Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanks Again Natural World (and friends)

by Gary Berg-Cross

Thanksgiving is here again which is another chance to reflection on the idea of giving thanks.   We do it far and wide as families, but in diverse ways. Some will do a very human thing of reflecting on the list of good things like health and the things that count. There's the sure understanding that a good life is more than material things for sure, but there's some type of gravy on it.  

Others may think of similar enjoyments and emollients from suffering, but will address it and the Thanksgiving celebration as a religious event.  They may bow heads while holding hands and talk about blessings granted by some ghostly, transcendent power. It’s all a matter of the locus of attribution.  I personally prefer a more naturalistic orientation.  Something like the post-mythic view  of an Robert Ingersoll than a religious Procrustean bed of “Thank you Lord for a good harvest.”. Ingersoll’s Thanksgivings grow out of a naturalistic understanding of our world and universe. As he said part of that thanks is the perpetual joy of free thought:

“The walls of my prison crumbled and fell, the dungeon was flooded with light and all the bolts and bars and manacles became dust. I was no longer a servant, a serf or a slave. There was for me no master in all the world–not even infinite space.

I was free–free to think, to express my thoughts–free to live my own ideal–free to live for myself and those I loved–free to use all my faculties, all my senses, free to spread imagination’s wings–free to investigate, to guess and dream and hope–free to judge and determine for myself–free to reject all ignorant and cruel creeds, all the “inspired” books that savages have produced, and all the barbarous legends of the past–free from popes and priests, free from all the “called” and “set apart”–free from sanctified mistakes and “holy” lies–free from the winged monsters of the night–free from devils, ghosts and gods.

For the first time I was free. There were no prohibited places in all the realms of thought–no air, no space, where fancy could not spread her painted wings–no claims for my limbs–no lashes for my back–no fires for my flesh–no following another’s steps–no need to bow, or cringe, or crawl, or utter lying words. I was free. I stood erect and fearlessly, joyously, faced all worlds.

And then my heart was filled with gratitude, with thankfulness, and went out in love to all the heroes, the thinkers, who gave their lives for the liberty of hand and brain–for the freedom of labor and thought–to those who fell on the fierce fields of war, to those who died in dungeons bound with chains–to those who proudly mounted scaffold’s stairs–to those by fire consumed–to all the wise, the good, the brave of every land, whose thoughts and deeds have given freedom to the sons 
of men . And then I vowed to grasp the torch that they have held, and hold it high, that light may conquer darkness still.
                                A Thanksgiving Sermon by Robert Ingersoll

Ingersoll’s contemporary Mark Twain added a bit of his deconstructive humor to the American Thanksgiving story:
“Thanksgiving Day, a function which originated in New England two or three centuries ago when those people recognized that they really had something to be thankful for – annually, not oftener – if they had succeeded in exterminating their neighbors, the Indians, during the previous twelve months instead of getting exterminated by their neighbors, the Indians. Thanksgiving Day became a habit, for the reason that in the course of time, as the years drifted on, it was perceived that the exterminating had ceased to be mutual and was all on the white man’s side, consequently on the Lord’s side; hence it was proper to thank the Lord for it and extend the usual annual compliments.” 
Mark Twain

I’m planning on exposing my grandsons to that one as a knowledge inoculation.

If you want a more recent version here is a version I adapted from a John Stewart throw-away line.

Perhaps we should consider celebrated Thanksgiving in an old-fashioned Western Civ way. On a pretext you invited neighborhood natives to your house for a one day feast. Too bad it might be tainted with germs they are not immune from.  Each year in between you take more and more of their things and occupy their land.  When they protest you claim the right of self-defense, stand your ground with guns and sendin the cavalry for good measure.  Pretty soon the neighborhood is safe for trickle downers and it is only the good people you need to invite over

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