All The More Reason

On Gratitude
August 23, 2006, 12:59 am
Filed under: On...

Professor Ronald Aronson, in a piece linked to by, writes about the need for gratitude in a godless world. He begins thus:

“Living without God today means facing life and death as no generation before us has done. It entails giving meaning to our lives not only in the absence of a supreme being, but now without the forces and trends that gave hope to the past several generations of secularists. We who live after progress, after Marxism, and after the Holocaust have stopped believing that the world is being transformed by reason and democracy. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, the modern faith that human life is heading in a positive direction has been undone, giving way to the earlier religious faith it replaced, or to no faith at all. Alone as never before, in a universe scientifically better understood than ever, we find little in its almost-infinite vastness to guide us towards what our lives mean and how we should live them.”

I’m not sure about you, but my eye stops right about somewhere between “stopped believing” and “reason and democracy”.

The rest of the piece deals with the need for a new kind of gratitude to solve the existential dilemma that one faces in a post-modern world. This gratitude, that can no longer blindly be thrown to someone above, must be turned back towards ourselves, and to the long history of our existence. He claims that Gratitude is “virtually absent from our secular culture” but I wouldn’t even know how to test that hypothesis. What about the fact that articles and papers in journals and books are meticulously referenced? Is that not a kind of gratitude within the secular world? As far as personal contact, the closest thing that comes to mind is whether or not I would be willing to bet that I could distinguish someone of faith from someone without based on their daily gratitude. Well, if outward proclamations are an indicator, then a practising Muslim might be fairly easy to spot. But I would have to argue that based on a conversation or an interaction with someone, I have never remarked this as being an indicator. On the other hand, earnest Christians are keen to turn the conversation to God in general, and invariably a shout out of respect is given soon after.

But it is the conclusion of Aronson’s paper that concerns me the most:

“One’s map of dependence stretches in every possible direction and across every possible plane, but it is always real and it is always concrete. And it sketches the paths for one’s gratitude. It tells, after all, the story of our connections with the world and the universe, and it gives us a core of obligations and a core of meaning. To give thanks is to honour this.”

Well, we could push this a little further, couldn’t we, and ask to whom we seek out our vengeance? For at one time the devil was to blame for the misgivings in nature. But if he be gone, then truly only somewhere in the inter-connectedness should lie our foe. And of course, to push this even further, perhaps only the son or grandsons of this foe remains. Should we not seek our vengeance out on them? I really wonder what Professor Aronson would say to this. I do wish he had spent a little time considering the corollary to his argument, and a little less time writing sweeping assertions about “We who live after progress…”

So maybe instead of dunking our minds completely in the trough of empathetic gruel we could save a smidgen for old dear reason after all.

Jonathan Smith


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