It's fitting that a nation founded on rights, which are personal entitlements, should pause once a year to cultivate the opposite emotion.
Yes, I'm thankful: that, for all its undoubted flaws, something as mysteriously wonderful as America should really exist. Also that for no good reason I can see, I, of all the 6 billion people on this Earth, should be one of those lucky enough to inherit this nation. I'm grateful to all those who gave this gift to me, from the first Pilgrim souls searching to build a new heaven on Earth, to the Deist Thomas Jefferson methodically stripping his Bible of every evidence of the miraculous.
This original tension between Athens and Jerusalem (reason and faith) -- out of which much of Western civilization, but most especially America, was formed -- is still very much with us. Case in point: This month the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif., held a forum on science and religion, which (according to The New York Times) "began to resemble the founding convention for a political party built on a single plank: In a world dangerously charged with ideology, science needs to take on an evangelical role, vying with religion as teller of the greatest story ever told." (See it at www.tsntv.org).
The scientists at this conference were almost all atheists or agnostics. They pose as strong men of Athens, but in the intense, lively, fascinating anger at religious influence, their clay feet keep peeping out: in the deep discontent some displayed with merely doing science as a rational activity, in their need to find a greater meaning and purpose, and in their strong human desire not only to proclaim the truth, but to suppress people and ideas that they feel threaten their founding truths.
Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.