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. DD

    vaya con dios amigos.

    November 22, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
  2. government cheese

    This guys picture looks like a mug shot guilty of pedophilia.

    November 22, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
    • cheese

      it's the popes other outfit. You know he loves to play dress-up. Most times as a cross dresser.

      November 22, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
  3. bezerkur

    To the Allfather Odin. Your children have strayed and have been corrupted by middle east ideologies. But there are still those who have not forgotten our true history and those who have not will be welcomed into your great hall and feast with song and dance and the mead will flow all though the night. Maidens will look as fresh as the morning dew. We honor our fallen kinsman at the fire pit and throw two coins into the flames. We that are still loyal honor you for you are our great Father of the Norsemen.

    November 22, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
  4. ThinkDefyUnite

    I'm very thankful that I live in a country where religion is prevented from exerting any control over my life. If there was a god he'd have A LOT of explaining to do...

    Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

    November 22, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
  5. Ting

    I'm thankful that there is no evil god like the one depicted in the Bible.

    November 22, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
    • Mjollnir 77

      The Evil one is the one that book claims is good. But if sacrificing your child and destroying entire cities and the majority of humanity is good, then I would rather be "evil". Everyone (except those who defile and murder the innocent) deserves to live and be free.

      November 22, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
    • cheese

      he is one unpredictable character. Then again, he was created by men who were overly emotional at the time.

      November 22, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
  6. Kali

    Para Brahman Kalika Maha Devi – the Dearest Mother symbols were not meant to scare anyone; it is to be meditated upon:
    The Holy Mother symbols are:
    1. Protruding tongue/teeth: her white teeth means purity (sattva nature) and her red tongue, She enjoys all things in life (rajatic nature)
    2. Three eyes: past, present, future (what yet to come – when one meditate upon her)
    3. Skulls around her neck: 50 skulls is called munda mala; a garland of skulls represents the fifty Sanskrit alphabets. She is Matrika, meaning she is all words that exits, yet no words can describe her for she is words and thoughts. She is Siva: Supreme consciousness/love
    4. Blood smeared on her Divine body represents Shakti (energy)with us: She the Supreme force that gives us life: Prana – life force also known as Kundalini Shakti.
    5. Severed human hands around her Divine waist; human hands are the main instrument of actions. We can use these hands to perform prayers/good for the world or take a gun/knife and kill someone. Actions that are either good or bad, She, the Divine Mother takes it into her womb. That’s the reason the severed hands are covering her womb. Her womb is called “garba bija”. Garba means womb and bija means seeds; thus, the universe manifest from Her.
    6. She standing upon Shiva; one has to get past the very horrific image (Maha Kali) to get to her second stage, which is Shiva: pure consciousness and love.
    7. Her black skin signifies that all things will eventually merge into her for all colors dissolve into black.
    Everyday should be Thanksgiving, giving thanks to the Holy Divine One for this precious life.

    November 22, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
    • Lenore

      Thank you for this explanation, and thanks to Joseph Campbell who helped me understand what these symbols mean.

      November 22, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
  7. D

    What? No respect for the Flying Spaghetti Monster? Praise his noodley appendages!

    November 22, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • Mjollnir 77

      I praise the Spaghetti Monster when I devour his offspring, Alfredo. Praise him for my full belly!

      November 22, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
    • MennoKnight

      That is because he lives in my house, is 12 years old, and cannot get enough spaghetti.

      November 22, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
  8. Al

    It's that time of year again when we thank ourselves for going to college and getting a good job. Thanks, me.

    November 22, 2012 at 11:56 am |
  9. Mjollnir 77

    Thank you Lord Satan for seeing that humans were far more capable than being a petulant "God's" gardeners. Thank you for giving us free will and the will to advance socially and technologically, to become smarter and better. Thank you Lord Satan for truly loving humanity and being our TRUE CHERISHER AND PROVIDER! PRAISE HAIL SATAN!

    November 22, 2012 at 11:49 am |
    • cheese

      satan was the cool bible character. He never had his say in his own bible while the religious do what they do best,, unfairly judge others. Or as the religious behave, it's only wrong when others do it.

      November 22, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • Mjollnir 77

      I agree with you cheese. However, check out Al Jilwah al Qu-ret. This book will enlighten you to the true nature of things.

      November 22, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
  10. Mike - WA

    Hey, everyone. Quite down!! My god's better than your god.

    November 22, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • Jumper

      Find a dictionary. Learn how to use it.

      November 22, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
  11. TommyTT

    Hidden inside this article is a perfectly good explanation for why the Ten Commandments, as much as many of us revere them, should not be enshrined as a government-approved position. When the government puts a monument in a park listing the Ten Commandments, with their insistence that there is only one God (which is my personal position), it tells the Hindu family who lives next door that they're not "real Americans." But they are and their polytheistic religion deserves as much respect as your religion does.

    November 22, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • Ruth

      Tommy, basically you're saying that you are more concerned about assuming someone to be shunned than burning for eternity for not following Jesus Christ' truth. Let's think this out ... presumed shunning versus eternal salvation denied?

      November 22, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • /0\

      Ruth, Ruth. I'm cu.mming to save you. Bend over and welcome me into your divine butt.

      November 23, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
  12. George Patton

    I like Hindu Goddess Kali, it actually eats Muslims. Feed all trouble maker Palestinians to Kali.

    November 22, 2012 at 11:25 am |
    • Acegirlshusband

      That diet is likely to cause indigestion, even in supernatural beings. Some food just needs to go down the garbage disposal.

      November 22, 2012 at 11:40 am |
  13. splassher6

    CNN's continued war on religion....

    November 22, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • midwest rail


      November 22, 2012 at 11:26 am |
    • TommyTT

      Baloney. When you try to make your religion dominant and other folks push back, you are not the victim no matter how loudly you claim to be. There is no war on religion. Just people with many beliefs demanding that you stop trying to inhale all the oxygen in the room.

      November 22, 2012 at 11:35 am |
    • Ruth

      Tommy, did you ever hear this true warning by Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who created the world and everything in it?

      Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. (Matthew 7:13)

      November 22, 2012 at 11:56 am |
  14. 'Nother-son-'O-Ursus

    Re: "...But why confine your wager to one divinity?"

    As a NeoPagan – Polytheist, I routinely offer my thought-prayers to a pantheon of Deities...
    I have NO physical / other scientifically quantifiable 'proof', as such, that any deity actually exists but I am left with the supposition / fact that IF a Deity / deities exist, it is more-than-conceivable that for whatever reason(s), such a deity might choose to make themselves remote from scientific / other investigative efforts!

    I am a former Catholic;
    I left the ancestral religion because It simply failed to keep up with the reality I live in!
    If NO Deity exists, that I needn't expand another once of concern on the issue...
    If Deity / Deities DO, in fact, exist…
    Then it would seem morally appropriate for me to give thanks for my existence, given that...this thanksgiving...

    I have food in my gut…
    A roof over my head, 2 cats and my significant Other to keep me company…
    Profound, renewed hope for the economy, since my candidate has been given four more years, (to continue fixing the economic and other ‘collaterals, damaged’ residue left from the previous administration!!), reasonably good health and so forth!

    BTW: My NeoPaganism has, like all religions various positions on various issues…
    It forbids proselytizing regardless of wether it’s the door-to-door variety or the carjacked-airliner into cement & lathe variety…
    It demands I allow other adults to decide their marriage, health care, reproductive and STD-avoidence choices for themselves, because such choices have NO direct bearing on me / mine…

    It forbids war, (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and of course, the hopefully permanently avoided escalation into Iran), for corporate enrichment!
    My religious belief views thermonuclear war as a blasphemy…and considers nuclear weapons to be more properly labeled: ‘mass-abortificients’!

    If you’re religion has a different take on these issues…that remains your business!
    As long as my life isn’t involved in / affected by your belief(s)
    How my life could remain ‘not affected’ by possession, threatened or actual use of thermonuclear weapons, (aka, ‘mass-abortificients’!!)…

    Remains an (unsolved) mystery to me!

    November 22, 2012 at 11:09 am |
    • Paul

      Too bad you never studied Jesus' truth, you would have learned how the basics of Thermal Dynamics.

      Chalk another one up for Jesus' truth.

      November 22, 2012 at 11:31 am |
    • hewlitt elcid

      oh, brother!

      November 22, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
  15. berefreshed

    This was truly a waste of time to read! Trying to be cute, but really very foolish. Thankful today for the God of all Creation and the sacrifice of Jesus the Messiah, who freed me from the power and the penalty of sin!

    November 22, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      If God is good and God created sin, then surely sin is good.

      November 22, 2012 at 11:06 am |
    • Dionmithjesu

      Born Again troll, it was your mind and behaviour that cleaned up yor act not some fairytale figure; if you need the crutch fine but do not feed the scammers, they are rich enough

      November 22, 2012 at 11:10 am |
    • Jeff

      God didn't create sin. Man, with his free will conducts, hence, creates sin.

      November 22, 2012 at 11:12 am |
    • Backslider

      Yes, thank goodness your god commanded the death of his own son, which was suicide, to make up for the flawed nature inherent at birth. You're his crowning creation! He gave you total free will! Choose his commandments, or burn in hell for eternity. That sounds reasonable and giving, loving.

      Also, symbolically drink blood and eat the flesh of the sacrifice he insisted..*if you believe in trinity it was technically suicide* and confess your worthless nature. This, of course, is worshiping a god that created you...created you a sinner flawed at birth...and then you must spend your life thanking him for saving you whilst YOU take blame for having been created flawed.

      If we're all sinners at birth, not worthy of salvation unless we confess our horrible ways and hand over everything to Jesus.....what part of that is 'created in gods image'?

      No thanks.

      November 22, 2012 at 11:14 am |
    • TrueReality

      "For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." 1 Corinthians 1:18

      November 22, 2012 at 11:31 am |
  16. us_1776

    The Sky Fairy does not exist.

    Get over it.


    November 22, 2012 at 10:47 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      The Great Fairy exists though.


      November 22, 2012 at 10:50 am |
    • HM8432

      You're right, the Sky Fairy and Spaghetti Monster doesn't exist, but God does; He's just isn't in the sky, He's all around us, since everything natural around is evidence of His creation. Now, get over that!

      November 22, 2012 at 10:58 am |
    • Rational Libertarian


      November 22, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • Jeff

      I wonder why atheists use the word fairy? Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmh.

      November 22, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • Tinkerbell


      A fairy is a type of mythical being or legendary creature, a form of spirit, often described as metaphysical, supernatural or preternatural. - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fairy

      November 22, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
  17. Mila

    Thanksgiving was never a religious holiday, its about community. Think about it, in the colder areas of the country people had to ready for winter. They spent the summer and early fall getting food sources ready so they could live for months under a heavy blanket of snow. The origin of Thanksgiving was for the large supply of the food, which at this point would have been quite large, the community produced to get them through the brutal winter . So they celebrated, humans do this all the time by going out for beers on Fridays after a long hard week at work. The celebration is about community and their families and all the work they accomplished. It was a big deal because if they didn't have enough food supplies to get them through the winter they would starve. Anyway Happy Thanksgiving!

    November 22, 2012 at 10:36 am |
    • 200 TON HAMMER

      Yeah the first Thanksgiving they ate eel fish not Turkey

      November 22, 2012 at 10:48 am |
    • George

      Truth is Mila, Jesus had thanksgiving written 28 times in scriptures and twice for the plural uage (thanksgivings).

      Here's one of my favorites ...

      Psalms 26:7 That I may publish with the voice of thanksgiving, and tell of all thy wondrous works.

      November 22, 2012 at 10:50 am |
    • Mila

      The word Thanksgiving is just a word, other cultures and languages have their versions. Could be the origin of the naming of Thanksgiving but not the actual holiday. Thanksgiving in the US and Canada came from what I wrote. Why do you think we are taught about Pilgrims and survival in school?

      November 22, 2012 at 11:10 am |
    • Jeff

      Mila, you proved yourself a fool. Thanks for playing.

      November 22, 2012 at 11:14 am |
    • 200 TON HAMMER

      @mila keep your head up and I understand
      What you are saying.religion has never help but
      hurt more.I never heard a woman say too
      her husband I religion you.she says I love
      You that's a relationship covenant not

      November 22, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • Mila

      Jeff,a fool adds nothing of value to a conversation excepts trolls. The origin of a word which would make sense if they took it from a source like the Bible does not mean it's the origin of the holiday. When it became a national holiday, some people weren't happy that a holiday was created to celebrate the Pilgrims so it makes sense they would use a more inclusive name so people can enjoy the holiday as they see fit. The fact is that holiday was never intended as a religious holiday, it was more about community and family.

      November 22, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • Jeff

      Mila, mankind brings deception upon himself through ignorance of God's written Word,

      Thanks for proving the abundant existence of morons today making up what they think the world needs...

      November 22, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • truth be trolled

      This is true.

      Man, the people that read these things are crazy.

      November 22, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • Libertarian Atheist

      Mila, if you don't believe what Jeff does, you are obviously wrong. He gets all of his info from the Bible...the most current version that is....which one was that again, Jeff?

      November 23, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
  18. Slambo49

    based on the belief system that generated that question i wonder how that belief system deals with living in today with no guarrantee of tomarrow compounded by man's ingenious efforts to end today inspite of the fundemental truth of nature.

    November 22, 2012 at 10:30 am |
    • George

      Speaking about belief systems. Just how did it happen that all you atheists are pessimist to your core and naturally do not trust anyone or anything? NO faith what so ever, all believing lies instead of Jesus' truth.

      Don't eat too much.

      November 22, 2012 at 10:53 am |
  19. Wisdom

    Revelation 7:12 Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, [be] unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.

    November 22, 2012 at 10:19 am |
    • 200 TON HAMMER


      November 22, 2012 at 10:26 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
      Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
      Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
      One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
      In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
      One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
      One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them

      November 22, 2012 at 10:33 am |
    • TrueReality

      Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. "The lamb on the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."

      November 22, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • TrueReality

      "Rational Libertarian," I find it interesting that you quote a deeply devout Roman Catholic author in an attempt to mock a Biblical quotation.

      November 22, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • Ruth

      That's proves atheists never think for themselves, just pick and choose others quote. ROTFLOL.

      November 22, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
  20. PhilG.

    I like the message of the article.

    Unfortunately,the posts in the comments section provide great examples why religion differences will always bring us to getting weapons and killing each other.

    November 22, 2012 at 10:16 am |
    • 200 TON HAMMER

      If religion is the answer then why are there more Christian and Baptist. And southern Baptist and seven day people and Mormons and AME etc people with more health problems like over weight more credit card debts out of work.with 30 year boo boo the clown house notes there is no WISDOM IN man made falsehood religion there are more racism in so called man made religion then those who come too the ONE WHO IS ALL WISDOM.THE ONLY FRIEND HAD WAS ABRAHAM

      November 22, 2012 at 10:36 am |
    • Opposing View

      200 TON Hammer… People like you love to harp on the evils of religion. However, I don't think you've really thought it through. Without religion and without the influence of God in this world, this world would tear itself apart in short order. For example, imagine if there was no law that said, "Thou shall not kill." People would be killing each other just because they felt like it. Imagine if there was no law that said, "Thou shall not steal." People would be robbing banks all day long and no one would do any work. Imagine if there was no law which said, "Thou shall not commit fornication or adultery". People would be raping your wife or girlfriend or daughters on the sidewalk, all because they felt like it. And there'd be nothing you could do about it because it wouldn't be wrong. So this world needs God and his influence – aka religion – to survive…

      As for wars and fightings, there always will be wars and fightings and conflicts so long as evil exists. For wars and fightings is nothing more than a mechanism God set up for light to fight back against darkness and for good to fight back against evil. And such thing is necessary to keep evil in check. For example, when Lucifer first sinned, the bible says "there was a great war in heaven". So this whole thing begin with and war. And will likewise end with a war: The battle of Armageddon and Judgment Day…

      November 22, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • 200 TON HAMMER

      @opposed view and you think that
      46 million blacks in America is African
      Sorry too tell you but they are not
      Africans or Hamites but are Shemites
      Of the middle east.try reading a book
      Put together by a white European man
      name Joseph j Williams.HEBREWISMS OF WEST

      November 22, 2012 at 11:42 am |
    • 200 TON HAMMER

      @opposed view if religion was the answer
      Then why was Abraham called a Hebrew
      And jonah call himself a Hebrew in 1:9 Jonah
      And Genesis 14:13 for Abraham

      November 22, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • Opposing View

      200 Ton Hammer… I have no idea what all that nonsense you just wrote was about. I only know that all the nonsense in the world will not undermine the truth of the scriptures, which is the truth I have stated...

      November 22, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.