Thanksgiving in an Age Without Gratitude

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.

Thus wrote President Abraham Lincoln in his Thanksgiving proclamation of 1863, and his framing of the day’s purpose seems to me as important today as it was then.  The unity of the country on Thanksgiving — the incentive for our “one heart and one voice” — came through a shared gratitude to God, who is other than us, greater than us.  He who is.

Sadly, Rhode Islanders live in a time and a state in which a Roman Catholic professor at a Roman Catholic institution, Anthony Esolen of Providence College, enters a whirlwind of controversy by encouraging us to take just such a view of unity in diversity by exemplifying a “many-cultured Church” under a “transcendent and unifying God.”

We live in a state in which the ostensibly Roman Catholic governor’s Thanksgiving Day proclamation does not so much express gratitude as lay out a political platform crafted so as to sound unifying but in actuality to describe a narrow ideology without which the governor will not consider her neighbors to be her constituents.  Beyond the one bit of gratitude that Gina Raimondo expresses for government employees, she does little more than proclaim a progressive worldview.

“Diversity” is in there (in the non-Esolenian sense), as is a nod to religious tolerance, which we know not to include the right to conduct one’s life in disagreement with the gay agenda, which is conspicuously the next thing on her list.  Radical immigration policy is implied, and environmentalism is named, but our governor offers no hint that these are or can be areas of disagreement.  So, when she asserts that “we will continue to fight for our values” and “strive for… advocacy,” a Rhode Islander must wonder:  Who are we, and whom are we fighting?

For those who differ with the governor, the answer is clear:  You are not among the we, and they are fighting you.  The god under whom the governor would have us unify is simply the government as the earthly incarnation of Progressivism.  One who will not kneel in the pews for this power-jealous god simply does not count.

If Thanksgiving cannot, therefore, be for us a day of unification beholding “the same object of wonder,” as Esolen puts it, what does that leave us to do?  Well, just what we would do if our governor did not wish to exclude us and have us disappear:  stand in wonder and gratitude to God Almighty.  Our only hope is in doing so.

For evidence that such hope can still exist, turn to “Post-election thoughts at Thanksgiving,” by Providence Senator Harold Metts (a black man, a Democrat, and a Protestant deacon):

… we must pray for healing and unity and that America continue to strive to live up to its creed of liberty and justice for all. Our collective voices must ring out against injustice. We must also remember that “making a difference is not for spectators, it takes active engagement.”

Every day is a day of thanks-giving, and despite differences, I thank God that I live in a country where I can continue to work with others for justice, truth and righteousness.

Although we might fear that Senator Metts would take us to be the practitioners of injustice and have sympathy for the governor’s “fight” against us, we may still have hope that, as his eyes turn with ours to the God who gave His name by saying, “I am who am,” he will realize that we are not the enemy and we can all be grateful for those who engage with us and challenge us and draw us toward our shared true end.

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