The "thanks" of the Thanksgiving tradition has always been directed towards God. Most of the early settlers thanked God regularly for his Providence. And when Abraham Lincoln instituted Thanksgiving as a national holiday in 1863, he described it as "a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent father who dweleth in the Heavens." He meant it to be a day of thanks to God, penitence for man's disobedience, and prayer for the less fortunate.
This tradition seems to be changing now, as our culture becomes increasingly secularized. More and more, Americans are focused on eating and watching football on Turkey Day. True, we know what we are thankful for, but to whom do we owe our thanks? What is the meaning of Thanksgiving without God?
Some atheists argue that it is inappropriate to thank a "God" who does not exist. And, they acknowledge that it is less than satisfying to thank the Law of Gravity or the Second Law of Thermodynamics for all they have made possible for us. Hence, they argue, we should thank "goodness—the wonderful fabric of excellence created by individuals working together in human civilization to make this planet a better place." But does this really make sense? If the world is merely a product of random chance, if there is no Creator and no transcendent morality, can there be such a thing as "good"? And if this "wonderful fabric of excellence" is simply the result of cosmic accident, then is any thanks owed?
The sad reality of our secular society is that, while we retain many of our traditions, they are increasingly losing their meaning. Many "feel" thankful, but they have nothing to thank. Over time, as they continue to live out the logic of their position, they will eventually stare blankly into the abyss, their only feeling being one of despair.
Thankfully, I still know who to thank for my blessings. And for those of you who also know, I extend a hearty, "Happy Thanksgiving!"
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