The Problem of Thanksgiving for the Unbeliever

I suppose that I should make one qualification up front. And that is that I personally know a number of non-Christians who are very thankful people and who thoroughly enjoy the celebration of this American holiday. There can be no doubting the deep Christian roots of this event, but regardless of one’s faith (or lack thereof), there is much in life to be thankful for as Americans. I should also state up front that many people (Christians included) live out their lives holding to a variety of inconsistencies without paying them any mind or suffering as a result of said inconsistencies — such is the natural end of living in a post-modern world. My intent here is not so much to argue the merits of a thoroughly consistent worldview, but rather to raise the question of Thanksgiving for the atheist, assuming the value of a consistent worldview.

To begin with, there are several categories by which we may mark our thankfulness. The first, we could think of as “personal thankfulness,” which would reflect a certain sense of satisfaction for having made choices or having done something that brought benefits to your life. “I am so glad that I chose such-and-such a restaurant for dinner” or “I am thankful that I chose to strive for this goal” are the kinds of mental thoughts that would accompany this kind of thankfulness. This thankfulness is good and important, but I would suggest that it makes up a smaller percentage of the state of our thankfulness than one might initially think. Simply put, often that restaurant was suggested by a friend or we were helped to the particular goal by others and the timing was perfect for you to be successful. Thus, this kind of thankfulness often is at least partially dependent on events or persons outside of you as an individual.

And that, then, leads us to the second kind of thankfulness: thankfulness toward others. This reflects the kind of thankfulness that is directed towards another human being who has done something that has benefitted you. It might be a nice gift, but it also might be found in the form of advice, counsel, or even a rebuke. As I look back on my life, I am very thankful toward certain friends of mine who had the integrity to tell me that I was about to make a stupid mistake if I took this or that action. I might not have felt thankful at the moment, we seldom do when people speak truth to us, but over time, once my ego stopped swelling and my self-defense mechanisms returned to their proper place, I realized the wisdom of what was told to me and was thankful to have such friends.

Yet, again, this kind of thankfulness, while common to our experience, likely does not make up as large a proportion of our total thankfulness as we might think. The reality is that even in cases like this, there are still elements of providence (the atheist would likely call them coincidence) that are outside of the control of either you or the person toward whom you are thankful. For example, there are chance meetings that brought about conversations that led to the advice (or whatever) you happened to be given. And how did you make such a friendship? The singular friendship that I have maintained from my years at the University is that of a lady with whom I happened to get lost on campus. It seems that the two of us were given wrong information as to where a certain English class was to meet and we both ended up in the wrong corridor together at the same time. The typo on our course-lists, the fact that neither of us had received the correction (when most of the class did), and the timing by which we bumped into each other were all elements that were outside of our direct or indirect influence. I am thankful for all of these events because she and I have kept up correspondence over the years and have encouraged one another as we have both gone our separate ways in life. If we are honest as we survey the landscape of our experience, there are numerous such events that can be traced in our lives for which we are surely thankful. Again, some would call these things coincidence, from a Christian perspective, I choose to use the term “providence.”

Thus far, at least in the immediate sense of personal satisfaction and thankfulness to someone for kindness, there is no contradiction between the atheistic worldview and said thankfulness. In fact, were an atheist choosing not to be thankful for these things, one would have to draw the conclusion that something was wrong with the person’s thinking. Yet here is where the consistency comes to an end, for how is it that someone can direct their thankfulness toward someone (or something) in which he does not believe? Let me explain.

If I am given a gift, while I am thankful for the gift, I will typically express that thanks toward the one from whom the gift came (to do otherwise would be considered rude). That is easy enough to do when a friend or neighbor gives something to us, but what about when providence shines its face upon our lives? To whom (or to what) does the atheist express his thanks? Arguably, one of the reasons that ancient man began worshipping idols was to solve this dilemma. At least in the stone representation of that which his imagination dictated was the source of good things, one could then direct one’s thanksgiving. Yet, the atheist does not set up idols of wood or stone.

The likely answer to this dilemma that the modern atheist will bring to the table falls into one of two categories. One view is to argue that all things are determined by a sequence of cause and effects and thus these things took place and they could not have not taken place. This worldview is referred to as “fatalism” and is a form of deterministic approach. The atheist who holds to this view ought, then, be thankful for nothing (for what happened logically must have happened and could not have been otherwise) or recognize that their thankfulness also is simply a result of chemical interactions that are a result of causes (and again could not have been otherwise), thus making the idea of thankfulness devoid of meaning (it is simply an experience). Any discussion of thanksgiving, from a fatalistic perspective, reduces itself to meaningless absurdity and is thus neither internally consistent nor helpful if one is trying to be consistent with their worldview.

The second, and arguably more palatable, solution of the dilemma as to whom shall we express our thankfulness is to argue that what I am referring to as “providence” is nothing more than pure random chance and thus, I am not thankful to chance, but thankful for chance, in turn, never directing one’s thanksgiving toward someone or something. Yet, how can one be thankful for something that is purely random? Even the craps-shooter praises “Lady Luck” for his good-fortune with the dice. It is not that which is random that we are thankful for, but we are thankful for that which guides or superintends that which is perceived to be random. Granted that the atheist will likely counter that we simply perceive someone guiding “chance events,” but our perception is little more than a figment of our own imaginations. Certainly, the question as to whether God is a figment of our imagination or not is a discussion to be pursued, but not here because this response of the atheist is meant to do little more than to distract from the question at hand: can an atheist be thankful in a meaningful way while still being consistent within his atheism. The answer to the matter must be “no,” for thankfulness must be directed outside of oneself, particularly for the events and circumstances that we have no control over. I am thankful, for example, that I was born and raised in the United States of America in a middle-class home with a family who loved me. This very fact has afforded me opportunities that I would not have had were circumstances different. Yet there is not one aspect of these circumstances that I can say that I had any control over. I might thank my parents for loving me and for their choice to reside in America, but their choice to do so was also based on events that were outside of their sphere of influence (where there were jobs, etc…).

So, where does that lead us? No, I do not expect a run of atheists coming into the church, giving up their unbelief, and accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior because their worldview has inconsistencies. Sure, it could happen, but that would be a work of the Holy Spirit, not the work of a logical argument. In addition, it should be noted that Christians are not the only ones who can appeal to this kind of argument, any religious institution that envisions their gods interacting with the lives of men can appeal in similar ways. My purpose is to appeal to what I believe is an inward desire that we each have — and that is to have a worldview that is consistent with experience, reason, and itself. I have had atheists say to me, “I am thankful for my inconsistency,” but deep down, is that a very satisfying way to live? Is intellectual inconsistency either satisfying or something to thank oneself for? I would suggest it is not and would counter that intellectual consistency is not only satisfying, but it is something we desire deep down (and ought to because we are made in the image of a God who is perfectly consistent with himself).

8 Comments

  1. NotAScientist

    “I am thankful for all of these events because she and I have kept up correspondence over the years and have encouraged one another as we have both gone our separate ways in life.”

    I respect this feeling.

    I, an atheist, am not thankful for those events. I am happy that they took place. But not thankful. As you yourself point out, being thankful implies someone or something towards which one must give thanks. And so, for the events and actions that I can tell were performed by people, I am thankful to those people. For things that happen that I do not see as having any intent behind them but resulted in a positive outcome for me, I am happy.

    And I don’t see that as being inconsistent.

    When I celebrate Thanksgiving, I am celebrating my thankfulness to other people. And because I’m an atheist, I am free to celebrate a holiday in any way I like. Which is one of the best side-effects of being an atheist, to be honest.

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    1. preacherwin

      NotAScientist, thanks for your response. And you are right, as I mentioned in the post, there is nothing inconsistent to be inwardly thankful or to direct your thankfulness toward another who has been kind to you. Beyond that, as you point out, it is inconsistent to be thankful for things that seem to be entirely random, though I confess to you that you are the first atheist I have spoken with who will say that you are not thankful for such events.

      My curiosity is piqued though; how consistent is your experience with your practice? In other words, does not being thankful for seemingly random events come naturally or is that a discipline you had to develop as you began developing your atheistic worldview? For example, I have had many experiences where I happened to be in the right place at just the right time by absolutely no design by my own. I have benefitted greatly from those situations and as a result, I am thankful and cannot conceive of not being thankful for those experiences.

      Well, I do hope you enjoy Thanksgiving as you choose to celebrate it, though I would suggest that redefining a holiday to fit one’s personal worldview is not being faithful to the history or tradition that surrounds the day. If I might make one final observation, your closing comment is quite accurate, given my experience. It seems, based on those atheists that I have spoken with, that the most significant obstacle for atheists coming to the Christian faith has been their desire not to submit to the authority of one who is outside of them (namely a transcendent God). If we submit to his authority, then logically it follows that he has the right to make demands upon our life and upon our worldview. In submission, one not only has to cease celebrating any way one likes, but one must also cease from living any one in which one would like.

      w.

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  2. NotAScientist

    “In other words, does not being thankful for seemingly random events come naturally or is that a discipline you had to develop as you began developing your atheistic worldview?”

    It comes naturally, and it’s not terribly different. Something random happens, it turns out positive, and the net result is my happiness. In the event that someone caused an event, I would be happy and thankful to that person. As I don’t believe there is anyone to thank in these circumstances, I’m just happy.

    I don’t even really think about it.

    “Well, I do hope you enjoy Thanksgiving as you choose to celebrate it, though I would suggest that redefining a holiday to fit one’s personal worldview is not being faithful to the history or tradition that surrounds the day.”

    Why does one have to be faithful to the history or tradition of a day?

    I enjoy a holiday that, however it started or however it is celebrated by others, involves spending time with people I love, showing them I care about them and having good food with them. Calling it “Thanksgiving” or “Christmas” or “Diwali” or “Saturnalia” matters less than the people I spend time with. And the name I choose to give the holiday only really effects the kinds of decorations, the kinds of food and whether or not we give presents.

    The core of any holiday, at least to me, is spending time with people you care about. And being an atheist, I can celebrate any and all holidays, regardless of their histories or origins, and use them to show others how much I care for them.

    I prefer not to limit my celebrations.

    “It seems, based on those atheists that I have spoken with, that the most significant obstacle for atheists coming to the Christian faith has been their desire not to submit to the authority of one who is outside of them (namely a transcendent God).”

    I believe you misread me.

    As I said, being able to celebrate whatever I want is a nice side effect. But it in no way caused or encouraged my leaving Christianity, and in no way prevents me from becoming a Christian again.

    My reasons for being an atheist are completely separate from the reasons I enjoy being an atheist. Even if being an atheist was disheartening and made me unhappy, my reasons for being an atheist would not have changed.

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    1. preacherwin

      NotaScientist,

      First of all, let me apologize for the delay in getting back to you; I trust that you can imagine that Thanksgiving is a busy day around my household and preparing for it, given additional church activities, means putting some things on the backburner temporarily.

      Secondly, forgive me for misreading you. The impression I initially had was that you were and had pretty much always been a professing atheist. Yet, as you mentioned in your comment, you began in the Christian church and chose to leave. May I ask what caused you to do so?

      My comment about submitting to God’s authority being one of the most challenging stumbling blocks for atheists coming to Christianity was not meant to be an insult nor was it thrown out flippantly. Instead, the conclusion has been made as a result of talking to quite a few atheists and perhaps also from “reading between the lines” as to their comments. The bottom line is that it is far easier to believe something because “it makes sense to you” than to believe an authority that says, “this is true in an absolute sense.” For those of us who are Christian, we recognize that there are times we will not fully understand things, but need to submit our minds and our wills to the authority of one greater than we are and who has communicated to us (in an absolute sense) through scripture (the 66 books of the Bible). Whether they word it in that way or not, most of the atheists that I have met find this a great stumbling block.

      I do hope that you had a pleasant thanksgiving, but something you stated really strikes me as odd. You stated:
      “Why does one have to be faithful to the history or tradition of a day?”

      Please don’t take this as arrogant, but it seems to me that when you celebrate a day in a way inconsistent with its tradition or history, you make the day meaningless. If you tell people that you are going to celebrate “Thanksgiving” or “Christmas” or any holiday for that matter, the very choice of words you use carries with it connotations that convey information to those with whom you are communicating.

      For example, if Independence day is coming up and I decide to get out a manger scene or put out a Christmas tree, people are going to think that I am a bit confused and if I expect that on July 4th, people will give me wrapped gifts or that a stocking will be filled on the hearth, I will be sorely disappointed. It is the history and tradition behind the day that gives the celebration of the actual day meaning, so it is hard for me to divorce the two.

      Now, do understand that I am not saying that you do not have the right to pick and choose elements of the day that you wish to celebrate. As a professed atheist, I would not be surprised to hear of you celebrating Christmas with an overweight man clad in red and flying reindeer. I would be surprised, though, to hear of you going and spending the eve of Christmas in church. In contrast, as Christians, my family focuses on the birth of Jesus and we downplay the other elements (my kids have never known Santa to arrive at the house, though we do give modest gifts). The point, though, is the recognition that though the day has secular significance, it is built on a distinctly religious event. Thus, were I to celebrate Chanukkah, for me to celebrate it as a Christian event would not be true to the meaning of the days, instead, I should recognize it as a Jewish holiday that I might choose to celebrate.

      And perhaps to anticipate an objection, yes, I am aware of the tradition of the festival of Saturn that fell in December and that was redefined when the Christians gained power in Rome. I also recognize that Jesus was most likely not born in December. The decision to put it there was for pragmatic reasons (replacing a pagan holiday with a Christian one) and based on a theological presupposition that Jesus’ life was totally symmetrical and thus the day that Jesus rose from the dead would have been the day that Mary had conceived him in her womb in the first place (thus placing the birth in December). All of that I get, and whether the decisions were wise or not, I was not there to influence those discussions. Any which way, the day was chosen to celebrate the birth of Christ–a kind of rival holiday. To the best of my knowledge, there is no longer any cult of Saturn to compete for the day, so the holiday that won out was the Christian one and the one with Christian meaning and significance, the other dying away.

      We have digressed, though, from the initial point. I still would posit that a heartfelt thankfulness is expressed outwardly toward those from whom you have received blessing. Yet, for those providential good things that happen to you (the things you would refer to as random chance), one has no one toward which to express thanks.

      Thank you for interacting with me on these ideas, i welcome your continued dialogue.

      win

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      1. NotAScientist

        “First of all, let me apologize for the delay in getting back to you”

        No apologies necessary.

        “Yet, as you mentioned in your comment, you began in the Christian church and chose to leave. May I ask what caused you to do so?”

        I was raised as a relatively liberal Roman Catholic, and was even confirmed into the church. I left because for the first time in my life, up to that point, I gave the religion serious and detailed thought and consideration. Over the course of a few years I came to the conclusion that the reason I had been a believer were not good reasons, and looking at the religion (or any religion, so far) critically showed me no good reason to remain a believer.

        To be specific, my main reason was the lack of good evidence for the supernatural claims made by Catholicism and the other religions I ended up researching.

        “For those of us who are Christian, we recognize that there are times we will not fully understand things, but need to submit our minds and our wills to the authority of one greater than we are and who has communicated to us (in an absolute sense) through scripture (the 66 books of the Bible).”

        Ah. Perhaps you were correct, but I misread you.

        You are correct that I will accept no authority when it comes to believing or not believing something. I only accept evidence.

        So, it’s not so much “I’m an atheist because I don’t want to listen to God!”, which is what I read your comment to mean. It’s that I don’t view authority as a good reason to believe anything, regardless of the identity or claimed identity of that authority.

        “but it seems to me that when you celebrate a day in a way inconsistent with its tradition or history, you make the day meaningless”

        Meaningless to whom?

        If I celebrate a holiday of any kind, I do so because it has a meaning to me. Whether that meaning is the same as the meaning of the original holiday matters very little to me.

        As I said, I respect the traditions inasmuch as I decorate within the historical theme of the holiday, but otherwise I don’t hold myself to tradition unless it makes sense. As long as there is a meaning for me and those I celebrate with, why should I care if others do not have the same meaning?

        “Thus, were I to celebrate Chanukkah, for me to celebrate it as a Christian event would not be true to the meaning of the days, instead, I should recognize it as a Jewish holiday that I might choose to celebrate.”

        Maybe an analogy I once heard will help:

        The Masons have a rule that only a member of the Masons can wear a ring with the Masonic logo on it. All Masons have to follow the rules. I am not a member of the Masons. But since I’m not a member, I am not beholden to their rules. And so, I wear a ring with the Masonic logo on it.

        I feel the same about holidays.

        “And perhaps to anticipate an objection, yes, I am aware of the tradition of the festival of Saturn that fell in December and that was redefined when the Christians gained power in Rome.”

        I have no objection.

        As far back as we can tell, humans have always celebrated during the winter. A BBC TV show put it in a lovely way, saying that humans have a history of turning to each other during the coldest time of the year and saying ‘Congratulations, we’ve made it halfway out of the dark!’ and noting that the spring will come again.

        So, in a way, I’m respecting an older tradition, and taking bits and pieces of other winter holidays to celebrate the human meaning behind the season.

        “Yet, for those providential good things that happen to you (the things you would refer to as random chance), one has no one toward which to express thanks.”

        You are correct.

        But as I don’t think there should be anyone to thank for those things, the inability to thank anyone is not a loss.

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      2. preacherwin

        You raise the question regarding meaning, specifically within whom does meaning reside? You use the analogy of wearing a ring with a masonic symbol even though you are not a mason. The ring has some significance to you (perhaps came from a relative or you just happen to like the symbol), but to someone who is a Mason (I am not), wearing that ring communicates to them that you are a mason and they would then approach you as such. Which meaning of the ring is right or is there any such thing as a “right” meaning? You would imply that meaning is relative to the person who happens to define it. Yet, if that is the case, how do we communicate with one another?

        Take this idea to an extreme. We use language and words in their most basic sense are nothing but symbols (much like the symbol on the masonic ring). If I am free to define a word any way that I like, then how do I communicate ideas with others? Instead, we choose to submit to a common range of meanings that can be attributed to each symbol as well as a system of grammar and punctuation by which those symbols can be put together to convey meaning. The authority is outside of us and it is an authority that we did not choose ourselves, but was chosen for us by the culture in which we live. You are free to make up a language of your own and not use English, but in doing so, you will not be able to communicate ideas with those around you. Similarly, I travel to Ukraine for a few weeks each year to teach in a seminary out there. I could choose to walk around only speaking English, but if I were do to so, very little of what I said would be communicated and most people would also view me as rather arrogant for doing so. Instead, I use what little Russian I can command to communicate because Russian is the language of the region.

        Perhaps you might be willing to concede this with language, recognizing the value of communicating within a society, but still hold that you are not trying to communicate any meaning to others when you celebrate Thanksgiving or wear a masonic ring. Yet whether we are intentionally communicating by the symbols we use, we are still communicating something to those who understand what the symbols represent. For example, were I to shave my head and tattoo a swastika on my forehead, I would communicate a message to those people I met (a very negative message). I might counter that the swastika was once a symbol of good fortune and was used as a Christian symbol (called the Rebated Cross or the Crux Grammata) representing Christ as the “Sun of Righteousness.” Yet, because of the Nazi’s use of the symbol, its meaning has become quite fixed. Everything we say and do communicates meaning to others and we ought, as we live in society, communicate in a way where “what it means to me” is at least consistent with the meaning communicated broadly to the culture.

        On a different note, I am obviously not coming from a Roman Catholic background, my tradition (from the German Reformed church) used the term Evangelical in Germany to indicate that they were not Roman and when they came to America, they added the term Protestant because Protestant was the English Equivalent of Evangelische in German…again, communicating that they were not Roman. My point to mention this is that my approach and aim is much different than you will find what you grew up with, and in some ways, were I to have grown up in most Roman Catholic churches, I too would have left the faith.

        That being said, you comment that you left because you “only accept evidence.” I suppose that I need to ask you then, what you would accept as “evidence”?

        One final note on authority, as you state that you will accept no authority when it comes to believing something. Yet, we all accept authorities of one sort or another. You admittedly accept the authority of those on the BBC program talking about people of every culture celebrating the mid-point of winter. Certainly neither of us were present in ancient times to witness to such a reality, so we have to trust some authorities somewhere along the line. I remember the first time that people told me that Columbus did not discover that the world was round (as I had been taught in grade school). I had to accept their authority that the Pythagoreans had figured that out long before Columbus was around. I also remember the first time I was told that the earth is further from the sun during the summer and closer in the winter. Intuitively, that makes no sense to me, but in this case, I accept the authority of those who have demonstrated this to be true.

        This question is important, because I do not think that it is just evidence that we look at, but the interpretation of that evidence–and any interpretation requires the appeal to some sort of authority.

        Good speaking with you,

        w

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  3. NotAScientist

    “Which meaning of the ring is right or is there any such thing as a “right” meaning?”

    When it comes to something like a symbol, I don’t think so. There may be ‘the first meaning’, but being first doesn’t make it ‘right’.

    “Take this idea to an extreme.”

    Why?

    Quite a lot of things, when taken to their extreme, could cause problems and confusion. But I see no reason that making the meaning of symbols fluid between people should be taken to an extreme.

    “but still hold that you are not trying to communicate any meaning to others when you celebrate Thanksgiving or wear a masonic ring.”

    It’s not that I’m not trying to communicate meaning. It’s just that there is a specific meaning that is personal to me. If the person assumes the meaning that is person to them, I’m fine with that. If they ask me about it, I will gladly share that information with them. I enjoy conversation, after all.

    “is at least consistent with the meaning communicated broadly to the culture.”

    I can generally agree. But as I said previously, I don’t view my meanings as significantly different from the meaning taken by others. And where our meanings differ, that encourages dialogue that can be both entertaining and enlightening.

    Obviously shaving your head and having tattooed swastikas has a negative connotation in the West. But if you were traveling in parts of Asia, you might not get a second glance. I’m not against respecting the feelings of others in such extreme cases. When it comes to holidays, however, I hope people don’t get easily offended based on how others celebrate.

    “I suppose that I need to ask you then, what you would accept as “evidence”?”

    Preferably something physical, observable, testable and repeatable. If you want specifics, I honestly do not know. But I imagine an omnipotent being would know what would serve as evidence to convince me.

    “You admittedly accept the authority of those on the BBC program talking about people of every culture celebrating the mid-point of winter.”

    No.

    I find their description enjoyable, and shared it with you.

    The information they used to come to their conclusion is freely available, and as far as I can tell is accurate. I quoted them because it is where I first heard the idea, not because I believed it just because they told me about it.

    “Certainly neither of us were present in ancient times to witness to such a reality, so we have to trust some authorities somewhere along the line.”

    When there is written documentation about the world during the time it is written (which we can determine using dating techniques), and the claims are not particularly extraordinary or absurd, and even backed up by multiple contemporary sources, one can come to the conclusion of what most likely took place.

    This is not taking the word of authority blindly. This is coming to a conclusion based on what we know of the world and the available evidence.

    “I had to accept their authority that the Pythagoreans had figured that out long before Columbus was around. ”

    As they lived before Columbus and documented their conclusions, I see no reason to default to some kind of authority.

    “This question is important, because I do not think that it is just evidence that we look at, but the interpretation of that evidence–and any interpretation requires the appeal to some sort of authority.”

    I completely disagree.

    If you are interpreting the evidence based on some sort of authority figure, then you’re doing it wrong.

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    1. preacherwin

      Thank you again for the continuing dialogue, sorry it has been protracted in terms of time, please know it is nothing to do with you, it is simply because life has been busy around my neck of the woods.

      I would like to follow up with a couple of the ideas in your previous comment, first with respect to the use of symbols. I will grant you that people commonly use symbols in a pretty fluid sense, particularly within a culture of post-modernity which emphasizes context as the source of definition, not that symbols have intrinsic meaning.

      So, I know that I am challenging prevailing practice when I speak this way, but I think there are huge problems with the prevailing approach, and thus your fluid approach to the use of symbols.

      At the heart of the matter, all communication is done through the use of symbols. Letters and combinations of letters are symbols in and of themselves. Every word you and I use to discuss this very matter is a symbol and while many of these words have a range of meanings, the range is limited. Were it not limited, you and I would not be able to have any genuine exchange. If the word “cat” for example, can mean whatever I please, then the phrase: “cat cat cat cat” could mean, “I am very hungry.”

      Symbols in mathematics perhaps represents the purest of symbolism. We write 2 + 2 = 4 to communicate a principle. In this case, each symbol has an absolute meaning else the equation will make no sense. The absolute symbolism found in math is the basis of construction, airplane design, and electronic communication. Were mathematic symbols not absolute within their system (recognizing that 14 means something different in a base-10 system than in a base 60-system like the Babylonians used), then buildings would not stand and airplanes would never get off the ground.

      That leads us to the use of non-alphanumeric symbolism. This would be things like the fish or cross in Christian circles, the crescent in Muslim circles, or the pentagram in pagan circles. Outside of religious contexts we might point to the American Flag, the symbol that warns us of radioactive materials, or the ‘Mr. Yuk’ symbol on poisonous chemicals. While the meaning is not absolute like that of a mathematical equation, the very use of these symbols presumes that they carry meaning that is specific. If they did not carry such specific meanings, then what is the purpose of using said symbol. In addition, if I began posting a radiation symbol on every door of an office building, the response that people would give (because the symbol contains meaning) would be that of fear (thinking that the place has been radioactively contaminated somehow) or just confusion (wondering why said symbols were present in a non-radioactive context). Even if you were simply to post a radioactive symbol on your office door at work, you would draw attention to yourself because the symbol is not being used in a way consistent with its meaning (unless you do happen to store radioactive materials in your office).

      And that brings us back to things like the Celebration of Christmas. I will be the first to note that there are separate secular and sacred holidays that happen to be practiced in our nation. Yet, on some level, even the secular practice has some roots in Christian tradition. My argument is not that I think non-Christians should not enjoy a time of festivities in December, but to call it Christmas while ignoring its Christian meaning is like using a radiation symbol on your office door. A symbol is being used and that symbol contains meaning, but the way you are using it is inconsistent with that meaning. While I am not much fond of the fact that Public Schools and much of our community has gone to saying “happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” at Christmastime, at least they are recognizing the principle that I am setting forth in terms of the role of symbolism and the meaning symbols contain.

      A final note regarding evidence for Christianity. You stated that you would need something that is “physical, observable, testable, repeatable.” This is a typical Empirical approach. The problem with the empirical model is simply that it cannot prove anything outside of one’s personal experience. The American Revolution, for example, does not meet the criteria you set forth, yet I assume you consider the American Revolution to be a fact on the basis that there was the establishment of an American state and on the basis of eye-witness records. The same can be applied to Christianity. There are many eye-witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus Christ and we have the historical source material to substantiate that reality. In addition, an institution was established that has stood the test of time. I am not arguing that the institution has always been noble or that it has always been very “Christlike,” but the church has remained as a witness to the ongoing work of God in the lives of mankind.

      Again, blessings to you and thanks for the dialogue.

      win

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