I call myself "sadly agnostic." Sadly? How can one be "sadly" agnostic?
Because, at one time, I believed. At the breast of my Catholic mother, in the hands of the teaching Sisters of St. Casmir, I was brought up believing. A tiny, skinny stripling soul, too small to see over the back of the next pew without standing on the kneeler. I believed in an immense, overwhelming, more terrible than lovable heavenly "Father." And a human spawn of that Parent, come to earth to suffer worse pain and degradation than I would ever fear to endure; that I might, upon drawing my last earthly breath, be allowed the slimmest of opportunities to float into that Heavenly Presence. And be reunited with all of my dear departed family members. And perhaps my late cat, though the jury was still out as to whether Rusty would be permitted at that big reunion in the sky.
Catholic dogma sat heavily on the shoulders of an anti-establishment high school hippie. The rituals became meaningless, the words, rote...like incantations; mystical chants. Say these words, go through these motions, and you will be saved. From what? To what? I walked away. But I never stopped believing, In the Big Guy in the sky who was ready with the carrot if you were good, and the thunderbolt if you stepped seriously out of line.
Then, there was the "born again" experience in the eighties. When, by God, if words were going to come out of my mouth, they were going to really mean something. If I was going to go through motions, they would come from the heart. God became my Dad, and Jesus my brother, and all my fellow pew warmers were my litter-mates in the Lord. Until, deeper into that life, I realized that these folks, with their direct line to the Almighty, were as wicked as the raw unwashed. Only they were "forgiven." There was no evil they couldn't at least give a trial run. Just to make sure the Lord was as good as his Word.
And, thus, agnostic. But why "sadly?" Because it is sad to realize that what I had once embraced as the greatest truth might turn out to be the greatest fiction. To suspect that perhaps mankind created God in its own image and likeness, rather than the other way around. To perceive that God could be the code that society long ago dreamed up to keep itself from descending into utter self-serving chaos; and yet be, at the same time, the great club by which we enforce the rule of the dominant. My consuming dilemma over the last ten years has been how to discern between the spirituality of a Creator, and the manufacture of spirituality. I've seen plenty of the latter...cannot be absolutely certain I have ever experienced the former. Sad. I feel like I've lost an innocence that so many people blissfully retain. Like I've learned a secret that I would have been much happier not knowing.
So, what can "Thanksgiving" mean to an agnostic? If you don't believe in God, to whom do you give thanks? It's funny. Some things are so indelibly written on the heart, a lifetime of experience cannot erase them. There are times when little prayers still spring to my mind, unbidden. I've learned to bat away the "help me" pleas. I figure if there is a God, it certainly wouldn't do for me to turn to Him only in desperation. I know I don't like hearing from relatives who only call when they need something...
But, I do not stifle spontaneous offerings of thanks. Overflows of gratitude due the Creator; the Universe; that Force inconceivably greater than myself from which beauty, balance, harmony and goodness flow. Music, the night sky, laughter, a mate's embrace...things so transcendent they simply cannot be cosmic accidents, deserve acknowledgment and celebration. It's such a natural thing...a silent "Thank you" formed in an awestruck, humble heart. It doesn't seem to matter that my head is not entirely convinced there is a "you" to thank. My heart is pretty sure there is.