Posted by: Jeff Warren | November 24, 2009

A confusing week for atheists

Thanksgiving has got to be a strange time for the atheist- having a deep sense of gratitude for all of life’s blessings but not knowing who to thank.  In fact, the atheist who celebrates Thanksgiving is a hypocrite in the highest degree.  It seems strange to be thankful for oneself.   I suppose you can be thankful for others’ acts of love but in the end, isn’t life itself is a gift?  And if it’s a gift, is there not a Giver?

Of course, Thanksgiving is a distinctively Christian holiday.  It all started in 1620 when the pilgrims (at least a third of them) made it to America alive.  They invited the native Indians to join them and they gave praise and thanksgiving to God.  Our founding fathers saw fit to set aside time of prayer and thanksgiving to God (and yes, specifically to the God of the Bible).  Those of us who know God through Christ have no question about whom to thank.  Perhaps the greatest gift of all this Thanksgiving is this: You know whom to thank.

So as you go about this week, gather with family, and probably eat way too much, don’t forget that thanksgiving is not simply an attitude or a sense of gratitude.  It is an expression of thanksgiving and praise to the One who has given us all things- even life itself.  Give praise and thanks to God.  After all, thanks unexpressed is no thanks at all.

Happy Thanksgiving.  Thank you, Jesus.



  1. What a great reminder…to make Thanksgiving an expression of gratitude rather than just an attitude. I am so grateful to Him from which all blessings flow.

  2. Hypocrite? I’ve got to disagree.

    There’s no atheist rulebook that says “you can enjoy this, but you can’t enjoy that.” The whole point of being a so-called “free thinker” or atheist is that you’re free to explore — and yes, enjoy — things that fall outside the sphere of your intellectual and philosophical approach to life. You really are “free” in the truest sense of the word; there are no mandates or directives telling you what clothes to wear, which days are “OK” to celebrate on, etc.

    This isn’t being a hypocrite; it’s being able to entertain two disparate ideas in your head at the same time. I believe linguists call it a “tolerance for ambiguity.” If memory serves, this ability is something that makes young children so incredibly good at learning foreign languages. Adults appear to have much, much less of this gift than children do, and extreme political groups on both sides of the spectrum seem to exhibit this lack of depth too.

    I’m an atheist. I have warm memories of the holiday season from childhood that will remain with me forever. Does my refusal to acknowlege the existence of a god somehow nullify those memories? Does my refusal to acknowledge a god somehow lessen the thrill of seeing my family and loved ones during holidays?

    If so, the Atheists Society of the World forgot to instant message me with my marching orders, and thus, I stand here with egg on my face.

    • Smokey- thanks for your comments. Articulate and well said. Surely being atheist doesn’t nullify your memories or the joy of being with your family, etc… and I’m sure you have wonderful memories of Thanksgiving. My point is that at the heart of Thanksgiving (from it’s inception) is an expression of gratitude to God. I could bore you (and myself) with a long history of Thanksgiving- focused on thanksgiving and praise to God. It’s one thing to get together with family (and all that is great about the holiday in that regard) and it’s entirely another thing to actually practice what the holiday is all about. That’s my central point here. It is clearly a theist’s holiday at it’s core. It would be like me jumping in on an atheists’ gathering or meeting as if I agreed with it all. I’d be a poser.

      I appreciate your “tolerance for ambiguity” as well. I think any intellectually honest person (theist, atheist, or otherwise) must be humble enough to realize there is much that we cannot figure out. But I do think Aristotle was on to something with his “law of non-contradiction”. Two contradicting “truths” cannot both be right. I’m curious (and I’m serious, you might can help me out) because I’ve wondered how atheists explain our existence apart from a Divine Creator. Any scientist will tell you that it is scientifically impossible for something to come from nothing. Ultimately you get to an Uncaused Cause of all that is in effect. Just wondering… I think atheists have a lot more questions than believing people do. But I’ve also talked to many atheists who seem to be okay with that. Thanks for your input. And…Happy Thanksgiving.

      • Thanks, Jeff…

        With regard to the Uncaused Cause, I think Carl Sagan put it best. He said:

        “In many cultures it is customary to answer that God created the universe out of nothing. But this is mere temporizing. If we wish courageously to pursue the question, we must, of course ask next where God comes from? And if we decide this to be unanswerable, why not save a step and conclude that the universe has always existed?”

        I can’t recall if I learned the term from Sagan or another author, but there’s a logical fallacy called “infinite regression” where an argument keeps going backwards, endlessly, never accommodating or allowing for a resolution of any sort. I believe most secularists categorize the “Well, if God didn’t make the universe, then who did?” argument as an infinite regression.

        As far as the whole “It’s my party and only certain people should be here” approach to holidays or atheist meetings or whatever, well, I guess the protocol involved with that kind of exclusiveness doesn’t interest me, faze me or act as a disincentive. I’m not really concerned with the origin of holidays, to be honest. The fact that they give me a chance to be with people I care about is the only thing that matters from my vantage point. That may be simplistic and trite, but for me, it’s the people associated with holidays that are special, not belief systems, divine rules, etc.

        And, as far as atheist meetings go, I’ve never been to one (that I can remember, unless you count book readings as meetings). Honestly, I’m guessing I would have very little in common with my fellow atheists aside from a shared refusal to acknowledge the existence of a creator. What little time I’ve spent on atheist and/or agnostic messageboards has basically confirmed that suspicion.

  3. And if it’s a gift, is there not a Giver?

    No, there isn’t. I’m thankful for many, but since when is it necessary to be thankful to anyone? Of the two of us, I’m the least confused.

    • Shamelessly,
      Thanks for your comment. Clearly, I see life as a gift; you do not. And though life is an indescribable gift, you believe that there is no need to thank anyone for it. Therein lies the great difference between the believer and the unbeliever- the believer lives life as an expression of gratitude, the unbeliever doesn’t.

      • Sure. Fine. I’ll agree with that. But how does this make me confused? I think my position is quite clear. What is your point, other than to slight us atheists?

  4. Smokey-
    Interesting points you make about where God came from and who created Him. The bible, which for Christians is our source of answers says He has always been. Our faith allows us to understand that God is the creator, not the created. That is another difference between atheist and believers. The faith that we have causes us not to question (although we do have many) but we put our trust in what the bible has told us of, which is the greatest love story known to man. The beliefs and meaning behind the holidays to us is very different from how you practice them. While we feel that it is a time to reflect on all that God has given us and done over the past year. You use it as a time to come together and what? Be together? To spend time together with family you haven’t seen in a while? I am not doubting that your memories are great ones and that it is a beautiful time of love with your family, but I am challenging that perhaps there is something more to the holidays that is unseen to you. Perhaps something greater then yourself and then time your family.
    As far as atheist meetings go, I believe Jeff was making a point in comparison to thanksgiving orignially being a christian holiday. And that the pilgrims gave thanks to God. Yet another difference between believers and non is the need to fellowship with eachother. Atheists in the end go through life alone. Now I understand that you would argue that you have many friends and family members and that you are very much NOT alone. But hear me when I say that believers feel the desire to come together for one common goal: to worship God and to tell others about what He is doing in their lives. Atheists have no need to come together. What would it be that you all would discuss? You see there are no meetings for you all because there is no bond and no beliefs that would cause you all to do life together. You are right to say you have little in common with your fellow atheist. But as for believers we have everything that is important to us in common. One life to live, one life to make Gods glory known!

    I pray you have a wonderful holiday season!

    • Emily Ann, you seem like a decent person and I appreciate the holiday wishes. But, with all due respect, as SHAMELESSLY ATHEIST already noted, your comments broadcast (very clearly) that you know very little about atheism.

      The key to besting your opponent in debate is to know his subject matter better than he does. Granted, there is plenty about religion that I am clueless on; I will concede that. But I’ve got a Catholic high school education, which has managed to provide me with some insight, and I grew up in a city full of Norbertine priests, which gave me a bit of insight as well. Now, I don’t like to make assumptions about people online, but I’m willing to bet that you do not have a similar history with atheists.

      You posit that there would be nothing to discuss at an atheist meeting. This is insane. There any number of important topics: militant Islam; holy wars; televangelists siphoning funds from their devoted and credulous viewers; Francis Collins and the National Institutes of Health; Sharia Law; Creationism in schools; the bizarre and/or horrific treatment that women of Islam routinely endure; the seedy and corrupt world of Scientology; Fred Phelps and his family of weirdo thugs; the Catholic church’s complicity with child abuse…the list, sadly, goes on and on.

      And, again, as SHAMELESSLY ATHEIST already pointed out, most atheists are skeptics. Thus, if for some strange reason there is no religious hot potato to discuss at an atheist meeting, there’s plenty of other material e.g. the quackery of such celebs as Bill Maher and Jim Carrey; pseudoscience; paranormal B.S.; hoaxes; bad journalism; scientific breakthroughs; water on the moon; the Large Hadron Collider; nationalized health care; the culture wars, etc.

      Lastly, you seem to suggest that there are no atheist meetings of any sort. This is spectacularly wrong. True, atheists do not congregate every Sunday, but they most certainly DO have meetings, and lots of them (check out such Web sites as the James Randi Educational Foundation and the Center for Inquiry, for instance). The fact that I do not attend these meetings is simply a matter of personal preference on my part. I’m not a joiner; I’m not a group guy.

      I appreciate that you took the time to make your views known, but it comes off as condescending and dismissive when you make a blanket judgment about something without basic facts to support your argument. I’d be happy to spar a bit more, though, if you’d like.

  5. Atheists have no need to come together. What would it be that you all would discuss?

    That’s easy – the latest slander against atheists by the likes of the Pat Robertsons of the world, the latest gaff by the pope, the latest attempt to subvert secular institutions by right wing religious individuals.

    Most atheists are also skeptics, so when there is a CFI meeting (so much for the proposition that atheists don’t meet – we do) we usually discuss the latest pseudoscientific lunacy, like homeopathic treatments for H1N1, etc.

    You really have to start learning about atheists before you denigrate us. You are really demonstrating how little you understand us. You state your opinion as if it were fact when it is the usual straw man. It’s rather disrespectful and painful to read how poorly you comprehend atheism and atheists.

  6. Smokey,
    Good stuff… thanks. I still say that you can’t get something from nothing (again, it’s scientifically impossible) and the idea that the Universe has always existed is a cop out- to me at least (all due respect to Sagan). And granted, for me to say God exists and is infinite is a similar argument (Sagan’s point) but there’s a big difference (again, in my view) between the Creator and the created. As a theist it makes all the sense in the world to me that God is infinite (He is eternal and omnipotent, etc… He’s not like us). But if science agrees that the Universe has always existed (not a popular theory by the way), then why the race to clarify the evolutionary process and see who can one up others with their most recent theories, missing links, etc. Evolution, by definition, implies a beginning as everything is moving to greater and greater complexity and higher life forms.
    The human brain- greater than any computer created by man- our eyes that see in 3D and color, the delicate balance of the earth to sustain life, etc… and all of this by accident (or from nothing)? Even as a man of faith, I can’t believe that. In fact, ironically, it seems you have more faith than I do. I do appreciate the dialogue and hope we all keep searching, seeking for truth. Thanks.

  7. Smokey, et al,

    I like the irenic tone here! It’s great!

    One point of clarification for smokey: Classifying the question of where we came from as a fallacy of infinite regression doesn’t quite work, in my estimation. Here’s why:

    God, by definition of what/who he is in himself, is everlasting. He is also atemporal, i.e., “outside of time” (while yet having/sharing his existence with us in time and thus being temporal as well – this is one of the more mind-blowing implications of the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation). Being everlasting, he has an existence outside of time. And having an existence outside of time, he is everlasting. He alone can bring something out of “nothing.”

    To put it another way: God is God without us and without time. He is the same with us and with time. He is self-existent by nature of who he is. He is thus COMPLETELY FREE in a way that only God can be. He has absolute freedom and independence (the medieval notion of ‘aseity’). His only constraint is his own essence and nature (in other words, he can’t be evil or non-existent). So if we’re truly going to speak about the God of the orthodox Christian faith, then asking how you get something from nothing to someone who denies Him is quite rational indeed.

    Further, if you ever hear someone posit that the universe has always existed, you need to ask them how they can say such a thing without denying time. You really run into some fatal problems with that line of thought. As bad of a philosopher as Richard Dawkins is, at least he knows to throw up his hands and shrug when asked this question.

    Anyhow, I hope perhaps that helps a little bit. I’ve debated quite often on these subjects and quite frankly it never goes anywhere other than frustration.

    Kierkegaard was right when he said you can look around at any religion on the face of the earth and you’ll hear all sorts of things demanded of you. Only Christianity demands true love. Paradoxically, that’s the one thing humans struggle with the most. I hope someone has or will show you the love of Christ in a selfless way. If they do, I think Mr. Warren is right: you’ll only have God to thank (Matt 5:16).

  8. As I once heard from one of my favorite people, “I’d rather live life believing in God and die and find out that I was wrong than live life believing that there is not a God and die and find out that I was wrong.”

    And, I am curious, Smokey and Shamlessly, What caused you to read Jeff’s blog in the first place?

    • And, I am curious, Smokey and Shamlessly, What caused you to read Jeff’s blog in the first place?

      Kim, last week I activated my stats for the first time and discovered that, in addition to stats, there are also useful features e.g. “hot blog posts” and things of that nature. Jeff’s blog was the first to pop up in that feed, and I took the bait when I saw a headline that seemed to suggest that atheists were somehow lost in confusion amid the holiday season. It’s simply not true, and I felt I had to throw in my two cents.

      But , as another commenter noted earlier, I am happy that the discourse here has remained fairly civil. If there’s one thing that I will agree with theists on, it’s that some of my brethren in the atheist community take great joy in pissing off people of a religious bent. That is not my approach. I find it bratty and snarky, and typically filled with cheap shots and intellectual short-cuts. Bill Maher, for instance, is quite skilled at this style of “atheism” (although Maher doesn’t even seem to understand what the term “atheism” means).

      For the record, I find it repulsive that Maher is even mentioned among Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett, Harris, et al. Say what you want about the so-called abrasiveness of those gentlemen, but, unlike the braying jackass Maher, they possess very bright minds and hold opinions that are well worth listening to. Ignore those folks at your peril. Feel free to ridiculue Maher, though. I will certaintly join in.

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