An Atheist During Thanksgiving Grace

What should atheists do at the dinner table while everyone else is bowing their heads for a Thanksgiving prayer?

Jeffrey Weston explores some options in Ape, Not Monkey:

The full strip is here. I’m partial to the fourth panel :)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=553145445 Gordon Duffy

    I only discovered last year that Thaksgiving was meant to have any religious overtones at all.

    I’ve never been to a Thanksgiving – wrong side of the Atlantic for it – and so it just seemed like a pre-christmas holiday about family and appreciating life (neither of which need the supernatural to justify them)

    • Anonymous

      That’s what it is here in Canada. Little religion if any, no commemoration of colonialism, no prelude to a consumerism orgy. Just fall foods, a turkey or ham, football for those so inclined, and some family get-togethers. It also takes place before Halloween, so there’s no sense of it beginning a month-long holiday season.

  • Anonymous

    The general rules has been: if a grandparent has been at the table (growing up or at the in-laws), they say a prayer. No grandparents: no prayer; perhaps we might say what we are thankful for in our lives without bringing up religion. Then we eat.

  • Deven Kale

    Personally I’ve gotten to the point where I have absolutely no qualms with bowing my head and folding my arms, clasping my hands, or whatever I decide to do. I’ll even say amen afterwards. Considering the fact that the prayer is just a simple little ritual, I don’t believe there’s any harm in it. I also think it’s funny to see what kind of reactions I get when people who know I’m an Atheist see my doing that. Sometimes they’ll even ask why I pray with them, and I consider that an invitation for me to talk about the correlations between Christian prayer and pagan spells and how they’re all just completely ridiculous, but harmless and sometimes fun. :D

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andrew-Irvine/506893850 Andrew Irvine

    I’m from the UK and find the whole idea of celebrating Thanksgiving  bizarre and distasteful. How many Americans realise that they’re celebrating a friendly dinner that their ancestors had with people they then (probably) killed half of with disease and then (definitely) murdered, or made slaves of, the rest.

    The British Army have a terrible history, they invented concentration camps, I can’t imagine celebrating being friends with someone they then conquered. Shouldn’t Atheists be rational about the whole thing and have no part of it, religious or not?

    • Anonymous

      The Pilgrims and similar groups moved to the New World because they faced religious persecution and economic sanctions in England. How can you befriend their descendants in the U.S. when your ancestors treated them so badly?

      • Anonymous

        Not exactly. The Pilgrims left Europe because they couldn’t oppress people like they wanted. They were too crazy even for the Christians there. When they came to America they promptly established a very rigid theocracy.

        The myth that they came to American to have freedom for everyone is just that: a myth. The first colony actually founded with religious freedom in mind was founded by people who fled the Pilgrims. After several of them were executed.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andrew-Irvine/506893850 Andrew Irvine

        As Stev84 says, that is simply not true. It’s also not a good reason to commit genocide. That is a harsh word, but it is the right one to describe the almost entire destruction of the native population.

        The 16th century wasn’t any different from any other century in England, Catholics have been oppressing Protestants and vice-versa from a very long time. I don’t see how that affects my friendship with current US citizens. Should I not befriend African-Americans because of slavery? How does that help? I didn’t do it, I disagree with it and I made my original comment because I believe it is wrong to pretend those things didn’t happen.

        Questioning my actions based on the actions of my ancestors is racism.

        • P. J. Reed

          Questioning my actions based on the actions of my ancestors is racism.

          I think that’s his point.  Why are you questioning modern-day Thanksgiving celebrations based on the actions of our ancestors?

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andrew-Irvine/506893850 Andrew Irvine

            Because thanksgiving celebrates a specific event. It is an action being made now that ignores the real history and celebrates the beginning of a genocidal invasion.

            I don’t hate all Germans because of the events of World War II, but if they celebrated the invasion of Poland as if it was something great, then I would question that. I am not judging people by the actions of other, but by their support of those actions.

            • kyle mclaughlin

              Most people don’t celebrate the specific event, people mainly just celebrate what they are thankful for.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_PWUAB6VWGQWUV4GQTMTPBBU33Q JessicaR

        My ancestors did no such thing. We showed up long after that happened. I also have an adopted brother who is fullblood Navajo. Should I be ashamed to call him brother because hundreds of years ago, people acted like pricks?

  • Anonymous

    Ayn Rand cultists say something interesting about both Thanksgiving & Christmas: These holidays celebrate man’s ability to produce & trade, and to enjoy the fruits of his efforts with the people who matter to him. (I guess that makes America’s April 15 a kind of anti-Thanksgiving/Christmas.) God beliefs don’t necessarily have to apply to these holidays.

    For example: http://www.atlassociety.org/productive-meaning-thanksgiving

    • Tom

      One wonders how quiet they keep about Ayn Rand’s vile attitude towards native Americans and their rights, or lack thereof, while they’re busy allegedly celebrating production and trade and taking pot-shots at communism.  What was done to the native inhabitants of the continent was neither production nor trade on the part of the colonists.  I notice that the linked page itself, for example, is entirely bereft of any reference to native Americans; not even the ones without whose help the settlers would have remained extremely unproductive indeed (acknowledge an inability to survive without depending upon a body of knowledge gleaned over generations by others? Unthinkable!)

  • Usc Fiji

    Too much talking already! Pass the gravy …

  • GodVlogger

    My rule of thumb: if I am a guest at someone else’s home, I sit quietly during their prayer (but without bowing my head or saying Amen or anything).

    But if we are at my own home, then I lead the pre-meal thing, which is that I either thank each person for being here, or I ask each person to say one specific thing that they appreciate or admire about the person sitting to their right.

    • http://criticallyskeptic-dckitty.blogspot.com Katherine Lorraine

      I’m the same way. I don’t say grace, I don’t follow along, but I will sit and be quiet and let everyone else do what they will. It’s only respectful for their beliefs to not be annoying while they’re praying.

  • Anonymous

    I’m still shocked to hear that people actually say grace without even a hint of embarrassment.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jen.wall Jen Wall

    Re: other atheists – that would be my 2 year old nephew, who has taken to calling me out for it. “Auntie Jen, you didn’t DO it!” 

    I’m not explicitly out, but he makes it easier :)

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=21714789 Amy Paggeot

      Somewhat ironically, I had the same experience this Thanksgiving with my eight-year-old niece.  She didn’t call me out on it, however; she gave me a slightly guilty smile and I grinned right back at her while my brother-in-law prattled about giving God praise and glory.  I’m out in my family, so no one is surprised when I don’t obediently bow my head, and this experience reminds me why: my nieces are aware that there are other options out there, and they know they have someone they can talk to about it.  It’s reason enough for being as vocal (though friendly) as I’ve been. 

  • Dan W

    I also like the fourth panel best- it’s what I do during mealtime grace.

    Usually Thanksgiving for me involves visiting some uncles and aunts, but this year it was just my non-religious parents and I. So there was no saying grace this time :)

    • Jwiechmann

      The “prayer” we say at our table is adapted from the one used by Stewie Griffin:

      “Dear Lord: Just stay out of our way!”

  • Stacey C.

    Panel four at our house this year… It was me and my boyfriend sitting quietly as my sister prattled on during grace (which is always longer than it really needs to be) , but I’d like to include my niece who tried to throw potatoes at me instead of saying grace with the rest of my family. Even though she’s 2, I like to think she was looking at me saying “Whatever Ma. I just want to put things in my ears.”

    Even though I’m the oldest, I was “demoted” from mealtime “blessings” because “Rub-a-dub dub, thanks for the grub” is no longer acceptable in your 30′s. Who knew?


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