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Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving! November 25, 2021

I thought I would repost something I wrote quite a number of years ago now. It is about thanksgiving rather than Thanksgiving, but the latter gets a mention and so I thought it appropriate for this occasion…

Thanksgiving reduces the need for theodicy.

I don’t mean the holiday that is celebrated in the United States today – although presumably one could attempt to formulate an argument for the existence of a supremely benevolent deity on the basis of turkey, cranberry sauce and stuffing. But those with scarcely enough to survive could legitimately question whether the argument is valid, based as it is on such a small segment of human experience. Nevertheless, even if it wasn’t the most persuasive argument for the existence of God, it might well be the most delicious.

But what preachers sometimes call ‘an attitude of gratitude’ can change one’s outlook; while on the other hand, it is possible to be ungrateful even in the midst of abundance.

As a rule, I don’t thank God for things the same way I might thank a benevolent donor who gave me a large sum of money to support my blogging habit (That hasn’t happened yet, but it can’t hurt to fantasize – and to drop hints). When someone remains healthy when everyone else around them gets sick, or survives a plane crash when others were killed, and thanks God and talks of how good God has been to them, I have serious problems with the implicit corollary: that God has been bad to the other people in the situation. For me, the point is to be thankful – not to thank God as though you have been singled out for abundance and others singled out for want. It is something of an accident of history and circumstance that some in our time have born into relative affluence and others into extreme poverty. The appropriate response is to be grateful for whatever one has, and to realize our own responsibility for ensuring that resources are equitably shared. It is easy to point to the billions in India and China and blame population size. But the truth is that all of them together do not consume what we do in North America. Let us all be thankful that we have a world that provides for us in abundance, and let us all work together to figure out ways to ensure that, with all this abundance available, no one has to do completely without the basic necessities of life.

Does this scenario take the idea of God as parent a bit too far? Perhaps it doesn’t take the metaphor quite far enough. If our parents never let us fail, never let us mess things up, there are some lessons we will never learn. I have long felt Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s ideas to be incredibly challenging. Bonhoeffer suggested that God desires mature children, who can get along without him. God, according to Bonhoeffer, wants us to live before God as though God were not there – etsi Deus non daretur. It is a shocking idea when one first hears it, but the more one reflects on it, the more it seems obvious rather than shocking.

Skeptics who reject the idea of God on the basis of the problem of evil sometimes remind me of adolescent children – begrudging a parent’s intervention as meddling, begrudging lack of intervention as lack of concern, unhappy and complaining either way. For those who look on the world without thankfulness, neither the idea that God is acting nor the idea that God isn’t is satisfying. But they do have a point. In one sense, it is all too easy to attribute one’s abundance to God – certainly much easier than treating it as simply good fortune, which comes accompanied with responsibility for those who have been less fortunate.

I don’t want to offer a free-will defense that seeks to protect God from blame for various misfortunes and disasters that humankind has experienced. I simply want to be thankful – for a universe that has produced not only life but us, with the free will that we so often use so poorly, and with enough resources to sustain us all if we can only figure out how to deal with them and with one another equitably.

It is a great responsibility and a great challenge. But it is also a lot to be thankful for.

I wrote something else, much shorter, on this topic here:

Theodicy and Thanksgiving

Also of related interest:

Arrogant Thanksgiving?

Turkey Theology for Thanksgiving

Review of The First Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Cycle of Thanksgiving

And since that last one features an image from the John Templeton Foundation, let me also share here an article about some more recent research the Templeton Foundation has done on gratitude.

From other bloggers:

Gift and Gratitude

What if Thanksgiving were a time to celebrate the natural creation?

How Thanksgiving became a capitalist holiday

Survey: Most Americans Don’t Blame God for Suffering and Evil in the World

Every Perfect Gift

A Thanksgiving Reflection, 2021

 


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