Wednesday, November 21, 2007

"When did God Come into Thanksgiving?"

That's what Mrs. RSI asked when I told her about the conservative effort to "bring God back into Thanksgiving.

As always, Mrs. RSI is right.

Newt Gingrich argues that "historically, Thanksgiving is about renewing the bond between Americans and their Creator. It's a time when we are reminded that our rights come from God and that we have responsibilities to God as free citizens." (Gingrich, Winning the Future, Nov. 20, 2007)

Given the association of Thanksgiving with the harvest, it would probably be more accurate to say that Thanksgiving used to be about forgiving god more than thanking him. It's the same with harvest festivals all over the world. Of course, there is the conventional "thanking" of god for the blessings of the harvest. Who doesn't know the religious routines of their societies? But people were primarily congratulating themselves for bringing in the harvest after long summers and autumns of backbreaking labor and constant struggling against the droughts, insects, parasites, floods, frost, and heat.

And who brought about all of those difficulties? God!!! For sincere Christians like the Pilgrims, the difficulty of producing food begins with the expulsion from the Garden of Eden in Genesis and it's always been believed that god punished human sin by bringing about the natural disasters that traditionally made farming so difficult.

That's why harvest festivals like Thanksgiving always feature a big banquet. Much of what Thanksgiving dinner celebrates is the triumph of people over god or the gods and humankind's reconciliation with divinity at the moment of their triumph over nature.

Much of what Thanksgiving was about the generosity of spirit in sharing food and other bounties of the season, and part of that generosity is extended to god as well.

It's kind of touching in a way.

Of course, now that the United States is no longer an agricultural society, the holiday of Thanksgiving is even less connected with gratitude toward the Christian god than it ever was. Mrs. RSI and I are in our fifties and neither of us have heard about god in relation to Thanksgiving outside the forgettable conventions of saying grace. Thanksgiving was always about taking time off from work, relaxing, enjoying family and getting ready for the even bigger holiday blow-out of Christmas.

And that's the way it should be.

As for god, I don't believe in a god or any other kind of divine presence. But if there is anything divine in the world, I'll be in a very forgiving mood after dinner.

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