It’s that time of year again, when we red-blooded Americans gather with family and friends around the table (or the television) to stuff our faces in celebration of everything we have to be thankful for. It is a uniquely American holiday: the perfect embodiment of our “because we can” attitude layered over a highly mythologized story about two groups of people sharing resources. We’re thankful that we have food on our tables, thus we revel in that fact by eating ourselves into food comas. I’m no exception. I mock lovingly.
What exactly is this thing we call thankfulness anyway? What’s it about? Why is it so important? More to the point, who or what are we thanking? Does it matter?
For theists, the answer to these questions is fairly straightforward: God. But what about us godless types? PZ linked to a nearly incomprehensible op ed piece the other day in which the writer expressed pity for atheists due to this lack of someone to thank, assuming that ours must be an empty and thankless existence. I beg to differ.
Personally, I’m much more comfortable with the idea of expressing joy that I’ve been fortunate enough to thrive (or even exist at all) in this vast and random universe than the idea that I exist or thrive on the whim of a capricious god who could take it all away in an instant if I’m not properly thankful. I don’t try to pretend that there is anything innate in me separating me from a person starving somewhere in the developing world. I happened to be born into better circumstances.
To me, thankfulness is all about humility. It’s the acknowledgement that nothing we have in life is purely the result of our own actions: there’s always at least a tiny bit (and sometimes a ton) of luck involved. Whether or not the object of my thanks is a conscious being is irrelevant.
Ours is a precarious existence, and tomorrow is never a guarantee. This is an experience shared by all people, and I think it can be a powerful tool for unification. As you sit down to eat today, with family and friends who may or may not share your worldview, enjoy what you have and remember one thing: we are all in this together.
Oh, one more thing. Because I’m thankful for all of you, here’s a little token of appreciation.
*Warning: nsfw, violence and nudity.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!