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What Atheists Are Thankful For

What are atheists thankful for?

At Skepticon IV, the Fellowship of Freethought Dallas were videoing attendees/ speakers/ organizers/ vendors/ passers-by, asking us what we were thankful for. The results are thoughtful, sweet, giddy, funny, joyful, touching, occasionally freaky, and almost uniformly inspiring. I found myself riveted for the entire fifteen minutes. (I weigh in at 4:49, with my own excitable, somewhat grandiose effusions.)

I really liked how some participants — specifically PZ Myers and David Silverman — questioned the entire idea of thankfulness in a world without God or any sort of cosmic intentionality. (I’m actually planning an entire post on the whole concept of intransitive gratitude, and whether it makes any sense.) And the contrast between the atheists’ responses and the lone theist’s is startling: almost all of the atheists have clearly thought carefully about what their lives mean and what matters most to them, and are grateful for very specific, concrete things and people… while the theist just sort of yammers on vaguely about Jesus.

It’s perfect for Thanksgiving. Have a happy one!

Comments

  1. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    Hi, my name is ‘Tis.

    I’m thankful I have a job which pays well and which I find interesting. I’m thankful I have a wife who still loves me and whom I still love. I’m thankful I have a daughter who challenges me intellectually. And I’m thankful that I’m a skeptic atheist.

  2. LadyBlack says

    Sometimes it’s hard to be grateful about anything, and I accept that when I die, that’ll be it, and I can’t imagine what everything will be like after that.

    However, through science, I am grateful that I am gaining control of my diabetes, I am grateful that I will hopefully not end up with blindness and will keep my hands and feet, and sometimes I am grateful that I am able to appreciate the universe and the mystery and all the things we don’t know yet. All the things scientists talk about and raise the hairs on the back of my neck because they are so….incomprehensible.

    And I’m grateful for kittens. And the music by “Two steps from hell”. And sweetners. And cinamon and pumpkin (they rock). And double cream. But especially kittens.

  3. hoverfrog says

    I don’t think that probability works like that. You were born so the chances of you being existing are 1. Perhaps in some alternate reality (or an infinite number of alternate realities) you were never born but that in no way impacts your existence in the only reality that we know about now. The result doesn’t change because the variables happen to be many or small.

    Similarly the chances of dying for all of us is 1 too.

    Sorry for being so pedantic but I hate it when creationists claim that the chances of human beings evolving from simple proto-celled organisms is impossible (it isn’t because we exist and evolution explains how we got here) and that doesn’t change when a sceptic makes the same error.

    Anyway I like PZ’s answer best. I am thankful for intended actions that benefit me or even for the effort if they don’t work out as planned. Chance doesn’t seem something worth being thankful for. I’d try to make the best of things with my circumstances as they are. If chance altered my circumstances my attitude wouldn’t change. If anyone wants to test that assertion then I do accept large sums of money or even small sums of money.

  4. gillyc says

    It had me thinking of the whole idea of thankfulness as well – is it possible to be ‘thankful for’ something without being ‘thankful to’ someone? Some things I’m thankful for – western medicine, for example – have people to be thankful to, even if it’s impossible to name them all. But sunrises? Kittens? Spiral galaxies? I’m thankful they exist. Or, as PZ Myers would say, I like them. I’m not sure what the difference is.

  5. Makoto says

    I’m thankful for science, and the doctors that I’ve worked with. Science discovered the cancer in my body that would’ve killed me off a few years ago, and killed the cancer mostly off instead. And when it came back, science came back and killed it off for good.

    I’m thankful that I can sometimes help people. I don’t need the threats or promise of religion to do that, I can just help people because it’s the right thing to do.

    I’m thankful that I can accept help when it’s offered to me, because I’ve always found that hard.. but helping others has helped to teach me about accepting help as well.

  6. Stonyground says

    I came from a moderately religious family but oddly they never said a prayer before meals, we only did that at school. Because the prayer was repeated so often I can remember it verbatum:

    “For what we are about to receive, may The Lord make us truly thankful. Amen.”

    In the unlikeliy event that I, in twenty-first century England, was ever asked to intone a pre-meal “Prayer” I would say:

    “For what we are about to receive let us be truly thankful.”

    If others present want to invoke the name of an Egyptian god at that point I am OK with that.

    Of course, the people that we should be thankful to are those who grew the food, transported the food and cooked the food. Let the Christians try to refute the argument that if we left it to their god who cares for the birds and the flowers etc. the table would be empty.

  7. Ben says

    Yes, I agree that much of this video seemed like “Name something you’re happy about but replace the word “happy” with “thankful” because it’s Thanksgiving.”

    I’m thankful to conscious beings who have free will and who have chosen to do something that benefits me. If I believed in gods or in Gaia, I’d be thankful to them for the things that make me happy. But I don’t think intransitive thankfulness makes sense. Unless you’re a linguistic descriptivist… which you should be unless you’re French…

    But free will is just the notion that your brain somehow operates in a way that can’t ever be described by physics. So everything I have been given by those who were good enough to give me things was either inevitable or random. So does it make sense to be thankful when I reject the whole notion of free will?

    But it’s rumoured that people who practice being thankful are healthier and happier. So it may be useful to endorse the myth of free will here, as it is in so many other cases. Hence I choose to use my illusory free will as so many religious folks use their illusory gods, in order to keep myself (not to mention my capacity for moral outrage) healthy. And now, as always happens when considering free will, my brain is knotty. But I suppose that was inevitable…

  8. shouldbeworking says

    I’m a Canadian skeptic who is thankful that our thansgiving is in October and is a statutory holiday. It’s a long haul from september to the Xmas break without a long weekend. My students need a break from me too.

  9. Tussilago says

    I’m thankful for the rights I have because people who came before me struggled for them – women’s rights, workers’ rights, children’s rights, human rights in general. So therefore I’m thankful to the people who kept struggling for these rights at times when they were controversial and unheard of.
    (Not claiming that there’s nothing left to struggle for now – only that it used to be worse…)

  10. Nina Fox says

    I am thankful for being alive and having a sound mind. I am also thankful for being a skeptic resulting in a 99% atheist/1% agnostic belief system. I add agnostic because I really have no imperial non equitable proof that an entity does not control the universe other than gravity. Therefore leaving 1% open to interpretation.

  11. Rebecca H says

    When I was a believer, however half-assed, much of my spiritual practice centered around feeling and expressing gratitude. The lack of anyone to whom to express gratitude for all the experiences, resources and personal traits that are essentially luck-based actually did feel like a loss to me. And having no one to thank for all the beauties of nature… Well I’m looking forward to reading what you think on that topic, Greta, because I still don’t have any answers about intransitive gratitude.

    Anyway, I’m grateful for arugula, oral sex and the First Amendment.

  12. Victoria M says

    Ah that video was a funny one :D thank you for the good watch, miss!

    And don’t let all those mean people who yell at you when you voice your opinion get you down! I’m thankful for you, miss, because you are greatly contributing to society, and the world as a whole. :)
    You may be angry but anger doesn’t necessarily mean that you aren’t nice. ^_^

  13. RickyD says

    I am thankful that i live in Australia where we don’t have as many holidays so damn close together.

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