With the US Thanksgiving holiday coming up I thought it worth repeating this article from 2 years back.
There are many religious ceremonies and prayers giving thanks to a god. I often think these are rude on two grounds:
- I many case these are imposed on people who don’t share the belief in a god (consider our parliamentary prayers, Christian prayers and ’grace’ in a mixed social situations);
- Thanks are directed at a mythical being while the real people responsible for the goodness in the world are ignored.
The later point was made by Daniel C. Dennett in his article THANK GOODNESS! In this he expressed his thanks for recovery from nine hours of serious heart surgery. It’s worth reading the full article but consider this extract:
Yes, I did have an epiphany. I saw with greater clarity than ever before in my life that when I say ’Thank goodness!’ this is not merely a euphemism for ’Thank God!’ (We atheists don’t believe that there is any God to thank.) I really do mean thank goodness! There is a lot of goodness in this world, and more goodness every day, and this fantastic human-made fabric of excellence is genuinely responsible for the fact that I am alive today. It is a worthy recipient of the gratitude I feel today, and I want to celebrate that fact here and now.
To whom, then, do I owe a debt of gratitude? To the cardiologist who has kept me alive and ticking for years, and who swiftly and confidently rejected the original diagnosis of nothing worse than pneumonia. To the surgeons, neurologists, anesthesiologists, and the perfusionist, who kept my systems going for many hours under daunting circumstances. To the dozen or so physician assistants, and to nurses and physical therapists and x-ray technicians and a small army of phlebotomists so deft that you hardly know they are drawing your blood, and the people who brought the meals, kept my room clean, did the mountains of laundry generated by such a messy case, wheel-chaired me to x-ray, and so forth. These people came from Uganda, Kenya, Liberia, Haiti, the Philippines, Croatia, Russia, China, Korea, India–and the United States, of course–and I have never seen more impressive mutual respect, as they helped each other out and checked each other’s work. But for all their teamwork, this local gang could not have done their jobs without the huge background of contributions from others. I remember with gratitude my late friend and Tufts colleague, physicist Allan Cormack, who shared the Nobel Prize for his invention of the c-t scanner. Allan–you have posthumously saved yet another life, but who’s counting? The world is better for the work you did. Thank goodness. Then there is the whole system of medicine, both the science and the technology, without which the best-intentioned efforts of individuals would be roughly useless. So I am grateful to the editorial boards and referees, past and present, of Science, Nature, Journal of the American Medical Association, Lancet, and all the other institutions of science and medicine that keep churning out improvements, detecting and correcting flaws.
What a wonderful approach! It really does show how inadequate the religious ceremonies of thanks are. Next time someone tries to impose a religious prayer to ’Thank God’ for a meal I suggest replacing it with thanks to the people responsible for the meal, the production and transport of the food, the researchers who made this production possible and society in general for all the goodness that is out there.
’Let us pray . . . ’
What do we teach our children?
Religion and Schools
Atheism and religious diversity
Discrimination at school
Christian prayer problems
Destiny of Christian privilege?
Trends in religious belief in New Zealand
Religious diversity includes ’non-believers’
Religious Diversity Statement