Questions for Atheists: What are you thankful for (and to)?

Hey all! Thanks for welcoming me as a contributor to Hemant’s site. I’m excited to be part of the team. As many of you know I am a Christian pastor that has been participating in the conversations here for over a year now. I have a great respect for atheists, and while I obviously don’t always agree with all your perspectives, I have found that the questions you have raised about my faith have been invaluable to me in refining and improving my own beliefs and (more importantly) my attitudes towards others.

While I’ll be posting here once or twice a week on any variety of topics, one idea I have for a recurring theme is a series of “Questions for Atheists”. Back in May I did an “Ask a Christian Pastor” Q&A series where you all got to ask me questions about my approach to faith. (I’d advise going back and re-reading my answers if you haven’t already. I think you’ll find that I probably don’t fit many of the usual atheist stereotypes of Christians. You can also find out more about me at my blog: Emerging Pensees) Now I’d like to turn the tables, so to speak, and take the opportunity to ask you guys some questions. Many times as I’m reading or pondering things I tend to wonder “what would my atheist friends think about this idea?” I’m interested in learning more about how you view the world, and maybe even offering a little push-back occasionally. :)

However, I feel like I should give a disclaimer. I know many of you have probably encountered Christians who weren’t really interested in your views but were just asking so they could set you up for an evangelistic pitch or to try and win an argument. Let me assure that this is not at all my intent. I have no ulterior motives. I’m not setting you up, or asking leading questions merely to prove a point. I really am genuinely interested in your answers. Please interpret my questions in the same spirit of open, friendly dialogue with which I intend them.

Anyhow, here’s my first question: yesterday was Thanksgiving, which is one of the few major secular holidays in the United States. While the founding of the holiday often does involve a story of Christians fleeing religious persecution in Europe, in truth, one need not have any religious commitments to join in the spirit of thankfulness that this day commemorates. And I think religious and atheists alike can agree that thankfulness is a virtue that all of us would do well to cultivate. But I do have two questions – the first is simple, what are you thankful for? What good things (what we Christians call “blessings”) have been a part of your life this past year? In my family our tradition has been to go around the Thanksgiving table and share our answers to that question together. I’d like us to do that together here too.

But the second question is a little more complicated: who (or what) are you thankful to? Christians tend to thank God for our blessings since we believe that all good things ultimately flow from him (though of course we also give thanks to all the intermediaries along the way too – the people in our lives who are often the direct source of the blessings). Who do atheists thank? Obviously if the blessings come from other people you can thank them, but what about the other things that many of us are also thankful for but which can’t be attributed to particular people? What about things like good health, fortunate financial circumstances, life and liberty and happiness, etc.? Do you thank nature? Circumstances? No one in particular? Or does it even make sense for an atheist to be “thankful” for such things? Perhaps you should simply feel “glad” but not “thankful” per se. I’m just curious how you all think about that. How do you say thanks for those sorts of things?

At any rate, I hope you had a great Thanksgiving and I want you to know that I am personally thankful for this blog community.

Peace,

-Mike Clawson

  • http://atheisthomeschool.blogspot.com/ Ute

    What am I thankful for? For being alive, for waking up every morning, for breathing, for the beautiful state I live in (Oregon).

    Who am I thankful to? Well, here’s the difference between you and I, I guess. I don’t thank the world or nature or the universe. Being thankful for what I have doesn’t necessarily mean that I need to be thankful to something or someone. It’s just a feeling… like happiness… I don’t have to be happy to someone. Sometimes I’m just happy. :)

    Oh, you might like to read a very interesting post on being thankful on this blog: http://greenerview.blogspot.com.

    Take care!

  • Lezard

    I’m thankful for many things — to keep things brief, here’s the first 3 that came to mind: smiles, friends, and dogs.

    As for the second question — Without going into details, my mom had a non-life-threatening-but-still-major surgery earlier this year, and it turns out it went really well and she’s doing much better than she has in years. Here there are so many people to thank: my mom herself, for being brave enough to go through with it; the other members of my family, for supporting her; the many doctors, surgeons, nurses who were involved in some stage of the process. Indirectly, there are many other people that deserve recognition: the many doctors, biologists, kinesthesiologists, etc. who had made the previous advances in the field of medicine that laid the groundwork for the operation’s success — possibly all the way back to Hippocrates, and whatever brave, anonymous people first volunteered to get operated on back when this procedure wasn’t as commonplace.

    I think there are two parts of “giving thanks”, and while they often go together, they have separate reasons/purposes. The first one is the “obvious” one — to directly let the people involved know that their contributions are appreciated and that they have helped to improve your life, or the lives of others. The second reason is more reflective — it helps put perspective on your own life if you take the time to consider all the people who have (knowingly or unknowingly) made sacrifices for yourself or for humanity. I believe that, whether you’re religious or not, reflecting on the “blessings” you have received serves the worthwhile purposes of keeping yourself humble and encouraging your own ethical and moral behavior.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    I’m thankful for many things. I’m thankful to people. The main thing I don’t like about Christianity is that it devalues human goodness, giving thanks to God all the time for wonderful things that human beings do. I’d rather thank the real sources of generosity and charity — people.

  • Max

    I’m thankful (to my parents) for being alive. I’m thankful to them for providing shelter, food, clothing, and an education for me. I’m thankful to them and family and friends for being there when I need them and supporting me always.

    Sometimes when I get something that no one person was responsible for (like you said with health, fortune, etc.) then I’m just happy that it happened to me. It’s just the way it is and I don’t try to find someone to thank. I’ll be happy with what I have and grateful for it too.

    If it’s something like fortunate financial situation, I’ll just be proud of myself for the hard work that I did to earn what I did, and thankful to the people who gave me the opportunity to earn it.

  • Miko

    To science: First, because according to historical life-expectancy tables, I’d probably be dead now without it, or at least on the way out. Second, for asserting that the universe is understandable and inspiring me to try to understand it; the world would be a dreary place indeed otherwise.

    To Carl Sagan, Bertrand Russell, and other great thinkers and skeptics, past and present: For helping me discover what truth was. For helping me discover why I should care about truth.

    To the infrastructures of thought, culture, and society, and more generally to the past: For one thing, communicating the rest of this would be pretty hard if those before me hadn’t decided that developing languages and alphabets was a worthwhile endeavor.

    On the same theme, to those in the past that took the trouble to write things down: Because they are of enduring interest.

    To Al Gore: For being a modern-day don Quijote. And to the other idealists as well, because you give birth to our future.

    To those who make peace, but also to those who will sacrifice their own peace to protect the peace of others.

    To xkcd: For making the world a weirder place.

    To the National Merit Scholarship: Because I’d almost certainly have been unable to afford college without it. By taking an investment in my future, you created it.

    To my students: Thanks for letting me share my passions with you.

    To the public: For supporting the endeavors of myself and other scientists, even when you don’t understand what we’re doing or see directly why it’s in your interest to do so. That’s a lot of trust to place in us, and we appreciate it.

    To all the people of the world: Because everything I have today has passed through many hands en route to mine. Thanks for sharing your skills, your thoughts, and your time. Thanks for your diversity of concerns, so that we may all follow our own paths. To the farmers, doctors and nurses, architects and bricklayers, and all others who touch my life in ways all too easy to overlook, I sincerely hope that I will be able to repay that debt by touching your life in ways equally unrecognized.

    Likewise, to those I am taking for granted without realizing it: Because if I don’t even realize it, you must be doing something right.

    To ____: Because ________________________________.

    To those who care. To those with passion. To those with integrity. To those without fear. To those who believe truth is a worthwhile goal and defend it with care, passion, integrity, and fearlessness. To those that look at the road we’ve traveled in the past and try to project its course into the future. To those who lead crusades and revolutions of ideas. To those that follow those leaders. To the beats of a different drummer. To the borogoves. To all who have ever published ideas anonymously when they would have received greater or quicker acceptance with their names attached. To all who have ever published ideas anonymously because no alternative existed. To those who challenge assumptions. To those who tell jokes that they know most people won’t understand. To the poets, to the playwrights, to the authors, to the musicians and composers, to the painters and sculptors, to my fellow scientists, to all who choose to express themselves artistically. To those who see everything as art and don’t care whether others recognize it. Once again, to those who care.

    To friends and family: For assisting me in my journey up to this point, so that I may realize the above and for so many other reasons.

    What about things like good health, fortunate financial circumstances, life and liberty and happiness, etc.?

    Respectively, to science, to society, and to those who believe that just governance exists so fervently that as a result it does.

  • Rob

    I don’t know if my primary attitude is thankful so much as it is appreciative. I appreciate my wonderful partner, the crisp fall air, and the chance to ride my bike on a quiet trail. Because of my appreciation, I’m thankful to my partner and the city parks service.

  • CJ

    I’m thankful that I was born in the time I was. With the discoveries of science, our lives are a whole lot more comfortable than they have been in the past. We understand so much about our universe and our place in it. We live in a relatively tolerant and open-minded society.

    I hope (and pray?) that these trends continue and not slip backwards, as many in our population would have be the case.

  • Lezard

    Hm, I posted something long and (hopefully) thoughtful and apparently the blog software ate it. :(

  • http://godbegone.blogspot.com [GBG]

    Atheists thank the “intermediaries” as you so offensively put it.
    You know, The people who actually done whatever it is we are thankful for.

  • http://www.bolingbrookbabbler.com William

    I’ve already said my private thanks. So publicly, I’d like to thank blogs like The Friendly Atheist, for letting me know that I’m not alone.

    I’m thankful for my friends, and I hope I help them as much as they help me.

    I’m also thankful for my cat, for keeping me company, and putting up with me not feeding her exactly on time. She may have run up a few vet bills lately, but I’m very glad she’s been in my life, and I’m glad I’m able to make her happy.

  • Stephanie

    I am thankful to my long line of ancestors flowing back through the eons as various forms of life. I find it very interesting how many theists find atheism and agnosticism devoid of any spirituality. I find it very meaningful that I am connected to every living thing on this planet through relationships that were set down so long ago the numbers are abstractions. And through all of that, I have wound up with the cushiest life on this planet thanks to genetic modification, mechanical advantage and scientific advancement. Why on earth would I not be thankful given that?
    But thankful to is another matter. I guess to the cosmos at large, if anything. The universe is an amazing place. I wouldn’t want to lessen it by making up some paradigm just to capture its vastness in the tiny confines of the human mind.

  • terri

    In my family, Thanksgiving was purely secular, so the idea of thanking god for everything that year really didn’t come up. These days, I think we are personally responsible for a great many things in our lives, including our health, wealth, and overall attitude toward life – if you don’t think you make enough money, then you either could be happier if you had less $ going out, or you need to find a way to bring more $ in (this is a very simplified example meant for average folks; I know there are people in situations where the fix needs more people involved or there are other issues, so don’t slam me on this :) ). So, the list:
    I’m thankful for a wonderful daughter, a mom who is fairly open-minded for her time, and a family that can disagree and still remember that kin trumps all. A house I own, a job with some pretty neat folks, and a city big enough to fit people like me. Time to read and learn more about this fascinating world, authors and others willing to become the targets so the less-brave can rally behind them, the internet and cheaper computers so I can learn about things that don’t make the evening news. Extreme Makeover that shows just how many big-hearted people of all backgrounds can come together to help one family (yes, I know it has a few warts). http://www.icanhascheezburger for comic relief and cute animals. Friends that I can laugh and giggle with.

    Who I’m thankful to? See the above. Each of them make intentional choices to be the way they are, to show the great side of humanity, every day. For me, that’s enough.
    Happy Holidays!

  • Timothy Mills

    Where a particular person, or a human-based abstract concept (like “goodness“) is involved, I thank them directly.

    If my feelings of gratitude are inspired by a wholly natural phenomenon – one that my reason tells me is not caused by a conscious being – I have a sort of dissonance. And I have a choice. Just as the person looking at an optical illusion has a dissonance. Their intuitive understanding tells them one thing, but their reason tells them something else. And they have a choice: do they trust their eyes, or their reason?

    I choose to trust my reason (always aware that it is imperfect and subject to correction), but that doesn’t remove the emotion of gratitude for (to take tonight’s example) a luminous and breathtaking full moon. The emotion cries out for an object – someone to thank – but my reason says there is nobody to thank. I can either pretend there is someone (and perhaps, with practice, come to actually believe it), in order to satisfy the instinctive emotion; or I can leave the emotion unsated, and my reason intact.

    Your question is a legitimate one, and although many people on both sides won’t feel as I do, I think there is a conflict that each of us – religious and non-religious – has to resolve in many different areas of our lives, between what feels true and what objective reason supports.

    - Tim -

    PS: Thanks for pointing out the fact that Thanksgiving is a perfect crossover holiday – something that atheists and theists can share without any compromise of integrity on either side. I made a blog entry a while ago about humanist holidays, and didn’t even think to put Thanksgiving on there. Which is a serious lapse, since, as a Canadian with a lot of American friends living overseas, I actually get to celebrate it twice most years.

  • http://www.myspace.com/timandjeffrey Tim

    Well, I wouldn’t use the word “thankful” with regard to myself so much as I would “appreciative.” I appreciate the things and people that I have, and all the work that it took to get as far as I have come in my life. It’s not really “pride,” because it’s more humble than that (or so I like to think); I’m always thinking about moving forward and making things better than they are. It’s usually only when I’m in a very good or very bad mood (usually the latter) that I consciously articulate my appreciation for these things, but I always do appreciate them. Since I don’t believe in a God, though, there’s no real reason for me to openly express this appreciation unless it is to a person who can in turn appreciate my gratitude (for example, I’m thankful to have my friend Haley for a lot of reasons, one in particular being that she invited me to a punk show a couple of months ago—that show is where I met a lot of my other friends, one of which I hang out with a lot now).

    I guess I don’t really care who the unattributable things are attributed to. I don’t really think they need someone to be attributed to. They’re just a result of the course of the events in the universe; attributing them doesn’t make any more sense to me than it would to attribute the fact that reality is consistent. I don’t really care who made it that way, or if it simply became that way on its own. I’m just glad it is.

  • http://blueollie.wordpress.com/ ollie

    Just one question: if one is “thankful” to a deity, does that mean that one feels that this deity somehow pulled cosmic strings one one’s behalf? Then, why for you and not for someone else who just had something bad happen to them?

    As far as my feelings, mine are more of gratitude, which means that I look for reasons to be happy and to be happy to help others.

    Anyway, why the curiosity? Do you think that human thankfulness really only started with Abraham? Are the billions of people on this earth who don’t believe in a personal deity incapable of similar feelings?

  • http://badidea.wordpress.com Bad

    It’s quite possible to simply be thankful: not to anyone. Specific things, for all we know, could have been different, could have been worse. They weren’t. I don’t have any reason to think that any intelligence arranged or chose them to be the way they were, but I’m glad that’s how they worked out. Most of us understand that we live in a world full of forces far beyond our control: even human societies are bigger and larger than any one person can ever helm or direct them.

    It’s worth noting that the Pilgrim story is mythical in a lot of ways. The majority of the people on the ship weren’t even Pilgrims, and they by and large weren’t really fleeing religious persecution (most had already fled to Holland to escape that, and only five of the 27 Pilgrims on the ship had directly suffered persecution in England: and even that wasn’t really why they came at all: it was instead the idea of founding a new Kingdom of God that they thought was foretold in Revelations. They didn’t believe in religious freedom in any case: certainly not for anyone other than their own sect)

  • Karen

    I love Daniel Dennett’s 2006 essay on thanking “goodness,” not “gods.” It was written after he nearly died of a tear in his aorta. The whole thing is worth reading. Here are a couple germane passages:

    Yes, I did have an epiphany. I saw with greater clarity than ever before in my life that when I say “Thank goodness!” this is not merely a euphemism for “Thank God!” (We atheists don’t believe that there is any God to thank.) I really do mean thank goodness! There is a lot of goodness in this world, and more goodness every day, and this fantastic human-made fabric of excellence is genuinely responsible for the fact that I am alive today. It is a worthy recipient of the gratitude I feel today, and I want to celebrate that fact here and now.

    The best thing about saying thank goodness in place of thank God is that there really are lots of ways of repaying your debt to goodness—by setting out to create more of it, for the benefit of those to come. Goodness comes in many forms, not just medicine and science. Thank goodness for the music of, say, Randy Newman, which could not exist without all those wonderful pianos and recording studios, to say nothing of the musical contributions of every great composer from Bach through Wagner to Scott Joplin and the Beatles. Thank goodness for fresh drinking water in the tap, and food on our table. Thank goodness for fair elections and truthful journalism. If you want to express your gratitude to goodness, you can plant a tree, feed an orphan, buy books for schoolgirls in the Islamic world, or contribute in thousands of other ways to the manifest improvement of life on this planet now and in the near future.

    The things I thank goodness for – health, financial means, education, employment, my family and friends – are in my life because I was fortunate enough to be born into them, smart enough to take advantage of them when I had the opportunity and persistent enough to pursue them against the odds. Rather than thanking a supernatural power for them, I prefer to translate my gratitude into action by making similar opportunities available to others in this world.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    In my viewpoint atheists (unlike theists) express thankfulness without pandering to an external deity. Atheists have all the same feelings of thankfulness as religious people, but atheists feel the thankfulness without any ulterior motives of being rewarded for the thankful feelings.

    I’m thankful for the following:

    - being married to a nice woman
    - having nice kids
    - having nice extended families
    - my health
    - being curious and able to explore the world around me and the “meaning of life”
    - being free to express myself (if only anonymously) on line
    - all those who came before me who dared
    - that I have a few free minutes each day to think about these important subjects
    - to the internet (and all of you)

  • http://www.primordial-blog.blogspot.com Brian

    Soon after I became an atheist my parents came over for dinner. As we sat down at the table I said, “let’s just pause for a moment of thanks”. Surprised, they obediently bowed their heads and I proceeded to thank my wife for making such a great dinner and for the kids who helped out and set the table.

    I agree with what other commentors are saying. When something bad randomly happens in my life I feel bad about it but I don’t blame the cosmos for my misfortune. And when good things happen I feel grateful, but that doesn’t mean some imaginary lackey in the sky arranged it all for me.

    When I think about my life perhaps the word “content” better describes how I feel than “thankful”.

  • http://mollishka.blogspot.com mollishka

    I actually covered part of question #2 on my blog yesterday. Essentially, I’ve realized it’s ridiculous to sit around being thankful to some invisible being when it is more meaningful to actually say “thank you” to the individuals in your life who deserve thanking.

    I also propose sending out Thank You cards in November instead of Happy Thanksgiving cards.

  • http://journals.aol.ca/plittle/AuroraWalkingVacation/ Paul

    This is perhaps the one thing I have the biggest problem with when it comes to dialogue with the religious. They seem entirely incapable of conceptualizing atheism at its most basic level. “If you don’t thank God, who (or what) do you thank?” The religious believers cannot even conceive of a world in which there is no agency of some kind directing things. If I have enjoyed prosperity, or good health, or a happy home life, I do not thank the universe, or providence, or some other anthropomorphised imaginary entity, because that would be like thanking the invisible, fire-breathing dragon in my garage for heating my home, or thanking the blue fairies on the moon for changing the phases. It is possible to be generally thankful without having to direct that thanks at some thing or some one.

  • Dan Isaacs

    I’m thankful that my wife continues to love me. That I have a great job. That I live in America, whose philosophic foundations I still hold dear. I’m thankful that my grandmother was in good enough shape to have dinner with us. That my children, while usually pains in my ass, are healthy and pretty bright. I’m thankful I live when I do, and have the Internet to connect with so many like-minded individuals.

    I’m really thankful that my wife does that thing she does. I’m especially thankful for that.

  • anti-nonsense

    I’m Canadian, so thanksgiving for me was last month, but whatever I’ll bite.

    What I’m thankful for is that I’m alive, that I live in a country where I enjoy a high standard of living, good healthcare, and excellent civil rights, I’m thankful that I have a loving family, an opportunity to get a good education, and plenty of opportunities to enjoy myself. I’m thankful I have the right, protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to believe whatever I feel is right, and to express those beliefs in a peaceful, non-harmful manner. So many people in the world are starving, lack proper healthcare, suffer under terribly abusive regimes, have no education, and are not free to believe what they want and worship (or not) as they choose and express their beliefs freely.

    Who and what am I thankful too? I’m thankful to my dad, and my extended family for supporting me and loving me when I needed it, I’m thankful to my friends for being friends. I’m thankful to the cafeteria lady at college for taking the trouble to learn my name. I’m thankful to my lab partners for helping me out.

    There are probably lots of people that I should be thankful to that I’ve forgotten all about, I’ve had a lot of challenges in my life, but when I think about how much worse it could be, I think I’m pretty well off all things concerned. And I credit my family for that mostly, and my teachers many of whom were very patient and kind with me, when I could be very trying at times.

    I don’t feel “thankful” when something lucky happens to me, that would imply that the luck was planned by some intelligent agent, which I don’t believe. I’m happy when I get lucky, but that’s all. And when I get unlucky, it sucks, but I don’t go around blaming the universe for my bad luck, because that’s all it was, just bad luck and hopefully I’ll have better luck next time.

  • ellen

    Like the others who’ve posted, I’m thankful for my family, for being born in the 20th century in a prosperous country, for education, wealth, and many other advantages I’ve been fortunate enough to be born with or acquire. Thankful means “Aware and appreciative of a benefit; grateful” Look up grateful and find: “warmly or deeply appreciative of kindness or benefits received” and “pleasing to the mind or senses; agreeable or welcome; refreshing”. Many of the things in my life that I’m grateful for are simply a matter of luck or chance. Like the others, however, I’m also thankful to many people in my life and who have given much to humanity.

    A question for YOU: Why do you suppose a Divine Intelligence would bestow so many blessings on those of us born in the US and so few on those born in, say, Africa? Is it just because we’re a “Christian Nation”? Is it that the majority of the souls that God favored were destined to be incarnated on this continent?

    Or is it just the luck of the draw?

  • Anotherplayaguy

    You, of course, beg the question: to whom or what are you unthankful to when things go just a tad south.

    The Universe gives and the Universe takes, and the Universe flat out doesn’t care, so being thankful to it is pointless. And yet, that’s all there is.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ miller

    Well, I’d like to be thankful for quantum mechanics, which prevents my electrons from spiraling into atomic nuclei and causing a cosmic catastrophe within a split-second. But that wouldn’t make any sense. Who would I be thanking? Instead I’ll stick to thanking modern society for the internet. Thanks, society! And of course, I thank my friends, family, teachers, and everyone for their presence in my lives.

  • The Unbrainwashed

    Might I play devil’s advocate here. I do appreciate and respect Mike’s willingness to engage in discourse with atheists. I know we surely need to find common ground. However, this site’s name is the Friendly Atheist. I come here for (occasionally irreverent) atheist news and commentary. I don’t come here to gain a better understanding of Christians or engage in dialogue with them. Its nice to have a secluded site where one needn’t expound on one’s beliefs. Unfortunately with the inclusion of Mike as a blogger, that environment no longer exists.

    Again this isn’t a personal attack on Mike, I just would prefer exclusively atheist bloggers on an atheist site. What does everyone else think?

  • Richard Wade

    Mike, these are wonderful questions and everyone, yours are wonderful answers.
    To the first question I’d say ditto to what everyone else has said so far, plus of course my own family, friends and circumstances.

    But Thanksgiving thankfulness is for me more specific than the general thankfulness I try to practice year round. On that day I’m thankful to have survived. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. The version I adhere to may be mostly myth, but I think of it being about how people of very different backgrounds helped each other to survive terrible hardships that otherwise would have killed them. Myth or not, it’s a good lesson to keep. So I’m thankful that:

    -when I was ten the hydrochloric acid did not spill into my windpipe because I might have died.
    -when I was sixteen the shorting electric drill finally flew out of my hands because I might have died.
    -when I was twenty-one the car spun into the snow rather than the canyon just beyond because I probably would have died.
    -when I was twenty-three the machine part missed my head by two inches because I probably would have died.
    -when I was twenty-five I had not taken one just more step as that idiot ran the red light because I definitely would have died.
    -when I was thirty-two that epiphany made me stop drinking because I definitely would have died.
    -when I was forty-four the earthquake collapsed my office building at 4 AM rather than at 8 AM because it is an absolute certainty that I would have died.

    Now I’m fifty-seven and I’ve probably had some more close calls that I was oblivious to, but still I don’t take life for granted. Each Thanksgiving after I acknowledge my thanks to all the people who have brought so many wonderful things to my life, I think back about the times that except for tiny little differences I would have lost my life. And I feel thankful for each breath. It’s not as if I’ve lived a life of recklessness and derring do. It has been an ordinary twentieth century North American life, but it has included some close shaves.

    As for to whom am I thankful, I’ve actually thought about that quite a lot. The above near misses were not averted by people. It’s grace of God or dumb luck, depending on your point of view. I agree with a couple of commenters above that it is possible to feel thankful without directing it to a specific entity. I consciously choose to feel thankful rather than just glad or lucky because thankfulness has a powerful humbling quality, and it puts my life into terms of gratitude. Luckiness leads me to arrogance. To feel grateful or thankful is to be rich, regardless of what is in my bank account. I choose to be rich rather than just lucky.

  • Jen

    1. I am thankful for the freedoms we have in America, though I certainly think there are ways in which we could be more free. And for a delightful dinner!

    2. I am thankful to all the people who got Thanksgiving dinner to my table, including, but not limited to:
    the farmers
    the buyers who purchased the product
    the people who shipped the product
    the warehouse people who stored the product
    the drivers who drove the product to the store
    the grocers who processed and stocked and checked out the product

    In addition, the scientists who work on perfecting soil and crops, the techitions working tirelessly on the perfect frozen pizza, the people fixing the roads to get that frozen pizza to me, the FDA, and Hugh Laurie, who I choose to believe is involved in the whole process.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    I am thankful for every single moment of every single day. The good, the bad, and the ugly. The most painful moments in my life made me who I am today, so I am especially thankful for those. I am thankful that I can finally live life freely and do my best to not miss out on anything or anyone that I was meant to encounter. There are some gems out there…

    Here’s something that someone sent to me on Thanksgiving day, and it says so much. I don’t know who wrote it (although I would insert “blessed” in place of “lucky”):

    “Often when we practice being thankful, we go through the process of counting our blessings, acknowledging the wonderful people, things and places that make up our reality. While it is fine to be grateful for the good fortune we have accumulated, true thankfulness stems from a powerful comprehension of the gift of simply being alive, and when we feel it, we feel it regardless of our circumstances. In this deep state of gratitude, we recognize the purity of the experience of being, in and of itself, and our thankfulness is part and parcel of our awareness that we are one with this great mystery that is life.

    It is difficult for most of us to access this level of consciousness as we are very caught up in the ups and downs of our individual experiences in the world. The thing to remember about the world, though, is that it ebbs and flows, expands and contracts, gives and takes, and is by its very nature somewhat unreliable. If we only feel gratitude when it serves our desires, this is not true thankfulness. No one is exempt from the twists and turns of fate, which may, at any time, take the possessions, situations, and people we love away from us. Ironically, it is sometimes this kind of loss that awakens us to a thankfulness that goes deeper than just being grateful when things go our way. Illness and near-miss accidents can also serve as wake-up calls to the deeper realization that we are truly lucky to be alive.”

  • Jeff

    Thanks, Hemant for this forum. Thanks Hemant and Mike for being interested and willing to engage different world views with the intent of bringing understanding instead of conversion. This is an action of peace in a world that often values division. Thanks to all respondents willing to share real thoughts.

    I especially resonate with Richard Wade’s comment ” I consciously choose to feel thankful rather than just glad or lucky because thankfulness has a powerful humbling quality, and it puts my life into terms of gratitude. Luckiness leads me to arrogance. To feel grateful or thankful is to be rich.”

    I have found personally that most of the good things that have happened to me are a direct result or byproduct of the generosity and self giving of other people in our own time and those before. For this I am thankful.

  • Mercredi

    I have too many things I’m thankful for to list them all here, and some are quite personal, but in short, they’re pretty much all life, love, art, education, and luck.

    I think I can be a lot more genuinely appreciative and thankful (and that thanks is either undirected or directed at the appropriate people – my parents, my partner, my friends, and of course all the people who worked -inventing, researching, building, and even the inglorious jobs of manufacturing or delivering – so that I can enjoy the benefits of modern medicine, clothing, housing, nutrition, and entertainment) as an atheist than I was as a theist.

    It was a lot harder for me to be genuinely thankful when I was a theist, because the problem of evil cropped up at every point. Why should I have been spared X horrible thing, past or present, that others suffered through? I knew I was no more deserving, no better a person than the people who died in the Holocaust, than people who have been enslaved, or lived through wars, or are stricken with cancer. I could see it wasn’t just unfair that they should suffer because the all-powerful God of Abraham wouldn’t save or protect them – it was morally wrong. But yet it was clear that both religions I was exposed to growing up insisted that the aforementioned deity was good and could do no wrong. How could I be thankful, knowing I was no more deserving than others while God decided they were less worthy than I?

    As an atheist, I’m no longer crippled by the problem of evil, or the shame of being blessed by a deity that turns his back on others. I can be thankful to the people who do their best to improve life for others, and for the sheer coincidence that has put me in position to benefit from these things.

  • JeffN

    Ok i Will be the odd man out; interrupt this feel good and ruffle a feel feathers. I’m thankful for each knew day of life and for the many people who help make it worth living; for those who without pay labored to bring a wonderful dinner to the table, to the freedoms I’m allowed and to yes cocadoole due GOD. I know I’m answering a question directed specifically to atheists; but i couldn’t resist. Happy holidays.

  • Mriana

    I am thankful for my family, which includes my pets. I am thankful that my younger son is alive and finally getting help, even though he will be away for the holidays. I’m thankful my aunt survived her ordeal too- with human intervention.

    Now being thankful too someone. That is one of my gripes about Christianity. It devalues the human in the things that are achieve. No one did it except people. It was people who saved my younger son’s life and it is people who are helping him more than I ever could (I’m too close to the situation). It’s all a long story, however, there was no divine intervention with my younger son, but the goodness of fellow human beings.

    Same with my aunt. My older son ironically donated blood a couple days before she was rush into the hospital via air vac. Both my older son and she are A+ and she needed at least three units of blood. I can’t help but think my older son had a hand in saving her life. So again, I have humans to thank for saving her life- potentially my older son and the medical teams.

    To say otherwise is to not only take the responsibility out of human hands, but also not give them any credit for what they did to help. which in some cases is a termendous amount. So, we have to be appreciative of and thankful for our fellow human beings. I’m not sure why people do otherwise, but they do. It makes no sense to me.

    Yes, I have heard the mental gymnastics to include an invisible deity/friend before, but I don’t see anything but human hands- logically or visually.

  • K

    I think that the new fad of going around and being thankful on Thanksgiving is kinda self-centered. Thanksgiving is about the pilgrims who gave thanks. Personally, I feel that I don’t have to right to stick myself into this holiday. The founders of our country, good or bad, gave thanks for surviving this long. That’s what it’s about. Not me. Thanksgiving is about families getting together to share in a feast with the under-current of history while sharing time together. That’s all. I don’t, “thank nature,” or anything ridiculous like that. If I’m going to thank anyone, it’ll be me for making sure I took advantage of opportunities and worked hard enough to be satisfied with my status quo.

  • Mriana

    If I’m going to thank anyone, it’ll be me for making sure I took advantage of opportunities and worked hard enough to be satisfied with my status quo.

    That’s selfish and self-centered too.

  • Wildwing

    First let me say it’s nice to see a person of faith with such an open mind; most of the religious folks we deal with seem to think our atheist family are Satan incarnate and Bad People because we don’t believe in a god. Now to answer the questions:
    1. I’m thankful for everything I have at this time in my life, esp. after how I grew up and the bad decisions I made for so many years. My health, my family, my friends, even the fact that I just got to buy my first new car AND stop working to stay home.
    2. Who am I thankful to? Without a doubt, my husband. He’s helped make several of my dreams come true, and I make sure he knows how I feel about him and about all he’s done for me.
    I think an important part of being thankful for anything is making sure you don’t take it for granted.

  • http://thisislikesogay.blogspot.com Duncan

    I’m in agreement with the others who wonder why, on a supposedly atheistic site, I find myself being preached at by a Christian who, despite having participated in discussions on this site for over a year, still has some heavy-duty stereotypes about atheists. Unlike some of the other commenters here, I’m not on my knees in gratitude that some believers have an “open mind” and are willing to talk to us; I’m a bit surprised that atheists who like to imagine themselves more knowledgeable than theists (note self-congratulatory pseudonyms like The Unbrainwashed) can have had such limited interactions with believers as to find Mike a novelty. Ignorance is certainly not limited to theists! However, it is Hemant’s site and he can do what he wishes with it; certainly my differences with him extend far beyond this relatively minor issue.

    I’m also in agreement with the people who prefer to thank other people, instead of gods or other abstractions — most notably the fellow who thanked his wife and children for working on the Thanksgiving dinner. I’ve certainly been lucky in my life, and I’m grateful not only to my parents but all the people who’ve treated me well, or from whom I’ve learned things. I have good health, a tolerable job (for which I’m grateful to my coworkers, not to the Multi That Owns Us), good friends and sexual partners, etc., etc. But a generic, abstract thankfulness to impersonal forces strikes me as kinda strange. And being an atheist, I don’t feel any need to thank a god for the good things in my life. The idea that there is no Someone out there is evidently difficult even for atheists to grasp, it appears. (And with good reason, as Stewart Guthrie showed in Faces in the Clouds: human being quite reasonably anthropomorphize things.)

    That quotation from Dennett is a good example of what I mean. “Goodness” doesn’t exist any more than “god” does, and thanking “goodness” for his survival of tricky surgery is no more rational than thanking “god.” I may be wrong, but I thought “thank goodness” was a euphemism like “gosh!” for people who didn’t want to take Yahweh’s name in vain. I’m thankful to the person who provided that quotation from Dennett, though, for adding to my sense that he’s a bit of a dolt. No, I take that back — he’s more than a bit of a dolt.

  • ellen

    Unbrainwashed, I totally agree with you. Mike is a nice liberal Xian and I have nothing against him. I’ve had some interesting conversations with him elsewhere and I enjoyed our dialogues. But a contributor to Friendly ATHEIST? Maybe Hemant needs to change the blog name if that’s the direction he wants to go. I don’t really see the value in having conversations such as this where a theist asks us to defend our views, on an atheist blog.

  • Mriana

    Duncan said,

    November 24, 2007 at 11:28 am

    I’m in agreement with the others who wonder why, on a supposedly atheistic site, I find myself being preached at by a Christian who, despite having participated in discussions on this site for over a year, still has some heavy-duty stereotypes about atheists.

    Give Mike a chance. I mean come on, we did ask him questions and to me it only seems fair to answer his. I don’t think Mike is going to start nailing us with the Bible or what have you. I’ll be surprised if he does and be one of the first who’s ticked off if he does. He said he wouldn’t do that and we should take him at his word for it. Why? Because he hasn’t yet, has he? Not once have I seen him demanding that we believe as he does.

    Besides, maybe he will learn something from those of us who are greatful to other human beings.

    Ellen said:

    Maybe Hemant needs to change the blog name if that’s the direction he wants to go.

    This I can agree with. Maybe he does.

  • http://badidea.wordpress.com Bad

    Unbrainwashed, did you even READ the book on which this blog is premised? The whole book is about going out and engaging and listening to religious people. If you only want to hear from atheists, then lock yourself in a room and lecture a mirror. Otherwise, what’s more friendly than a nice cordial dialog?

    The vast majority of blogs are boring enough as echo chambers. It’s not like Mike is running the site: he’s contributing stuff that others respond to. How the heck is that different than Hemant posting his words indirectly and having us respond or talk with him as a commenter?

  • http://www.artcometrue.com ArtComeTrue.com

    i am thankful for the ability to make my own decisions, for the capacity to have an unclouded by convention mind, for choosing because i want to and not because i have to, for living life the way i want, for being guided by what i have in my skull and not by some invisible creature that is somewhere out there, it is simple for me: i am grateful for breathing, for smiling, for those that love me and those that i love, for everything that makes my heart beat and for food, i am grateful for good food :) a lot.

  • http://www.eloquentatheist.com Michael

    How odd that you should ask! Our Thanksgiving column at The Eloquent Atheist on this subject, “A Secular Thanksgiving,” was extremely popular. You can find it at:

    http://www.eloquentatheist.com/?p=117

    I think it is the most StumbleUpon thumbs up we have ever had on a single page. I must say, however, that I was surprised by the number of people that thought Thanksgiving was a secular holiday. I wonder who they thought was originally being thanked? ;o)

    Michael

  • Julie

    What a great question. I look forward to more posts from you.

    This year, I met the love of my life and we are expecting our first child and planning our wedding. (The order is a bit of a reversal, if you’re a Christian, but that’s how we’re doing things!)

    I’ve longed for such a wonderful partnership and a family for most of my adult life, and this year at Thanksgiving, my partner said, “Wow, we really have a lot to be thankful for!” And it is very true.

    I find your second question very intriguing. WHO do we thank? No one–but I certainly understand the need to believe there’s someone in charge, because what’s happened to us is so amazing. But it is actually our common beliefs that have allowed our love to be as great as it is, and we are both atheists. I guess what I mean to say is that our connection seems so wonderful that it is life changing, almost what you would call mystical, and yet we do not think that any higher being has orchestrated this connection for us. We just think it exists.

    We have to think that our growth over the years, the people we’ve met, the experiences we’ve had, and the sheer luck of finding each other at the right time–that’s what we have to thank. There’s no who for us. But that doesn’t make it all any less amazing or magical. So we probably feel the same sort of “divine” gratitude, but it’s just directed at many sources, not one God.

    Really, I can’t believe I am so lucky…but then I just remember how UNlucky I was in love, for so many years, and I think, just merely statistically speaking, I had to lucky SOMEday!

    My partner, after hearing this question, called it the secular version of karma. Then he said, “Just thank me.”

    Julie

  • Richard Wade

    I agree with Mriana and Bad, except that the blog’s name Friendly Atheist makes all the more sense by having Mike contribute. The name would mean nothing if we didn’t engage with theists and at least try to keep the conversation civil. If we’re only friendly with other atheists then so what? With no one but atheists contributing this site could become insular and self-congratulatory, ironically a quality that Duncan finds undesirable in atheists, even as he objects to dialogue that could prevent it.

    Hemant named the site such because of the pervasive and sadly well earned expectation that atheists are not friendly to theists, and he wanted to change that. Check out the link to “Off the Map” where the good-natured dialogue between Mike O., another Christian pastor and Siamang, a contributor there is of high quality and always interesting.

    If you want a mutual agreement society the best thing to do is stay at home and talk to yourself. And you can go be “friendly” with yourself while you’re at it.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Umm… I’m kind of confused. I didn’t know that the name of the site indicated exclusion of non-atheists.

    I stumbled upon this site without knowing what to expect and have met some wonderful people, even the ones who are not so “friendly.” I’ve tried to think of myself as one of you, as I don’t see much difference between us other than the labels that we put on ourselves. There have been times when I thought maybe I don’t belong here with you and/or you don’t like the way I try to identify with you all (especially since I’m a Christian). And maybe one day I will disappear as I have from other blog sites… But for now, there’s something about this place that tugs at my heart.

    Even if I often feel like that strange oddball who keeps coming around when they are not wanted (you know, the outcast who everyone tries to avoid but no one has the heart to tell them the truth), I keep showing up for whatever reason. Glutten for punishment? I don’t know. Maybe I have spiritual Down’s Syndrome (oblivious to what’s really going on.)

    I cannot speak for Mike C., but I’m glad that I’m not the only one who may feel like they don’t completely belong here. I am glad that you’re here, Mike, although I find myself wanting to challenge you all the time. I don’t know why. Please know that I don’t mean any disrespect, and I have no motive other than getting closer to the truth (I hope).

    I am curious, though, and forgive me for asking but… Mike, why are you here in the first place? What is your motivation for sticking around and now agreeing to be one of the authors? What is your agenda? Don’t say you don’t have one, because everyone has an agenda if you are really willing to be honest. From the looks of it, it’s not that you have an abundance amount of time to waste. What do you hope to accomplish? And why this particular blog? I only ask because these are the questions that I ask myself everyday. Maybe you can shed some light on my own motives… You may have answered these questions before, and I apologize if I’m making you repeat yourself.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Thank goodness for fair elections and truthful journalism.

    I would, if such mythical entities actually existed. ;)

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    I’m thankful for those of you who have provided such thoughtful, illuminating and encouraging answers. I’m thankful that you took my question seriously as an honest inquiry and not an attempt to “preach” at you (as Ellen, Duncan and The Unbrainwashed seem to fear it was – though I’d point out that my question is actually inviting you all to preach at me, not vice versa).

    I’m also thankful for those of you who, instead of telling me about your beliefs and practices regarding thankfulness, instead took the opportunity to rip on theistic beliefs and practices. I’m thankful because, as Emily Dickinson once said, the winter helps us appreciate the spring all the more. :)

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    I am curious, though, and forgive me for asking but… Mike, why are you here in the first place? What is your motivation for sticking around and now agreeing to be one of the authors? What is your agenda? Don’t say you don’t have one, because everyone has an agenda if you are really willing to be honest. From the looks of it, it’s not that you have an abundance amount of time to waste. What do you hope to accomplish? And why this particular blog?

    I’m here because I enjoy good discussions, I like getting glimpses of how other people view the world, and I like having my own beliefs tested. As I said, my own beliefs have been refined and improved because of the conversations I’ve had here over the past year. I gain insight and good questions from them that force me to rethink aspects of my own worldview. That is valuable to me.

    I’m at this particular blog because Hemant is a friend of mine. He came to our church as part of his original eBay atheist project and we’ve stayed in touch ever since. I joined in the conversation on the original eBay Atheist blog, migrated to the Off the Map message boards, and have currently landed here. I have found his insights about churches helpful and appreciate the overall attitude with which he engages Christians about his own beliefs.

    And you’re right that I probably don’t have the time to spend here, but hey, what can I say? I’m an internet addict. ;)

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    Mike Clawson,

    I appreciate (and am thankful) your participation in this blog site. I have the following question for a future post… Can Christianity reach out to people who are not going to (ever) believe that accepting Jesus Christ as your personal savior is the ONLY way to avoid going to hell? Could there be such a thing as Christianity without the heaven/hell/saved component? Or is Christianity meaningless without the “saved” concept? Food for thought for this season of thanksgiving.

    Jeff

  • Mriana

    Jeff,

    Not to step on Mike’s toes, but I can help with this question a little.

    I don’t ascribe to it, but I highly respect those who do and I’ve mentioned them several times on Hemant’s blog- Sea of Faith, Freeman, Spong, Cupitt, Borg, and others all have non-theistic beliefs, yet have a philosophical X-ianity called non-realism. You can check it out here: http://www.sofn.org.uk/ , read Anthony Freeman’s book called “God in Us: A Case for Christian Humanism”, any of Spong or Cupitt’s books… Even on the website god is unreal.

    You would have to really study it to understand it, but it’s almost like the Unitarian concept.

    The reason why I don’t ascribe to it, is I don’t know why non-theists/Humanists would use non-realism. I understand Religious Humanist (like Bob Price) far better. They don’t believe, but they can enjoy the worship service or read the Bible, as mythology, even so. Although, I see his point with Don Cupitt in this article and I can complete agree with what Bob says: http://secularhumanism.org/library/fi/price_22_3.htm Regardless, it’s all a human concept. Ironically, Bob and I are on the same wavelength, but Spong and I are not, yet we get along even so.

    Anyway, those are some examples to answer what you are asking. So, to the Sea of Faithers and alike, no, Christianity is not meaningless without the “saved” concept nor is it meaningless without the heaven and hell concepts. It’s not even meaningless without the God concept.

    I’m not a SoF person, I understand them, but I don’t ascribe to it. Price is more my speed. :lol:

  • Nancy

    I am thankful that my 91 year old Dad is still with me. I am thankful for my job, my friends and my family. I am thankful that I am able to be who I am without fear.

    I thank, most of all, my sister. Without her, I don’t think I would have survived this long in my life. She is my best friend, my confidant, my anchor and my bouy.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Can Christianity reach out to people who are not going to (ever) believe that accepting Jesus Christ as your personal savior is the ONLY way to avoid going to hell? Could there be such a thing as Christianity without the heaven/hell/saved component? Or is Christianity meaningless without the “saved” concept?

    Good question Jeff! I’d like to think that we can reach out, since I personally don’t think that “salvation” primarily has to do with the whole “heaven/hell” thing. Being “saved”, IMHO, doesn’t primarily mean “being saved from Hell”. Being saved, again IMHO (which a friend once suggested should stand for “In My Heretical Opinion” :) ), means God’s action to rescue us from the personal and systemic evils and injustices that we humans are so good at inflicting on ourselves first and foremost in the here and now. And since I think God desires to rescue all people, not just people who believe he exists or who believe in his “rescue”, I think that “salvation” is something that can still bring “blessing” to those who will never “accept Jesus”. For instance, if Jesus’ followers were to actually do what he said and really start loving others as ourselves in ways that genuinely made their lives better, then that would bless those people even if they never agreed with our beliefs.

    But this is rather off-topic from my original post, so I probably shouldn’t get too deep into it. :)

  • http://aviewfromtheheart.blogspot.com Linda

    Mike Clawson,

    Thank you for answering my questions. It’s a great answer. :-)

    But this is rather off-topic from my original post, so I probably shouldn’t get too deep into it.

    I always wondered about that… Is it frowned upon to get off topic around here? I never know what the rules are, not that I intend to follow them. ;-) I was always one for letting the conversation flow wherever it may. For instance, on one of the blog discussions I’ve had in the past, someone made an analogy comparing something to Play-Doh. Then I suddenly got interested in talking about Plato. It’s fun to go off on tangents like that, no? :-)

    Just asking…

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    Mike,

    I hope to get more into this in a future post dedicated to this topic. I think it would find lots of traction with lots of people. In my heretical opinion, the salvation of Christianity itself will be with dropping all notions of an afterlife. And where being “saved”, as you say, will all be about the here and now. Then it would actually mean something for people like me. We would still disagree as to whether “it” comes from God or from an agreed upon good psychology, but our outward behavior would be the same. That would be a blessing ;)

    Jeff

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Don’t get me wrong Jeff, I still believe in an afterlife. I just don’t think it’s the main point of Christianity – more like an added bonus, or just one piece of the pie.

    But as for a dedicated post on the topic, I’m not sure I can guarantee that. I really don’t intend for my posts here to be about my beliefs. This is the Friendly Atheist blog. It wouldn’t make sense for me to post things that are primarily about Christian beliefs. I’d rather keep it more focused on atheism. For instance I already hear plenty at this site about what atheists don’t believe in (e.g. all the poking fun at/griping about theists). Now I want to hear more about what you do believe in.

  • Mriana

    No, it was I who said the Sea of Faith doesn’t believe in an afterlife- or something to that affect.

  • Maria

    Mike, I’m glad to see you here.

    I don’t really see the value in having conversations such as this where a theist asks us to defend our views, on an atheist blog.

    And where exactly has he asked you to “defend your views”? show me please.

    Unbrainwashed, did you even READ the book on which this blog is premised? The whole book is about going out and engaging and listening to religious people. If you only want to hear from atheists, then lock yourself in a room and lecture a mirror. Otherwise, what’s more friendly than a nice cordial dialog?

    I agree. So many keep saying “oh if only theists would talk to us and listen to us and be open and nice” and yet when one is, that’s not good enough either. The term “friendly” is supposed to reach out to everyone.

    The vast majority of blogs are boring enough as echo chambers. It’s not like Mike is running the site: he’s contributing stuff that others respond to. How the heck is that different than Hemant posting his words indirectly and having us respond or talk with him as a commenter?

    agreed

    I agree with Mriana and Bad, except that the blog’s name Friendly Atheist makes all the more sense by having Mike contribute. The name would mean nothing if we didn’t engage with theists and at least try to keep the conversation civil. If we’re only friendly with other atheists then so what? With no one but atheists contributing this site could become insular and self-congratulatory, ironically a quality that Duncan finds undesirable in atheists, even as he objects to dialogue that could prevent it.

    Hemant named the site such because of the pervasive and sadly well earned expectation that atheists are not friendly to theists, and he wanted to change that. Check out the link to “Off the Map” where the good-natured dialogue between Mike O., another Christian pastor and Siamang, a contributor there is of high quality and always interesting.

    If you want a mutual agreement society the best thing to do is stay at home and talk to yourself. And you can go be “friendly” with yourself while you’re at it.

    LOL, well said.

  • The Unbrainwashed

    I’m not deploring Mike’s willingness to engage in friendly discourse. Read my original post – I say nothing antagonistic, rather, I even compliment Mike for being open. I believe most of the responses to my original post have not read my actual post and just imagined that I mirrored the angry atheist stereotype. Instead, I merely stated that having a Christian blogger on a website about atheism is not a welcome addition. There are plenty of forums and websites that encourage this type of discourse. I had imagined that the Friendly Atheist was a site to espouse atheistic views in a genial manner. A Christian blogger is only necessary if one’s motivation is understanding rather than a place for news and commentary.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ miller

    Well said, Unbrainwashed. But I’m going to counterpoint. Yes, Hemant usually sticks to news and commentary, but the comment threads often contain lively discussion, occasionally including friendly theists like Mike here. For Mike to bring some of that to the front really isn’t entirely out of character for the blog unless one was used to only reading the main posts.

    In any case, it doesn’t matter what the “motivation” of the blog is — it matters what the blog, in fact, is. You like what you like in the end.

  • Richard Wade

    The Unbrainwashed, I went back and re-read your first comment, and I don’t understand a few things:

    I come here for (occasionally irreverent) atheist news and commentary. I don’t come here to gain a better understanding of Christians or engage in dialogue with them.

    There is news and commentary and there is also dialogue attempting better understanding. What the site offers is not limited to what you come here for. I come here for both. These two main categories have been important aspects since Hemant started this site. The four earliest content postings back in June 2006 are entitled,
    “Dialogue at Parkview Christian Church”
    “Creationism for my Child’s Teacher”
    “Pastor Tim’s Response”
    “Obama, Alabama, Etc.”
    So the first one is a dialoge with a Christian pastor, the second is a controversial issue, the third, another dialogue with a Chirstian pastor and the fourth is about religion in politics.

    Its nice to have a secluded site where one needn’t expound on one’s beliefs. Unfortunately with the inclusion of Mike as a blogger, that environment no longer exists.

    Secluded? Last time I looked the door was wide open and hundreds of Christians of all makes and models have been coming in here, some preaching like biblebots, some being snide and superior, some just curious and open-hearted, and some very knowledgeable and respectful, with interesting angles on issues that I at least would never have considered.

    Take the question that Mike has asked on this post. I’m sure that neither Hemant nor I would have ever asked such a question, but it has generated a very interesting and uplifting series of comments.

    Unbrainwashed, you always speak to Mike C with respect and you seem to enjoy the exchanges, so I don’t understand why his being a contributor spoils this site for you. The site is more than what you have described, although you have participated in positive ways in all of its various activities.

    Just as Mike says this challenging interaction clarifies his views and makes him a better Christian, it makes me a better atheist.

  • JeffN

    miller said,

    November 25, 2007 at 2:03 am

    You like what you like in the end.

    I will agree with you on the above statement. No matter the argument or discussion every one leaves thinking and believing pretty much as they did when they began which leaves me asking the question to some of you; if your going to leave with the views you came with and no one is trying to change them for you or challenge your right to have them what is wrong with an exchange of opinions and thoughts evan if they are not the same as yours. to those to whom this post applies i ask does thoughts and views that differ from yours scare you that much. I have read both Mike Cs. answers to Atheist questions and his first (anyway) question to atheists and believe most of you to be very willing to exchange ideas and opinions even if you don’t agree with some of them which is your right; but to the very few this post is intended i have only this to say you give atheism a bad name in as much as Christians who come preaching with no concern thought or willingness to learn of the views of others give Christianity a bad name. I so pose weather Christian, Atheist or something in between some well always hold to intolerance and bigotry. To the majority of you on this site to whom this post is not aimed at I hope that you will not take this post to hart and thank you for allowing me the opportunity to vent (just a little). :-)

  • Pingback: Blogging Thanksgiving 2007 at Blogging Times @ XY35.COM

  • K

    “That’s selfish and self-centered too.”

    To say that I’m glad that I got off my butt and did something with myself when I could have wallowed in laziness? Yeah, ok, I’m a selfish pig. At least I’m not trying to make a historical holiday all about me, which is the point you missed. Not only am I selfish (your definition, not mine), I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished. I worked damn hard and came from a life a squalor with no help from anyone, so yeah, proud and selfish, LOL LOL LOL

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    The Unbrainwashed, I agree with you. I’ve already thought that if Mike starts posting more than once a month or so, I probably won’t come to this blog any more. Mike seems like a nice, reasonable guy but I am not interested in reading Christian commentary on an atheist blog. I went to church for over half of my life and, yes, I’ve read Hemant’s book. But I don’t need to have more church experiences at this point. I’m finished with that.

  • Mriana

    K, surely there was someone who gave you a boost along the way.

    Writerdd, where did Mike give a X-ian commentary? He explained his reason why he asked, but I saw no commentary. Nor did he preach anything.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Writerdd, I didn’t realize you were so allergic to interactions with Christians. I’ve already promised not to preach at you guys or go on about Christian doctrine. As I mentioned, the whole point of this post was to give you guys an opportunity to talk about your beliefs, not mine. I’m not sure what else I can do. Hemant asked me to post about once a week. I sincerely hope that doesn’t drive you away.

  • Mriana

    Writerdd, I didn’t realize you were so allergic to interactions with Christians.

    Oh dear! I hope she’s not a vampire. :lol: (I’m just teasing, writerdd.)

    I’ve already promised not to preach at you guys or go on about Christian doctrine.

    Either she hasn’t seen all your previous posts or she has been hurt so badly that it takes her a lot longer to trust those who are religious. It took me a few years and I still sit back and watch before I say anything.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    What I believe…

    I wonder…. Has there ever been a religion where the central premise (for an afterlife) is that the only people admitted are the righteous that sincerely don’t believe in an afterlife? Quite frankly, if I were God, and wanted to set-up a short-lived finite world and an eternally existing “after world” where only the righteous gain admittance, I would set it up that way. Only then could I ensure that the behavior of the people in the finite world was truly altruistic and non-selfish (without people angling for the afterlife with faux good behavior). It would even be nice to have all the teachings of Jesus, just without the corrupting eternal salvation… Yes, that’s the way I would do it. If there is a God, I would believe that he would set it up just like that.

    Of course, I don’t really believe that ;)

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Has there ever been a religion where the central premise (for an afterlife) is that the only people admitted are the righteous that sincerely don’t believe in an afterlife?

    No, but I have a Christian universalist friend who thinks that everyone immediately goes to heaven except Christian exclusivists who think anyone who doesn’t believe exactly like them goes to hell. :) (Though he would say that even they get to go to heaven eventually… after a few years in “purgatory”.)

    It would even be nice to have all the teachings of Jesus, just without the corrupting eternal salvation…

    See, that’s just it, I don’t think Jesus actually did talk much about “eternal salvation” in the sense of an afterlife – especially when you realize that phrases that he did use, like “eternal life” is better translated as “life of the ages” and has more to do with a quality of life in the here and now, rather than an extension of life in the hereafter. (Likewise with the phrase “kingdom of heaven”.)

  • Elaine

    Just happy to be here. Grateful to my intellect and powers of reason. Appreciative of my circumstances, including past experiences that have brought me to this point. People in my life who accept and support me. A busy life in a marvelous world full of variety and fascinating news each day. Unlimited potential. At the same time, I am unmindful of “why” I’m here or “why” I have an intellect or “where” I’ll “go” “after” death. Just glad I can make a contribution. I think that’s more than enough.

  • Dina S.

    Clawson,

    I applaud your seeming fearlessness in posting here. I guess you were invited to do so. You seem to pose some interesting questions on thankfulness. As I had been a religious person for several years, I know that your ‘thankfulness’ or ‘gratitude’ question is a type of trap. You’ll probably deny that, but that’s okay. I’ll allow you to play that game. As an atheist, I’m freed from the trap that you’ve set; yet, the irony is that you’re caught in it yourself and you’re completely blind to it. I invite you to free yourself, join us, the atheists–we have love, we have life, we have humor, goodness. I have a sense that you’re headed our way.

    Religious gratitude, though often posed in a very innocent-sounding manner, is no more than a kind of groveling, prostrating sentiment deeply rooted in guilt. Guilt? Yes, guilt. As a religious person, you are taught to feel guilty (guilty gratitude) via and through what you know as the cross with it’s attendant denotations of death and suffering. Suffering and guilt, the sado-masochistic twins, underlie expressions of thankfulness for many believers. Though I hesitate to blanket all believers with the same statement. Sometimes, there can be a kind of transcendence, beyond scripture that is almost universal in its outreach. Clawson, you show up with your somewhat pompous pseudo-spiritual yammering about thankfulness. Of course, you probably believe it’s assumed that you are the scion of thankfulness since you believe yourself to be a . . . what was it? . . . a pastor? Careful, the sheep are ON TO YOU. At some level, they know they’re already free without doctrine.

    I imagine that you might respond this way: “But you did not answer my question, just what is an atheist thankful for?” Okay, but I warn you that I don’t traffic in guilt or in trying to hammer confessions of the same from humankind. Generally, people have enough issues, I think. I am mindful that each day for me is a new day, one of discovery, from the rising of the sun to the setting of the same. I see my family, other persons, woodland creatures, feel the sun on my skin, breathe relatively clean air and say, “It’s great to be alive, it’s great to be human.” I’m free to feel true compassion, to respectfully exist upon the earth. I love the earth, I belong to it. Clawson, do you like the earth? Some atheists might even venture that they feel whole, they are the measure of their existence, therefore they are free–truly free–to be, to create, to go beyond groveling THANKFULNESS, free to GROW UP into true APPRECIATION for themselves, for life, for others. When I was religious, I could not appreciate anything; all things were held suspect, divided between good and evil. As an atheist, I’m not pummeled with guilt from a steady dose of doctrine; therefore, I don’t feel forced to pretend that I HAVE to FEEL Thankful. A religionist will often draw upon the thankfulness card time and again (irrespective of whether or not he or she is actually thankful), even though he or she knows that beneath it lies a cauldron of smoldering guilt. At least, I can be natural about it.

    Be free.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Welcome Dina!

    You make a lot of assumptions about me and my motivations. Unfortunately your psychoanalysis doesn’t really ring true to me. Sorry. You may want to get to know me a little bit before making such definitive pronouncements about my emotional life and the character of my personal faith. Keep in mind that not all of us have had the same kind of religious experiences that you seem to have had. I don’t wish to make assumptions about you either, but it seems like maybe you’re projecting just a little bit?

    At any rate, you are welcome here. Feel free to pull up a chair and chat a bit.

  • http://aviewfromtheheart.blogspot.com Linda

    Dina S.,

    You are so wrong on so many levels, I don’t even know where to begin. Mike never claimed that he was “religious.” I don’t know where you have been or how you have been hurt by religious leaders; but I assure you, not all Christians are alike nor do we deny you your right to hate religion. I have been hurt by those in leadership as well, but I have been very fortunate to find and be nurtured by a fellowship who follow the true voice of Christ, which gives us true freedom. Freedom in the truth.

    You say “Be free.” But are you truly free? If you were, you would not still be holding onto that pain that is so apparent in your writing. True freedom brings us to forgiveness and love.

  • Mriana

    You say “Be free.” But are you truly free? If you were, you would not still be holding onto that pain that is so apparent in your writing. True freedom brings us to forgiveness and love.

    Linda is right, Dina. Yes, a Humanist/non-theist agreed with a theist. You can be cautious- just as you would with anyone else you don’t know, but you don’t have to avoid or fear people because they are this or that. It is possible to say “OK, so they are a Christian, but what is their character?” I have Christian friends who view me as more Christian than some Christians, so it is possible to be friends with the religious and not have their beliefs or be hurt by them. Not everyone demands one believes the same thing as they do.

    I can assure you, Dina, from what I have seen of Linda and Mike, they are people with good hearts and that is what really matters. They have no wish to beat you with the Bible and guilt while they force you to change. They don’t always agree with everyone, but who does?

  • http://ecstathy.blogspot.com Efrique

    What about things like good health, fortunate financial circumstances, life and liberty and happiness, etc.?

    You correctly identify one of the major causes in your question – fortune. When one has good fortune, such as fortunate circumstances, it’s luck. To the extent that these things are luck, I am glad to be lucky. You can think of that gladness as thankfulness (I often do) without really meaning anything more than appreciation of one’s undeserved circumstances, just as I would be if I won a dollar on the toss of a coin (even were I still inclined to believe as I did as a child, I would not expect that the hand of God would be involved in so pathetic a circumstance as the toss of a coin for a dollar, but merely to happenstance – nowadays, with my better understanding of probability, I extend the class of things I attribute to happenstance).

    Of course, it’s not entirely luck – to the extent that my good health is due to the care of my (atheist) physician, I am grateful to him, and to the several physicians I had before. To the extent that it’s caused by the modern understanding of the need for sanitation and nutrition, I am grateful to people like Snow (the guy that figured out that the Broad St pump handle should be removed) and those that followed. And so on.

    In other words, I am grateful to anyone that had a hand in my good circumstances, and for the rest, I am happy for my good fortune. One the other hand, I don’t need to wonder at the cause for my bad fortune, either.

  • http://dreyksune.livejournal.com Nicholas Svara

    Mr. Clawson,

    I don’t know if, at this point, you are still monitoring this discussion, and I apologize for adding my thoughts so late. Unfortunately, like many, the phrasing you used in asking this question made me extremely upset, and several with better control of their emotions have pointed their dissatisfaction with your statement. Unfortunately, the responses you have made do not, to my mind, show that you understand the problem which, ultimately, is why communication between “the believers” and “the non-believers” is so regularly made impossible. I urge you to take a moment to consider the following, and try and understand why your statement comes across as preaching, not simply asking.

    My wife has been read a few books by the Dahli Lama. One of the books he has written is entitled, “An Open Heart; practicing compassion in everyday life.” Since you are not a Tibetian Bhuddist, how can you claim you feel compassion for people? Should you not refer to it as “Being Somewhat Nice”?

    Sir, I don’t doubt that you feel that is a silly question, but is it? The Dahli Lama has written a book on compassion, and he is a Bhuddist. Therefore, does Bhuddism not have the right to claim compassion as a solely Bhuddist trait?

    I assume you agree with me, and say no; compassion is something that all people can feel. The Dhali Lama simply has one perception on how it can be achieved.

    Yet, your statement was ended with: “Or does it even make sense for an atheist to be “thankful” for such things? Perhaps you should simply feel “glad” but not “thankful” per se.”

    I suggest to you that by posing what was clearly intended to be a rhetorical question, you added a sermon to your query. The implication that I unfortuantely read was that, in order to feel gratitude for what one has in life, one must be directly grateful to someone or something. Because we lack a divine being to be thankful to, it is surprising or odd that we can feel gratitude. But “being thankful” is no more a Christian thought than “being compassionate” is a Bhuddist thought or “being jolly” is a heavy drinker’s thought.

    You thanked people for their attacks on you, rather than being upset by then, which I respect greatly. But I feel that, in addition to accepting their attacks, it is important for you to let us know if you understand why they would be upset.

    Ultimately, I believe you wanted to simply ask, “It’s Thanksgiving; what are you thankful for?” You added the fact that we didn’t believe what you did, which implied that you couldn’t understand us because we were somehow “wrong”. And from what I’ve read from you, I doubt that’s the case.

    Thank you for your time.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Nicholas I’m sorry if I offended you. From your comment however, it really appears that you’ve misinterpreted my intent. I apologize for miscommunicating. Please allow me to clarify.

    You said:

    Yet, your statement was ended with: “Or does it even make sense for an atheist to be “thankful” for such things? Perhaps you should simply feel “glad” but not “thankful” per se.”

    I suggest to you that by posing what was clearly intended to be a rhetorical question, you added a sermon to your query. The implication that I unfortuantely read was that, in order to feel gratitude for what one has in life, one must be directly grateful to someone or something. Because we lack a divine being to be thankful to, it is surprising or odd that we can feel gratitude. But “being thankful” is no more a Christian thought than “being compassionate” is a Bhuddist thought or “being jolly” is a heavy drinker’s thought.

    First off, it was not at all a rhetorical question. I was not stating that as my opinion; I was simply throwing out one possible response that someone might give. And since many of the atheists here have said exactly that (i.e. that they “feel glad but not thankful”) I assume it wasn’t exactly an offensive suggestion.

    Secondly, I never said nor meant to imply that it is odd for atheists to feel thankful. And I never said nor meant to imply that gratitude is an exclusively Christian trait. I feel like you are reading a hostile intent into my words that was not there. You have interpreted my question as “Because [atheists] lack a divine being to be thankful to, it is surprising or odd that [you] can feel gratitude.” But that was not what I meant. What I meant was simply that all people feel gratitude (nothing surprising or odd about that), but that the way we use the word “gratitude” in the English language very often seems to imply an object or recipient of that gratitude. So it doesn’t seem like it should be strange or offensive for me to wonder who atheists are grateful to. As we’ve seen, some (like yourself) have suggested that “gratitude” doesn’t need a recipient, and others agreed that “glad” is a better term for the emotion than “thankfulness”. Both seem like reasonable answers to me, and I don’t see why either perspective ought to be considered offensive. Personally I didn’t suggest that I agreed with one or the other, or that one or the other was “right” or “wrong”. I simply asked the question because I was curious how others might respond.

    Ultimately, I believe you wanted to simply ask, “It’s Thanksgiving; what are you thankful for?” You added the fact that we didn’t believe what you did, which implied that you couldn’t understand us because we were somehow “wrong”. And from what I’ve read from you, I doubt that’s the case.

    You’re right to doubt because that’s not what I was implying. I never said anyone was “wrong”. My question had nothing to do with right or wrong answers. I simply wanted to “try on a different set of lenses”, as it were. I look at the world through theist lenses. Others here look through atheist lenses. I know what gratitude looks like through a theist lens, but I wanted to know what it looks like through the atheist lens. They’re not right or wrong, IMHO, they’re just different – and I enjoy understanding differences.

    I hope that clarifies. Again, I apologize for miscommunicating.

  • Mriana

    I think some people get offended too easily. :(

  • Paul

    What a fantastic Blog.
    I think this list of thanks is fantastic.

    I’m sort of out of my territory here. Im from the UK (The Midlands in England – Birmingham to be exact)
    I’m thankful for sites like this – and although I have many reason for that, i’ll give you two.

    1) Because being an Atheist is very lonely. I appreciate that there are many of us (The UK has a very high %pro-rata) but we aren’t drawn together in a “common cause”. Being an Atheist isn’t something that naturally brings people together.I mean what would a room full of Atheists talk about, we don’t neccassarily have anything else in common.
    Atheist Humanitarianism groups in the UK do a reasonable job, but worldwide, the more exposure the better.

    2)Engaging Theists in a rational discourse. Answering politely when they ask civil question. Offering no aggressive “Evangelical Atheist” diatribe either.

    In other words being honest, open and human. Humility and respect simply because we genuinely respect the right of people to believe – with the caveat that they should reciprocate.

    I was sorry to read from one poster that he did not come here to speak with theists. For me open and honest discourse is wonderful (oh how I wish a god DID exist, esspecially for my childrens sake) and if I’m given proper proof one day that he is, then I will convert in an instant.
    Though I am more certain that that WON’T happen than just about anything else.

    So finally I’m thankful for my friends and family (many of whom are theists) – whom I love dearly.

    My thoughts to you all in the US. We know how much tougher it is over there to be openly Atheist. Keep the flame of science and rationality burning.

  • Richard Wade

    Nice to hear from you Paul. Your list of things for which you are thankful speaks well for the good person you must be. Your family and friends are lucky to have you. Thank you for your kind thoughts from across the pond. It is difficult and even risky to be open about our views here in the U.S. but it’s slowly getting easier, and it is exciting to be a small part of that. Please bring your positive attitude to other more recent threads on this site. We can always use another friendly person.


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