Arrogant Thanksgiving?

Arrogant Thanksgiving? May 3, 2020

Randal Rauser commented on Twitter about the following meme image, saying ‘There’s nothing “arrogant,” “vain,” or “self-absorbed” about believing that you’ve been granted a blessing and being thankful for it. If you want to see arrogance in action, just look at this tweet.’

 

Here’s the conversation that ensued between me and him in response:

James F. McGrath
@ReligionProf

I disagree. I think the Book of Job and much else in scripture as well as experience highlights the theological problem with claiming that we have avoided suffering while others have not because God favors us. I think one can make this point as a Christian and not an atheist.

Tentative Apologist
@RandalRauser

I never made the claim that people avoid “suffering while others have not because God favors us.” I don’t even know what “favors” means in that context.

James F. McGrath
@ReligionProf

I thought you were commenting on the image, which seems an appropriate response to the belief of some Christians outside the majority world who thank God for providing them with a parking spot at the mall while other Christians have no car, no mall, and little or no money.

Tentative Apologist
@RandalRauser

There isn’t any reason provided in the tweet to interpret “special favors” as only trivial requests. But even so, there is nothing arrogant per se about being thankful for small blessings as well as big ones. That is perfectly consistent with a person being humble and kind.

James F. McGrath
@ReligionProf

Being thankful is one thing. Being thankful that someone chose you over others to receive good things rather than bad is something else.

Tentative Apologist
@RandalRauser

I’m sorry, but you’re simply misreading the meme. The target isn’t people who say “I’m so thankful that God blessed me over you.” The target is people who say “I’m so thankful that God blessed me.” It’s a general critique of providence and thankfulness.

James F. McGrath
@ReligionProf

I think you’re misreading the implications of claiming you have what you do because God has blessed you. It implies something about those who lack what you have.

Tentative Apologist
@RandalRauser

Let’s keep this tethered to the original meme. Are you claiming there are implications that entail anyone who is thankful to God for a blessing is thereby “arrogant,” “vain,” or “self-absorbed”? Because that’s the claim in the meme. And if you agree, on what basis?

James F. McGrath
@ReligionProf

I think that anyone who says they have been blessed because they have experienced X implies that those who have not experienced X have not been blessed. Do you agree? If so, the only question is whether it is arrogant and self-absorbed to do so.

Tentative Apologist
@RandalRauser
I am thankful that I have been blessed with a career I love, a healthy child, a happy marriage. I know others not blessed in that way I don’t think I am thereby arrogant and self-absorbed. Do you?
James F. McGrath
@ReligionProf
Are you thankful to God for having singled you out to receive those things while others did not? It is possible to be thankful without being thankful to an anthropomorphic deity for arranging everything precisely to your advantage at the expense of others.

And then a bit later…

Tentative Apologist
@RandalRauser

So if Jimmy gets a new train for Christmas, his thankfulness to his parents includes, by implication, thankfulness that other children who wanted a train did not receive one? I mean, that just doesn’t follow. Why do you think it does?

James F. McGrath
@ReligionProf

If Jimmy’s siblings also asked for a train and didn’t get one? Do you really believe that while you thank God for providing you with food, no children of the same Heavenly Father experience hunger?

Tentative Apologist
@RandalRauser
Once again, your implication claim is manifestly false. A child can simultaneously be thankful that *he* received a train while also being disappointed that another child did not, and indeed hopeful that the other child will receive something even better.
James F. McGrath
@ReligionProf
 One can be grateful in all circumstances. But to thank a person for giving you what they did not give to others has implications.
Tentative Apologist
@RandalRauser
There are many possible implications, but being grateful that others aren’t blessed need not be one of them. Your position entails that a couple who is grateful to discover they’re pregnant must thereby be joyful that other couples are infertile. Again, that’s clearly false.
James F. McGrath
@ReligionProf
Two points, which I’ve made already but apparently need to repeat: 1) The implication only follows if people attribute their good experience to an anthropomorphic deity. If they do, then saying thank God for my pregnancy does indeed imply something about the infertile.
2) I’ve said all along people ignore this implication of the language they use. They don’t rejoice in the suffering of others. They do, however, make it worse by using language that implies those others are not favored by God the way they are.

What’s your view of this? Was my take or Rauser’s on the meme correct, or perhaps both are possible and neither is “correct”? What else ought to have been said if anything?

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