An Atheist on Thanksgiving
Let me begin by wishing my U.S. readers a happy Thanksgiving. I hope that you enjoy a pleasant day with friends and/or family. As it is a holiday, I just wanted to write a brief post.
Thanksgiving has become a very uncomfortable holiday for atheists. For me, the moment of the day that I always dreaded was the saying of “grace” before the meal. There were a few reasons for this. First, I am an atheist so the idea of praying is silly to me. Second, neither my family nor my wife’s say grace on a regular basis, which made it “something special” that I was not taking part in. Third, somehow I usually get seated next to my wife’s aunt, whose title starts with Sister. Which dovetails into reason number four, I sure as heck am not saying it, so what do I do for the next 10-20 seconds….which is a long time when you are the one standing out (along with my wife).
I am much more at peace with the Thanksgiving grace deal when we eat at my parent’s house (we switch year to year). I suppose the reason is that they know my views, I don’t much care what they think, they don’t expect me to say it, I am not seated next to the person leading the prayer, and I am quite content looking at pictures from my childhood on the wall, while thinking of all the things and people that I am thankful for. I think my wife is also more comfortable at my house during this moment. Our religious views, while completely rejected by parents who attend Catholic mass 4-5 times a week, is very much more out in the open. I suppose you could say our abstention is expected.
This is not the case when we eat at her parent’s house. While they must know our religious views, my wife has never talked about it openly with them. They just don’t do that in her family. They are super friendly but very closed-lipped when it comes to controversial topics. No one wants to upset anyone else. This seems nice on the surface, but the end result is that nothing gets resolved and I end up looking a chump every other year, drooling over the food on the table, seated next to a nun, who is giving the longest grace I have ever heard…
So what do I do at my in-laws? I sit there, and look at pictures on the wall and think of the things and people I am thankful for, the same thing I do at my parent’s house. I don’t mouth the words and I don’t bow my head. At this point in my life, I am not going to pretend that I am “doing it”, as we did 15 years ago (I am 37 by the way). However, I will not be confrontational with anyone on this day—no matter what. Her family would never start it, so no issue there. My mother certainly would, though I will not engage her today. It is not the place for it and would only upset everyone else in the house—from both sides of the theist/atheist aisle (My brother and his wife are also atheists).
The last thing I want to talk about is thankfulness. I have seen so many people on Twitter ask what we atheists would have to be thankful for, how we are all miserable, and asking who would we thank anyway. These are absurd questions. Like everyone else on the planet, atheists are thankful for many things—probably many of the same things that theists are thankful for. Most of us aren’t miserable at all, we enjoy the same things that theists except for the false comfort of a deity. We also have plenty of people in our lives that are worth thanking for what they do for us. To think that this is a day that is completely meaningless to us because we have no interest in thanking an imaginary sky daddy, is in my opinion, to miss the point of Thanksgiving and to ignore the many very real people that you should be thanking.