November 21, 2007

Thanksgiving is the quintessential American holiday.  It fuses the secular and the sacred — that special synthesis that forms our national identity. Our celebration of a Day of Thanksgiving underscores both our commonality, as citizens of one republic and our diversity, as people holding different religious beliefs.

The Thanksgiving holiday encourages us to reflect upon what is good in our lives — the part of the glass that is full, rather than the part that seems empty. In our busy lives, how often do we pause to acknowledge our blessings? Do we not often take the wonders of life for granted?

I had a Thanksgiving moment in August. I was driving north from Pittsburgh on I-79 when I was suddenly struck with a sense of awe about this very ordinary activity. Here I was, effortlessly cruising smoothly along at 70 mph, resting in a sumptuously comfortable seat, the car’s air conditioning nullifying the August heat, and listening to one of the world’s greatest violinists headlining one of the world’s greatest orchestras, playing a symphony by one of history’s greatest composers. If I had wanted to, I could have used my cell phone to touch base with loved ones scattered around the globe. None of the world’s monarchs who lived even a mere one century ago ever had it so good!

The morbid media constantly barrage us with negative images and thoughts. If we aren’t careful, they will convince us that the world is on a collision course with destruction and doom. Don’t believe it! All you have to do is look around you to see proof that the creative instinct is predominant over the destructive impulses in human nature. As we saw vividly on 9/11, things that take months and years to build can be destroyed in seconds.  If the destroyers had the upper hand in this world, we would be surrounded by rubble. Instead, everywhere we look, we see abundant evidence of patient, ongoing, peaceful cooperation resulting in homes, buildings, cars, lights, etc. It is the creators, not the destroyers, who predominate today.

There are additional positive trends that we should acknowledge and appreciate. More people are living longer than ever before. More people around the world are climbing out of poverty than ever before.  Scientific and technological knowledge are multiplying exponentially. The upside potential of the human race is blindingly brilliant.

As Americans, we owe a special debt of gratitude to the founders of our republic for devising a political system that limited government power and protected individual rights. Never before were people freer to worship, work, create, discover, say and think what they wanted, and in this rich environment of unprecedented freedom, the material progress of humankind flourished as never before.  Yes, opportunities were limited to earlier generations of non-Caucasian and female Americans, but today virtually any American has the freedom to pursue and attain his or her goals.

The American Dream that gave birth to unprecedented prosperity has caused the rest of the world to take note. Indeed, around the world we see evidence that others have seen what freedom has accomplished, and, step by step, the old shackles of oppression are falling away as rational human beings see the practical benefits of liberty. It is no exaggeration to say that the American Dream of freedom and opportunity has become the dream of the human race.

In addition to being thankful for our prosperity, our freedom and our country, we need to remember there is another factor — indeed, the most important one of all — that is worthy of our deepest gratitude. I refer to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our country’s founding fathers didn’t place individual rights at the heart of our political system out of random happenstance. On the contrary, they were motivated by the Christian faith and values with which they were imbued. They inherited their worldview from this country’s spiritual founding fathers — the Pilgrims, Puritans, and other Christian sects who came to the New World to be able to live in accord with their understanding of the Holy Bible. To the best of their ability, America’s founding fathers put into practice the revolutionary biblical idea that individual rights are God-given, not subject to the will or whim of any political authority. We are still reaping the blessings of their vision and values today.

The famous Christian hymn, “The Doxology,” begins, “Praise God from Whom all blessings flow.” On Thanksgiving Day, millions of us, perhaps using the words of Psalms 148-150, will sing that praise in our hearts. We will give thanks for our temporal material blessings, whether few or many, and we will give thanks for the greater riches, our eternal spiritual blessings. In the immortal words of the Psalmist, “Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits” (Ps. 68:19).

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Dr. Mark W. Hendrickson is a faculty member, economist, and contributing scholar with the Center for Vision and Values at Grove City College.

Visit Crosswalk's Thanksgiving Facebook page at www.facebook.com/iAmThankful.