My Take: A multireligious Thanksgiving
An Indian artist gives the final touches to a statue of Hindu goddess Kali ahead of the Diwali festival, the Festival of Lights, in Allahabad on November 10, 2012.
November 22nd, 2012
06:35 AM ET

My Take: A multireligious Thanksgiving

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

(CNN) - A few years ago, I came across a high school textbook on U.S. history that stumbled badly when it tried to describe the first Thanksgiving. Because of a serious misunderstanding of the First Amendment, the authors thought they couldn’t even refer to God in their textbook. So they ended up telling their readers that the Pilgrims were giving thanks to the Indians. (Huh?)

Personally, I think Thanksgiving is (and was) about giving thanks to God, but I am too eclectic nowadays to confine my giving of thanks to the capricious Calvinist God of the Pilgrims. So in the spirit of Pascal, who placed a wager on the Christian god, I'm putting a marker down, too. But why confine your wager to one divinity? Here is my own Thanksgiving litany to the gods.

To Kali, black goddess of fierce justice, thanks for scaring me to death. I know the skulls around your neck and the blood dripping from your mouth frighten a lot of people, but somebody has to lord over the cremation grounds, and I'm happy to have it be you (really).

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To Christopher Hitchens (the closest my atheist friends get to a divinity nowadays), thanks for channeling Kali and for not converting on your deathbed (right?). “I hate the pack of gods,” wrote Marx. You showed us what that passion sounds like.

To Allah, thanks for reminding us of the gap between God and human beings. And for being the word Arab Christians use for "God," too. And for this Thanksgiving day verse from the Quran: “Give food, for the love of Him, to the needy, the orphan, the captive” (76:8).

To the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, thanks for the rhythm of exile and return, for teaching us how to argue and for the biblical book of Ecclesiastes (Oh, and Bob Dylan and Woody Allen, of course).

To Jesus, thanks for taking on a human body and for loving Mary and for "Godspell" and for saving that wedding day by turning that water into wine. I will raise a glass (or two) to you this Thanksgiving.

To the Amida Buddha of Infinite Light, thanks for spinning the Pure Land out of your grace and your imagination, and for being at the end of the tunnel in those near-death experiences. Luther said all we need is faith. Thanks for not even requiring that.

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To Krishna, thanks for reminding us that the gods can be playful (and mischievous), too. And for this grand promise from the Hindu scripture the "Bhagavad Gita" (4:11): “In whatsoever way any come to Me, in that same way I grant them favor.”

Finally, to the unknown gods (and anti-gods) of East and West, thanks for your mysterious silence (and for keeping the comments below relatively civil).

Om, Amen, Ahhhh!

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Atheism • Buddhism • Christianity • Hinduism • Holidays • Islam • Jesus • Judaism • Thanksgiving

soundoff (392 Responses)
  1. chiz3914

    I'm thankful to the NFL for 3 football games and the restaurant I' getting takeout Thanksgiving dinner from
    for being open. The NFL and the restaurant exist. Why would I thank something that doesn't exist?

    November 22, 2012 at 10:12 am |
    • Ruth

      chiz3914, and you wonder why you aren't married to a loving wife that makes a beautiful dinner for you? Do you scratch and burp at the same time while surfing through the channels?

      November 22, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
  2. BOb the Prairie Dog

    NO ONE knows what happens when we die, and ANYONE claiming such knowledge is a LIAR who probably wants your money.

    The simple beauty of Thanksgiving is that there are NO religious connotations associated with it. Let's please keep it that way. You zealots have your whole big month coming up. Lay off our secular holidays.

    November 22, 2012 at 10:10 am |
    • Wisdom

      If anyone is a zealot, it's you nonbeliever for wanting chaos to rule supreme. All due to being lazy.

      November 22, 2012 at 10:21 am |
    • HM8432

      Actually, Thanksgiving started out as a religious celebration. The Pilgrims were thanking God that they made it through winter, provided for them, and released them from religious persecution in England. John Bradford's and Miles Standish's journals explain it all, but that would require both reading and critical thinking...something self-proclaimed 'logical and reasonable' types shouldn't have a problem tackling.

      Thanksgiving is only more secular today because of the shameless commercialism which has overshadowed the religious side of it in the last 75 years or so. The results of the commercialization of Thanksgiving and Christmas? Separation from the true meaning of those holiday's: God, Family, and appreciation of what you've been blessed with (and I'm not speaking in materialistic terms either). The result? The stress of buying, Black Fridays, etc, and the other secular aspects are burning out people on the holidays. Too much money. However, God is free, and wants nothing in return.

      November 22, 2012 at 11:12 am |
    • hinduism by Judaism self center ,secularism source of hindu filthy hinduism, racism.

      goon, denier of truth absolute Thin Allah, muslims get opportunity to sit next to Allah in Jinnat, when they die for good cause, muslims get plates full of all kind if food, wines, to enjoy with virgin hoors, you ignorant goon.

      November 22, 2012 at 11:34 am |
  3. grant

    Your blasphemous article is another reminder of how ungodly our country has become. Consider the One True God found in the Bible. Someday you will die and stand before God and He will judge you. If you have not accepted Jesus Christ as Savior then you will be punished to an eternity in the Lake of Fire. Revelation 19:11-15 says "And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. and whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire." You might want to consider this before it is to late. Exodus 20:3 says "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." Your ignorance and lack of belief in God and the Bible is a scary place to be. God loves you, and desires to have a relationship with you through Jesus Christ His Son. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosover believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life." John 3:16. I'm praising God and thanking Him this blessed Thanksgiving Day.

    November 22, 2012 at 10:05 am |
  4. Marty

    American Thanksgiving irony:
    Conservatives blow their tops at the thought of the president saying that they couldn't have had their successes without support from others & gov't, but then they sit down at Thanksgiving to humbly thank an invisible sky being for providing their successes.

    November 22, 2012 at 9:58 am |
  5. sybaris

    Religion and the worship of god(s) is a filthy perverted disease of the mind

    November 22, 2012 at 9:57 am |
    • Dave

      Wow, that's an incredibly bold statement. You'd need some pretty hefty evidence to prove that the disease is religion itself and not just unhealthy tendencies found in the wider body of humanity. Any strong belief can become corrupted and self serving, and it's not just religious belief. When religion is genuine, and promotes good will and action, I don't believe you can call that a disease.

      November 22, 2012 at 10:31 am |
  6. Spijder

    Rational people, don't let it gall and upset you so much that the human mind did not spring fully enlightened from the first moment of sentience. It had to grow and explore both the world and it's own ability to wonder, to imagine, to create, to interpret out surroundings and the nature of our thoughts and ourselves. Look with respect on the path that the human mind has taken, how far it has come and be thankful that there are still living proofs that the human mind is still in the process. Once that process is completed there will be no other things to wonder and nothing more to imagine, debate or do.

    November 22, 2012 at 9:29 am |
    • Slambo49

      stupid question and a stupid answer. which one do you think the pilgrims thanked. course not of that matters because we are living in today right?

      November 22, 2012 at 9:44 am |
    • allenwoll

      NEVER say never, except NEVER complete ! ! !

      November 22, 2012 at 10:11 am |
  7. Rational Libertarian

    To FSM and all His Noodly Appendeges.

    November 22, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • Cthullu


      November 22, 2012 at 10:25 am |
  8. christine

    Thank-you Stephan for your lovely and humorous post! As written in the Rig Veda "There is one Truth/God, and people call it by many names". I am thankful for that Divine spark that dwells in all living things, whatever we choose to call it. May we always be compassionate, no matter what our beliefs about the existance of God are.

    November 22, 2012 at 9:14 am |
  9. 200 TON HAMMER

    Time is going too tell on people's false hope man made religion when their human limited faith fails them this ONE THING is this that SUPERNATURAL WISDOM is going too flush out root out exposed them ALL I MEAN ALL man made religion.WISDOM has never lied man made false religion has LIED for over 10,000 years

    November 22, 2012 at 8:33 am |
    • John

      Man, you really need to get yourself a grammar book and read it (especially the part about capitalization & punctuation).

      November 22, 2012 at 10:06 am |
  10. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    My family thrives. Theist mobs have not burned us out or broken down our door. Re-education camps for non-theists are still a thing of the future. We have a President who at least restrains his religious inclinations. I will be thankful once something presents itself as worthy and appropriate to receive my thanks.

    November 22, 2012 at 8:24 am |
  11. Thanking the golden brown Turkey for sitting on the table before me

    Thank you, Stephen Prothero, a nice little article that made me smile. Let's all give thanks in our own ways to all the givers, donors and benefactors we recognize, may they be godly, human, animal (thanks again, oh Turkey), Vogon, Vulcan and otherwise.

    November 22, 2012 at 8:18 am |
  12. gavilansalvaje

    Why is it that Evangelical Atheists feel that they need to attack any and all forms of religion – especially organized religion?

    The theists – especially those in organized religions – obviously have a programmed compulsion to spread their beliefs. We can't blame them for that, as that is what they are supposed to be doing if they are following the tenets of their respective creeds.

    As atheists, why should we give a @#$#% about what these sheep believe in?

    Why is it our business to attack these religions? Is it because we feel that our beliefs are more imprtant than theirs? Why should we care? Only the religious should care when their beliefs are distorted or hijacked. We who have no beliefs shouldn't even be bothering with them, and definitely not trying to get them to see the light.

    I think that the Anti-theists have hijacked Atheism.

    Because unlike true Atheists, who simply don't care, Evangelical Atheists and Anti-theists seem to care too much.

    November 22, 2012 at 8:18 am |
    • GSK

      Why is it that you just can't grow up and stop believing in fairy tales like normal adults?

      November 22, 2012 at 8:27 am |
    • Dionmithjesu

      You are right I do not care what they believe, I do care if they want to influence my children with their beliefs before the children can think for themselves. I do care if religion can affect the laws of a state. For example the Indian woman that was allowed to die in Ireland because the hospital was afraid to give a theraputic abortion against what the religious policy teaches. I do care if a religious cult claims life begins at conception but does not allow those that wish to use contraception to prevent conception. There are far more examples; it comes down to this keep your teachings to the congragation, express your views in public, obey the will of the state when laws are made, and in general butt out of the lives of people that do not believe as you do. It would also be nice if you do not threaten those ignorant enough to believe in the hell and damnation and eternal torture, that is sadistic.

      November 22, 2012 at 8:45 am |
    • Tax Damned Churches NOW

      Why is it we despise and arrest pederasts when they are "just following their personal beliefs and desires"? Same reason intelligent people of conscience expose, mock, and seek to compartmentalize and ideally eliminate religions = they are a blight on society and a threat to its harmony,progress, peace and liberties.

      November 22, 2012 at 8:45 am |
    • nope


      November 22, 2012 at 8:56 am |
    • Wisdom

      gavilansalvaje, don't waste your time trying to figure out why foolish people do what they do. Just know they go against all of society ... just because.

      November 22, 2012 at 10:32 am |
    • Tax Damned Churches NOW

      Why do people go against all science, logic, reason to believe in and shill for religion? Ignorance, fear, generational brainwashing, and adaptive slick marketing. Also know that MOST of the pro-religion posters on these sites are priests, ministers, reverends, rabbis, and even some American imams DESPERATE to keep their revenue stream flowing – not just contributions but terrified dying widow bequests to "avoid an eternity of damnation and sit at right hand of god". Too bad SEC and FTC don't look into that.

      November 22, 2012 at 2:32 pm |

    Gen. 1:1 - In the beginning Jehovah created the heavens and the earth

    2 Pet. 3:13 - But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness

    Rev. 21:4 - Jehovah will wipe every tear from their eyes - There will be no more death or crying or pain for the old order of things have passed away.

    Happy Thanksgiving and peace on earth for all humankind of goodwill 🙂

    November 22, 2012 at 8:14 am |
    • nope


      November 22, 2012 at 8:57 am |
    • Wisdom

      Thank you REDFIREBALL, it's nice to be reminded we will not have to deal with evil through eternity.

      November 22, 2012 at 10:35 am |
    • Author


      - Once upon a time .....

      [insert fairy story(s) of your choice]

      - And they all lived happily after. The End

      November 22, 2012 at 11:22 am |
  14. Nietodarwin

    Happy Thanksgiving. I'm thankful that the GOP lost, and will continue to decline by shoving religion at everything. I'm thankful that Romney's name is already fading into history, and doesn't appear in any headlines today. I'm thankful that churches are losing members and will fade into history too. I'm thankful that the law is finally catching up to these mentally ill "clergy" and locking them up. I will be even more thankful when it is illegal to take children into a church for brainwashing. Abandoning a belief in "god" is the best thing that can happen to a person, it's like restoring sight to a blind person.

    November 22, 2012 at 8:14 am |
  15. 200 TON HAMMER

    The only thing I can say is when more powerful EARTHQUAKES and FAMINE strike we see how Thankful people are.and how far religion takes them.

    November 22, 2012 at 8:12 am |
  16. Chedar

    @Reality. The Buddha don't get reincarnated anymore so change your ignorant post. I see your ignorant post here many times. You sound like a broken record of ignorant.

    November 22, 2012 at 8:03 am |
    • nope


      November 22, 2012 at 8:58 am |
    • Reality

      Chedar, Chedar, Chedar,

      Obviously, you failed to note:" Followed by some 21st century reality FOR THE NEW MEMBERS OF THIS BLOG:"

      Regarding rebirthing/reborn in Buddhism:

      "Rebirth in Buddhism is the doctrine that the evolving consciousness (Pali: samvattanika-viññana)[1][2] or stream of consciousness (Pali: viññana-sotam,[3] Sanskrit: vijñāna-srotām, vijñāna-santāna, or citta-santāna) upon death (or "the dissolution of the aggregates" (P. khandhas, S. skandhas)), becomes one of the contributing causes for the arising of a new aggregation. The consciousness in the new person is neither identical nor entirely different from that in the deceased but the two form a causal continuum or stream."

      November 22, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
  17. Dionmithjesu

    I give thanks to all those that are escaping the chains of organized religions, you do not need a temple, church, priest, imam, deity, etc. of any kind to enjoy the wonders of our earth and universe. So much hatred and intolerance in the name of religion and the only people that gain are those thar profit from the scams. Peace to all, free your minds.

    November 22, 2012 at 7:19 am |
  18. Reality

    Vitiating "prof" P's commentary with a prayer for the 21st century:

    The Apostles' Creed 2012 (updated by yours truly based on the studies of NT historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

    Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven?????

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of

    Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
    many semi-fiction writers. A bodily resurrection and
    ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    (References used are available upon request.)

    November 22, 2012 at 7:10 am |
    • Reality

      Followed by some 21st century reality for the new members of this blog:

      Putting the kibosh/”google” on all religion in less than ten seconds: Priceless !!!

      • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

      • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

      • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

      • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

      • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

      • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

      • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

      Added details available upon written request.

      A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

      e.g. Taoism

      "The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

      Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother's womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. "

      November 22, 2012 at 7:14 am |
    • 200 TON HAMMER

      Read acts 21:38 Paul looked Egyptian he was black but he was a Hebrew just like Abraham Genesis 14:13 and Jonah 1:9

      November 22, 2012 at 8:18 am |
  19. John Stefanyszyn

    Mr. Prothero,
    You forgot to give thanks to the "god" that you worship and whose way you live by...the "god of fortresses"...the god of freedom of self-rights, of self-will, of self-religions.
    ....but then again by giving thanks to all man's gods you have given thanks to the god that says it is right for man to worship any god.

    BUT it is Only Christ that will rule by the Will of the One and Only Creator.

    Man will weep and will be angry when his way of serving and magnifying oneself will be put to an end.

    November 22, 2012 at 6:54 am |
    • midwest rail

      Well done, John. Way to take an inclusive Thanksgiving message and turn it into a negative. Then again, you are the prototypical contemporary Christian – arrogant. condescending, and hateful.

      November 22, 2012 at 7:05 am |
    • Dionmithjesu

      John, you and your christ are the problem not the solution.

      November 22, 2012 at 8:22 am |
    • nope


      November 22, 2012 at 8:24 am |
    • nope


      November 22, 2012 at 9:00 am |
  20. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things

    November 22, 2012 at 5:49 am |
    • Kevin

      It does absolutely. It wastes a precious moment when you could actually be doing something to help someone. There's a reason when a kid is in the street we run out to get him instead of falling to our knees, praying that he doesn't get hit by a car. When push comes to shove, we all know which one works and which one doesn't.

      November 22, 2012 at 7:58 am |
    • nope


      November 22, 2012 at 8:20 am |
    • pmmarion

      Kevin how right you are and as the good book says:

      History does not record anywhere at any time a religion that has any rational basis. Religion is a crutch for people not strong enough to stand up to the unknown without help. But, like dandruff, most people do have a religion and spend time and money on it and seem to derive considerable pleasure from fiddling with it. (Time Enough For Love, Robert A Heinlein)

      November 22, 2012 at 8:21 am |
    • nope


      November 22, 2012 at 9:01 am |
    • HM8432

      Kevin: True, prayer can take us away from other things (works) that God wants us to do in order to make the world a better place. Prayer is best done in private during down-time.

      November 22, 2012 at 11:16 am |
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