Hearty apologies to anyone (if there is anyone! 🙂 ) who has come to expect daily posts from me. As with so many other people on the planet (well, in America) this has been an inordinately busy time for me, and I just haven’t had the spare 45 minutes that I daily try to devote to the blog. Right on the heels of the packed Society of Biblical Literature meeting in Chicago (starting the next day) was the Thanksgiving preparations and with family coming in from literally all over the country, it’s been hectic. The frenetic pace is starting to die down now, and tomorrow I return to my normal ways and go on a very serious diet….
On Thanksgiving. It’s my favorite holiday. Christmas I love as well, even though, obviously, I do not celebrate it as a Christian. But I celebrate it and love Christmas trees and Christmas music, of all sorts, and giving presents (not buying them; that’s a pain. But I love giving them!), and being with family and eating and all the good things that come with it.
Thanksgiving though I love even more, in part because it is the one great holiday with no (necessary) religious connections. It’s *all* about family and eating and drinking and appreciating the good things in life, available to everyone who is not in the throes of abject suffering. Even when I was poor as a church mouse – in living memory, and for a good portion of my adult life – I could enjoy a good turkey dinner, with family, and friends, and football, and, well, what could be better?
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But there’s a kind of piquant irony about Thanksgiving for me, that I talk about, circuitously, in my book God’s Problem. I’d say I’ve always been a thankful person. Even when money was short, I had so much. I’ve always had so much. Good health. A roof over my head. A warm bed. A fantastic family. Kids I adore. Now grandkids I adore. An amazing wife. A great job. Doing what I want to do with my life. True, interesting, and faithful friends. Life’s been extremely good to me. And I’ve always been thankful.
But when I became an agnostic –what? 15 years ago now? I don’t even know how to date it – when I became an agnostic I found that I was confronted with a very odd situation. As a Christian for maybe forty years, give or take, I always had Someone to be thankful *to*. Being thankful meant, for me then, to be able to thank someone. But what happens when you’re thankful and you have no one to thank? What happens when you are grateful for what you’ve been given but no one is responsible for giving it to you to whom you can express your gratitude? In many ways, that was the most unsettling and unexpected feeling for me when I left the faith. I was still thankful and grateful, but my sense of appreciation and gratitude seemed to evaporate in the empty air.
I think I’ve grown more accustomed to this feeling with the passing of time. In part it is because I realize that at the end of the day, I’m just unbelievably lucky. I think everyone who is not experiencing suffering in extremis is very lucky. Just having a place to stay and three good meals a day is very lucky. When you think what most of the billions of humans who have lived on this planet (especially before, say, the 19th century, and many many millions even now) have had to live and put up with, most of us are unbelievably lucky.
One of the reasons I became an agnostic in the first place was precisely because of the problem of giving thanks to the one who had given me so many things. I came to realize that if I thank God for the good things I have, it means that I’m attributing my good fortune to him, as the one who has provided those things. But what does that say about the person who doesn’t have them, who is homeless and living in the cold? Or hungry not knowing where the next meal is coming from? Or actually starving and knowing that in fact there is not going to be a next meal? Or suffering from the ravages of war, or drought, or hurricane, or tsunami, or earthquake, or epidemic, or physical defect, or … make your own list. If God had given *me* all the good things I have, so he alone is responsible, what about those who have only bad things? Is he alone responsible for *that* as well?
Odd as it is, I came to think that if I thanked God for my food, I was acknowledging that he was mean and capricious and that when he gave me food, he chose to withhold food from another, or worse, caused the drought, the epidemic, the earthquake that made others suffer. I certainly didn’t think he had done *that*. But if that’s true, then why should I think he had given me the good things I had?
This, as I said, is a large reason I came to be an agnostic. I simply didn’t believe it any more. I didn’t believe in a God who blessed me and cursed others – or at least was good to me but chose not to be good to others. I just didn’t believe it. And I still don’t believe it.
And so the piquant irony. I am still unbelievably thankful for all I have. But I have no one to thank. That’s an irony that I have chosen to live with. But knowing the irony makes me no less thankful.
I hope all of you had a wonderful and memorable Thanksgiving, and that you too have much to be thankful for.[/mepr-show]