For some, that means the acknowledgement of a deity. That’s okay, I have no problem with others believing in almost anyone/anything they desire as long as they grant me the right to be left alone to make my own decisions about such matters. I guess that means that something major I am thankful for on an almost daily basis is the right to not have somebody else think it’s their right to tell me what I have to believe in order to be considered a “good” person.
Based on my own (not truly comprehensive) study of the events of the European colonization of North America (Please note that there were other people living all over the Americas before Europeans discovered (?) them.), the colonies seem to have been founded, primarily, for two reasons. Yes, that’s almost certainly a bit of an oversimplification, but bear with me.
One reason was to achieve financial rewards. As I understand it, the Spanish and Portuguese colonies (primarily in Central and South America) were, largely, interested in gold, silver, jewels, etc. (money and wealth). Yes, they DID engage in “Christianizing” their colony’s original inhabitants, but I’ve not seen evidence that that was a primary motive. The English ones, were (mostly) sponsored by groups of business investors who had every desire to make a profit from their supplying of the transportation, food, supplies, etc. to the actual colonists. Those colonists, for their part, were expected to establish themselves as quickly as possible and provide profits to the investors in the form of foodstuffs, timber, tobacco, animal hides, minerals (if available [I suspect they were hoped for]) which the investors could sell in England and Europe. It was also assumed that, eventually, the colonists would provide a market for goods which the sponsors could import back to the colonists at a profit. That notion shouldn’t be a particular surprise as it seems to me to be the standard, capitalistic viewpoint which has been around a long time and remains strong in many places.
The second primary reason, as best I can tell, was quite different, but seems to have motivated a fair number of the people who were the actual colonists. That motive was based on the fact that England had an official religion, the Church of England, and it was required of all citizens to at least pay formal homage to that denomination. By the early 1600s, when colonization was starting, the Reformation was well underway and there were a substantial number of variations within the Protestant church as well as, of course, those who still favored the beliefs of the Roman church. (Note: non-Christians were, largely ignored as not worthy of attention except to try to convert to the “true” religion (whichever denomination was current at the time), but, mostly Church of England. One doesn’t have to look very far to discover that this had led to considerable tension between various groups, burnings at the stake and other “punishments” for intolerably incorrect beliefs, etc. It WAS possible, however, to escape the rigid control of the Anglican Church, by colonizing a “new” land in the name of the “correct” beliefs (that is the ones supported by MY (the RIGHT) group and making OUR beliefs the “official” religion of that colony. And, while that’s a bit simplified, that seems to be, generally, what happened in most of the English colonies.
Of course, the (so-called “native”) people who were living on the land which these colonies claimed for themselves (by virtue of having been “awarded” them by a European monarch who had never been to these continents, but claimed dominion over them by “Divine Right”?) had what to them were perfectly satisfactory religious traditions of their own, but THEY didn’t count because (not being civilized, enlightened, Christians) they didn’t really count as people, in spite of the fact that several of the British colonies wouldn’t have survived for very long without help from these “uncivilized” “Indians,” because the colonists had no idea how to deal with the realities of this land. The Spanish/Portuguese colonists seem to have just made slaves of the “locals” most of the time.
In any case, since there was a significant religious component to many (if not all) of the British colonies, it’s no wonder that, while they could, and sometimes did, cooperate on matters of mutual defense against the natives, whom none of the colonies treated very well and who came to resent being driven off of land which they had been present on for a long time by these foreign people who just took what they wanted and (from the native point of view) abused it because they wanted to turn it into “European” farmland by clearing the trees, destroying animal habitat, putting up walls to define “ownership, use it for farms, etc., even when it wasn’t really very suitable for that purpose.
Still, the colonial belief was that God (in the person of the English king) had given this land to these people for their own and the native people, who were obviously incapable of developing it “properly,” didn’t really count, and so they could, legitimately, just be ignored. After all, WE (the RIGHT believers) had our plots of land and, so, we could largely ignore THOSE other people who thought that THEY were right, but were really “incorrect” as they were just “heathen Indians.”
And, to return to my theme here, a number of the colonies had various sorts of “Thanksgiving” celebrations fairly early on in their colony’s existence. The descendants of those early colonists still argue as to when the “real” FIRST one (almost as if it really makes a difference in the long run). Personally, I fail to see how it matters much. The standard myth places the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth, in what would become Massachusetts. Given the religious basis for most (if not all) of the colonies, it makes perfect sense that various ceremonies of Thanks to whichever version of the Deity was accepted locally would have been common once the colony (ANY colony) seemed likely to survive.
One thing which I am NOT especially thankful for is the standard insistence of virtually all religions, denominations, sects, cults, etc., that THEY and ONLY they are the true holder of absolute TRUTH. Now, I will grant you the right to believe almost anything you wish, but I will NOT accept the idea that you have the right to decide for ME! If you feel the compulsion to try to convince me that I should adopt your beliefs, I might (on a good day) be willing to discuss the matter with you, although I am more likely to suggest that we have a discussion as to whose beliefs seem to make the most sense based on something more than religious doctrine. After all, when you insist on starting from the premise that The Holy Bible (or whichever “Holy Scripture” you prefer) is the complete, revealed word of the only God which counts, it’s difficult to suggest that you are approaching the issue with any degree of objectivity, reason, or logic. In that case, there is really nothing which can be discussed, as you have made up your mind before starting.
As far as I am concerned, you have the right to believe that way, but it is a fact that there are numerous other writings, most of which contain somewhat similar basic principals and which some people would suggest have similar (or greater) validity. I’ll be honest, I don’t know, but I have real doubts that any one system is the “complete, absolute, and final TRUTH” which is provably beyond any discussion!
There are a number of ideas regarding how we should behave and treat each other, for example, which I accept as desirable, not because some deity, prophet, or “spiritual advisor” said so. No, I accept them because they seem to make sense to me, as they seem likely to lead in the direction of making my life, and the lives of those around me, easier, better, safer, etc. Do I KNOW this will be the result? No! But, it seems likely to me, so I’ll probably keep on supporting them until I discover some reason to change. Then, I’ll try to make the changes needed to improve.
I am exceptionally fond of the Peanuts strip below. I think it dates from a good many years ago, but I can’t read the date, as if it really matters.
“It doesn’t pay to be too optimistic, Watson. Remember; pessimists are surprised as often as
optimists, but always pleasantly.”
When I consider the amount of human suffering which has occurred in the name of religion; (many, if not most wars, inquisitions, impalements, crusades, “witch” burnings and other variations of “punishment”, stoning of people, the entire Holocaust, etc., etc., etc.), I confess that I find it a bit difficult to always think of religion (as practiced) in particularly optimistic terms.
Still, while one could say a good deal about religion of a somewhat negative nature, the IDEAS of religion (ALL of them that I have come across) of taking care of those less fortunate than oneself; of trying to relieve misery, poverty, hunger, etc.; of trying to be fair and honest in one’s dealings with his fellows; etc., make it difficult to reject religious principals altogether. I confess a stronger background in Christianity than any other tradition, although I suspect a true religious scholar might find similar ideas elsewhere. It seems worthy of note that, drawing from my own small knowledge, I remember that Jesus is said to have hung out with tax collectors and other undesirables; suggested that the “woman taken in adultery” (Note: there is no indication that her guilt was not proven.) should not be stoned to death (the standard punishment) except by folks who believed that they were not also guilty of doing improper things; and used the example of a Samaritan (a member of a disliked, rather heretical, group not considered to be very reputable) to indicate what he considered was proper behavior towards others less fortunate than oneself. And, I don’t think that it’s fair to suggest that these sorts of acts and ideas can be limited to Christians. After all, Jesus was a Jew, or at least he appears to have thought (and said) so! This being the case, I find it unfair to suggest that a number of (perhaps, all) religions may have redeeming virtues to go along with some of their less desirable features.
All things considered, I think it’s possible for each of us to find things to be thankful for on Thanksgiving. If you can’t be thankful for family, friends, comfort, etc., volunteer at some charity to make life a little better for someone who has greater problems than you do. I can pretty much guarantee that there are people who can use a little help. If you can help someone else, be thankful you can do so; if you need a little help, be thankful that it’s probably findable.
Have a good Thanksgiving!
I’ll be back,
P.S. I’m also thankful to have discovered/remembered some new quotes to include in my signature. Yes, it MAY be getting a bit long, but I think of these as words I try to live by.
“In all my years, I never seen, heard nor smelled an issue that was so dangerous it couldn't be talked about.”
— Stephen Hopkins in 1776, the musical
“Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic, capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it” — Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children”
— Nelson Mandela
“Not everything which can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted”
— from a sign in Albert Einstein’s office
“No amount of evidence will ever persuade an idiot.”
― Mark Twain