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. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    November 22, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
    • Gadflie

      It doesn't even change your spam.

      November 22, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
    • Akira

      "I don't like SPAM!"

      November 22, 2012 at 8:01 pm |
    • just wondering

      Why do you think Truth is spam?

      November 23, 2012 at 5:01 am |
  2. Mac

    Pope's book on Jesus challenges Christmas traditions
    There is your FABLE and FAIRY TALE
    THE BIBLE IS A FABLE FIND YOUR TRUE FAMILY with the National Geographic DNA family tree test OK

    November 22, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
    • 200 TON HAMMER

      World wide man made religion has FAILED BILLIONS of people's who are in mass POVERTY SICKNESS WARS FAMINES AFTER FAMINES

      November 22, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      Can one body of people not change that which was declared to be biblically so written as to actually being nurturingly fortuitous? Where in the biblical can there be prophesying though forewarned be justifiably outwitted should leveraged warnings be prophetically heeded? Is it righteously endeavouring to wantonly fulfill a religiously and historically imbedded future thought just because it is so 'bibilcally' written? Should not a people of uncommon intellect become intellectually mundane just to satisfy Jewish based biblical prophecies? Where then lays the lands ending of aberrance foretold of thru wanton Jewish biblical means? Who are the lands beneficiaries should war bemoan us and almost all do die out due and thru warring? Hell knows no other ways but to willfully and wantonly fulfill the Word, the Jewish Gospel!

      November 22, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
    • CSinSC

      ll, either write in a manner that a person can understand, or shut the fvck up. You butcher the English language daily and your ranting sound dangerously on the brink of insanity.

      November 22, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
    • End Religion

      Dreamer, tell us more about Jewish folks?

      November 22, 2012 at 10:10 pm |
  3. lionlylamb

    Agnosticism is the view that the truth values of certain claims—especially claims about the existence or non-existence of any deity, but also other religious and metaphysical claims—are unknown and (so far as can be judged) unknowable.[1][2][3] Agnosticism can be defined in various ways, and is sometimes used to indicate doubt or a skeptical approach to questions. In some senses, agnosticism is a stance about the difference between belief and knowledge, rather than about any specific claim or belief. In the popular sense, an agnostic is someone who neither believes nor disbelieves in the existence of a deity or deities, whereas a theist and an atheist believe and disbelieve, respectively.[2] In the strict sense, however, agnosticism is the view that humanity does not currently possess the requisite knowledge and/or reason to provide sufficient rational grounds to justify the belief that deities either do or do not exist.

    Thomas Henry Huxley, an English biologist, coined the word agnostic in 1869.[4] However, earlier thinkers and written works have promoted agnostic points of view. They include Protagoras, a 5th-century BCE Greek philosopher,[5] Sanjaya Belatthaputta, a 5th-century BCE Indian philosopher,[6] and the Nasadiya Sukta concerning the origin of the universe in the Rig Veda, an ancient Sanskrit text, which is one of the primary scriptures of Vedic Hinduism.[7]

    Since Huxley coined the term, many other thinkers have written extensively about agnosticism.

    Courtesy http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agnosticism

    November 22, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      Gnosticism (from gnostikos, "learned", from Greek: γνῶσις gnōsis, knowledge; Arabic: الغنوصية‎) is the thought and practice, especially of various sects of late pre-Christian and early Christian centuries, distinguished by the conviction that matter is evil and that emancipation comes through gnosis (knowledge).

      Gnosticism was primarily defined in a Christian context.[1][2] Some scholars have claimed that gnosticism pre-dated Christianity. Such discussions have included pre-Christian religious beliefs and spiritual practices argued to be common to early Christianity, Hellenistic Judaism, Greco-Roman mystery religions, Zoroastrianism (especially Zurvanism), and Neoplatonism. The discussion of gnosticism changed radically with the discovery of the Nag Hammadi library and led to revision of older assumptions. Although some scholars still postulate pre-Christian gnosticism, no evidence has been found to date. It is now generally accepted that gnosticism developed into a coherent movement only in the second century CE.[3

      Courtesy http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gnosticism

      November 22, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
  4. 200 TON HAMMER

    OK I say this if your religion was not working in your country and you come too USA too seek a better life for you and your family your man made religion hasFAILED YOU.because if I say if your religion is the be all end all there is no need too come too USA too seek a BETTER LIFE OR LIFESTYLE YOU WOULD BE SUPER BLESSED IN YOUR FALSE HOOD MAN MADE RELIGIOUS RELIGION PHONY SYSTEM OF GIMMICKS AND GAMES DREAMING AND SCHEMING STRESS STRUGGLES AND STRAINS RELIGION WORLDWIDE RELIGION HAS DONE MORE DESTRUCTION AND DEATH AND POVERTY SICKNESS THEN LEARNING THE WHOLE TRUTHS ABOUT WISDOM

    November 22, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
    • cheese

      those who were fleeing to this new land were escaping from religion. Our founding fathers wanted religion out of the government

      November 22, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Actually, the whole idea that the Pilgrims were escaping religious tyranny is a myth. As long as you weren't Catholic, Britain was fairly tolerant. The Pilgrims left to found a theocracy. You're right about the Founding Fathers though, they were secularists.

      November 22, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
  5. Irritated

    Way to make fun of people's religions and Gods, Prothero. Just when I thought you couldn't stoop any lower...atheist jerk.

    November 22, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • cheese

      however the most brilliant people are atheists. In fact atheist don't state something as fact without solid proof. Even in evolution they don't say it is absolute fact, only that proof seems to point in favor of evolution. Yet religions fabricate and preach with nothing provable. Sort of makes the religious as the liars.

      November 22, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      cheese wrote, "however the most brilliant people are atheists. In fact atheist don't state something as fact without solid proof. Even in evolution they don't say it is absolute fact, only that proof seems to point in favor of evolution. Yet religions fabricate and preach with nothing provable. Sort of makes the religious as the liars."

      Brilliant people run the gauntlets of all manners and mannerisms of social peculiarities from agnostic to gnostic to very religious to being atheistically orientated. Some in fact were found guilty of blasphemies way back when superst i tions were popular among religious folds.

      Your double-talking about atheists is worth a plug nickel and I wouldn't stand on your usages of words that way.

      November 22, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
  6. cheese

    How many god preacher here are in AA or once in AA? Sorry if you are. AA replaces existence with a bible god, creating people with blocked access to reasoning. See a good therapist and learn why you used alcohol to escape, don't replace the escape with another one – god stuff.

    November 22, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      cheese pleeze,

      Manly made Gods in name onliness euphemisms have become false-cherishing Jew-based sublimations not to be subliminally outdone by anothers' naming of God such as Elohim or Jehovah or Yahweh etc etc. Is it not of more-so importance to write or make small-talk toward others to 'menstruatively' condition the morals of youthfulness than to bicker and banter about as elder-aged 'gossipers' seeking shadowy umbrage praises of youth-based others to justify their own elder selfishness sakes? Who therefore is to be pitied more, the ones behind the podiums with playing cards to be read or the audience who does sit in waiting to be as leavened bread ever to rise up in unison?

      BTW cheese, I quit drinking on my own desires to no more drink because I became aware of its deadly possibilities especially when behind the wheel. Sept 5th, 2009 was my 1st day of sobriety and I must admit that the urges I once had to drink have left me! I play on a pool league and every Monday I meet with my teammates and we raise a lil cain!Their drinking beer doesn't bother me one bit!

      November 22, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • cheese

      so jesus was bad because he made wine from water.. You said it was deadly, not me.

      November 22, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      Cheese doodler,

      I said it coul quite ve deadly due my back then when I was drinking rather heavily aand would get behind the wheel. I could have easily killed someone due my drinking and having blackout spells and still would drive! My brother and I would down 2 -18 packs and sometimes go for a third 18 pack. The effects of uncontrolled drinking are yes a very deadly affair and I do thank my lucky stars I didn't run over anyone and kill them in my past days of driving while having a blackout spell!

      November 22, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      I said it coul quite ve deadly

      I said it could quite be deadly

      November 22, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
  7. lionlylamb

    What many people seem to be misplacing in regards to the gods and goddesses is that they all are the sons and daughters-in-law of God Almighty whose Holy Spirit is the vast Seas of the Nothingness regions that reaches ever so far away in the celestial domains and spirals ever inward towards the inner domains! We all live in a semi-lucid state of constant fluctuations in ever deminishing states of rationed constrainments in randomized fluxuations ever pulsating and really never at a true resting mode due to particle physics law of thermal dynamics regarding sub-quantum flexing. Can you fathom this angular dichotomy or,,,?

    November 22, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • Akira

      Why are the goddesses the 'daughters-in-law'?

      November 22, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      I do daringly adjudicate such a stance based upon God's sons repotedly taking for their own desires the women of our celestial breeding pools in an era so very long forgotten and there are only but traces and spaces in between where written histories have been lost. It is a truth when one brings up the stories regarding Lilith being God's mate after she was once Adams mate and sorta flew the coop so to speak when she became demanding equalities with Adam. back in those days all it took by Lilith to flee the garden was for her to just say God's name and poof she was gone and arrived at the hidden place where only God was at. Does any of this ring sorta true Akira?

      November 22, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • lionlylamb


      It may well possibly be that the goddesses were daughters-in-law due the ugliness factors of elemental goddesses and yes the elemental gods themselves were also ugly but they did vex the celestial women to gain favors with them therefore daughters-in-law goddesses. You still with me Akira?

      November 22, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • Akira

      Uh huh. Or they can be goddesses in their own right, and not be beholden upon any man.
      Never heard of the fable of Lilith's being God's mate after being booted out of Eden for asking the be treated as Adam's equal, them being made of the same mud, and all.
      Bulge inequality at it's finest, I would say.

      November 22, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • Lilith

      Truth is, Adam was a poofer.

      November 22, 2012 at 9:25 pm |
  8. BrightGeorge

    Let's not forget the Great Coyote God – we all need a good trickster to keep us on our toes 🙂

    November 22, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • sbp

      Would he be the coyote that actually CAUGHT the Roadrunner?

      November 22, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
  9. Hes confused

    Do you not know of how the on true God feels about professing worship to gods that do not exist? In all your studies you never came across the word paganism? How did God deal with the israelites when they turned and worshipped other Gods? You wasted a lot of money on an education that got you no where.

    November 22, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
    • Jumper

      Blinded by your perspective, you entirely missed the point of the article. . .

      November 22, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
    • sbp

      Which one true god was that? And what is your proof that the one you are referring to IS the one true god?

      November 22, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
    • Just call me Lucifer

      There are no gods. Grow up and deal with it.

      November 22, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
    • Libertarian Atheist

      And you wasted energy believing in Fairy Tales.

      November 23, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
  10. Russ

    @ Stephen Prothero: when you don't really know whom to thank, you're not really thankful.

    As Jesus makes clear in Lk.7:36-50 (a passage I'm sure you're well versed upon): you're only thankful to the degree that you understand the depth of what someone has done for you.

    November 22, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
  11. ol cranky

    the irony in the textbook is that the pilgrims SHOULD have been thanking the native americans as much as they were tanking their god

    November 22, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
    • truth be told

      General Sherman perfected all the"tanks" native americans were ent. itled to.

      November 22, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
  12. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    November 22, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
    • HeavenSense

      Hi Prayerbot.

      November 22, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
  13. gggg

    I see your wager and raise you one razor and one teapot.

    November 22, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
  14. lionlylamb

    Let God's Holy Spirit, the Great Seas of absolute Nothingness spread forth into the nothingness rivers toward the creeks of nothingness central which surrounds all smatterings of material plainness in the atomic suburbs, the allness of somethingness wherever and whenever to be doing nothing's business.

    November 22, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
  15. Apple Bush

    Bulge inequality is running rampant. Some can be thankful while others, not so much.

    November 22, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
    • Akira

      Buuuuuuuuulge inequality runs rampant amongst pool boys. Allegedly.

      November 22, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
    • hindu filthy pool boy ism

      He is SO HOT.

      November 22, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
  16. RoccoB64

    Thank you Based God! ~Swag x1,000,000

    November 22, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
  17. Just call me Lucifer

    Mr. Prothero... the pilgrims thanked the indigenous people with a feast for SAVING THEIR LIVES when they couldn't fend for themselves. Now, of course, you and your pathetically small brain need to insert your non-existant god into the mix to kiss his omnipotent (supposedly) ass. You and your ilk are a bane on humanity. I'm the devil you created (just like the gods), and I approve this message.

    November 22, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • Jumper

      I fail to see how an address like this brings anyone around to your side.

      November 22, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • Just call me Lucifer

      You have no idea of the power of the dark side.

      November 22, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
  18. Vern Sawyer

    I will now thank all the gods which exist, in order:


    That is all.

    November 22, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • Akira

      Hey, Vern. Ernest says hello.

      November 22, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
    • Vern Sawyer

      Don't joke like that, there's not a day that goes by that I don't miss Ernest.

      November 22, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
    • Jumper

      Well if you'd like to visit him, I've still got his corpse.

      November 22, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • Akira

      Apologies, Vern.
      But he still says hello.

      November 22, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
  19. steve

    the Quran is loaded with vengeful statements about God killing Jews and Christians and infidels, but the God who so loved us that He sent His Son to pay the price for our sins is the capricious one? Prothero is a pc butt kisser

    November 22, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      My Thanksgiving dinner is capricious. Everyone brings something.

      November 22, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
  20. Your Turkey

    I have been murdered and roasted and now you are eating my dead flesh. I am so thankful.

    November 22, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
    • Akira

      You're welcome.

      November 22, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
    • Just call me Lucifer

      Yeah... sorry about that. If it makes you feel any better, my distant relatives would honor your sacrifice for our sustenance
      with a tribal dance. We would thank you and the "Great Spirit" for your sacrifice. Of course, we all know the Great Spirit is a myth, but its a nice gesture... doncha think?

      November 22, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      Your Turkey must be a relative of my turkey. He gobblingly told me so just before I ate his gizzard. Love them gizzards!

      November 22, 2012 at 4:05 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.