It’s also a motivation to write something new here, which I need to do more often.
The Cliff Notes version of his post is “Atheist lives are miserable because they do not have God to thank for everything.” (Do please read the post, I don’t want to be accused of misrepresentation.) Having been a fundamentalist Christian for over a decade, I am familiar with his thought process in this regard. “Giving thanks to God” is a consistent theme in the Bible, wherein the writers make it abundantly clear that Yahweh loves to be praised and thanked on a continual basis.
So let’s consider the things that he thanks God for and see if his thanksgiving is properly directed. For reasons of simplicity, I am going to respond as though directly to Pastor Alin:
I have a wife.
I’m presuming that your wife, at some point, decided that you were the kind of guy that she wanted to marry. So, I’m guessing that you should be thanking her for being your wife – rather than thanking God that you “have a wife”. (Also, she might not be too thrilled at being included among a list of personal possessions.)
I have a house. I have food and a computer.
I’m guessing that your steady employment and reasonably good credit are the reason why you are able to own a house. Similarly, having food and a computer are a result of your ability to secure a job that provides a salary that permits you to have both.
I have a bed
and clean water.
Courtesy of your local water treatment plant.
Sure, you can thank a god for all of these things. From a rational standpoint, though, it all seems ill-directed and frankly a bit silly. No god swung down from heaven and poofed all of these things into your life. You met your wife, you courted her, won her affection, and she decided you were suitable husband material. You found your job, you earn your salary, you buy the things you need and want from that income. You’re fortunate enough to have been born in a country with government infrastructure that makes sanitary living possible.
This is all fine – people are free to thank whatever they wish for anything, really. However, this is just the jumping-off point for his main thrust:
But who does the atheist thank? In a world without God, is there even room for thankfulness? Is being thankful even rational if there is no God?
If he seriously wanted an answer to this, there are plenty of atheists on the internet that he could have asked. But since he didn’t, I volunteer.
Whatever we have to be grateful for, there is going to be an actual, physical, tangible, real person to whom that gratitude can be expressed. I thank my daughter on a daily basis for being a wonderful human being. I thank my employer for providing the job that keeps this roof over our heads. I thank the person who lets me cut ahead of them in line when I only have three or four items. I thank the server who brings me the food that I order on those nights when I choose to eat at a restaurant. I thank the doctor who took out loans to go to school and spent untold sleepless days to learn how to effectively disagnose and treat my illness. I thank my friends for being caring, loving people.
In short, I thank those people who fill my life with reasons to be thankful – and those people, in return, express genuine appreciation for that gratitude.
I do find it telling that “thanking each other” is completely absent from Pastor Alin’s list. I’m quite certain that he expresses gratitude to others on a daily basis, which is why this stands out like a sore thumb by its absence. Perhaps it’s because its easier to make your case when you exclude the one thing which could tend to make your whole argument fall flat. (I actually hope that this was a deliberate omission on his part, as I’d hate to think that Pastor Alin is missing out on the genuine joy that comes from giving and receiving thanks from others.)
As a Christian, I used to “thank God” for everything as well. Upon reflection, I can honestly say that my life is certainly no misery because I no longer do so. There’s no point in thanking someone I’ve never seen nor heard, apart from a book written by ancient tribal people thousands of years ago. Any number of reasons can be given to thank a “god” for any one of a number of potential outcomes to a situation:
- Wanda’s son left for work late and avoided a roadside shootout on his way to work that left seven people dead. Wanda praises God for protecting him by delaying his commute.
- Wanda’s son left for work on time, and was grazed by a shooter’s bullet but not seriously injured. Wanda praises God for sending a guardian angel to watch over her precious boy.
- Wanda’s son left for work on time, and was struck in the chest by a shooter’s bullet and is hospitalized but makes a full recovery. Wanda praises God for directing the doctor’s hands.
- Wanda’s son left for work on time, and was struck in the chest by a shooter’s bullet, causing him to veer off the road and crumple his car into a wall, severing his leg. He spends time in the hospital, followed by hours of grueling physical therapy. Wanda praises God for saving his life and for keeping his injuries from being far worse.
- Wanda’s son left for work on time, and was shot in the head by a shooter’s bullet, causing him to die instantly. Wanda praises God for sparing him the pain of a prolonged death.
- Wanda’s son left for work on time, and was stopped on the road by a gun-wielding madman. The gunman gets in the car, holds a gun to the boy’s head and forces him to drive to an abandoned spot where he shoots the boy in the chest and takes off with his car. He bleeds out slowly, in excruciating pain, miles away from anyone who can help him. His body is eventually discovered by a passing traffic helicopter several days later. Wanda, through her tears, praises God that her son isn’t suffering any longer.
So in every possible scenario, “God” receives the praise – no matter what happened. In fact, if there was a god, he’d never have to lift a finger to do anything – seeing as no matter what happens, he gets thanked for it. He wouldn’t even have to exist …
… and that’s the point – the point that never gets raised in churches.
At least not out loud.
But I digress. Living as an atheist, I can say without hesitation that my life is full of joy and so many reasons to be thankful, and so many people to thank … and hug … and hold.
Yeah, I’m pretty happy.