Giving Thanks: The Cure to Atheism


“The worst moment for the atheist is when he is really thankful, and has nobody to thank.” ~ Dante Gabriel Rossetti

When we give genuine thanks from our hearts, we are expressing gratitude for receiving from the hand of another that which we could not have otherwise provided ourselves.  In a society that celebrates the “self-made” man, it is an act of humility to say thanks.  For in giving thanks, we recognize that we are not the self-made individuals we sometimes like to imagine ourselves to be, but rather, in saying thanks we confess that we  are the recipients of the favor and blessings of another.  Thanks can only be given to that which is outside of ourselves.

In giving thanks for his life, the atheist must logically abandon his atheism, or cease altogether in his giving thanks for anything.  For if there is no God, then there can be no logical reason to give thanks, for there is nobody in which to give thanks to.  And if the atheist still feels thankful for his existence and the blessings of his life, and sees nothing illogical in entering into a spirit of thanks, then he should at once see a psychiatrist for the delusional mental illness  he is suffering from.

Now, I have said these things not so much in hopes of convincing an atheist of the existence of God.  Though, the famous atheist turned Christian, C. S. Lewis, was powerfully moved towards the faith by discovering as an atheist, he found himself perplexed over why he felt so thankful.  “To Whom do I feel thankful?” he reasoned.  But I have said these things to help highlight the importance we should give to the place of giving thanks in our lives.

We as Christians should be naturally thankful people, for we recognize that there is nothing in our lives that we have that we did not receive.  Far from being self-made, we are all individuals who have received an abundance of grace that has been multiplied unto us.  There is nothing we have that we did not receive from the hand of Another.  And in saying thanks, we deepen our faith in Christ, and are cured from atheism.

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12 responses to “Giving Thanks: The Cure to Atheism

  • timberwraith

    Hello, Jimmy. I just stumbled across your blog post. I’m timberwraith and I’m an agnostic with atheist leanings. As I read your article, it reminded me that far too few religious people posses an understanding of or familiarity with non-theists.

    My answer to your post is pretty simple. I am thankful for the people in my life and the people in the larger world who make my life possible. I am thankful for my mother who gave birth to me and both of my parents who raised me. I am thankful for the kindness of my friends who enrich my life and support me in times of need. I am thankful for the love and support of those I call family. I am thankful for the people who grow, pick, and ship the food that sustains me. I am thankful for the efforts of the average person who makes other people’s lives more livable: fire fighters, pharmacists, doctors, factory workers, and so on. I am thankful for the planet, nature, and the entire biosphere that makes life possible.

    A non-theists’ thankfulness focuses upon the people who make their lives possible and some non-theists also express a thankfulness toward the planet they live upon. For you and other theists, I assume that you are thankful for similar things, including the actions you ascribe to the deity you believe in. Running with this assumption, the difference between non-theists and theists is this: the list of things/people to be thankful for are quite similar except that a belief in a deity adds a component of thankfulness that focuses upon said deity.

    Now, if I were to take the same uncharitable approach that you did, I could assert that theists thank their deity first and give their deity most/all the credit for the well being of their lives. Consequently, theists downplay the importance of the contributions of the people in their lives and the larger world and they largely miss the ways in which their lives are dependent upon the planet itself. Thus, the average theist is an ungrateful person who downplays the contributions of real-life people and the importance of a healthy planet in favor of glorifying their deity. Put another way, the theist’s single-minded belief in a god inhibits the awareness necessary to give thanks where thanks is due.

    Does that seem like an unfair characterization that misses the central philosophies of your beliefs? I think it’s safe to assume that your answer is “yes”.

    So, there’s a larger, underlying problem that your post brings to the fore. When I read the words of some theists, I’m left with the impression that many of you think that non-believers are a bunch of amoral, selfish, narcissistic, hateful, bitter, cold-hearted, arrogant wretches. Let me ask you a question: are all theists a bunch of judgmental, controlling, socially backward, sexist, heterosexist, intellectually-challenged busybodies? If the answer to my question is “no”, then might I suggest that the stereotype of atheists is also inaccurate?

    Look, it’s incredibly easy for folks in both camps to lob rotten vegetables toward the other side. What does that accomplish other than bringing us to a place where we see the other side as a completely worthless assortment of heartless rotters?

    So, let’s try something different, OK? Let’s rearrange your words so that they reflect a non-theist’s approach to thankfulness:

    We as humanists/non-theists should be naturally thankful people, for we recognize that there is nothing in our lives that we have that we did not receive. Far from being self-made, we are all individuals who have received an abundance of love and support from others and our lives have been enriched by the social web of humankind. There is nothing we have that we did not receive from the hand of another or the bounty of the planet we live upon. And in saying thanks, we deepen our faith in humanity and our sense of connection with the planet that sustains us, and in so doing, we are reminded of the worth of all living things.

    Let’s look at this statement:

    For if there is no God, then there can be no logical reason to give thanks, for there is nobody in which to give thanks to. And if the atheist still feels thankful for his existence and the blessings of his life, and sees nothing illogical in entering into a spirit of thanks, then he should at once see a psychiatrist for the delusional mental illness he is suffering from.

    This just doesn’t make sense. If I were living out in the wilderness, built my own house, raised my own food, made my own clothing and had been, I don’t know, raised by wolves, I suppose I could see myself as being largely independent of everything else in the world… maybe. However, how many people in this increasingly urban world can survive without the efforts of a vast network of other people in addition to the planet itself? A deity is not necessary to recognize the ways in which we are connected to other human beings and world under our feet. All it takes is an open, caring heart, an awareness of the reality of life on this little blue planet, and a little bit of common sense.

    If you find that believing in a deity enhances your ability to express thankfulness, then go for it. However, different people experience the world in different ways. Since a theology centered world view focuses its philosophies upon a belief in a god, then obviously, a believer will find that the experience of thankfulness interlinks with their notion of a deity. However, that doesn’t mean that others with non-theistic philosophies will experience a diminished ability to express thankfulness. They might express thankfulness in a way that is unfamiliar to you, but that doesn’t mean that they are any less thankful… or that they fail to be thankful at all.

    Besides, even wolves live in packs.

    Have a good Thanksgiving, Jimmy.

    • christthinks

      Happy Thanksgiving to you as well, and thank you for your thoughtful response. I think, perhaps, you have misunderstood my position. Maybe such comes from lack of exposition on my part, but I did not mean to say that atheists lack gratitude or the ability to give thanks altogether, in acknowledging their dependence upon other people in to shaping and supporting of their lives. Indeed, many abound in thanks towards others. There can be no question of that.

      But to clarify, what I have in mind here is a sense of thanks that I think generally exists in some measure amongst all of humanity towards God, as simply part of human nature. Thus, in my rather hyperbolic language of accusing atheism of insanity, I did not mean to be uncharitable with such a comment in my very brief analysis. I’m just saying the philosophy of atheism doesn’t square away with this rather natural feeling, that even some atheists admit to experiencing (i.e. C.S. Lewis before his conversion). It creates an inward conflict between one’s philosophy of not believing in the existence of God, yet feeling this strange inward desire to thank the God that does not exist. One may channel this thankfulness to others no doubt, and many in fact do. But I would still assert that this spirit of thankfulness that is common to us all was designed by God to find its center in Him. And this desire, which I believe is built into us all, simply does not square away with one’s atheism.

      Thanks again for your comments.

      Jimmy

      • timberwraith

        I’ve noticed that many theists have difficulty accepting that it’s possible to experience no belief in a deity. Since a belief in a god is so important to them and such a central part of their daily life, the theist can’t fathom the experience of atheism.

        To reference a theme in my previous post, different people think and feel in very different ways. Just as you find non-belief in a deity to be an alien experience, there are plenty of atheists who find belief in a deity to be an alien experience. Experiencing some intuitive sense of a deity doesn’t make sense to them and hence, seems like complete nonsense. This isn’t a case of a non-believer resorting to prickly language. For them, it’s literally true. Belief or experience of a god-notion makes absolutely no sense.

        Have you ever heard of synesthesia? I experience several variations of this phenomena on a daily basis. Whenever I see flashing lights, I hear the lights as an associated rushing sound that is modulated by the rate of flashing. When I close my eyes and listen to a drumbeat, I see associated flashes of light behind my eyes. I also perceive time in a way that is spacial in nature. Years and months have a distinct location in space, for me.

        Now, for someone who hasn’t experienced synesthesia, these experiences will seem bizarre and somewhat alien… perhaps even unbelievable. Even so, that’s the way I’m wired. These experiences are natural and come unbidden.

        I suspect the experience of a sensation of an awareness external to oneself (a deity or spiritual presence) is analogous. Some experience this sensation and some do not. The differing experiences (or lack thereof) will seem alien to the other.

  • christthinks

    Interesting analogy. Yes, I’m familiar with synesthesia, though, I have no personal experience with it. But with that said, I don’t find it hard to imagine what life is like with no conscience experience of God. Most of my life I had no such self-aware experience. I’ve not always been a Christian, or even one who believed there was a God. So, I can relate personally to that.

    • timberwraith

      But with that said, I don’t find it hard to imagine what life is like with no conscience experience of God.

      Well, good. I can certainly imagine what it is like to not experience synesthesia. It’s pretty easy: I simply imagine the absence of the phenomenon.

      I suspect that I have a partial understanding of what some theists experience because I feel a sense of connection with things around me, or put in another way, I feel an awareness of things around me that extends beyond sensory input into the realm of deep emotion. The thing is, I don’t experience this phenomenon as a connection with a deity. I experience it as a series of distinct forms of connection with forests, mountains, fields, people, animals, and oddly, myself. I’m going to guess that some theists feel a similar sensation of connection, but with a single, non-specific target that they label and conceptualize as a deity. For me, however, that sense of connection focuses on multiple tangible entities and environments.

      I’ve described this experience to other people and some people simply don’t understand it. It seems completely bizarre to them. There are people who do not experience this sense of connection just as there are people who do not experience synesthesia. Even when people do experience that sense of connection, you get people like me who do not experience it as a deity. Different people are wired differently and there’s nothing wrong with that.

      • christthinks

        Well, I guess some people have a “sense” that detects a “transcendent presence” in the universe, where they can just tell there is something “bigger” out there than themselves. But for me, this experience has not so much been a transcendent presence as a “manifest presence,” specifically in the person of Jesus Christ. Such happened with me the first time I heard the gospel message when I was in my teens. I didn’t just experience God, but I experienced Him specifically in a revelation of the person of Jesus Christ, who was crucified but risen from the dead three days later. 🙂

        Jimmy

  • timberwraith

    I didn’t recognize/experience a sense of the transcendent until long after leaving Christianity and letting go of a belief in a deity. It happened to me while out in nature and that sense of the transcendent was a sense of a deep intertwining with nature and living things.

    I’ve sat in Christian churches and various non-Christian spiritual gatherings since then and I have experienced zero sense of anything transcendent in relation to what people conceive of as the divine. No Jesus. No goddess. No god. No Vishnu. No Odin. Just a sense of connection with the other people in room and a sense of connection with myself.

    The sense of the transcendent is an extremely subjective experience. I suspect that different people will interpret it and experience it in very different ways and these variations depend upon one’s cultural traditions, personal philosophies, and individual psychology. The sky’s the limit.

  • christthinks

    Interesting. Well, all I know and understand is the tangible manifest presence of Jesus Christ, not only in my personal devotional time with the Lord, but also in the broader experience of Christian community. As I was coming to know the Lord, I know almost every time I visited a gathering of Christians, I felt an almost overwhelming presence. I gained a revelation of Him almost every time, and almost every time, it would bring me to tears.

    Jimmy

    • timberwraith

      I gained a revelation of Him almost every time, and almost every time, it would bring me to tears.

      I’ve stood alone, deep within a mountain forest and have been brought to tears by a profound sense of connection with the living things that surrounded me. This has happened more than times than I can count. It is indeed a very powerful and beautiful emotional experience.

      I suspect I’m familiar with the basic “texture” of your experience, but again, we interpret those experiences very differently. There are at least 40 contemporary religions on the planet. I’ll bet you that a subset of the followers in all of those traditions experience their own version of the transcendent and they all interpret those experiences in ways that mesh with their philosophical traditions.

      Obviously, your interpretation of the experience holds meaning for you. My version holds meaning for me. The folks in the 40 or so religions no doubt attribute their own meaning to the experience.

      I know I’m recycling the same basic theme here: subjectivity vs. common experiences. The reason why I’m doing this is because your original post was a bit judgmental in that it implied that folks like me need to be cured. I don’t, really. I have my own meaning in my life. Heck, I even have my on particular sense of the transcendent: it just take as different approach from yours. I don’t think that other non-believers need to be cured, either, even if they don’t experience the transcendent.

  • christthinks

    Well, as a Christian I believe every man is sick unto death, and needs to be cured, rescued, delivered, and saved. And of course, Christ is the only way for such to happen. I know such can sound dogmatic and narrow minded. It’s not very pluralistic, and in keeping with the spirit of this age. But when you believe God supernaturally raised a crucified man back to life, and has made Him the King of creation, there is little room to be anything else but dogmatic 🙂

    Jimmy

  • timberwraith

    Well, as a Christian I believe every man is sick unto death, and needs to be cured, rescued, delivered, and saved.

    Hmmm… Well, I find that philosophy to be far too negative, but I’m quite familiar with it. I was raised to believe in such a view of the world from childhood onward. I moved on to other philosophical pursuits a long time ago.

    there is little room to be anything else but dogmatic

    Well, dogmatic belief certainly explains the judgmental approach. I’ve seen dogmatism to lead folks into behaving in judging, prejudicial ways, regardless of whether the philosophy in question is a variant of Christianity or some other world view.

    I’m not sure what else to say here except, “good day.”

  • christthinks

    Well, it might be perceived as judgmental. But, it’s really no more judgmental than a doctor diagnosing one with terminal cancer. As a Christian, I simply believe that all of humanity is sick with sin, and that sin is killing all of humanity. If such is perceived as negative, well, there isn’t really any other way to paint the seriousness of the plague that has infected man-kind. But, we have hope, and believe that Jesus Christ made it possible for us to be healed of all this. He is our “Great Physician.”

    Many blessings to you though. I enjoyed the dialogue. 🙂

    Jimmy

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