

The Wheel - Wheels move us and serve us in many ways. With the invention of the wheel came potter's wheels, wagons, and later gears in machines. The invention of the wheel was indeed one of the great cogs in the development of civilization.

Democracy - Democracy gives us the ability to have some say in our society and to be (theoretically) treated equally under the law.

Flush toilets - At some points in history no common sense at all was used in regard to sanitation. People used bowls to catch their waste and then dumped it somewhere, sometimes just right out their windows. Flush toilets keep our cities clean and comfortable.

Antiseptic and Antiseptic Procedures - Since the invention of antiseptic procedures shortly after Louis Pasteur released his germ theory surgery survival rates have increased dramatically, infant mortality has plunged, and injury has become far more survivable. With the invention of antiseptics and antiseptic procedures surgery began to have less and less in common with butchery.

Antibiotics - Since penicillin hit the scene thousands of antibiotics have been invented. Millions of lives are saved or improved by the use of antibiotics every year.

Anesthetics and Pain Relievers - Pain hurts! Before the invention of anesthetics simple procedures such as minor dentistry were hideously painful. Today, most surgery is relatively painless due to the use of anesthetics.

Is Thanksgiving a "Christians Only" Holiday?

Is Thanksgiving a "Christians Only" holiday?

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Why Thanksgiving Has Never Been a Strictly Christian Holiday - The First American Thanksgiving

The First Thanksgiving Jean Louis Gerome Ferris
The First Thanksgiving Jean Louis Gerome Ferris

On the first American Thanksgiving, what did the Christian settlers do? They got together with the Native Americans for a giving of thanks. Claiming Thanksgiving as a strictly Christian holiday is, in my opinion, going against the spirit or intent of the first Thanksgiving. Without those non-Christian folks, the Native Americans, those settlers wouldn't have even been alive to be thankful. So, at the very least, the Native Americans deserve to lay claim to Thanksgiving as well as the Christians.

So, if people won't buy that atheists are capable of being thankful or that atheists have no one to thank at least I have the "in" on Thanksgiving as a person with Native American ancestry.

Should Atheists Be Allowed to Celebrate Thanksgiving?

Should atheists be allowed to celebrate Thanksgiving?

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