On Thanksgiving It's Possible to Give Thanks Without God
The religious right-wingers got their feathers ruffled again last week – this time at president Obama’s apparent lack of “God” in his Thanksgiving Address.
The President explicitly thanked God earlier in the week in his written Thanksgiving proclamation, in which he said, “As we gather in our communities and in our homes, around the table or near the hearth, we give thanks to each other and to God for the many kindnesses and comforts that grace our lives."
In his Thanksgiving Day internet address, president Obama also mentioned God, closing with "God bless you." His speech also provided a biblical reference, about being each other's keepers. But that wasn’t enough for some people.
"Holy cow! Is that one screwed up or what?" said columnist Sherman Frederick of the Las Vegas Review-Journal in a blog post. He was one of a host of commentators that attacked the President for his address. "Somebody ought to remind Obama (and his speechwriter) that when Americans sit down around a meal today and give thanks, they give thanks to God."
Actually, it’s time someone remind the President’s detractors that Thanksgiving is a secular holiday, celebrated by all Americans regardless of faith. Not every American chooses to give thanks to God in particular. In fact, there are approximately 50 million secular Americans, who may feel extremely grateful for the positive things in their lives, but not necessarily to a deity. Gratitude is not a religious quality—it’s a human quality.
Thanksgiving is the great American unifier of holidays because unlike Christmas or Easter, it is something everyone can appreciate and participate in, precisely because it is not faith-based. It is also a holiday that has its roots in the acceptance of those with different religious views, as the settlers used the help of the non-Christian Native Americans in learning to work and harvest the land in this new country.
What’s disturbing is not that president Obama failed to give thanks to God ad nauseum, but instead that the religious right sees every opportunity for Americans to be unified or inclusive of one another —regardless of religion— as an attack on their faith or way of life.
They continue to try to insert religion into every aspect and sphere of public life—from health care laws to mentions of God on public buildings. Now they want to edit the President’s speeches to include their particular brand of religion and intentionally exclude those who don’t agree. That seems like a very negative and self-centered thing to do on a holiday that focuses on outward projections of positivism, gratitude and pride in being American—with all of the values that implies.
Even sadder, these detractors attack as un-American the millions of people who are using their uniquely American rights to religious freedom—which includes the right not to believe. And isn’t that freedom of religion one of the things that makes this country exceptional and sets it apart from others?
The First Amendment, which guarantees these rights, exemplifies American exceptionalism. And on the secular American holiday of Thanksgiving that is certainly something to be thankful for.
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