Gratitude is a ubiquitous human emotion shared by those of all faith and non-faith perspectives; routine thoughtfulness and mindful living include creating meaningful, personal traditions to honor others and ourselves. There are millions of people in America (20% of Americans, and 32% of young adults in America*) who might celebrate gratitude on Thanksgiving without reference to religion.
Secular individuals experience many challenges, one of which is Thanksgiving dinner. People of faith perspectives feel and express gratitude for the good in their life, but often project nonacceptance toward anyone who feels that same gratitude without sharing the same faith perspective. Imagine sitting at a table surrounded by people you love as they talk about – or subtly imply – how they hate people like you.
“Be careful who you hate. It could be someone you love”
While those who are openly nonreligious may experience this differently than those who are not able to risk that openness, all feel a bit awkward when those around them speak of love and gratitude in a way that perhaps unintentionally vilifies and degrades other human beings. Including everyone at our table means being cognizant and respectful of the many perspectives around us and recognizing gratitude as a positive human experience.
What if i’m asked to say Grace?
If you are among those who share your faith or non-faith perspective, this is not an issue. When we are among the majority, the comfort of openly expressing our perspective without fear of judgement is part of our privilege. As a minority, however, whether or not to be openly true to yourself may involve risk assessment, safety planning, and acceptance of consequences. Thanksgiving dinner may not be the best time to “come out” to your family as not sharing their faith perspective – unless you assess that it is. But think it through.
You have choices, and you should feel empowered to do what is right for you in that moment. You can respectfully decline or give the expected grace. Or you may feel comfortable enough to say grace in a way that expresses gratitude without reference to religion. There are many examples of secular grace, or you can write your own. Choose words that reflect your appreciation of the good in life; words that everyone present can connect with and find meaning in.
Secular grace for the religious.
Secular grace for the non-faith community means, simply, pausing to express gratitude. The focus is on genuine appreciation for bounty, goodness, joy, and the things in our life we have that others may not. For this community, doing so without deferring to supernatural entities, powers, or other religious concepts is natural, comfortable, and meaningful.
For the faith community, a secular grace can be a way of including everyone in a diverse group. The focus is the same, and allows everyone to be empowered to consider that gratitude from their own faith or non-faith perspective. Families, workplaces, teams, social entities, faith/non-faith groups, and other ways that humans come together provide opportunities to benefit from diverse ideas and perspectives. Pausing for gratitude by saying a grace that includes everyone is an act that demonstrates gratitude for everyone in our lives.
- Secular Gratitude Project – Secular Grace
- 7 Tips for Atheists at the Thanksgiving Meal (by Herb Silverman)
- Show Gratitude through Kindness in Action – RAKtivists of Orlando
- Some gratitude images that all can appreciate
*2012 PEW Research Center, “Nones on the Rise“, 2012