Thanks to humanity

AP This June 21, 2011 file photo shows a billboard at 417 North James in Columbus, Ohio, one of several … Continued


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

Lamott: ‘What I’m really thankful for this Thanksgiving’

Nielsen: Thanksgiving?

Thistlethwaite: Thanks and giving: Why Wal-Mart “Black Friday” strikes are important

Schneier and Ali: Muslim, Jews feed thousands across North America

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  • MaureenMower

    As a Humanist, I am thankful most of all for the advances in medical science that have helped keep my husband alive the last few years as he underwent cardiac bypass surgery, had a stent placed to prevent the rupture of an aortic aneurysm, and after being diagnosed with stomach cancer, enabled his surgeon to remove the stomach and some surrounding tissue and lymph nodes to remove the initial tumor, and the cancer research that has provided him with effective treatments to halt the progression of the disease. I am also exceptionally thankful to the men and women of Congress and the former President who enacted Medicare, as without that program, my husband could not have gotten those treatments, and would very likely not be here today.

    I am also thankful to my fellow Americans for re-electing our President, and ensuring that the Affordable Care Act will remain the law of the land going forward. As someone who has been uninsured for many years now, I look forward to 2014 and the opportunity to finally be able to get insurance at an affordable rate – something I could not do previously due to my age and pre-existing conditions.

    I am extremely thankful to my family and friends who have provided so much emotional, practical, and even financial support at times over the last few years while my husband and I endured so many challenges with his health. Without their love, care and thoughtfulness, I would not have had the strength to be strong for him.

    Finally, I am thankful for humankind as a whole. I am continually amazed at the resilience and courage of the human spirit – something that has clearly been seen in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. Many of the neighborhoods I lived in during my 45 years on Staten Island before moving to PA have been devastated, yet the people (my former neighbors) have not given up, and are eager to rebuild. Additionally, so many others on the island are reaching out, whether with donations of clothing, food, and cash, or by volunteering

  • Catken1

    Thank you for letting me know about the Kiva team. They’re one of my favorite charities, and from now on, I’ll make my donations for that team.

  • Catken1

    Why, your holy book tells you that people who don’t follow your holy book are sinners! How unexpected!
    When you can provide evidence for your God, please do so. You’ll probably get a Nobel Prize, if you can provide enough convincing, rational, scientific evidence to suggest that the universe was created, and to prove the existence and nature of that creator. Go for it.

  • nature chaplain

    Thank you for these positive and hopeful words. I’m grateful for more reasonable and freethinking voices speaking out in the faith-dominated public square. Let’s work to bring believers and non-believers together in collaborative work for the benefit of all. There’s something to celebrate!

  • ezrasalias-socialize

    Every generation of Christians have always said that their generation is part of the last days, all the way back to when Jesus said it first. It’s a hollow wish for them, and a macabre one at that.

    All technology, cures for disease, the advance of education, the enlightenment have been done by humanity without the need of a deity. You can have your gods, but give me a doctor over prayer any day.