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Jacqueline's ramblings - Atheistic thankfulness
November 26th, 2009
10:56 pm
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Atheistic thankfulness
Or: how does that work?

There would seem to be a logical fallacy in my previous post, since I say I'm not religious (in fact I'm an atheist) but at the same time sum up a list of things I'm thankful for. Thankfulness, however, seems to imply someone you actually thank for whatever it is you're thankful for. And I don't happen to think there is any such someone, other than just other people.

So why do I feel thankful? And to whom? I don't think there's a simple answer for the first question. As for the second: that should be to everyone around me who helped to make my happiness possible. For instance, the employer who gave my first chance and made my buying a house possible. And also the bank which approved the mortgage for that same house. And my family who among countless other things helped me with the painting and the wallpaper and the cleaning and all those other things you either need or just want to do to a house to make it your own. And again to my parents who had me and who despite that still decided to have another child so that now they're gone, I still have my sister. And the list goes on and on, for every single thing I could possibly be thankful for. But that's a whole lot of people to thank and besides, either they get uncomfortable for being thanked for the same thing all the time or I simply don't know who they are. So instead, when I think about it, I generally feel a vague sense of thankfulness in general to a nameless entity I can't point to and which is basically a mental amalgamation of all those who make the good things I have and experience possible.

As for the first question, I guess that the need to feel thankful is a basic need which can be explained in many, many ways, such as wish to appease the gods who brought good things so that they will continue bringing those things, or simply a simple mechanism that shows those around you, without you having to bring it up all the time, that what they did for you is appreciated, which makes them more inclined to keep on doing such things. And maybe it just feels good to share your happiness about what you have by expressing thanks for it. Maybe there are a million reasons, several of them mutually exclusive and all of them valid. I don't know and at the moment I don't care. I've just made a list of things that make me feel good and now I feel thankful. Anyone who wishes to accept the thanks is welcome to it, whether I think they exist or not.

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Date:November 28th, 2009 05:03 pm (UTC)
This is certainly thought-provoking. I am also an atheist yet I also feel thankful for many things that I can't thank anyone for. A sense of gratitude does seem to innate and instinctive. Why might this be? Perhaps because we are a gregarious and cooperative species, and we depend on a certain amount of mutual reciprocity. If some good fortune comes our way, our first instinct might be to look for someone to thank for it, even if there is no such someone.

This could be a case where the cost of a false positive outweighs the cost of a false negative. If someone does you a favour, you'd better start looking for ways to return it, otherwise you stand to get labelled as a thankless free-loading bastard. Get a reputation for that, and people will stop doing you favours. Therefore, assume as a default that any good fortune has a donor who ought to be repaid if possible. Whether there actually is one or not.
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