by Gary Berg-Cross
Another Thanksgiving week and millions of us will be surrounded by family and old times feeling as peruse the bounty of turkey, stuffing with gravy and cranberries to the limit. Sure there are things to be thankful for and among the nonreligious moments of thanks, aka “secular grace” grows in popularity among , humanists, agnostics, freethinkers and that group now called “nones.”
In 1897 Robert Ingersoll, ak a “the Great Agnostic,” gave what he callled “Thanksgiving Sermon.” Turning from the divine he instead asked who should be thanked. He found real groups of people - scientists, artists, statesmen, mothers, fathers, poets in contrast to religious organizations and their operatives.. He found plenty of things to be thankful for starting with the long rise from savagery to civilization.
"Looking back over the long and devious roads that lie between the barbarism of the past and the civilization of to-day, thinking of the centuries that rolled like waves between these distant shores, we can form some idea of what our fathers suffered — of the mistakes they made — some idea of their ignorance, their stupidity — and some idea of their sense, their goodness, their heroism.
It is a long road from the savage to the scientist — from a den to a mansion — from leaves to clothes — from a flickering rush to the arc-light — from a hammer of stone to the modern mill — a long distance from the pipe of Pan to the violin — to the orchestra — from a floating log to the steamship — from a sickle to a reaper — from a flail to a threshing machine — from a crooked stick to a plow — from a spinning wheel to a spinning jenny — from a hand loom to a Jacquard — a Jacquard that weaves fair forms and wondrous flowers beyond Arachne’s utmost dream — from a few hieroglyphics on the skins of beasts — on bricks of clay — to a printing press, to a library — a long distance from the messenger, traveling on foot, to the electric spark — from knives and tools of stone to those of steel — a long distance from sand to telescopes — from echo to the phonograph, the phonograph that buries in indented lines and dots the sounds of living speech, and then gives back to life the very words and voices of the dead — a long way from the trumpet to the telephone, the telephone that transports speech as swift as thought and drops the words, perfect as minted coins, in listening ears — a long way from a fallen tree to the suspension bridge — from the dried sinews of beasts to the cables of steel — from the oar to the propeller — from the sling to the rifle — from the catapult to the cannon — a long distance from revenge to law — from the club to the Legislature — from slavery to freedom — from appearance to fact — from fear to reason."
Here are some more of the ideas from the sermon as well as other of Ingersoll's notable quotes that may satisfy the secular senses at this time of the year.
I thank the honest men and women who have expressed their sincere thoughts, who have been true to themselves and have preserved the veracity of their souls.
I thank the thinkers of Greece and Rome, Zeno and Epicurus, Cicero and Lucretius. I thank Bruno, the bravest, and Spinoza, the subtlest of men.
I thank Voltaire, whose thought lighted a flame in the brain of man, unlocked the doors of superstition’s cells and gave liberty to many millions of his fellow-men. Voltaire — a name that sheds light. Voltaire — a star that superstition’s darkness cannot quench.
I thank the great poets — the dramatists. I thank Homer and Aeschylus, and I thank Shakespeare above them all. I thank Burns for the heart-throbs he changed into songs, for his lyrics of flame. I thank Shelley for his Skylark, Keats for his Grecian Urn and Byron for his Prisoner of Chillon. I thank the great novelists. I thank the great sculptors. I thank the unknown man who moulded and chiseled the Venus de Milo. I thank the great painters. I thank Rembrandt and Corot. I thank all who have adorned, enriched and ennobled life — all who have created the great, the noble, the heroic and artistic ideals.
I thank the statesmen who have preserved the rights of man. I thank Paine whose genius sowed the seeds of independence in the hearts of ’76. I thank Jefferson whose mighty words for liberty have made the circuit of the globe. I thank the founders, the defenders, the saviors of the Republic. I thank Ericsson, the greatest mechanic of his century, for the monitor. I thank Lincoln for the Proclamation. I thank Grant for his victories and the vast host that fought for the right, — for the freedom of man. I thank them all — the living and the dead.
I thank the great scientists — those who have reached the foundation, the bed-rock — who have built upon facts — the great scientists, in whose presence theologians look silly and feel malicious...."