The Growth of ‘Secular Grace’ at Thanksgiving

Kimberly Winston explores the growth of “Secular Grace” at Thanksgiving dinner:

No need to look up to say thanks

Secular grace typically recognizes the animals who gave their lives for the feast, the people who prepared the meal and even the elements of nature that contributed to it — earth, water, fire and air. It also usually makes reference to the secular humanist touchstones of community, interdependence and relationships.

And there’s one more key difference between secular grace and the religious kind: Secular grace is not offered as a prayer, but more as a benediction over those present.

“What we do is thank people,” said Zachary Moore, a 33-year-old atheist in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. “Thanksgiving is like a microcosm of your life, when you can look at who has helped you get to the point where you have a family or a close circle of friends you can sit down with. As an atheist, I want to give thanks to those people and everyone around me. That is a real thanksgiving.”

It makes perfect sense. At dinner tonight, there’s no need to give thanks by looking up. Instead, just look around.

(Image via Shutterstock)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • LizzyJessie

    Good food, good meet. Good god, let’s eat!

    • Conuly

      For bacon, eggs, and buttered toast
      Who eats the fastest gets the most!

      • Rain

        Turducken, turducken, what pan are you in.
        Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin.

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    I do the day by myself, by choice but I did make my first turkey this year. So here is a thank you to the turkey and everyone that helped bring it to my oven as it is a very tasty turkey.

  • Rob U

    Whenever we sit down as a family no-one eat until we’ve taken at least a few moments to thank whomever cooked it – if they’re religious I make it a point to do it after they’ve said Grace – its only fair to recognize the efforts of the chef and show some appreciation for the meal they’re about to serve you.

  • Mick

    First the atheist church. Now the secular grace. Can it get any sillier?

    • lonnie

      Not as silly as all the rituals regular religion has.

    • Kevin_Of_Bangor

      You are acting as if the secular grace is something new when it is not.

      • TnkAgn

        It’s called a toast to the host, and friends, new and old. “Grace” is cloying and as Mick says, rather silly.

    • Anat

      You weren’t taught to thank the person who cooked the meal? It’s just good manners.

    • A3Kr0n

      Secular Hymnals!
      Secular potlucks!
      Secular bake sales!

      You could have a secular humanist certified in food safety “bless” food by making sure everything is safe, and animals are treated ethically, as well as the employees, of course.

      • LizzyJessie

        “Blessed” Humanist certified food, eh? I can imagine it now…

        The sacred ritual where an individual arrives at the packing plant wearing the traditional FSM logo’d polo shirt (Darwin fish also acceptable; or no symbols. Hey, it’s secular). After checking that everything has been done as humanely and ethically as possible, the person of honor gives the proper blessing of, “Yeah, alright. That’s cool.”

    • TnkAgn

      With ya, Mick.

    • Rain

      I’m all for it. In spades.

  • thankfulforreality

    After having my mother come over for dinner tonight and harass my kids into saying a religious grace with her, it is nice to read about the rise of the secular grace. Giving thanks to the real people in our lives beats giving thanks to a fictitious, mean-spirited character any day of the week.

  • Daniel_JM

    “Secular grace typically recognizes … the people who prepared the meal and even the elements of nature that contributed to it — earth, water, fire and air.”

    Who knew that the ancient Greek idea of the 4 elements was still alive and well in our secular community? I’m a bit surprised, but that is charming in a quaint sort of way.

  • Rain

    Around here we don’t know if we should thank Jesus for the Pilgrims or thank the Pilgrims for Jesus. We just say the hell with it and jump right to Christmas. That way we avoid the dreaded “turducken” and head straight for the eggnog. Win/win for everyone all the way around.

  • Sophy

    The grace that I composed for backyard barbecues.
    “As we sit to eat our fill
    Thank our host and his big grill.

  • Dan Robinson

    When I was a child we said grace at every meal. As I got older it was relegated to holiday dinners where we usually sang the Doxology. It was a minute to be endured only with the greatest effort on my part. Later as my parents aged Dad would say a blessing on holidays, never at other times. Finally the whole thing just went away and I can at last enjoy holiday meals without enduring that awful moment of phoniness.

    The LAST thing I want to introduce is another pointless ritual!

  • Randay

    “Grace” from Latin “gratia”, “gratus”, meaning “pleasure” according to my Oxford Dictionary.

  • Shiori_hime

    “… the elements of nature that contributed to it — earth, water, fire and air”

    Sounds more Pagan than secular to me. Anyway, the entire “secular grace” concept sounds an awful lot like the actual meaning of the Japanese word/phrase “itadakimasu,” which is often said before meals and has the general meaning of being grateful to everyone and everything involved in getting the food to you, including the people who produced and/or gathered the food, the people who cooked it, and possibly even the food itself (particularly animal products — not sure about plants). In theory “itasakimasu” can include a deity but it doesn’t have to and doesn’t include one by default. Meals are often followed by “gochisousamadeshita,” which is more specifically directed at the people who made the meal. I’m not much for saying any kinds of grace and never was even when I was Catholic, but after living in Japan I got kind of attached to “itadakimasu” for those situations where it seemed right to say something, precisely because it includes gratefulness directed at all the people who actually had a concrete and proveable role in providing the meal.