Thanksgiving is by definition occasion for the expression of gratitude especially to God.
Thanksgiving or Thanksgiving Day (in North America) is an annual national holiday marked by religious observances and a traditional meal including turkey. The holiday commemorates a harvest festival celebrated by the Pilgrims in 1621 and is held in the US on the fourth Thursday in November. A similar holiday is held in Canada usually on the second Monday in October.
As a young man at St. Andrew’s College, Aurora I was reared a subscribed member of the Anglican Church of Canada aka Church of England. We literally went to church (chapel) every day of the week and twice on Sundays (matins and vespers). Apart from my ceaseless admiration of “And did those feet in ancient times walk upon England’s mountains green?”, I suspect however that the agenda was little more than the imperatives of football practice or cadet drills.
“And did those feet in ancient time” is a poem by William Blake from the preface to his epic Milton: A Poem in Two Books, one of a collection of writings known as the Prophetic Books. The date of 1804 on the title page is probably when the plates were begun, but the poem was printed c. 1808. Today it is best known as the hymn “Jerusalem“, with music written by Sir Hubert Parry in 1916. The famous orchestration was written by Sir Edward Elgar.
When I began practicing law in the Town of Almonte my first landlord was Rev. George Bickley who was then rector of St. Paul’s Anglican Church. He and his wife Anne lived in the parish house at the time during his parochial term. Subsequently I was Warden of the church.
Somewhere along the line I began falling away from the church. It was a sporadic evaporation at first extended irregularly during the ministry of Rev. Rob Davis (who spoke in the stilted vernacular of an aged clergyman in spite of his comparative youth) but my interest was momentarily revived during the subsequent ministry of Rev. Sharon Tate who revitalized both her speech and clerical conduct with modern day bents (though shadowed always by the apocrypha). Apart from attendances at funerals my last visit to St. Paul’s Church for purely religious reasons was by foot during a snow storm one Christmas Eve after having imbibed what I suspect were ample portions of whiskey.
The social function of the church is indisputable. The religious paradigm is however far less convincing. During the same period I read The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine
Paine’s original work was published in two parts in 1794 and 1795, titled Part First and Part II, and it sold very well in America. Part III was completed in the late 1790’s, but Thomas Jefferson convinced Paine not to publish it in 1802, aware of the possible reprisals. Five years later Paine decided to publish despite the backlash he knew would ensue. It did not sell well.
More important than the obvious political disadvantages of estranging oneself from organized religion is what was happening contemporaneously; specifically the French Revolution.
The French Revolution began with the meeting of the legislative assembly (the States General) in May 1789 when the French government was already in crisis; the Bastille was stormed in July of the same year. The revolution became steadily more radical and ruthless with power increasingly in the hands of the Jacobins and Robespierre; Louis XVI’s execution in January 1793 was followed by Robespierre’s Reign of Terror. The revolution failed to produce a stable form of republican government, and after several different forms of administration, the last, the Directory, was overthrown by Napoleon in 1799.
Paradoxically the approbation of Paine by the United States of America government has lately arisen with the construction of monuments to his memory.
Thomas Paine, (born January 29, 1737, Thetford, Norfolk, England—died June 8, 1809, New York, New York, U.S.), English-American writer and political pamphleteer whose Common Sense pamphlet and Crisis papers were important influences on the American Revolution.
My undergraduate degree from Glendon Hall, Toronto is in Philosophy. I believe that and my subsequent law degree entitle me to some authority in the domain of logic (though I readily acknowledge it is no greater insight than that of anyone else into transcendental details). The Age of Reason is compelling because it is clear but understated:
TO MY FELLOW-CITIZENS OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA:
I PUT the following work under your protection. It contains my opinions upon Religion. You will do me the justice to remember, that I have always strenuously supported the Right of every Man to his own opinion, however different that opinion might be to mine. He who denies to another this right, makes a slave of himself to his present opinion, because he precludes himself the right of changing it.
The most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is Reason. I have never used any other, and I trust I never shall.
Your affectionate friend and fellow-citizen,
Luxembourg, 8th Pluviose, Second Year of the French Republic, one and indivisible.
January 27, O. S. 1794.
As an ardent debater – and again by virtue of my philosophic and legal background – I am the last to rely on persuasive argument as the sole determination of outcome. I am both mischievously and wholeheartedly comitted to the belief that it is possible to argue for or against almost anything with convincing result. The closest I have come to the adoption of an impenetrable argument in favour of religion is the prerequisite of admission to the fold of Freemasonry; namely, a belief in a Supreme Being. Only recently I have sought to attack this seemingly digestible assertion by asking, “If god created all this, then who created god?” (the proverbial reductio ad absurdum) but it has afforded little more than intellectual hesitancy without contaminating the larger metaphysical question.
Paine’s thesis is briefly but criticallly stated at the outset:
Age of Reason, Part First, Section 1
IT has been my intention, for several years past, to publish my thoughts upon religion. I am well aware of the difficulties that attend the subject, and from that consideration, had reserved it to a more advanced period of life. I intended it to be the last offering I should make to my fellow-citizens of all nations, and that at a time when the purity of the motive that induced me to it, could not admit of a question, even by those who might disapprove the work.
The circumstance that has now taken place in France of the total abolition of the whole national order of priesthood, and of everything appertaining to compulsive systems of religion, and compulsive articles of faith, has not only precipitated my intention, but rendered a work of this kind exceedingly necessary, lest in the general wreck of superstition, of false systems of government, and false theology, we lose sight of morality, of humanity, and of the theology that is true.
As several of my colleagues and others of my fellow-citizens of France have given me the example of making their voluntary and individual profession of faith, I also will make mine; and I do this with all that sincerity and frankness with which the mind of man communicates with itself.
I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.
I believe in the equality of man; and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy.
But, lest it should be supposed that I believe in many other things in addition to these, I shall, in the progress of this work, declare the things I do not believe, and my reasons for not believing them.
I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.
All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.
I do not mean by this declaration to condemn those who believe otherwise; they have the same right to their belief as I have to mine. But it is necessary to the happiness of man, that he be mentally faithful to himself. Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving; it consists in professing to believe what he does not believe.
Arguably – or in any other manner one might wish to dissolve this thesis – the principles here enunciated admit to so many different interpretations. It never escapes my mind the facility we have to make distinctions without a difference. And by the time one is permitted without jeaporadizing the main line of argument to prescribe to marginally different views of the identical subject, it hardly seems possible to have stated anything not already understood. The blunt truth remains that in spite of my drama and entertaining polemics, every night before falling asleep I thank the Lord for the beneficence I daily explore. Granted I haven’t any particular details regarding him or her to whom I speak. The conversation may be no more than my so-called inner monologue.
Have you ever had a conversation with yourself, one that took place inside your head? If so, you are one of many that have an inner monologue—or inner voice—that narrates your thoughts throughout the day. But did you know that many people have no such inner dialogue? While that might seem strange to some, it’s equally odd for someone who doesn’t have an inner monologue to imagine how that manifests itself.
I don’t retain this soporific credential merely as insurance. Indeed it is a childhood custom I haven’t until now fully disclosed not especially because it is seemingly contradictory but because it is my private reality, one of those incontrovertible details which for whatever reason we prefer to keep to ourselves or which don’t by any other standard readily invite or demand disclosure. Just for the record, I still cling to the winning conclusion that all this didn’t just happen, that there must be something behind it all. For the time being a Supreme Being is what I consider a sufficiently polite acknowledgement (though how far, if at all, it separates me from the Evangelicals I cannot say with certainty).