A favorite author, Chuck Colson, gives a great insight on this topic. He tells about a time in his life when he was “distinctly irreligious”. “I was on a lake in New Hampshire where I had taken a fourteen-foot Day Sailer to teach my two sons to sail. On one of our ventures across the lake, Christian, who was then ten, grabbed the sheet and was so excited over actually being able to sail the boat that his eyes sparkled. I was in the stern holding the tiller. I saw in my son’s expression the joy of a new discovery as he felt the wind’s power in his hands.
In that unguarded moment, I found myself saying, ‘Thank you, God, for giving me this son – for giving us this one wonderful moment.’ I went on to tell God that if I were to die tomorrow, I would feel my life had been fulfilled. When I realized what I had done, I was startled. I had no intention of trying to talk to God, whoever He was – if He did exist and was even knowable. I was certainly not intellectually convinced that God existed. But I had to admit that I was simply overcome with gratitude for that unforgettably rich experience with my son Chris, and I needed to thank someone – God…
What moved me that day to talk to God was an overwhelming sense of gratitude for that incredibly joyous experience… Gratitude, I have discovered, is built into every one of us, as much as a universal human characteristic as guilt. When you wake up in the morning, lift the window, feel the fresh [fall] breezes, and see the sun rising, aren’t you filled with gratitude? (Good Life, 272).”
Perhaps, in an unguarded moment, an atheist will look up this Thanksgiving and say, “Thank you” to the One who has made their life possible. Otherwise, the thing about atheism is that you have no One to thank. Someone even suggested that you cannot be grateful for some thing without being grateful to a someone. One can express gratittude only toward another intelligent, conscious being. You cannot be grateful to a fencepost, or the moon, or some collection of atoms. An atheist can be happy that the sun sets over Maui, be he/she can’t be truly grateful for these things since there is no one to whom to be grateful.