The New Agey Sentimentalism of Thanksgiving

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In my own piece on Thanksgiving, I noted that Thanksgiving is just a nationalist secular holiday with a thin veneer of religiousity to get the heads of gullible American Christians to nod in enthusiastic assent to yet another secular festival that replaces the true deity with the national state and its avenging nationalist god.

In typical American fashion, as is the case with American religion, Thanksgiving can be interpreted in whatever way you like. Who are we thanking? What are we thankful for? The question is asked in such a way that the answer can be utterly devoid of content. Be thankful to your invented deity, whether it be your right-wing god or your left wing goddess or whatever convenient “higher power” you happen to subscribe to.

And what are you thankful for? Whatever you want to be thankful for. What’s important is that you’re thankful to somebody for something. But everyone can agree at least that we should thank the government and its soldiers for killing off thousands of Afghans who are of no threat to any American whatsoever.

And what can we expect from a holiday that was founded by Lincoln, an atheist politician, and then formed in its early years by northeastern elites who practiced the sort of watered-down Christianity of the social gospel that gave us the public schools. This is the social milieu of Ralph Waldo Emerson and his followers. So, can we be surprised that the philosophy behind Thankgiving features the same sort of malleable new-age-make-your-own-religion sort of tripe that was so popular among the ruling classes of the 19th century, and is so popular today?

The greatest opposition I meet on the matter of Thanksgiving is generally from aging white people who are sentimental about the olden days and think that Thanksgiving somehow reinforces the “traditional values” of the past. What these “traditional values” are I can’t imagine. Are they the values of the Cold War when global nuclear annihilation was promoted as a viable option by most red-blooded, god-fearing Americans? Are they the “traditional values” of the slave-holders? The values of 19th century Americans who invaded Mexico, raped its women, and burned its Churches? It’s not clear.

Of course, for any person who practices anything more meaningful that the American version of Christianity that has exactly two Holy Days that anyone bothers to observe, Thanksgiving is both unnecessary and insipid.

1:01 pm on November 26, 2009