Thanksgiving is a holiday in which people are expected to give thanks, but who should we give thanks to? Religious believers offer their thanks to their deity of choice, and as a result, I commonly hear from religious believers that there is no one for atheists to be thankful to since we lack a belief in such deities.
This couldn't be further from the truth. Atheists aren't thankful to imaginary deities; we are thankful to actual people. Not only are we thankful to the loved one in our lives, but we are also thankful to all the people throughout history who have contributed positively to our way of life.
It is important to communicate our thanks to those in our everyday lives who often get taken for granted; maybe it is a family member, friend, or perhaps just the friendly cashier you chat with every so often at the supermarket. Far too often people tend to only express their thanks to the dead. I hate to break it to the religious, but the dead can't appreciate that thanks because they are... dead! This is almost certainly the only life there is and so on this holiday we should make a point to communicate our thanks and appreciation to those who are still alive.
The way I see it, Thanksgiving is a Humanist holiday. We should be thanking people all the time. However because we often get busy with our own problems, lives, and daily hustle and bustle, we tend to forget to share our feelings of gratitude. Thanksgiving is a great time to remember to do just that.
Family and friends often travel great distances to sit and enjoy a meal with each other. This sometimes can cause conflicts brought about by old grudges, differing political ideologies, and differing views concerning religion -- among many other issues. Despite these conflicts we still love our family and old friends. This love might be hard to see in the shadow of all that conflict. Still, we ought to take a moment during this holiday to put aside the conflicts and thank our loved ones for the positive attributes that they bring to the table. Remind them of your love for them and you might be surprised at how some of those conflicts start to resolve themselves -- no miracles or deities required.
Our society is built off the hard work and innovation of human beings, and we should also be thankful to those who have come before us and who have advanced human progress and human prosperity.
God didn't create computers, and Jesus didn't have to die to give us the Internet. People created and innovated the technology we use every day. People learned how to treat and cure so many of the diseases in the world. This wasn't knowledge imparted to us in some holy book or by divine revelation; it is knowledge we learned through the scientific process with hard work, long hours of study, and dedication. We should be thankful to those people for their efforts.
More than that, we have a responsibility to continue that process going forward. Thanksgiving isn't merely a passive holiday; it is a motivational one. We have to be the ones that future generations will thank. This should motivate us to do great things because despite the claims of many Christians that the End of Days is coming soon, atheists are thankful that this belief isn't true.
We're thankful to live in a time when we are capable of understanding our place in the universe and have the tools of logic and reason to help us begin to understand the universe itself. This is an exciting time for humankind, and I for one am thankful to be living at a point in history when people are slowly starting to give up ancient superstitions in favor of modern science.
As I have shown, there are so many things that atheists are thankful for, but if theists really insist that one must be thankful to a deity in order to properly celebrate Thanksgiving, then I guess there is something that I can be truly thankful for. As the old joke goes, "Thank God I'm an atheist."