Parenting: Can an Atheist be thankful?

“The most terrible moment for an atheist is when he feels grateful and has no one to thank.” -Anonymous

A statement that used to cause me to be puzzled is the one above. Yet, I heard that statement many times over the 21 years I spent as a Christian. I grew up in a home where we rarely “gave thanks”, in the traditional sense. My upbringing, until my teenage years, was an environment where god was assumed to be real, but rarely was he discussed. Yet, I often found things, and people to be thankful for. Their truly is not any reason why an atheist could not be thankful. The silly assumption in the quote above is that an apparent large percentage of the things we have to be grateful for, have to be divine in origin, and divine only.

“Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good. His love is eternal.” –Psalm 136:1, CSB

In the Christian faith you are supposed to give god thanks for everything that happens in your life. Your spouse gives birth to a healthy child, give thanks to god. You’re able to put food on the table, give thanks to god. You get a great job, thank god. The more twisted versions of this thankfulness would be when you are ill. However, most mainstream Christians teach that even in your pain you are supposed to give thanks to god. After all, Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (KJV). In the Christian faith, no matter what happens to you, whether extraordinarily amazing, or horribly bad, praise god.

So, how do I teach my children?

Bertrand Russell has said, “Good parenting is inspired by love and guided by knowledge.”, and this is where I believe every kid thrives. A Christian would have to avoid reality to suggest that a belief in god is the “thing” prevalent in every healthy home. Just like Christians do not own the corner on “good people”, they do not own the corner on good children, a healthy home, or gratitude. I know the necessary message of the Christian is that you don’t have it all, and that answer is Christ, but this is simply missing a larger point. I know that the “hole in your life” analogy has been preached in front of me many times over the course of my life. The basic concept of this analogy is that you feel an emptiness inside of you, the speaker knows this, and his answer for that emptiness is god. Where in reality that hole is love, and knowledge. The “thing” in our parenting does not have to be god, but it better be love, and knowledge. This is no different in aspects of being grateful. I absolutely will teach my children gratitude. Yet, unlike the Christian, I do not have to explain gratitude as belonging to god, but instead to actual things. You see, I can explain to my children that they can be thankful to the doctors, and modern science when we bring home a little sibling for them to love. I can explain to my children that when we put food around the table this thanksgiving, and everyday, that we can be thankful to so many actual, living people. We can be thankful to the farmers, we can be thankful to the grocery store workers, we can be thankful to whoever made the meal (Mommy or Daddy, or if someone brings food, thankful to them). I can show my kids that when good things happen to us, that there are real people that we can be thankful towards, and that this big 7.6 billion person world we live in gives a lot to be thankful for, and that it is all of us that makes the world go round. Additionally, when we experience heartache, or pain, or suffering we can be thankful that we are still breathing. We can be thankful to the doctors for easing our pain, or the pharmaceutical companies for their hard work at making medicine to help us through ailments. There is a lot to be thankful for, and I would suggest that the list is even larger for an atheist.

The godless Pastor,

Billy Crocker



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