A Christian sent me a question after they had read my blog post, Be Thankful. In the post, I commented about how we humans tend to worry about the most insignificant things, even though we have such a finite amount of time to be alive. The reader then emailed me a question asking who an atheist thanks when they feel thankful.
Fair question and I will do my best to answer from my point of view.
Many religious people think that atheists have no one to thank when they feel thankful, because they do not have a God to thank when they feel happy, are successful, have an epiphany or feel joy in their life. This is a myth but one that I can understand from a theistic point of view. Religious people are quick to thank their deity when something goes well in their lives. They cannot imagine how their lives would be if they set aside their belief in a deity and they may have never had the opportunity to be thankful without having to thank a God.
The truth is that atheists can still thank people when things go right in their lives. For example, I’m thankful for medical science and the researchers and doctors who have had a huge impact on life expectancy on this planet. I’ve visited the doctor and have undergone successful surgery, and I never once thanked an invisible deity. I thanked the person directly responsible for my recovery – the doctors and nurses.
I’m thankful for my wife who sacrifices for me on a daily basis. I’m thankful to my kids, who make my life better every day. I’m thankful that I have a chance to experience life, although I thank my parents who were responsible for my birth and upbringing, and never feel the urge to thank an invisible deity.
In other words, I thank the people who are directly responsible. I personally think that thanking an irrelevant God instead of the people directly involved in my life, would be an insult to them. It implies that their effort is less worthy of my thanks than that of an invisible deity of some sort, and nothing could be further from the truth.
For example, in the news recently there was a story about a crash victim who had been rescued by fire fighters. What makes this story unique is that a priest showed up by somehow circumventing the roadblocks. He then proceeded to anoint the car and tell the fire fighters that their equipment would now function, thanks to him saying some magic words. Another crew of fire fighters showed up, and they had working equipment. They were able to remove the critically injured woman and rush her to the hospital. The priest was nowhere to be seen.
Lots of newspapers picked up the story, and called the woman’s rescue a miracle. They questioned whether the unknown priest was really an angel or a messenger from God.
What a slap in the face to the real people responsible for this woman’s rescue. Instead of thanking the fire crews, police and medical personnel who saved this woman, people were instead trying to find a miracle to thank God for.
Forget that the priest explicitly said the first crews equipment would now work, which it didn’t. Forget that it would be easy to lose track of someone while trying to save a life. Forget that the priest must have crossed a roadblock and could have gotten in the way of rescue efforts. Forget that there are hundreds of possibly natural explanations.
It must have been God. It was a miracle!
When you’re looking for a miracle, you can easily convince yourself that one took place. But anyone who is using an ounce of their critical thinking skills could easily see that nothing about this event was a Godly miracle. It was a natural miracle, and one that would have been impossible without the hard work and dedication of the professionals who actually saved this woman’s life.
Do theists not ask themselves questions such as:
If it were really an angel, why didn’t god stop the wreck before it happened?
Why doesn’t God send angels to every critically injured person? Do only believers rank an angel? What sort of a benevolent God picks and chooses who gets an angel and who doesn’t?
Why is God sending an angel to this person, but allowing millions to starve or die of disease worldwide? Does he not hear them crying out to him?
If God is all-powerful, why not just heal her on the spot and remove her from the car? After all, if you have infinite power, it would take no effort whatsoever to save her and make her whole.
Why did the woman’s condition improve only once the second fire crew got there with working equipment and once they were able to remove her from the car?
The answer to the question is we atheists tend to thank those who are directly or indirectly responsible for our happiness, and who play a big part in our lives. There is no need to thank an imaginary being, because they are ultimately irrelevant. This does not make us lonely or depressed. We do not need a God to thank and it doesn’t mean we feel our lives are meaningless.
This is simply a myth that some theists like to perpetuate because they want atheism to seem hopeless and meaningless. I’m not suggesting that the person who asked that question meant it in that way, but the myth is a long-standing one that has no basis in reality.EDIT: It turns out that the mystery priest was a real priest and not a guardian angel. I know…shocker that it was something natural, and not something supernatural. Despite all the people who thought it might have been a dead saint or something, it turns out that the priest was just trying to help, no super-human powers were involved. You can check out the truth of what happened if you follow the link provided.