Why I Am Not Thankful on Thanksgiving

To explain why I am not thankful on Thanksgiving, let me begin by saying that I am thankful on Thanksgiving.  That is doubletalk, of course – I must either be thankful or not thankful – and yet, at the same time, it is not doubletalk at all.

Let us review.  Aristotle teaches that, according to the principle of noncontradiction, contradictory propositions cannot be true simultaneously.  Now, before I go any further, let me mention that (as elaborated in another post) this is both correct and incorrect – but, in this case, not because of anything having to do with noncontradiction, but rather because of Cicero’s principle that there is nothing so absurd but that some philosopher has said it.  In other words, whatever the case may be with noncontradiction, I can probably find some reason to be at least partly right about this; and so can you.  In such circumstances, I really think philosophy should be considered the most openminded of all disciplines.

But about thankfulness.  Of course, I am thankful on Thanksgiving, and on a good many other days as well.  I have a lot to be thankful for.  I am thankful, for instance, for the fact that I am not like you.  I don’t have any specific meaning in mind, there; it is more of a general sentiment that virtually everyone indulges on a regular basis, without which our lives would be miserable indeed.  If I wanted to be like you, I would make an effort to do exactly that; and to the extent that people actually do pursue such objectives, or believe that they should, they tend to make themselves unhappy.  I am indeed glad that our stars and our paragons are looking good and enjoying themselves, but I am also glad that they, and not I, are in their assorted studios and tombs.  Better them than me.

The only problem I have with Thanksgiving is the “thanks” part.  Oh, and the “giving” part.  Such notions imply that there is someone on the receiving end.  This is not “positive feeling” day.  This is “thank you” day.  There is a “you” whom we thank, or so we want to believe, even when it is not true.  For instance, those naive Native Americans, having no inkling of their fate, who sat down with the Pilgrims (at least in mythology) and gave thanks, were not giving thanks to *our* God.  We would not have allowed that, not for a minute.  They were thanking their Great Spirit, or something like it – their god who was completely unacquainted with Jesus Christ, and therefore ultimately had no business existing, as things turned out, in a predominantly Christian nation.  You cannot give thanks to someone who is not there.  Or maybe you can, but your gesture will be nugatory.  Nothingness needs nothing that you can offer – so please do.

To generalize:  if you cannot thank a nonexistent Great Spirit – if your words are just empty syllables dying away into the atmosphere – then you also cannot thank a Zeus, an Allah, a Yahweh who has turned his back on his supposedly chosen people, or a big-boobed goddess of fertility.  What you are really doing is uttering sounds that others, overhearing you, can describe as a giving of thanks to some deity, just as they might say you were giving instructions to a tree, if you were so inclined.  Such gestures are not completely lacking in simple charm, but investing them with deep significance can quickly become ridiculous – except, of course, where it does not.

Having provided these remarks, the only thing left to clarify is why I am not thankful on Thanksgiving.  The reason is not, as some might assume, that the giving of thanks would be inappropriate for an agnostic polytheistic fundamentalist – although, as I think of it, that might be a good reason too.  The actual reason is that giving thanks to the Lord on Thanksgiving is blasphemy, or comes so close to blasphemy, so quickly, as to be avoided like the plague (unless, of course, it is a plague from God).

Thanksgiving certainly does not *seem* like blasphemy.  How could so many nicely dressed people, smelling of the world’s best fragrances and talking so sweetly, be compared to coarse maligners of the ineffable?  And yet that is the situation we face.  The Christian Thanksgiving is an attempt to overlook the Bible’s claim that “God cannot stand the prayers of anyone who disobeys his law.”  Even granting an exemption for those whose sins have been forgiven, what can these Christians be thinking of, in promoting a holiday in which millions of nonbelievers are encouraged to think that God is listening to them too?

If there are gods, they have made clear that they are sitting this one out.  And there is a very good reason why they should do so.  That reason is the principle of noncontradiction.  In our world, truth is a complex, tangled, unreliable thing.  Any god foolish enough to get dragged down into it would quickly be viewed as part of the problem.  That is exactly what has happened, over the years, as countless people have become disgusted with the idea of a twofaced god who would stick us with a situation like this and then have the nerve to consider himself holy.  The possibility that these people are disgusted merely with a false representation of some actual divinity is irrelevant.  Either way, the damage is done.

A claim to thank the gods, on this or any other day, is necessarily a claim that we know what is good, and that it makes obvious sense to thank heaven for what it has bestowed upon us.  So we thank God for the land that we stole from the Indians, and for today’s dinner – courtesy, perhaps, of a pig whose life we were pleased to support with the least possible protection against pain and misery.  Historically, we have often thanked God for helping us to kill foreigners whom we disliked.  If you haven’t spent time around Christians, you might be surprised at the things they thank God for.  Some are prepared to thank God for the fantastic sex they had last week with their neighbor’s spouse; some have thanked God for smiting homosexuals with AIDS.  Once you open that thanks-giving door, you just don’t know what might crawl in.

The giving of thanks to gods who provide no indication that they appreciate our warmth of spirit is as offensive as the act of blaming some hapless divinity for writing a book that we are determined, despite all evidence, to make holy.  As Paul said to Jesus in Kazantzakis’ interpretation, “I don’t need you anymore.”  That is, we don’t need for there to be an actual god who receives and appreciates our thankfulness.  This is not about him.  This is about us.  We want to look and feel thankful.  And on this day, by God, we do.

Despite all that, I am thankful on Thanksgiving.  As I say, I do have a dim sense of how good I’ve had it.  If I can bring myself to convey a flavor of that gratitude to people who have made my good fortune possible, then I should.  In addition, if I am willing to take the chance that I won’t be doing much additional harm by whispering a token of appreciation to anyone out there who may be listening, then I might feel like doing that too, and screw the contradictions.

But I don’t see that today should be special in these regards.  This seems to be a fair guess at how I should be acting throughout the year.  In this sense, Thanksgiving is not a special day of behaving decently for a change; it is more a wrap-up, a review of how I have hopefully been conducting myself all along.

I am usually pretty thankful on Thanksgiving; and if I don’t feel very thankful toward some people, or for some developments, then perhaps the official capital-T hack-the-turkey Thanksgiving holiday can operate as a sort of kick in the ribs, a reminder that I need to straighten up and act civil toward the various people with whom the universe has blessed and cursed me, to the maximum deserved extent and sometimes beyond.  This seems fair enough, or at least manageable.  But if Thanksgiving means blaming some god for something that may have been very good for me but absolutely awful for someone else, then I must conclude that, when it comes to giving thanks unto the Lord, the devil is in the details.

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