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Many religious believers and atheists alike express regret at the crass materialism shown this time of year, when Thanksgiving now represents the prelude to a shopping spree for Christmas presents on “Black Friday.” I gained an appalling insight watching television on the Saturday after “Black Friday.” First I saw frenzied crowds of Egyptian protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, risking their lives to demand freedom. Then I saw frenzied crowds of American shoppers, trying to push others aside to save a few dollars on sale merchandise. Though their causes were significantly different, the crowds looked the same. This is not a form of American “exceptionalism” to be proud of.
In recent years we were subjected to a media-manufactured “War on Christmas,” when pundits decry those who say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” This year breaks new ground, because we just had a manufactured “War on Thanksgiving,” allegedly started by our commander-in-chief. President Obama gave a three-minute Thanksgiving Day speech without the word “God” in it. Here is a portion of what he said:
“We’re especially grateful for the men and women who defend our country overseas. To all the service members eating Thanksgiving dinner far from your families: the American people are thinking of you today. And when you come home, we intend to make sure that we serve you as well as you’re serving America. We’re also grateful for the Americans who are taking time out of their holiday to serve in soup kitchens and shelters, making sure their neighbors have a hot meal and a place to stay. This sense of mutual responsibility – the idea that I am my brother’s keeper; that I am my sister’s keeper – has always been a part of what makes our country special. And it’s one of the reasons the Thanksgiving tradition has endured.”
Imagine that. President Obama gave an inclusive speech showing support for the men and women who serve overseas, and also praised those who help the less fortunate at this time of year. He even provided a biblical reference that this atheist likes, the one about being our brother’s keeper (and the updated sister’s keeper). However, many Christians would have preferred he thank an imagined God rather than the real people he did thank.
They probably would have been upset, too, had Obama read from the U.S. Constitution, a document with no mention of a god. We’re a country of both believers and non-believers, so Obama shouldn’t have to say anything about God, one way or another. Atheists and theists can agree on the value of setting aside at least one day per year to give thanks, though we may disagree over “to whom” and “for what.” This should properly be left to individuals. On Thursday, I thanked my friends who prepared a wonderful Thanksgiving meal and provided us with the opportunity to share each other’s company.
I expect the manufactured war on Christmas will soon begin. Despite our secular Constitution, some continue to call this a Christian country, but others now refer to it as a Judeo-Christian country. So “Happy Holidays” is no more a war on Christmas than it is a war on Hanukkah.
There are lots of reasons for the season, some good and some bad. Here’s my best reason for all seasons, for both theists and atheists: A reminder that the best wish of all is “Peace on earth and goodwill toward men and women.”