OK, fair question. When Christians thank God or pray thanks “in Jesus’s name,” what are the atheists in their midst doing?
Well, let me settle one thing right at the outset: atheists are as thankful and appreciative of good fortune as theists. So as to the basic intent, there’s no difference. I doubt there’s been credible research on the matter, but I’d say it’s a safe bet that atheists say “thank you” in normal human discourse as often as theists. So how about when there’s no person or god in the picture, no “thankee” for the thanker to thank?
Actually, that’s not a problem. Quite frequently everyone, theists included, feel and express thanks without a thankee. Even the phrase “thank God” is often used without any intent to thank God, but to express happiness that some event went well. It’s similar to the exclamation “Oh, God!” with no thought of a god . . . or “God damn” with not a hint of calling on a god to damn anything or anybody. So there’s nothing uncommon about a person feeling and expressing appreciation, gratitude, or thanks in an undirected way, that is, with no discernable thankee.
There are many events and circumstances that feel good, lift our spirits, or give us comfort. Atheists have as satisfying and deep feelings of appreciation and happiness about those things as anyone who believes they were provided by a gracious god or gods. An atheist feels as thankful about the good fortune of a loved one or, for that matter, a fortuitous roll of the dice as a theist.
Thankfulness is a human characteristic, not a theist characteristic. It delights and brightens our lives whether we believe goodness comes from the heavens, from our neighbors, or from our awesome natural universe.
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