The Christian's Thanksgiving mistake

John MacArthur of the Washington Times has a real stumper for all of us atheists: if there is no God, then why do we feel gratitude?

Ingratitude is dishonorable by anyone’s reckoning, but to be willfully ungrateful toward the Creator is to deny an essential aspect of our own humanity. The shame of such ingratitude is inscribed on the human conscience, and even the most dogmatic atheists are not immune from the knowledge that they ought to give thanks to God. Try as they might to suppress or deny the impulse, “what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them,” according to Romans 1:19.

Indeed. How can we possibly account for the urge to be thankful, without recognizing the crucial role of this specific deity of this specific faith with this specific mythology? Because, of course, the fact that people feel gratitude has everything to do with the story of the Christian God, its creation of the world and its interactions with humans, as relayed by one particular religious text which is completely reliable. People feel stuff, and that means God. How could this ever be explained otherwise?

MacArthur continues:

One atheist has practically made a hobby of writing articles to explain why atheists feel the need to be thankful and to answer the question of whom they might thank. His best answer? He says atheists can be grateful to farmers for the food we eat, to doctors for the health we enjoy, to engineers for the advantages of modern technology, to city workers for keeping our environment clean and orderly — and so on.

Here’s the problem with that: Tipping the waitress or tipping one’s hat to sanitation workers doesn’t even come close to resolving the problem of whom Mr. Dawkins should thank when he looks at the stars, stands at the edge of the Grand Canyon, or studies the world of countless wonders his microscope reveals in a single drop of pond water.

Clearly, whether something is spiritually satisfying is unambiguous evidence of the truth of a particular religious claim. Atheism must be invalid if it can’t explain people’s feelings of awe and undirected thankfulness, because this is obviously a problem of theology and metaphysics – not one of human psychology. I’m surprised MacArthur didn’t get into more of the weak points of atheism, such as its failure to provide emotionally fulfilling answers to human wonder at childbirth, dogs, fire, and magnets. Such feelings must point to a God, because it says so in the Bible. And we know the Bible is true, because there’s obviously a God as indicated by Richard Dawkins’ feelings about canyons and Shaggy 2 Dope’s awe at rainbows.

Check and mate.

The Christian's Thanksgiving mistake

18 thoughts on “The Christian's Thanksgiving mistake

  1. 1

    Not to spoil MacArthur’s obviously flawless argument, but…

    Watching a sunrise or looking at the stars is amazing enough without having to thank any imaginary beings for it.

    and magnets

    Not to mention the tides. They go in, they go out… never a miscommunication. You can’t explain that!

  2. 3

    But I’m not grateful for sunsets, stars, or any of those things. I reserve gratitude for individuals who make a conscious choice to do me, or a subset of humanity which includes me, a kindness. MacArthur is presupposing a creator to say we are denying a creator his due thanks. This is dumb, and circular. I get really frustrated when some wag who has never met me insists he knows what’s going on between my ears better than I do, and/or tells me that I’m a liar.

  3. 6

    Woo that is industrial strength weapon iced sarcasm there. The only unfortunate part is that MacArthur wouldn’t pick up on that fact at all. What? If he can tell me what I’m thinking & feeling I can tell him what he’s thinking.

  4. 7

    “He says atheists can be grateful to farmers for the food we eat, to doctors for the health we enjoy, to engineers for the advantages of modern technology, to city workers for keeping our environment clean and orderly — and so on.”

    I know, how dare we be grateful towards people providing food for the hungry, healing the sick, helping the lame to walk, and keeping our feet clean! That kind of stuff is only supposed to be done by some sort of fake savior figure to show how he’s supernatural. I mean, if mankind can actually solve its own problems and take care of its self better, then pretty soon we won’t need some imaginary deity who claimed we could get all of that through taking awhile to not doing anything but speak to a voice in our heads.

  5. 9

    Well, he’s right, except that he gets the wrong deities. That’s because he relies on that plagiarism in the Christian “holy book.” But we have two far older books, written by someone who is clearly a prophet.
    I am referring, as everyone knows, to Homer, who tells us of the true gods in “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey.”
    Look, even Christians deep down in their hearts know this to be true. But no one has to take it on faith alone. The Greek prophets, led by Homer, tell us that Zeus hurls thunderbolts every so often. And everyone has seen lightning. Therefore, Zeus.
    And Aphrodite gives everyone love and lust. Is there anyone who hasn’t fallen in love or at least lusted after someone else? Therefore, Aphrodite.
    And Apollo is the sun god. He circles the world with a gigantic stride. A few lucky mortals have had the honor to actually see him, as attested by their accounts. Everyone knows that personal testimony is the strongest evidence. The sun rises, the sun sets. Therefore, Apollo.
    And Poseidon is attested as the cause of earthquakes and tsunamis. Look at the many earthquakes and tsunamis in recent years, notably the ones that swept southeastern Asia and northeastern Japan. Earthquakes and tsunamis, therefore Poseidon.
    I could go on, but the ancient prophecies and testimonies are overwhelming. So I must conclude with a warning. We stopped sacrificing to the gods long ago, and look how many bad things have happened: the Civil War, World Wars I and II, Rwanda, 9/11, George W. Bush, disco, colorization of classic movies, Katrina, “Black Friday” bleeding over into Thanksgiving (shudder!), and … well, I could go on, but everyone gets the point. Until we start honoring the true gods again, they will send ever-worse disasters.
    Just imagine the worst of all: President Palin in 2117!

  6. 10

    In fairness, I feel that properly framing our natural feelings of “gratitude” is somewhat of a challenge for us atheists. Strewth’s comment at #3 basically explains it: Ze has a point, but at the same time, how can one look up at the stars and not feel something a little bit like gratitude? It’s not an intractable problem, but it’s something I do wrestle with occasionally… it’s somewhat harder to frame those feelings in an atheistic framework than in a theistic one.

    Of course, that does not prove that atheism is wrong, any more than the fact that global warming is a difficult problem must mean that global warming is a hoax. Furthermore, theism has it’s own problems in this regard, in that “gratitude for the stars” may be an easy way of framing those emotions, but it’s a rather asinine one as well, trivializing the vast scale of what we stand in awe of. Like many of the supposed comforts of theism, it provides a nicer and easier answer, but only if you don’t think about it very hard. Atheism’s answer — in this case just as in so many others — is much bleaker and unfriendly on the surface, but has the advantage that you can dig deeper and not suddenly uncover an absurdity or abject horror, the way you do when you hold theistic answers up to careful scrutiny.

  7. 11

    I am grateful to all the people who helped me reach this point in my life. Thanking a god for someone else’s beneficence seems to be the height of ingratitude, along the lines of sending the President a thank-you note when your neighbor does something nice for you. Except, you know, the President actually exists, and whatnot.

  8. F

    When there is no one to thank, there is no reason for gratitude.

    That doesn’t stop humans from sometimes feeling that moment of thanks/gratitude when there is no object of the gratitude, but this is irrational, and there is no reason to make an attempt at rationalizing it, or seeking an object for said gratitude, or constructing a celebration of thankfulness. Or inventing miracles to be thankful for when some final, worst thing didn’t happen, or a really good thing happens.

  9. 13

    Why feel thankful to an uncaring god (any proof that he cares, even though he doesn’t supply any proof of his existence?)when I can feel thankful to a however uncaring Universe that evidence tells me actually created everything?

  10. 15

    I’m very grateful the sadistic, misogynistic self-absorbed egomaniacal prick of a god described in a certain “holy book” or three does not exist.

    I’m thankful for my reason. For being able to suss out the truth about the existence of god(s) at around age 9. About a year after I susses out the truth about Santa Claus.

  11. 17

    A lot of us have been trained from birth to interpret the emotions inspired by the stars, mountains, etc. as gratitude, precisely so people like MacArthur can make this sort of argument. “Look at the night sky. That feeling you have right now, that feeling is called gratitude. Since you are feeling grateful, that implies you have someone to be grateful to. Ergo, God.” Petitio Principii. If they can get to us early enough to make us assume we feel gratitude when we really don’t, then we’re less likely to realize that the gratitude argument is circular.

    I am not grateful for the universe. I highly value the universe, but I’m not grateful for it.

  12. 18

    As an amateur astronomer, I have NEVER felt gratitude looking up into the sky – just awed and comforted.
    Some people find the immensity of space frightening, but I feel at home in the Universe. Max Ehrmann’a Desiderata sums it up:
    “You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.”
    Xtianity always made me feel like I shouldn’t enjoy the world too much or get too attached to it – after all, the material world is profanes and debased; and it is just a test to qualify you for your spot in the after world.

    I have a bigger problem of pleading? praying? for help. Like, when you’re running late and plead “Please, please, let all the lights be green.” Just who am I pleading to? Makes me feels like an idiot.

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