Bnonn Tennant (the B is silent)

Where a recovering ex-atheist skewers things with a sharp two-edged sword

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Is celebrating Thanksgiving irrational?

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2 minutes to read Are most Americans helping themselves to a double-sized portion of cognitive dissonance along with their Turkey and cranberry sauce?

In the United States, most people are just starting to recover from a weekend of generous eating and frivolity. By all accounts, Thanksgiving is an even larger holiday than Christmas.

But is it not odd that so many people celebrate a holiday called Thanksgiving, yet give no actual thanks?

I suppose this lack of thanksgiving is because, if we do give thanks, we must first know to whom we are giving it. But since all the things we tend to be most thankful for—prosperity, material gains, events of the past year, and so on—are things outside the control of any human being, the only obvious person we can thank is God. But most people either don’t believe in God, or don’t believe he is involved in their lives in such a way as to merit their thanks.

So what strikes me is that one of the classic ways to think of irrational behavior is as behavior that goes against what you believe to be true. To take a very simple example, it’s obviously irrational to go to the corner store to buy M&Ms if you believe the corner store does not sell M&Ms.

But this seems to be exactly the kind of thing many Americans do at Thanksgiving. They celebrate a holiday in which the aim is to express thanks for their blessings—when they do not believe there is anyone to thank. So they seem to be engaging in some kind of cognitive dissonance or intellectually dishonest behavior.

At the very least, their celebration of the holiday lacks character. They are celebrating because it is a holiday, rather than because of the holiday.

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