ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel
  • »
  • Religion and Philosophy»
  • Atheism & Agnosticism

Why Do I, As An Atheist, Hate It When You Thank God For Things?

Updated on December 9, 2013

1. Thanking God for your blessings is an action that Christianity puts into a moral structure that exalts that choice and, thus, your moral standing before others, and this claim to superiority over those who don't express as much gratitude to God is often cloaked in humility. I would prefer raw, prideful superiority that openly stated, without humility, that the practice of thanking God for your blessings was better than not doing so -- or raw humility that did not claim there was any superior moral value in praising God for blessings. Embracing pride and humility simultaneously by humbly thanking God, while pridefully insinuating that thankfulness is better than complaining and a lack of gratitude to an imaginary being, seems self defeating and confusing; I would prefer clarity.

2. Furthermore, thanking God for blessings localizes the past, present, and future cause for your satisfaction in life on a nonexistent God instead of other people, yourself, and your environment. This has a few problems.

Think...

How would your view of people and yourself change if you thanked only people for the way they helped you instead of God?

  • It can cause the person thanking God to trust in a nonexistent God as opposed to themselves, other people, and their environment, which is analogous to performing a "trust fall" with no one behind you.

  • Focus on your own blessings can and often does keep you from realizing the lack of blessings in others

  • Ascribing your "blessings" to God -- who supposedly gave them to you with purpose -- as opposed to your circumstances obligates people to use those "blessings" for God, instead of freeing them to use them rationally in the context of those around them, themselves, and their environment. Use of these blessings would, theoretically (as God does not really exist) be restricted by a God with a rulebook, and rational objections to the rules in said rulebook would be eradicated by notions of faith (which, I realize, you see as rational, while I don't).

"The individual who claims to be blessed by poverty and malnutrition, especially when holding it (or allowing others to hold it) as a beacon of his or her moral character, is doing a major disservice to the many who are struggling."

3. Saying God blessed you with something is a way of claiming a right to it that other people, whom God hasn't blessed in the same way, don't have. The implication may be that one person has been "blessed" with riches while another has been "blessed" with poverty and malnutrition -- and the subtext is that each should be grateful for what he has.

Given this implication, the individual who claims to be blessed by poverty and malnutrition, holding it as (or allowing someone else to hold it as) a beacon of his or her moral character, is doing a major disservice to the many that are struggling. Indeed, the act of claiming to be blessed by things usually seen as unfortunate aspects in life should not be seen as something extraordinary for a few reasons:

  • People tend to have different natural states of happiness, so that some remain highly optimistic under circumstances normally seen as depressing. Much of this happiness is due to chemical balances in the brain (just as depression is). Seeing such people as on a higher moral level than most effectively puts "normal" or chemically "imbalanced" people (who God theoretically made that way in the first place) on a lower moral level in ways that don't really seem justified to me (if you do not accept this and wish to discuss this more, you can address it directly).

  • If one person who is suffering from malnutrition (or some other negative experience), praises God for it, and is then lauded by the well-fed for doing so, the well-fed are privileging the nonsuffering (those who see malnutrition as a blessing -- a small minority) above the suffering (those who rather dislike malnutrition and beg God and/or other entities they see as being able to do something about malnutrition to take it away). This perpetuates the problem of those suffering from malnutrition and it allows the rich to block off a part of the world from empathy -- or at the least, see a certain section of people as morally inferior simply because they have a normal reaction to experiencing malnutrition (or other analogous forms of suffering).

  • Because it makes us feel good when people "praise God" for suffering, people may be encouraged to lie about their suffering -- saying they are feeling blessed when they are not, just to "belong" and be accepted. This happens quite a bit -- Mother Teresa went through this, for example. The more people who are honest and raw about their suffering, the more we as a society will be forced to see their suffering (instead of focusing on those who are OK with it) and thus do something about it.

Mother Teresa

“I spoke as if my very heart was in love with God — tender, personal love… If you were [there], you would have said, ‘What hypocrisy.’” -- From Mother Teresa's posthumously revealed private letters

4. Oftentimes, when someone is suffering there is a sign that something is wrong, and the lie that they are obligated to be thankful for their situation can mask symptoms of deeper, more serious problems. For example, before the housing crisis, those predicting the collapse often were laid off and told to look optimistically at the situation. Had they been free to express anger and cynicism, we might have known the housing crisis was about to happen, but because they were encouraged to be grateful for their situation their objections were silenced. If we make thanking God for everything a virtue, we silence natural, rational reactions to suffering in society that may be symptoms of serious problems. This is no small matter and often results in serious consequences on small and large scales.

If you complain about your suffering, you may validate the suffering of others in the process. Which is better than obligating them to be thankful for their suffering by saying it's proper to be thankful for yours.

5. Being thankful for your own suffering also extends to being thankful for OTHERS' suffering, especially when it is entertwined with your own. This makes you an faux-authority over their suffering, making it harder for you to see their real pain and the reasons for "negative" emotions because you think they should be grateful (as you strive to be) for (even their) suffering, and this judgment can diminish your understanding of their situation.

Anticipated Rebuttals

1. Jesus wept and the Bible tells us to mourn with those who mourn -- thanking God for blessings does not underprivilege sad people.

Response: I think this is even more cruel -- people are expected to always rejoice in God and thank God for everything THROUGH the tears. It seems cruel to me to tell someone they can cry for something bad that happened in their life but that they eventually have to give thanks to the entity who allowed that to happen and see it as a part of His love (under severe social pressure, especially in Christians who prey on the suffering).

2. This is just a WAY for people to get over their suffering. Why would you have a problem with it?

Response: It's usually not presented as a way out of others -- it's presented as THE way to handle suffering commanded by Almighty God, and I don't think one size fits all here, so to speak. It's also false and comes with a wide variety of beliefs (often including a wide variety of political positions that are taken on faith and have very real consequences in the lives of people) that can do damage to the person who holds them and to others who don't -- thanking God for blessings often requires allegiance to an unevidenced blueprint for interacting with and navigating existence.

3. What you say here is disrespectful to people who are suffering and are grateful, in that suffering, to God in ways that encourage other people, and who use that gratitude to help others.

Response: While I'm glad that there are suffering people who have found ways to help others in their suffering, I know from experience that stories of their happiness are often used as guilt-trips for "bitter, angry, and cynical" suffering people by Christians who "encourage gratitude in one another." I don't think such guilt trips are rational or healthy. It's one thing to help somebody; it's another to "encourage" them by saying that they are morally obligated to respond to suffering with gratitude.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • profile image

      christiananrkist 3 years ago

      barrierbreaker

      Now i understand your concern. thank you for clarifying. I think rather God exists or not in kind of irrelevant really, but if he did, would your position change? Also I don't think the problem is with God or thanking God for anything. the problem are these individuals you have witnessed this behavior from. I agree that the person with the 6 figure income should not be rubbing it in peoples faces that he is more blessed. In fact he should be blessing others with what he has. there are many scriptures that teach this very thing. I would even go as far as saying that man should have been called out and shamed for his actions. im also sympathetic to having legitimate struggles and suffering. what wrong with thanking God for the strength to endure? no one is saying these people shouldn't do what they can to get themselves out of these types of situations when possible. just sitting around and complaining does no good either. if i may just quote James 2:16 again

      If one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?

    • Mr. Happy profile image

      Mr. Happy 3 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Amigo,

      I gave thanks to the Gods today for waking-up. I do this every morning. People of the First Nations (American Indians) call this the Sunrise Ceremony. When one wakes-up, one gives thanks for the Sun-rise, for the Day which brings new opportunity, for all the teachings the Universe gives, for our family, friends, etc.

      I can only speak about Spiritual people as myself. I believe the human body has a Spirit: that energy force which makes my fingers move across the keyboard. Call it electricity, or whatever You wish. That Power within (which in martial arts helps to break stones or bones lol) - my Sensei always used to say (regarding our karate exercises): "Do it with Spirit!" That is what I give thanks for and that is who God is: the Great Spirit (Wakan Tanka in Lakota, which actually means the Great Mystery). We can not explain it but we can be thankful for It and for Life. I have had many "magical" experiences and I would be a fool to deny the existence of mysterious things.

      Mr. Mandela just passed away. Look at all the happiness and joy - the dancing and the inspiration which this Being brought to us. Yes, he spent twenty-seven years in prison and that is indeed something bad but look at all the good that came out of it. Sometimes pain is necessary. We learn through conflict, let's just wish that the conflict is minimal.

      I see your pain because we are All One, it is the Law of One.

      With this in mind, I just wish You good luck and all the very best!

    • profile image
      Author

      barrierbreaker 3 years ago

      It hurts because you're thanking a being who doesn't exist -- not giving thanks to the people who actually exist. Like the CEO who thanks God for his mansion, without realizing that the backs of his employees paid for it. He may see anything he gives to those employees as charity coming from what God has blessed him with, instead of their just compensation. I care about this because I am a secular humanist, if that makes sense.

      Second, it gives the person pride over others. I care about Christians, too, and I've been in Bible Studies where someone thanked God about a raise on a six-figure income in front of homeless people, and rubbed the "God blessed me because I'm better than you" attitude in their face. Because I care about Christians, I think this needs to stop.

      I've also seen people who are absolutely depressed go through hell and be told by people in well-to-do positions that they should thank God for that. This seems cruel. I mean, I'm black...and I know my ancestors were told by their slave masters to be thankful to God for their position. No. This is cruel and unjust. If there is something wrong with your position, you should be allowed to speak up and complain without being looked down on, especially if your complaints are legitimate.

      So the things I'm talking about here are real, they happen, and they have extremely negative consequences for the suffering that I will not abide, because I actually give a shit about people.

    • profile image

      christiananrkist 3 years ago

      I guess im still confused as to why an atheist should care. how is it hurting the atheist for the christian to thank God. it is possible is done on a regular basis to thank both God and others for helping. if a parent gives one of their kid something, and not another for whatever reason, should the kid who got something not be thankful? you keep making the point of not thanking an imaginary God. Just suppose for 1 second this God actually does exist. Does it change you perspective? I don't think any believer is expecting anyone to just be happy, or that they are somehow worth less in some way if they're not. what is taught is to trust in God during less than perfect times, and possibly learn from it. for instance when i do sprints or any kind of difficult cardio, it's a type of suffering i feel. not pleasant at all. afterwards, in the long run however it is good for me, increases stamina, health, and character having gone through it. physical trainers put their clients through similar things, and though the client doesn't always see the point at first, they thank the trainer once the end result is achieved.

    • profile image
      Author

      barrierbreaker 3 years ago

      I am not talking about being thankful in general; I am talking about exalting the morality of thanking God. The rich man who thanks God for his wealth is acting as if God gave it to him, and not to others. Like the God of every being chose to give wealth to him, personally. This is different from taking honest stock of the sources of that wealth and seeing that others made it possible; thanking real people instead of an imaginary God. You are not specially favored by a deity; circumstances worked out for you this way. Thanking real people instead of an imaginary God really is very liberating.

      I think that we should not value someone's worth or decisions based on how happy they make someone. If someone is bitter and sad for legitimate reasons, telling them to just be happy instead of seeing how to honestly rectify the situation seems to do more harm than good.

    • ChristinS profile image

      Christin Sander 3 years ago from Midwest

      As an atheist myself I disagree with much of this. Yes, you do make some valid points, particularly about people needing to be thankful to more than just God. However, having grown up in a religious home before changing my mind, I can tell you that prayers of gratitude are a way to shift our perspective consciously and most of the time when we were praying, we were expressing gratitude not just to a being, but also to the people and the circumstances we felt blessed by.

      Today, some of this influence is still in my life. I take time to focus on all I am grateful for daily - and it has helped me to come out of my own depression and anxiety in life and be better able to empathize with others. I do get angry and sad sometimes because I'm human, but it doesn't stop me from being at peace and feeling an underlying sense of gratitude most of my days. Why? because I consciously choose to focus on the positives in life that help keep me motivated to grow.

      All human beings hurt, we all feel joy, we all feel pain. Telling someone they are doing you wrong by expressing gratitude - be it in prayer or whatever, is not really helping our cause as atheists. Gratitude and love for one another is something we should be building bridges with, just my two cents.

      As far as gratitude masking real pain - I see it the other way around. When we become consumed by despair and anger, it can be difficult to find the beauty in life. Gratitude and expressing and feeling it genuinely - is a key to overcoming those emotions, not ignoring them. It simply means we choose not to give anger, sadness etc power over our lives and the way we view the world. It is a conscious choice.

    • profile image

      christiananrkist 3 years ago

      Pridefully insinuating that thankfulness is better than complaining and a lack of gratitude to an imaginary being, seems self defeating and confusing. What exactly is self defeating and confusing about this? What's wrong with being thankful for the things you have? I actually think it is better to no sit around complaining about whatever is I may be going through, and doing something to fix the problem or suffering. I also believe it more healthy to keep positive and focused on the things that are going right in my life rather than the things that are going wrong. If I want to thank God for those things and for the strength to endure hardships, why should the atheist care about that?

      It can cause the person thanking God to trust in a nonexistent God as opposed to themselves, other people, and their environment. Are you saying its not possible to thank and trust God and others simultaneously?

      Focus on your own blessings can and often does keep you from realizing the lack of blessings in others. I disagree with this. Although many people are very self centered, being thankful for what you have does not mean you are blind to others suffering. In fact many people realize how fortunate they are, especially this time of year and use their blessings to help others.

      Ascribing your "blessings" to God -- who supposedly gave them to you with purpose -- as opposed to your circumstances obligates people to use those "blessings" for God, instead of freeing them to use them rationally in the context of those around them, themselves, and their environment. How do you suppose people use their blessings for God? Isn't one way of using our blessing in the name of God, by helping others?

      People tend to have different natural states of happiness, so that some remain highly optimistic under circumstances normally seen as depressing. In what christian teaching is it immoral to be depressed? People who are clinically depressed can still be thankful for what the DO have. For those of us who do tend to be more optimistic, i believe are obligated to help those who are not so inclined to do so. And for those who overcome depression have an even bigger advantage to helping others. God has given some of us gifts and blessings, not to use selfishly, but to use on others.

      Had they been free to express anger and cynicism, we might have known the housing crisis was about to happen. Who is they, and who was stopping them from doing so? Nowhere in christian teaching does it say you can't speak up for others, or for things you believe are wrong. Was Jesus silent about the hypocrisy of the pharisees?

      Being thankful for your own suffering also extends to being thankful for OTHERS' suffering. I don't really see how. We are called to pray for others, and help and comfort them with their suffering.

      James 2:16

      If one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?

      I think you may be getting confused as to exactly what it means for a christian to be thankful to God for what they have. We know we can trust God in the midst of the storm. Suffering is always temporary. Sometimes we can see how it actually benefits us, and sometimes not. We are called to help those in the midst of their storms however when we are being blessed and to endure as Jesus did when we go through our own trials. I still don't see how any of your arguments would justify why an atheist would care if a christian thanks God for anything. And if we are just delusional, so what?

    • Mr. Happy profile image

      Mr. Happy 3 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Has anyone told You that You think too much? lol

      "The implication may be that one person has been "blessed" with riches while another has been "blessed" with poverty and malnutrition -- and the subtext is that each should be grateful for what he has." - I have been blessed with poverty and I am grateful. Does that mean that I am poor - not at all lol.

      "People tend to have different natural states of happiness" - Now we are getting to the meaty part of the conversation. You will only understand what I will say if You wish to do so. Mind You, I am Mr. Happy so, that would mean I know one or two things about happiness. If I don't who would? LOL

      Happiness is a state of mind and it depends on Perception. Never allow your happiness to depend on things You can lose. On top of which, we all have our own unique paths and unique ways of learning. One can use an experience to learn something from it, or one can use an experience to complain and point fingers. Depends on Perception.

      By the way, I am not Christian or religious in any way, yet I give thanks to the Gods every day. I am a Spiritual Being. I noticed You do not have rebuttals for Pagans. : )

      " Oftentimes, when someone is suffering there is a sign that something is wrong, and the lie that they are obligated to be thankful for their situation can mask symptoms of deeper, more serious problems. " - I agree with You, if someone is suffering there is something wrong: their Perception and perhaps their Intent should be something to look at as well. Everything in Existence is based on Intent and Perception. So, let's say I am in pain because I drank myself to a stupor last night: I thank the Gods for the pain so, next time I come near Fire-water (alcohol) I am more careful, or perhaps abstain from indulging in it.

      On another note Amigo: we are All Gods. I wish You will find your Power and the Spirit within (only if You wish so too).

      May Wakan Tanka guide your path!

      P.S. I appreciate your passion. Cheers!