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Who Does the Atheist Thank on Thanksgiving?

I have lived in the United States since 1989. My home country of New Zealand doesn’t have Thanksgiving. So, my first Thanksgiving was a unique and thrilling experience. I had the honor of sitting down with Americans who sat around a whopping turkey and unashamedly thanked God.

This week millions of American families will gather around Thanksgiving tables full of turkey and trimmings and give thanks to God for His many blessings to our nation and to each of us.  But what does an atheist do on this special day, and who does he or she thank for the blessings of this life? Or do they even bother to have Thanksgiving? Perhaps it’s just another meal with a few extra toppings.

Aimless Gratitude

I don’t say any of this flippantly or with sarcasm, and I ask these questions sincerely. When I think of an atheist at Thanksgiving, I think back to an incident in 1972. Even though I had a belief in God and prayed every night, I was unconverted. Looking back, I certainly identified with the writer of “Amazing Grace,” who described his own unconverted state as one of being blind.

My wife had just given birth to a healthy, 7-pound baby boy, and I wept as I held him in my arms. The word “miracle” is often used when people’s lives are miraculously saved from some disaster. But the birth of every human being is a miracle in the truest sense of the word. My son didn’t exist nine months earlier. His bones, blood, skin, eyes, ears, taste buds, hair, and brain all grew over a period of nine months. Even his unique personality was formed in the womb of my wife.

I understood all that, but I had no idea that it was God who fearfully and wonderfully made my son. I walked around in frustration for hours, filled with an overflowing sense of thanksgiving but not knowing who to thank. I was, of course, thankful to the doctor. But he was just the delivery man. He didn’t make the product. I wanted to thank somebody, but I just didn’t know who. Not being able to thank someone for the beautiful gift I’d been given was an exceedingly frustrating experience.

Finding who to thank was frustrating to me because I intuitively knew that it was only right to be thankful.

“Being able to thank God is one of the reasons why Thanksgiving in America is so special to me.”

Someone gave me a car once. He thought that I was in need of one, and over dinner one night, he simply said that he wanted to give me his nearly new Toyota coup. Tell me, how do you adequately thank someone for a gift like that?  It wasn’t easy to find the words. But imagine if I hadn’t bothered to thank him personally. That would have been horrible.

Thanking the Gift, Not the Giver

Being able to thank God is one of the reasons why Thanksgiving in America is so special to me. I now know who to thank for my life, for my children, and for my wife.

One time I was speaking with a very well-known atheist—one who is a household-name in most of America. As we stood on a sidewalk in Washington DC and chatted, he politely said that he felt sorry for me because of my narrow worldview. To him, my life was wasted. He believed, as many atheists do, that his appreciation of science was much greater than those who believed that God created all things.

Our conversation was very congenial, and I was able to explain to him—without his being offended—that he was lavishing praise on the painting, while we lavished our praise on the Painter.

And that is probably what happens when an atheist celebrates Thanksgiving. He is grateful for life and all the blessings that come with it, but instead of thanking God, he thanks nature. He ignores the giver of the car and thanks the car.

An old farmer once had an atheist relative visit him. After the farmer had bowed his head and thanked God for the food they were about to eat, the relative rudely said, “What did you do that for? God doesn’t exist. We live in an age of enlightenment.”

The old farmer smiled and said, “There is someone on the farm who doesn’t thank God before he eats.”

The relative sat up and said, “Who is this enlightened one?”

To which the farmer quietly replied, “My pig.”

Ray Comfort

Ray Comfort is the Founder and CEO of Living Waters, a bestselling author, and has written more than 100 books, including, The Evidence Study Bible. He cohosts the award-winning television program Way of the Master, which airs in 190 countries.

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