An Atheist’s Thanksgiving Dinner Grace November 25, 2010

An Atheist’s Thanksgiving Dinner Grace

Secular Coalition for America president Herb Silverman offers an example of a secular grace that you can use during dinner tonight:

Let us take a moment to think about where the food we are about to enjoy has come from and to acknowledge those who worked to bring us this food. Let us appreciate the earth, the sun, the air, and the water needed to nourish the plants and animals. Let us thank the farmer who cared for the plants and animals and the migrant worker who toiled to harvest the crops. Let us thank the laborer who processed the food, the truck driver who brought the food, and the grocery store workers who displayed it. Finally, let us thank our friends who prepared this meal and have provided us with the opportunity to be together and share each other’s company.

It’s perfect, really, thanking nature and the people who made the meal possible. Only someone so narrow-mindedly religious could find that offensive since a god wasn’t included in the list.

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  • mkb

    And for a Thanksgiving “hymn”:

    For All the Gifts of Life:

    We lift our hearts in thanks today for all the gifts of life:
    And first, good will that turns away the enmities of strife.
    And next, the beauty of the earth, its flowers and lovely things,
    With miracles of spring-time birth, with bounties autumn brings.

    For homes where love and kindness are, for work to do and play,
    For friendly folk in lands a-far, for comrades of the way.
    As we receive so let us give, with eager hand and mind,
    Rich fruitage from the lives we live to bless our humankind.
    – Percival Chubb in We Sing of Life (AEU Hymnal, 1955)

  • I like it. I might add thanks for our amazing universe and planet, for science (including evolution) by which we come to appreciate the wonder of life. Having said that, I might in my heart and mind, direct my thanks to the God I believe in. I might even add, “in Jesus Christ we pray.” But I will silently add those thoughts and feelings since I will be sharing Thanksgiving dinner with several all-in-the-family Atheists.

    Hermant, thanks for a “perfect” grace.

  • Jordan

    Does it have to a migrant worker?

  • Luciferadi

    Thanks for posting.

  • Um, why the fuck do we need to say grace at all?

    Seriously. Why imitate religious practices and thereby reinforce them in our society.

    Right down to the guilt trip. Can’t we allow ourselves to enjoy even one freaking meal a year without overthinking it? Jesus Freaking Christ! Must you promote imitating his followers to the extent that we should feel guilty merely for being human?

    I’m not at all religious and I’m offended by it.

  • Pali

    Have to say, I find myself fairly in agreement with muggle… I don’t see the point in imitating the ritual.

  • Samantha

    muggle – I like the idea of saying “thanks”. I don’t think its usually said before most meals and its nice to acknowledge the hard work and long chain of events that lead up to a thanksgiving feast.

    Why are you offended by just remembering the people who worked hard to give you that food? Or pausing to remember that not everyone has the pleasure of sitting down for a home cooked meal with family or friends? I think its important to think about from time to time (probably more often than most of us do). Religious folk who chalk it up to god are doing something different – thanking a deity for making it all possible…and sort of thanking him for their privilege to be fortunate enough to enjoy celebrating Thanksgiving…and maybe praying for those people who are not fortune enough (though I don’t remember my family ever doing that during the prayer) but not realizing that its not up to god to help those people and it wasn’t god who gave them the great things they enjoy. Its not about feeling guilty for being human but being human allows us to acknowledge suffering of another or the hard work of other people or the wonder of the universe.

    It may serve as just a friendly reminder to yourself or to the people in your company. Or just a nice way of saying thank you to the people you are spending time with that day.

  • Kudzuma

    There are times when, even though you’ve asked your host not to call on you to say grace, they go ahead and do it anyway. You have two choices.

    1) Be a dick about it.

    2) Take the time to say something that bring things into perspective without being religious.

    One of these options will make it awkward to ask for the cranberry sauce later.

  • a mad hatter

    I like the secular grace giving credit and thanks to where it actually belongs and not some mythical being. good idea. Yesterday, I was writing about what I was thankful for this year and how great of an exercise it was. You can definitely being appreciative and thankful without being religious.

  • FOD

    And only someone so “narrow-mindedly atheistic” would actually care what a religious person would find offensive. I am “atheist” to the extent that I do not really have a conception of God and certainly do not live as if I have any sort of obligation to God, but this blog is pretty obnoxious. Do you really need to keep telling yourselves how much better you are than theists? Maybe you really are not so confident in your beliefs if you find it necessary to bash other people every chance you get.

    In short, say your thanks without mentioning God. But the fact that you have to declare to people how you didn’t mention God seems to me to be evidence that you really have not gotten over the fact that you don’t believe in God. It seems to me that you feel guilty about the fact.

  • I don’t understand the necessity for thanking and be grateful at all. That concept is too cosmic hoo-hoo for me. Thanksgiving, to me, is about my home-made pumpkin pie and cheesecake. If any family members drop by, fine. If they don’t, fine. I would never try to guilt them into it, and I feel no need to thank nature, the universe, the sun, the moon, or God for anything.

  • Nakor

    Thanksgiving is about giving thanks you know. And not even in a religious sense really, it’s just a harvest festival. Taking one day out of your year to be thankful to all the other people within and without your lives that make your life possible can’t hurt that much can it? (I dunno about this sun worshipping business though. >.>)

  • random atheist

    Why say thanks for something you paid for? Why thank the farmer when it’s not a gift? And saying thanks to the sun is as stupid as thanking an imaginary god! Why not say thanks to your chair every time you sit down?

    Saying thanks to someone who did something beyound his obligations is a social gesture, a ritual to convey appreciation. That’s an important part of human interaction. Using the “thanking ritual” in a pseudo religous way is utterly stupid. If you just want to participate in a thanksgiving ritual, saying a “prayer thanks” works as good as any other aphorism.

  • TychaBrahe

    You can go stand on a mountain top and look down into the valley below and consider only the natural forces that created the landscape: geological upheaval and erosion by wind and water. Or you could be amazed at the beauty of the scenery. Actually, the amazement that most people feel when viewing something beautiful and naturalistic is in fact another aspect of science. Our brains find more beauty in chaos than in perfect order and minimalism.

    Most religions put deity as the center of existence. When we remove obeisance to deity, there is a strong possibility, from what I’ve seen, of placing ourselves in that center. Why be charitable when there is no deity to reward charity? Why be thoughtful when there is no deity to reward consideration? Why be polite when there is no deity to punish rudeness? And why be grateful when there is no entity to be grateful to?

    That each of us is here reading these words is a happy accident. It is an accident not just of our birth from the myriad possibilities of sperm-and-egg union at the moment of our conception, not just from the fact that we survived our childhood (during which, historically, half of all people died). The fact that the Earth exists in the Sun’s biosphere and so can support life, or that the Sun came into existence at all; that room for our species was created by an asteroid’s causing the extinction of the dinosaurs, and that the eruption of Toba some 70,000 years ago did not result in the extinction of all humans; that comet Shoemaker-Levy’s orbit did not fatally intersect our Earth’s; and perhaps most apropos of recent events, that the Cuban Missile Crisis did not result in global thermonuclear war.

    It is the nature of the human animal to feel awe. This is where religions come from. Some of you seem happy enough without awe in your lives, and if you can survive without it, then fine. But why deny the rest of us the right to be amazed and pleased at the fact that the Sun is warm, the sky is blue, the stars twinkle, and that our Thanksgiving meal is tasty? That we can explain these facts with science in terms of nuclear fusion, Rayleigh scattering, optics, and biochemistry makes them, to my mind, more awesome.

  • Kamaka

    @ FOD

    But the fact that you have to declare to people how you didn’t mention God

    Umm, read the post. This version of grace is a suggestion by a skeptic for skeptics and atheists, to help them walk through the family mine-field at get-together time. Many atheists find the obligatory “praise be to god” bit somewhere between boring and totally obnoxious, moreso because the religionists are more than happy to use captive audience time to spout their false pieties.

    …seems to me to be evidence that you really have not gotten over the fact that you don’t believe in God.

    Wrong. It’s because we have family that can’t get over the fact that we don’t “believe” in god.

    It seems to me that you feel guilty about the fact.


  • Clyde

    Silverman’s secular grace is almost as vacuous as any sectarian counterpart. I’m with Muggle; why must we indulge in this silly game of dueling graces? So, without further ado, LET’S EAT FOLKS!

  • I’m fine with a secular “grace” if your family members are counting on you to say something, but it’s not necessary from my perspective. I don’t remember anyone praying at Thanksgiving when I was growing up, so I’m not really used to someone making a big speech. Of course, I was stuck at the kids’ table for most of my childhood, so maybe some of the elderly relatives got more formal when I wasn’t paying attention. But if you must do something at the table, you could just do a short toast thanking everyone for coming together to celebrate. We used to toast the holidays at my house. Or you could go around the table and have each person say something they are thankful for. That’s pretty standard, isn’t it? I remember doing that at Thankgiving, too, and it gets rid of the expectation for a prayer-like announcement.

  • Hamilton Jacobi

    Dear Lord, thank you for this microwave bounty, even though we don’t deserve it. I mean . . . our kids are uncontrollable hellions. Pardon my French, but they act like savages! Did you see them at the picnic? Of course you did; you’re everywhere, you’re omnivorous. O Lord! Why did you spite me with this family?

    — Homer Simpson

    Dear God, we paid for all this stuff ourselves, so thanks for nothing.

    — Bart Simpson

  • Richard Wade

    Like the Pilgrims, Thanksgiving to me is a celebration of survival.

    Every year, my dwindling family has survived several challenges, and our good fortune to just be sitting together one more time is not lost on us. This year, illness in three members has disrupted the everyone-together meal. We will be pasting together what pieces of the celebration we can salvage.

    I feel grateful for the people in my life, and when they’re all in front of me, I like to say so. I feel grateful for the effort they all put into coming together, across distance, across differences in personalities and viewpoints, and despite being pulled by conflicting needs and ties with other people. I feel grateful for the gifts of food or help, or the gifts of their humor and love, and I’ll say so right there while I have them,

    before I lose the chance.

    We all say whatever we want at the Thanksgiving table. Others in my family might say a religious grace, I don’t care, that’s fine. What I say is not an “imitation of a ritual,” it’s what is in my heart, and I’m not going to miss the opportunity to tell them.

    There is no “guilt trip” involved in our Thanksgiving gathering. We feel gratitude from knowing that despite our material abundance, how bleak life would be without each other, and knowing that despite our material shortages, how wonderful life is because we have each other.

  • Richard Wade


    Thank you for that eloquent and inspiring statement. I’m a fan.

  • For me Thanksgiving is a time for friends and family to get together and enjoy each other’s company. I’m thankful that I have friends and family that like to get together for a Thanksgiving feast. If someone says a blessing with some religious words in it, I don’t sweat it.

  • Samantha, I can only say the difference between me and you is that I’m aware of the workers who get food to the grocery store year round and don’t need to have a special day each year to think of them. In fact, one thing I like about holidays is giving myself the go ahead and enjoy the celebration and not worry about the shit I worry about and activate to improve the rest of the damned year. I have argued with and somehow managed to stay friends with farmers who don’t think they should have to pay farm workers minimum wage. Hence the resentment and offense at the implication of how dare I not think of them for even one day out of the damned year.

    I didn’t mean to imply that we shouldn’t be thankful for family and friends for gathering or that we should squelch their expressions but that’s kind of covered with thank you all for being here. No need for a formal grace. I kind of like Anna’s suggestion of a toast and I have done the go around the table and say what we’re glad for thing but really it grew as tiresome as any other obligatory ritual and fell by the way side. It was boring because we knew what we’d be saying because we already say in our every day conversation that we’re glad we have each other and at least, we have a decent roof over our head and things aren’t worse.

    But, seriously, with no one but Atheists present, why is it incumbent on me to practice any proscribed ritual? Honestly, I have turkey and cranberry sauce because we like them. I don’t do stuffing because none of us likes it.

  • Samantha

    muggle – thanks for clearing that up! I didn’t mean to sound hostile – I think I was stressed about cooking and such. I know too many people who never think about that stuff :/ but in your case, it seems like a good idea to just enjoy the festivities.
    I guess its different for everyone! I don’t think folks in my family think of the less fortunate all that often (and many of them are religious, so they do say at least a mini-grace).

    If you and friends are all atheists, then I agree that the “grace” is less needed. The idea of going around the table is definitely a better one than a grace that sounds an awful lot like a prayer.

  • I think I was stressed about cooking and such. I know too many people who never think about that stuff :/

    Understood. And, thanks. I also sometimes forget what it’s like to have to put up with family/friends who don’t think about this stuff.

    I’m friends with people with opposing views but not to the degree that we’re having holiday dinners together. Usually, it’s just the three of us.

  • If the person you are thanking isn’t present to hear the thank you, you aren’t thanking anyone. This is dumb. Why not use Thanksgiving to give thanks to those responsible for the things you are thankful for. To their faces. Personally.

  • Prayer? Thanks? Eat turkey. Gather, cook, and eat turkey. I’ll be there and you don’t have to waste time on thanks.

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