Spreading Holiday Skepticism to Thanksgiving

By Jason Torpy

The Christmas season is coming up, much to the chagrin of, well, basically everyone. There’s a strong contingent of Christmas-loving atheists and humanists, but for the most part, precious few of us overlook the Christian history.

Some say, “Family, charity, songs, and a bit of good cheer. What could be wrong with that?” In response, some atheists want religion out of culture. Skeptics say kids are duped into one more mythical hero. Various partisans advocate for HumanLight or Solstice or Kwanzaa or Hanukkah. Christians want the Christ back in Christmas. Some Christians want to take the Christ OUT of Christmas. Tom Flynn, head of the Council for Secular Humanism, purposely works on Christmas every year and wrote the book “The Trouble with Christmas.” Retailers wonder how they can push Christmas shopping into the Halloween season without creating mass confusion.

But with all this criticism of Christmas, why not point a finger at Thanksgiving? Why hate Thanksgiving? Well, there’s the wasteful tradition of feasting with resources and funds that could alleviate hunger. The mass slaughter of turkeys, pigs, and turducken shall make vegans like me cry foul (get it?). We vegans shall rend our garments with equal horror at dining monstrosities like tofurkey. As a culture, we value the feast more than we value our health or our charitable natures. Let’s come together in our families, eat a healthy meal, and if we can, let’s help those in need enjoy a meal as well.

During this season, we suffer a whitewash of the Native American heritage of our land. We imagine a bountiful harvest in a peaceful land. We forget important lessons regarding the religious and racial prejudice most settlers held regarding Native peoples. We forget enslavement, conflict, and disease brought to this land. We forget the Native culture of democracy and agriculture lost and overlook the repercussions felt today. The impact of European settlement in America on the Natives seems less than the impact of slavery on African Americans only because so few Native Americans live today to tell the story. November is Native American Heritage Month, and let’s dedicate our Thanksgiving pageants and plays to tell the story from the Native’s perspective.

John Rodwan, Jr wrote in Humanist Network News in 2010 about the historical and religious errors reinforced during the Thanksgiving holiday. “Regardless of when, where or how they [gave thanks], the grateful didn’t thank goodness or luck; they thanked God.”

So lastly, Thanksgiving begs the question to whom thanks should be given. The popular answer is to give thanks to God, such is our religious heritage. We should jettison that misguided gratitude. Choose people to whom you are personally grateful: family, doctors, teachers, and maybe even a few politicians. Meet in person and write letters. The CNN Heroes project runs annually near Thanksgiving and provides an admirable example of directing thanks to those people who make our world a better place. Gratitude is a secular value that should be practiced in daily life, and Thanksgiving should include well-placed gratitude.

Many are quick to criticize Christmas, but Thanksgiving deserves the same scrutiny. Thanksgiving is a fine holiday, but it could be so much more if we distill it to progressive humanist values. We humanists should be able to celebrate secular Christmas of charity and family rather than consumerism or supernaturalism (even if we prefer to call it HumanLight). We’ll also be better off if we celebrate a secular and humanistic Thanksgiving of proper gratitude, family, charity, and honest lessons from history.

Jason Torpy is treasurer of the American Humanist Association. He serves as president of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers (MAAF).