Giving Thanks? To Whom?
Next week we celebrate Thanksgiving. By "we" I mean most Americans. "Celebrate" will have many different meanings.
On Thanksgiving Day, some will gather with family and friends around tables piled high with food. Others will gather in church basements and in shelters handing out smaller portions of food to those with few if any family or friends. Some will gather in loud stadiums or around large TVs to watch football games. Others will quietly enjoy a long weekend off from work.
For all those things, and for many more, people will give thanks.
Although Thanksgiving isn't a specifically Christian holiday, many Christians will gather for worship either Thursday morning or the night before. But for those who don't believe in the God of the Bible, or in any deity at all, I have to wonder if Thanksgiving Day matters as anything more than part of a long weekend, big games, or big meals.
What really puzzles me is: When non-believers celebrate Thanksgiving Day, to whom do they give thanks?
Do they thank themselves for their own good fortune? Do they bow down and offer thanks to random mutation and natural selection, the dual deities of Darwinism? Do they thank the Universe, an upper-case, anthropomorphization of the total contents of the cosmos?
Don't dismiss that last one too quickly. It may not be quite as far-fetched as you'd think.
Just such a system of belief is articulated in the November 14, 2014 issue of Time magazine. In an article about the movie Interstellar, Jeffrey Kluger writes:
"Big cosmology has become our secular religion, a church even atheists can join. It addresses many of the same questions religion does: Why are we here? How did it all begin? What comes next? And even if you can barely understand the answers when you get them, well, you've heard of a thing called faith, right?"
He continues, "Like religion, cosmology has its high priests: Einstein and Hawking - people who, like Muhammad and Jesus, don't even need second names. It has lesser priests as well: Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson - the great communicators. It has its storytellers too, none more powerful than those in Hollywood."
Kluger's observations are insightful, worthy of more extended discussion than I can give them here. In future issues of Theology Matters and in articles on our website, one of the ideas I hope to explore from time to time is the many and varied connections and interactions between Christian faith and contemporary science.
But those are topics for another day. To get back to the question at hand, to whom can devotees of atheistic religions such as Kluger describes (and to his credit he does recognize this collection of beliefs and practices as a religion) really give thanks for things like life and health, food and football, family and friends?
After all, by its very nature, the act of giving thanks is personal. Thanks is given to another person, or persons. We don't thank a table for being filled with food. We thank those who put the food on the table. We don't thank an abstract concept, inanimate object, or postulated process. We thank a person.
In fact, as Christians, we give thanks to three persons - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We thank the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of all that exists outside the Trinity, which is to say, the Universe. It's because we worship a personal God that we as Christians can, and should, give thanks.
In Psalm 107:1 we read, "Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!"
As the Psalmist recognizes, God's people not only give God thanks for all the gifts he's given and all the things he has done, most notably loving us faithfully even when we're at our most unlovable. Even more important, we thank God because he is good, that is, because in his character and conduct he is goodness itself.
No matter the time of year, God's people benefit from thinking about the things for which we're thankful. But as Thanksgiving approaches, and even as it recedes in our rearview mirrors, let's make a special effort to think about the Person who is Goodness itself; the One from whom we receive all else that is good. Let's think about the God to whom we give our thanks.
 Jeffrey Kluger, "The Art of Science," Time, Vol. 184, No. 18, November 10, 2014, p. 44.
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