Is there a link between atheism, Thanksgiving Day and Puddleglum, the Marshwiggle from Narnia?
I wonder on this Thanksgiving Day, therefore, what the atheist does. I admit that he may nurture a simple attitude of gratitude for the good things in his life, but does he stop to ask why he should feel grateful in the first place?
Stop and think. Why celebrate Thanksgiving if there is no one to thank?
One of the simplest bits of evidence for the existence of God is the human instinct to give thanks.
What is this strange impulse in the human heart to thank someone?
We stop and pause on the mountaintop and view the expansive sky and we are swept with wonder and want to give thanks.
We see the beauty of a smiling child or the laughter of an old man and we say “This is good” and want to give thanks.
I could continue the list of wonders small and great: Chartres Cathedral or Mont St Michel, family re-united or the leaves in fall, a hard day’s work and the urgent starry night, the crush of the crowd in the city and the silent solitude of prayer..
All of these and more prompt in the heart and mind the instinct to adore, the drive to give thanks.
Furthermore, the instinct to give thanks is the first instinct that leads to something we call worship.
Why the instinct to worship if there is no one to worship?
So why this hunger if there is no food? Why this thirst if there is no water?
Oh, I know, the atheists and anthropologists, the psychologists and cynics will say that man cannot bear the idea that he is alone in the universe. He projects his own small wishes on the nameless void. Like a never ending and obsessive taker of the Rorschach test, man is always searching for beings that do not really exist, finding meanings where there are none and imposing patterns on the random sequences of nature.
This instinct to give thanks is no more than a child’s cry in the dark for a parent who is not there. It is an instinct of wishful thinking–striving to feel a sense of wonder for that which is not wonderful at all, but which simply is. Our attempts to give thanks are therefore meaningless gestures–vague feelings of a race not yet comfortable with the thought of being alone in a vast deserted cosmos.
The frightening logic of it all is compelling, but in the face of it I remember Puddleglum’s speech in The Silver Chair. You may remember that the travelers have been trapped underground and finally captured by the witch who tries to convince them that there is no over world, no Aslan, nothing but the dark caves of slavery and torture. There is no bright land above, no savior and no one to whom one might give thanks.
One word, Ma’am,’ he said… ‘One word. All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won’t deny any of what you said. But there’s one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things–trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.”