I give you P.Z. Myers:
This whole notion that one should have vague and aimless feelings of gratitude for the nature of one’s existence is just too weird, and the bow-your-head-at-the-table and radiate-blessings-at-the-cosmos tradition is pointless and silly. Don’t get me wrong: I can be appropriately and happily grateful to people who have gone out of their way to do good for me — Mom will get a phone call, and my wife will get a hug, and they really are appreciated — but for the most part, our existence is not the product of selfless altruism, and there is nothing out there that can be aware of just how glad you are to be alive, no matter how fawning and fulsome you may be.
The universe is cold and uncaring. You may be grateful that you weren’t vaporized by a meteor falling out of the sky this year, but there’s no agent out there who will feel pleased that you noticed, and the fact of your general relief that your existence continues will not be a factor in the motion of space rocks in the next year. I am happy that the microbes didn’t turn me into a pile of putrefying goo yet, but it wasn’t an act of thoughtful kindness on their part, since the little bastards are doing their best to get past my defenses all the time, and all that’s keeping them at bay is my constant expenditure of energy to keep my immune system at readiness. And they’ll also get me one day, for sure…unless that meteor vaporizes me into a cloud of inorganic molecules with minimal nutritional value first.
We’re all doomed. We are currently survivors by luck, sustained by selfish processes, and I don’t thank luck, because she (if she were an autonomous self-aware agent, and she isn’t) will turn for me or against me without concern for my feelings. Nature is not appeasable, get over it.
That poor bird that most of you will have on your dining room table is a perfect metaphor. It went through its life dumb and mostly content, getting its feed shoveled in front of its face every day, and then last week the machineries of profit began to move, and it found itself trussed on an assembly line. Then a gang of people who were mostly concerned with trudging through another day and making a living wage decapitated it, gouged out its guts, stripped off its feathers, and wrapped it in plastic so you could thoughtlessly stuff fragments of its carcass into your hungry maw. The universe did not rotate about that bird, and neither does it spin about you.
If you’re eating tofurkey, you aren’t off the hook, either. Think of the soybeans!
Myers’s religious sentiments–or lack thereof–are entirely his business, of course, and no one should come between him and his conscience. But after pointing out that he can be thankful to and for his loved ones, he trashes Thanksgiving . . . which involves people being thankful to and for their loved ones. To be sure, there can be a religious element to Thanksgiving, but there does not have to be, and one can celebrate one’s bounty without being under the impression that the universe “spin[s] about you.” Yeah, in the long run, we’re all dead, but while alive, we can celebrate a sense of togetherness with the people we care about. Apparently, however, that’s too much for the curmudgeonly Myers to take.
Whatever. Next year, I’m going for a share of his turkey, seeing as how he doesn’t seem to want any. In the meantime–whether the universe cares about me or not–I am grateful for private property, which helped the very people who helped bring Thanksgiving about. Hope your Thanksgiving was a happy, enjoyable, non-grumpy one.