This June 21, 2011 file photo shows a billboard at 417 North James in Columbus, Ohio, one of several put up by Freedom From Religion Foundation.
This Thanksgiving, before digging in to the holiday feast, many Americans will bow their heads in prayer. They’ll thank their god for providing them and their loved ones with the good fortune received over the year, perhaps specifically showing appreciation for the health of those gathered, the well-being of the nation, and the food before them. At the same time humanists, atheists, and other nontheists will be thanking a different source for the abundance they and their loved ones enjoy.
Just this week there was a big step forward in the search for better treatments and a future cure for Alzheimer’s disease. The gene that triples the risk for Alzheimer’s was identified. It took a collaborative effort between scientists at various academic research institutions to discover this important part of the puzzle about what causes this sadly common disease. Humanists thank these scientists for dedicating their lives to challenging that which is the source of great suffering.
Last year, the leading evolutionary psychologist, Steven Pinker, published an important work that shows something we all can be thankful for: how violence is steadily declining across the span of human history. Pinker, who was the American Humanist Association’s 2008 Humanist of the Year, put together a remarkable presentation and explanation of the facts as we know them regarding violence around the globe in “The Better Angels of Our Nature.” He showed how the media’s hyperbole about violence is misleading, and that over time, as we learn to reason better, get to know each other better, and empathize with others better, we become nicer to each other.
In this time of ongoing economic hardships, instead of seeking help from above, there’s an organization called Rolling Jubilee that is using the existing debt markets to buy up and forgive the debt of those who need help. Relying on the generosity of others, Americans from coast to coast may have their debts forgiven. And of course, there are many good charities that have increased their workload in the years since the economic crash to better serve those in need.
And while there are many wonderful religious charities out there, it’s not just the traditionally religious who are charitable either. The atheist team on the microloan charitable site Kiva remains the leader in funding future farmers, educators, shopkeepers and more, lending almost $9 million so far. Humanist Charities helped raise funds that resulted in bringing the first supply ship to the city of Jacmel after the earthquake two years ago in Haiti. U.S. nontheist groups combined efforts to support the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society this fall, and according to Foundation Beyond Belief, raised over $340,000.
Perhaps the easiest connection for the faithful to recognize is that the food before them didn’t fall from the sky like manna from heaven. Of course, most immediately, it came from those who took the time and energy to cook. But that which was cooked came from the wages or goodness of those who worked. And that food that stocked the shelves from which it was taken was placed there by the businesses international, national and local. And most of that food comes from small and big farms where it was grown by farm workers. And that was grown with the benefit of the agricultural sciences and people who figured out how best to make food happen. It’s humans all the way down.
Humanists are thankful to humanity and even the natural world for providing us the food and resources before us, the means to enjoy them, and the scientific advances and technology that help us better ourselves and our experience here on this planet. For humanists, it’s not a supernatural being that made their families, their communities, their countries, and this world a better place, but instead, it is generations of people in an unending pursuit of progress. Humanists are thankful for the great thinkers and courageous activists who risked their lives to bring us freedoms to think and believe and be who we are. And as we approach a season marked by giving and togetherness, humanists are thankful for the opportunity to learn, teach, and help others.
Personally, in addition to the above, I’m thankful for there’s a special day set aside for us to come together with family and friends, watch football, eat delicious food, experience love, enjoy each other’s company and reflect on what we’re all thankful for.
Roy Speckhardt is executive director of the American Humanist Association
Related content from On Faith:
Bronfman: A day devoted to gratitude
Schneier and Ali: Muslim, Jews feed thousands across North America