Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Thanksgiving Thoughts

I was sitting in the orthodontist’s office, waiting for him to get to me, reexamining the various implements on the dentist chair and half listening to the conversation between my orthodontist and one of his assistants.

The orthodontist described how he was taking care of his elderly next-door neighbor’s lawn and was in general looking out for him – certainly very kind behavior on his part.

His assistant agreed that it was very sweet of him, adding with a sincere expression, “It’ll bring you good karma. It really will.”

That struck me. A fellow does kind things and it is natural to believe that it will somehow help his own life in the future. But how does that happen – how does one explain that feeling? Once you’ve stopped believing in God, I suppose karma is all that’s left.

When this assistant, who is a perfectly pleasant and well-intentioned lady, sits down to her Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday, whom does she imagine that she is thanking?

“Thank you for allowing me to enjoy this meal,” she will say (or will at least mean). But thank who? Is she thanking her karma? Is she thanking herself perhaps – “good work on getting through another year”? But it would seem sort of silly to have a national day of personal self-congratulation.

Thanksgiving Day is of course a religious holiday – one that an atheist cannot celebrate. The first American Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621 by the Puritans, but it did not become a annual holiday until Lincoln made it one in 1864. In April 1865, two days after the war ended and four days before he was murdered, he declared a special day of Thanksgiving in the last speech he ever made, “He, from Whom all blessings flow, must not be forgotten. A call for a national thanksgiving is being prepared, and will be duly promulgated.”

Lincoln was never in doubt as to whom we give our thanks. Maybe he had a point.

13 Comments:

At 4:19 AM, Blogger Alex said...

First of all, while I'm sure that the assistant to whom you refer used the term in an entirely secular manner, let's not forget that karma is a religious concept--Hindu, I believe, although I couldn't tell you with absolute certainty. I hope, then, that you didn't intend to define "religous" to include only those religions which adhere to the belief in the Judeo-Christian diety. After all, were you to do that, you'd be leaving out half of those who, at least in theory, sat at the original thanksgiving table.

Second, the notion that Thanksgiving is an inherently religious holiday is simply inaccurate. Let's return, to the original "Puritan" Thanksgiving to which you so aptly referred. The more memorable form of thanksgiving that took place on that day was directed--not at G-d--but at other human beings. Of course, the feelings of gratitude that came from the settlers wouldn't last long. But in the narrow context of the holiday that we continue to celebrate, the most meaningful form of thanks was, then, and potentially is, now, that which is offered from one person to another. Certainly, people have both the right and, indeed, the obligation to give thanks to other people--and not just to G-d. Even an atheist can do that.

 
At 5:55 AM, Blogger Matthew said...

Karma is a religious concept; and yes it is a Hindu concept. To break it down Barney style, it is basically the notion that "what goes around comes around".

That being said, Thanksgiving is and has always been a religious holiday. To state that the Puritans, a very strict Christian group, did not celebrate Thanksgiving as a religious holiday is quite amusing. I doubt very much that such a strong religious group was bend on creating a secular holiday of thanking one another. The deeper meaning was always to give thanks to G-d. Yes it could have also included thanks to one another and perhaps the natives, but its strongest element was always thanks towards G-d. If you ask an average American today who they are giving thanks to on Thanksgiving, most would say G-d.

 
At 10:32 AM, Blogger Alex said...

You needn't have defined karma for me "barney style." At 4:20 in the morning I was capable of remembering what it was. I just wasn't willing to stake my life on where it came from.

Anyway. . .

Exclusively because "most Americans" would consider Thanksgiving to be a religous holiday doesn't mean that it actually is one. Most of America, after all, believes Halloween to be secular--and as anybody with a modest education ought to know, such a belief is purely fictional. Moreover, you, as Dan, fail to take into account the vantage point of those sitting accross the table. According to your argument, it is the position of the Puritans, alone, that matter. To disregard the role of the Indians who, in just a short period of time, we'd so brutally slaughter, is a tad Eurocentric, don't you think?

Finally, I'd like, if I may, to reiterate my original argument which, as of yet, remains irrefuted. In his original post, Dan set up a false dichotomy. He suggested that if one isn't thanking G-d on Thanksgiving, one must be thanking oneself. I'd contend that being appreciative of what others have done is as important--if not more so--than being grateful to G-d. And even the Talmudists are with me on that one.

 
At 10:46 AM, Blogger Alex said...

You needn't have defined karma for me "barney style." At 4:20 in the morning I was capable of remembering what it was. I just wasn't willing to stake my life on where it came from.

Anyway. . .

Exclusively because "most Americans" would consider Thanksgiving to be a religous holiday doesn't mean that it actually is one. Most of America, after all, believes Halloween to be secular--and as anybody with a modest education ought to know, such a belief is purely fictional. Moreover, you, as Dan, fail to take into account the vantage point of those sitting accross the table. According to your argument, it is the position of the Puritans, alone, that matter. To disregard the role of the Indians who, in just a short period of time, we'd so brutally slaughter, is a tad Eurocentric, don't you think?

Finally, I'd like, if I may, to reiterate my original argument which, as of yet, remains irrefuted. In his original post, Dan set up a false dichotomy. He suggested that if one isn't thanking G-d on Thanksgiving, one must be thanking oneself. I'd contend that being appreciative of what others have done is as important--if not more so--than being grateful to G-d. And even the Talmudists are with me on that one.

 
At 11:06 AM, Blogger Matthew said...

You can certainly be thankful to one another. That is somewhat important I guess. More so than thanking G-d, I don't think so.

Secondly, who defines what a holiday is? It's probably the people celebrating it. There is not some imaginary holiday council that sits around telling me and most Americans what Thanksgiving "really" means. The individual determines what Thanksgiving means and it just so happens that most Americans see it as a day to give thanks to G-d. That makes it a religious holiday no matter what the holiday police say.

Some people may not see it as a religious holiday, but some also do not see Christmas as a religious holiday. We're talking about the majority in a society here. Not the 1 or 5 or 10% who are out in the cold doing their own thing. Because 12% of Americans do not celebrate Christmas or do not think it is a religious holiday, would you classify that as not being a religious holiday too?

Your point about the natives is completely irrelevant and misguided. It is not Eurocentric to think of this holiday through the eyes of the European immigrants that STARTED IT; especially since I am of European ancestry. And please spare me the poor natives were slaughtered speech. Find me a perfect society or people who have never committed any such actions and I will have found myself a liar. Does it make such actions ok, certainly not. I would say, however, that it is time to move on and get over it. Learn from history, prevent it from happening again, and move on. I do not sit around complaining during Ramadan because Muslims have slaughtered, enslaved, and opressed millions throughout history.

 
At 11:36 AM, Blogger Alex said...

Your comments are so absurd so as to almost not warrant a response--and your tone, by the way, is unnecessarily derrogatory.

Some people--I'm not sure where you got your figure, but I'll presume, until you tell me otherwise, that you made it up--consider Thanksgiving to be a religious holiday. Some, however, do not. It is the holiday's ability to work both ways, in accordance with the specific person celebrating it, that makes it a secular observance. The Puritans who celebrated the first Thanksgiving were clearly Christian. But nothing about the standard rituals of the holiday, themselves, makes the event an inherently religious one.

Moreover, to say, as you do, that the holiday is religious (or, really, a monotheistic, as you seem to define it) prevents people who are not Jewish, Muslim, or Christian from celebrating it "appropriately." Such a position is absurd, exclusive, and antithetical to the spirit of the cultural interchange that marked the grounds for the holiday's foundation in the first place.

As for the "please spare me the poor natives were slaughtered speech" component of your arugment, it is misguided on YOUR part to believe that we have, in fact, "learned from history." Clearly, you don't know too much about our current relations with American Indians or, I trust, you wouldn't have made such a remark. In a broader sense, our failure to productively intervene in Darfur, and our abhorrently poor efforts in New Orleans--to say nothing of the war in Iraq--prove that we, still, have much to learn. Would you suggest that people forget the Crusades, or the Inquisition, or the Holocaust because it is time to "move on"? I, of course, cannot speak for you, but I would hope that you would not support such a position.

You're right; I cannot find you a "perfect society." But by striving to protect religious freedoms, by making myself conscious of the needs of other cultures, and by attempting to actively learn from mistakes once commited, I, at least, am making an effort to forge a better one.

 
At 6:56 PM, Blogger Janelle said...

Well, anonymous. I suggest a reading list. Perhaps William Bradford's The History of Plymouth Plantation?

"Being thus arrived in a good harbor, and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of Heaven who had brought them over the fast and furious ocean, and delivered them from all the perils and miseries thereof, again to set their feet on the firm and stable earth, their proper element."

This sentence harkens upon what Dan, Matthew and I presumably understand and what you may not. Now, surely, God did not pluck them from the ocean and set them on dry land. Yet, they thanked him for delivering them, eventhough it was the capatain and fine crew that got them through the ocean. The pilgrims understood it to be God's grace. Whether you yourself believe in God or not doesn't hamper with the fact that this was the type of mind-set the Pilgrims and Puritans had.

Now from Edward Winslow we get a portrait of the first thanksgiving:

"Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labors; they four in one day killed as much fowl, as with a little help beside, served the Company almost a week, at which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deer, which they brought to the Plantation and bestowed on our Governor, and upon the Captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty."

And again from the proclamation issued by Governor Bradford:

"Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as he has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience.

Now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the day time, on Thursday, November 29th, of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty-three and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings."

I think that takes care of your "giving thanks to one and other" arguement.

The religious tradition continues in 1789 when George Washington proclaims a national day of thanksgiving.

"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 and 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 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 enable 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 has 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 to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase 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."

74 years later, Abraham Lincoln reiterated this sentiment in his own proclamation.

"The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union."

Thanksgiving is a religious tradition that is uniquely American and, even now, incredically unobscured in meaning.

 
At 12:58 PM, Blogger Republican Dan said...

Well, I see much has happened while I wasn't watching the comment box. Janelle, your suggested reading list is truly excellent. In the argument between you and anonymous, you have what he would consider the unfair advantage of literacy.
Let me break things down in simple terms that you will understand, Mr. Anonymous:
1) Matthew, Janelle, and I are right, and you are wrong.
2) The American Indians have no important connection with Thanksgiving -- they would be utterly irrelevant if not for the fact that they deserve some mention in connection to the manner in which they murdered American settlers and nearly prevented Thanksgiving from ever coming around.
3)Morality only exists inside the Judeo-Chrisitain religion. Judaism is the inventor of the moral code. Religions such as the Hindu have sets of rules and beliefs, but let us not become confused and state that there is more than one morality.
4) I see that you stil fail to understand.
5) I have to study for a Calc final, so I hope that you will excuse me.

 
At 6:16 PM, Blogger Alec Brandon said...

Why do the roots of something have to be have any bearing on how it is not practiced.

Sure Thanksgiving may have originally been religious, but it sure as hell is not now. Crazy-ass Puritans justifying it whatever way they want does not make it so.

By your logic, we should not be celebrating Christmas in this country because the Puritans refused to. Their rationale was that Christmas started as a celebration with no biblical references to December 25th which just so happened to coincide with the Roman pagan wintertime day of celebration. This is why the Puritans who came to the US refused to celebrate Christmas, they saw it as un-Christian. So does this mean that people who now celebrate Christmas in the US do so incorrectly when they do it thinking they are incorrectly celebrating Christ's birthday (the bible seems to indicate that Christ was born in the spring)? Are we all celebrating a Roman pagan festival because that is the root of it? Should we not celebrate Christmas because the "Puritans said so"?

My answer would be who cares because honestly does it really matter. Shit changes, live with it.

-Mr. Alec

 
At 3:05 PM, Blogger Alex said...

Well, said, Mr. Alec, well said.

As for you, Republican Dan, I find it hard to believe that you have any way of knowing how much I have or have not read. The extent of my literacy, if I may say so myself, is quite good. And I have the decided advantage of not being quite as Euro-centric as you appear to have been in your book selection.

As for your other comments, your sense of what is "morally decent" is absolutely shocking. I find it appalling that you emphasize the "ruthless killing" of settlers but fail, entirely, to acknowledge the complete and utter obliteration of American Indians. There is a reason that Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) introduced a bill which would require Congress to offer an official apology to Indian tribes. The wrongs committed against them were not imagined--regardless of what you'd like to believe.

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, I'd like to turn to your claim that "morality only exists inside the Judeo-Chrisitain religion." There seem to be an infinite number of approaches that I could take to refute that claim. But I'll start by asking whether you have ever actually read the Hebrew Bible. Have you? Cover to cover? I'd recommend it if you haven't. It's really quite a remarkable read. If you have, I'd call your attention to Ruth and Jonah, to the figures of Abraham and Moses. You should be ashamed, as a Jew, to believe that Jews and Christians are the sole possessors of "morality."

Speaking of Christians, how do you reconcile the points at which Jewish and Christian standards of morality differ? The two religions are not the same, after all. They feel differently about things like war and abortion. How can you contend that the "moral code" that lies at the heart of Judaism and Christianity is the only standard of decency if their moral codes are, in fact, rather different?

I also find it rather entertaining that you believe me to be male.

 
At 11:26 PM, Blogger Janelle said...

Well, Dan is extraordinary busy at the moment-- finals and all that jazz, but don't think he'd mind me coming in and commenting on what you have said anonymous. First of all, not only did he think you were male, but myself as well. Maybe this has something to do with the fact that you persist in calling yourself "anonymous". We'e not clairvoyant.

"The extent of my literacy, if I may say so myself, is quite good. And I have the decided advantage of not being quite as Euro-centric as you appear to have been in your book selection."

I am not certain about what you are referring to particulary, but I can assume that it has something to do with Dan's comment on my reading list, which he praised saying that I have what youmay consider as the unfair advantage of literacy. The purpose of the passages that I carefully selected was to show the religious roots of Thanksgiving which you had previously, denounced. Not only the roots, but the specific religious symbollism it held for a nation as echoed by two very distinguished presidents.

"Finally, and perhaps most significantly, I'd like to turn to your claim that "morality only exists inside the Judeo-Chrisitain religion." There seem to be an infinite number of approaches that I could take to refute that claim. But I'll start by asking whether you have ever actually read the Hebrew Bible. Have you? Cover to cover? I'd recommend it if you haven't. It's really quite a remarkable read. If you have, I'd call your attention to Ruth and Jonah, to the figures of Abraham and Moses. You should be ashamed, as a Jew, to believe that Jews and Christians are the sole possessors of 'morality.'"

Now, I am not sure I he's read it cover to cover. But I can assure you that Dan has not only read the Hebrew bible, but studied it as well. And for you to assume his own literacy (in what I can only believe to be a spiteful jab at Dan), after trashing him for "assuming" yours is beyond low.

I am also not so certain why exactly you brought up Jonah, Ruth, Moses and Abraham I have no objection to them at all, in fact Ruth is my second favorite biblical women figure. However, I am not sure whether or not you brought them up to prove how Dan should be ashamed for believing, as a Jew, that Jews and Christians are the sole posessors of morality, or not. Your arguement is so vague I have a hard time composing an adequate response. Did you say morality, meaning the knowledge of right or wrong? Or did you mean it as in a set of moral codes established by the Jewish and Christian God, belonging to those people. Your definiton would help me greatly in responding. As well, I am curious to know you reasons behind singling out the four figures mentioned earlier.


"Speaking of Christians, how do you reconcile the points at which Jewish and Christian standards of morality differ? The two religions are not the same, after all. They feel differently about things like war and abortion. How can you contend that the 'moral code' that lies at the heart of Judaism and Christianity is the only standard of decency if their moral codes are, in fact, rather different?"

Clarification please. Are you talking about the modern state of Jewish and Christian beliefs and morals, or are you talking about the traditional Jewish and Christian values, taken from religious text?

 
At 9:58 PM, Blogger Sircnay said...

Hmmm....

Self-righteous she-monster who has angst against irrelevant circumstances? Check.

Being a hypocrite at the same time? Check.

Wow all you have left to do is burn a bra and you'll completely fade out of my spectrum of hilarity and move right into the spectrum of disillusioned dream smasher. I haven't developed the senses to be able to observe that yet. So if you would, could you hold up on that bra burning thing until I do?

You know, I think it's pretty funny that you claim the ability to read as a feat that deserves respect. I think most people who can log onto the internet can read. I'm an accomplished amateur race car driver, but you don't see me using that as an argument.

I don't know what's more ironic, you putting an angsty negative spin on a holiday that asks us to remember and thank one another or that you think it's more PC to type out G-d rather than God. I find that offensive.

 
At 2:24 PM, Blogger Reuven said...

"a holiday that asks us to remember and thank one another"

You just argued Alex's side.

"you think it's more PC to type out G-d rather than God. I find that offensive."


Apologize. Now.

 

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