Before going any further, read this
. It is President Abraham Lincoln’s official proclamation of a fixed national day of Thanksgiving. If you are tired of thinking about Thanksgiving, you can come back and read this next year, if you promise not to forget.
Because everything I write is of vital importance to every single person on this earth. Truly. Italics would not lie.
By various sooper sekret pathways this article came to my attention last week. It seemed ludicrous enough without any real further investigation, but it’s stuck in the back of my brain and I decided to address it this week after a little poking and prodding. It’s an essay that decries the celebration of Thanksgiving as fraudulent and misplaced.
This is the sort of stuff that is regularly pushed about in certain circles as truth or history or fact or reality. Pieces of history and facts rearranged into an order that pleases the person and supports their hypothesis or assertion. Yes, history is a discipline of interpretation in many respects – but there are more and less faithful attempts at that interpretation. This essay is a less faithful one, and I’d like to spend a few minutes breaking down why, since at an emotional level this might appeal to people and ring of truth.
First off, the author’s bias is so blatant that he feels the need to go ahead and state it outright in the first three paragraphs. He’s not right-wing, nor even centrist. Anyone who so casually dismisses moderates and centrists right off the bat is going to be suspicious in my book, regardless of which end of the spectrum they prefer to situate themselves. Not that there is inherent accuracy or truthfulness or honesty in being a centrist or a moderate, but because I’m likely to suspect them of less ideological goofiness that anyone on either extreme end of the ideological spectrum.
Paragraph three is where the historical inaccuracies begin. The assertion is that liberals are capable and willing to admit that Thanksgiving is based on mythological events or even conscious untruths – of the “European invaders coming in peace to the “New World”, eager to cooperate with indigenous peoples”.
I don’t see anything in President Lincoln’s proclamation that pertains specifically to invaders, peace, or indigenous peoples. So to accuse the Thanksgiving holiday of perpetrating a myth is achievable only by asserting another basis for the holiday in lieu of the actual one. The actual one is gratefulness for the undeserved gifts & blessings of God. Despite the fact that there is no peace, but in fact is a raging Civil War going on at the moment. Despite the fact that cooperation even with our own kind was trampled.
Thanksgiving is based on the historically accepted idea that having just barely survived their first winter in America – and only then by the grace of the peaceful indigenous peoples around them – Pilgrim settlers from Holland joined in a meal with their indigenous neighbors in celebration of the fact that 50 of the 100 travelers were still alive. I don’t think the meal was much of a political ploy. It’s not as though they were trying to lure the Native Americans into a sense of peace before slaughtering them when the reinforcements arrived. I’m pretty positive that the local tribes understood that these people were alive only by their benevolence and kindness. Both sides undoubtedly couldn’t fully appreciate how history was going to unfold over the next 300 years or so, but at that moment, on that day, there was genuine gratitude by the Pilgrims, both to the local tribes as well as to God.
In the next paragraph the author decries the rewriting of “the collective, cultural definition of Thanksgiving” in favor of personal interpretation. He ironically is attempting to describe those who celebrate traditional Thanksgiving, but it more accurately describes his own efforts to turn Thanksgiving into some misguided celebration of overall ethnic tolerance and peace. The remainder of this paragraph in the essay devolves into a lambast against capitalist ideology. Hardly the time or place, but a further indication of where the author is coming from. Thanksgiving is hardly the main issue this person takes umbrage with – it’s rather one aspect of a larger fish attempting to be fried.
Next we have fallacious generalism or oversimplification. Yes, there were times when settlers – even the American government – resorted to extremely immoral efforts to dislodge or destroy native populations. This is deplorable. Period. However to characterize all European and American interaction with native populations as part and parcel with these other situations and occurences is dishonest and inaccurate. However, to acknowledge that the first Thanksgiving was, in and of itself without any consideration of what happened afterwards – a day or moment of genuine gratitude and fraternal kinship would pretty much destroy this guy’s argument, so that has to be ignored. We must also ignore that some of the issues that play into the author’s assertions of genocide were also quite unintentioned – if also perhaps unavoidable. Illnesses and diseases that were unknown in the New World but routine and non-lethal in Europe were unleashed amongst the native populations with devastating effects. This was – at least initially – certainly not part of some pre-planned effort to kill off the indigenous population. It simply happened. Biology was at play long before ideology entered the process, one could reasonably argue. Again, this is an awful set of events – but at least initially it was as big a surprise to the settlers as it undoubtedly was to the native populations and modern historians.
Most of the rest of the article is devoted to rather stunning suggestions of how we undue the damage of Thanksgiving, including land redistribution and wealth redistribution. Depending on how these terms are defined, I could understand and support them to a certain sense. However, he doesn’t bother to define the terms, let alone examine the huge problems that these solutions would undoubtedly create for everyone involved, problems that would hardly end up being the solutions he appears to envision.
Then he creates an analogy using the Nazis. You can imagine how things go from there. Or maybe you read it for yourself.
In any event, his basic premise in this article is that Thanksgiving is about intercultural peace and love and happiness, and unfortunately his whole argument ultimately fails – regardless of the noteworthiness of some of it’s isolated sentiments – because of this false premise. Intercultural peace is not the foundational cultural element of Thanksgiving. While the initial event which is the historical anchor for Thanksgiving involved a moment of intercultural peace, this is not the crux of Thanksgiving – as a national collective understanding or otherwise. If it were, I’m sure we would be celebrating Intercultural Joy day or something like that. No, the crux of Thanksgiving and the historical event that underlies it and is reflected in Lincoln’s proclamation of a national holiday is on something the author ignores completely – giving thanks.
Not giving thanks specifically for intercultural peace and understanding, though that’s a laudable and desirable goa
l. Not giving thanks for the good things that we have done or are doing or will do. Not giving thanks because we deserve what we have. Not giving thanks because we have or haven’t made appropriate reparations to the people we have wronged, either nationally or individually.
The core of the historical event and the presidential proclamation is giving thanks to God. For the blessings of life itself, regardless of the fact that we routinely abuse this blessing and take it for granted and spend our time trying to deprive one another of these blessings. For the fact that our loving God continues to pour out His blessings on His creation. Not because we deserve them or have earned them or are particularly wonderful, but because He loves us. And why could God love a people that defraud one another and hurt one another and kill one another in order to hoard up these blessings for themselves?
Only because of our intercessor, Jesus Christ. Because God – knowing we are incapable of improving ourselves and doing the right things, whether those things are what the author of this article suggests or otherwise – sent His Son to atone for us. To obey where we cannot, to suffer what we deserve, to die as we all ought to die, to be separated from true righteousness and justice and mercy which is God Himself as we ought to be separated from Him for being son unrighteous, so unjust, and so unmerciful. God can and does love us because of Jesus Christ.
You want something to focus on for Thanksgiving, focus on Him. Focus on the only true example of righteousness and justice and mercy the world has ever and will ever know – Jesus Christ. Focus on what we did to him, how we handled that message and that reality. We killed him. And now ponder anew the meaning of righteous and just and merciful, that God knew this would happen, and that in happening, we are freed. We are saved. We are reconciled. Not fully and not completely – yet. But the process has begun. The only process whereby the justice and mercy and righteousness that the author of this article would like to see will ever be achieved – and will be achieved. Not on his terms, which are imperfect at best and hurtful at best, but on God’s terms which can be trusted to be perfect and right, always.
Hopefully Mr. Jensen could raise a drumstick to this reality on Thanksgiving, just as the pilgrims did. Just as President Lincoln did. And just as you and I ought to.
And that message is of vital importance to every person on this earth. The italics don’t lie.