It always puzzles me that atheists, who presumably have no problem accepting the idea that all men endowed with certain inherent attributes that allow for political equality, human rights, civil liberties and human worth will deny the possibility that men commonly share a sin nature or the tendency to be corrupted by selfish desires and ambitions.
But then again atheist thought is never noted for its coherence or consistency.
Those who deny the existence of the spiritual shouldn’t complain when our celebrations becomes exercises in materialistic consumption.
With the possible exception of Christmas, Thanksgiving is perhaps our most overtly religious holiday. It began with an official imprimatur to undertake a religious act, by our first President George Washington:
Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.” Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us. And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord. To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and Us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best. Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789. – George Washington Thanksgiving Proclamation, New York, 3 October 1789
It is a tradition which continues with us to this day with little change to its religious character in description if not in practice. Considering the movement to secularize our society, it causes me to wonder if Thanksgiving could exist apart a belief in the existence of God?
At first blush it would seem obvious that such an event wouldn’t exist apart from a belief in God because the act of thanksgiving implies that there is someone to whom one can give thanks. From a purely materialistic and naturalistic vantage point such a notion is nonsense. If naturalism is true we are at best the result of the incidental processes of a mindless universe. That we ended up where we are is merely the outcome of a series of events set in motion from the beginning of time; it would no more make sense to give thanks for this than it would to curse the universe for not giving us wings. It simply is as it is no matter what condition one might find oneself in. Even if we are grateful for the place we ended up due to a lack of pain or suffering or because we have material wealth, such gratefulness is limited to a small fortunate portion of humanity – it certainly isn’t something a nation could celebrate together. One might suggest we be thankful for to those who made the choices they did to allow us to experience whatever fortune we have – our parents, our forefathers, those who serve in the military, etc. However, from the materialistic mindset giving thanks for the acts of others is nonsensical as well; those persons were merely acting in accordance with the same mindless process that produced them and their circumstances. They could no more choose to bless us with good fortune than they could choose that we might have pleasant weather.
It is quite different for the believer. With God in the picture our thankfulness doesn’t have to be a matter of pretense or good fortune. All people have first and foremost the greatest gift of all – life, and with it the opportunity to experience the purposes for which we created. We have creation itself, in all its vastness and glory – a place where we are the crowning jewel of God’s achievement, the only part that is self-aware and able to have a relationship with both our Creator and our fellow creatures. And though our present condition is corrupted by human choices and shortcomings, we can have the hope of eternity, a conscious experience where we have direct knowledge and the optimal experience of the love and purpose that comes from knowing God. As a Christian I am confident this comes through Christ alone.
So I am thankful then most of all that I can give thanks, and that I know the only One who that it makes sense to give thanks to. Happy Thanksgiving.
*In keeping with my ‘no media month’ I am re-blogging a number of posts. This post was originally published Nov. 11th 2009 in the midst of the Healthcare bill debate. The points it makes are still significant to the debate over Obamacare today.*
I am certainly no healthcare expert, nor am I a noted economist (or even an ignored economist), so I don’t feel adequate to delve into the nitty gritty of the current House bill. However, it doesn’t take an expert to observe that over the course of the debate about health care from the current administration, there have been numerous contradictions, both in terms of logic and fact. Many of these get short shrift in the 30 second analysis we get from the media.
One of the first logical contradictions one notes has to do with the ‘Healthcare System wastes 800 billion dollars’ vs. ‘Insurers regularly deny care’ claims. On one hand we presented with a picture of stingy health insurers, who routinely deny care in order to line the pockets of their greedy CEO’s. Meant to elicit support for healthcare legislation by generating hatred for the imaginary rich, this…
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I was thinking about two incidents I referred to in my last post, namely the Christian students walking out of a talk by gay activist Dan Savage at a high school ‘journalism’ conference when he was attacking them and their beliefs, and the incident at Indiana University where transgender students attempted to disrupt a talk by Pastor Doug Wilson on human sexuality and the Bible. In many ways these two incidents highlight the difference between the views of conservative Christians and the Secular Left with regard to free speech rights.
Christians generally believe people should be free to express a variety of opinions, but students shouldn’t be forced to listen to speakers attacking their beliefs whereas those on the Secular Left don’t believe those they disagree with should be allowed to speak at all.
The idea that the Left is more supportive of diversity and tolerance is perhaps the biggest lie foisted on modern observers.
Greatness as measured by Christians differs significantly than that found in the secular world. Those who are considered great by estimation of the unbelieving world are generally those who have succeeded in some great ambition – perhaps it’s amassing wealth, the building of significant structures or development of new technologies. It might be discovering a new scientific theory or a new land. Often it is the accumulation of political power through founding a movement or even more directly through military success. Whatever the consideration, greatness in this world is measured by what is gained.
The Christian view of greatness is directly the opposite of this in that it considers not what has been gained but what was lost or surrendered. Christ gave His life. Paul gave up his authority as a Jewish leader. St. Francis surrendered his wealth. Loss in this world is gain in the next, and so the greatest wealth of a saint is always the depth of his or her sacrifice.
Because of this upside down economy, the heroes of the faith often begin by being humbled. Paul was literally knocked from his horse in the midst of persecuting the church, originating the idiom to be “knocked off one’s high horse”. Augustine was called by the voice of children to surrender an empty life of carousing and licentiousness. John Newton the writer of Amazing grace and slave trader turned abolitionist was brought low by illness before his conversion.
Chuck Colson’s own humbling brought him to a place of faith, and eventually greatness. He came to national prominence as Special Counsel to then President Nixon in 1969. In that capacity he became a close advisor of Nixon’s, often advocating the harshest measures in dealing with the President’s ‘enemies’. It was in this role he was to become notorious for playing a role in the worst political scandals of the 20th century – Watergate.
In 1974 Chuck Colson was indicted for his involvement in the cover-up of the Watergate burglary, and as he was facing arrest a friend gave him a copy of C.S Lewis’s Mere Christianity. The reading of this book, no doubt coupled with his impending conviction and imprisonment brought the necessary humility into the life of Chuck Colson to accept the grace-filled message of the gospel. The ‘Hatchet-man’ of Nixon became an imprisoned servant of Christ. It was this time in prison that was to lead to the chronicle of his conversion titled Born Again, a Biblical phrase that came to become a popular description of those who had become Christians.
His imprisonment also gave birth to what is perhaps his greatest work of service, the founding of Prison Fellowship, a Christian ministry specifically dedicated to work with prisoners and their families. It was a work that was eventually to have national and international impact meeting the needs of the most hopeless in our society.
Colson also turned his attention to the influence of Christians in our culture, using his experience in government to explore the proper role we play as those who speak truth to authority while avoiding the pitfalls of the corruption of power and ambition. He became in many ways the embodiment of the command of Christ to be ‘in’ the world but not ‘of’ it. He received a number of awards for the work he did but always turned his influence and wealth back to helping others.
I only saw Colson speak ‘live’ once, at a large gathering of Christian businessmen in the area a few years ago. Of course he was the highlight of the event, but he was completely unassuming and without a hint of self-importance. His message was simple and direct, that all our wealth and power meant nothing if it was used to influence those around us for Christ and meet the needs of the neediest among us. His words had power because he had been living them for decades by then.
By the measure of those who have no regard for or understanding of the work of the gospel Colson will forever be party to a hated administration. For those who understand grace, humility and the transformative power of Christ Colson will be as the book of Philippians proclaims, one who will “shine among them like stars in the sky”.