December 6, 2022

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Thanksgiving in a secular America

4 min read

For most of us, Thanksgiving has lost all meaning — except for gluttony, sales and football games.

We’re losing Thanksgiving because we’ve lost a sense of the Divine. As more and more Americans become secular, we’re becoming a people who’ve forgotten how to say thank you — not just to God, but to each other.

But it starts with God.

In Deuteronomy, Moses instructs the children of Israel that after they enter the promised land, they are to “take the first fruits of the ground” as an “offering of thanksgiving.” They were grateful for their liberation from Egypt, for having been kept safe in the wilderness for 40 years, and for the “good and spacious land” to which the Lord led them.

The Pilgrims who landed on Cape Cod in 1620 followed that tradition. They had the first Thanksgiving dinner with their benefactors among the Wampanoag tribe after their first harvest.

They were grateful for arriving safely after a perilous 10-week voyage, and the survival of their colony through the first harsh New England winter. Their Thanksgiving was America’s first religious holiday — before we were even Americans.

Fast forward 400 years. 

According to a 2021 Gallup survey, we’ve reached a turning point. Fewer than half of all Americans report that they belong to a church, synagogue or other religious body, compared with 70% as recently at the mid-1990s. With the decline of religion has come the rise of incivility. 

People are nastier, more impatient, ruder. There’s more shouting, more shoving, more assaults and more sky rage. Many walk around with a perpetual chip on their shoulder, ready to take offense at practically anything.

Confirmation comes from flight attendants, waitstaff, clerks — anyone who deals with the public. It’s light-years removed from the ‘50s culture, when men tipped their hats to ladies, or the Victorian era, when new acquaintances bowed to each other.

How many will hold the door for you, even when your hands are full? Who still says “excuse me” when they walk in front of you? How often does someone ask, “How you are” and really mean it.
It’s no coincidence that as America has lost its faith, we’ve lost a sense of responsibility for each other.

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” “What is hateful to you, do not unto others,” “Show kindness to strangers, for some have entertained angels unawares.”

Americans have so much to be grateful for — our form of government (guaranteeing freedoms most of the world can only dream of), our abundance, being part of nation that went from a few colonies clinging precariously to the Eastern Seaboard to the preeminent super-power a few centuries later, not to mention the many fine young men and women who sacrificed to guarantee our liberty.

“It’s all about me” has become our national motto, replacing In God We Trust.

Take the most controversial issue of our day — abortion. The woman who is appalled by Dobbs is saying, in effect, “Nothing matters but me. It’s my body. I have a right.”

“I don’t want to be inconvenienced. I don’t care about the humanity of the unborn child or God’s commandment concerning taking innocent human life. I also don’t care about the precedent abortion sets (euthanasia, the rationing of medical services) or the good of society.” Is this not the essence of selfishness?

Guess who taught her to think this way — her and the rest of Gen Xers and Gen Zers? The left controls the culture, which inculcates an attitude of ingratitude.

It’s not what they have but what they don’t have.

While those with a religious perspective would say: “Thank God I was born in this country, with the bounty we enjoy.” 

They would say: “Yes, but there’s inequality, oppression (unlike the societies they favor, like China and Iran), and we’re destroying the environment.”

You might say: “Thank God for the family.” They would say: “What, that patriarchal institution that perpetuates the subjugation of women and children and blocks social progress?”

So, here we are, a nation divided. But there are more of them all the time and fewer of us.

The essence of Thanksgiving is gratitude. If we can’t thank God, we’ll never be able to thank others. And we’ll become a nation of Scrooges, muttering “bah, humbug,” as we shove past those who get in our way.

Ingratitude and incivility go hand in hand.

• Don Feder is a columnist with The Washington Times.

Don Feder
2022-11-20 13:26:49

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