A Grateful Atheist

On occasion, I've been told--by believers--that atheists should not express gratitude for events or natural things, like beautiful scenery, a safe journey or even for being alive. Their idea is that it's hypocritical to feel gratitude for these things unless you agree that they come from god, or some kind of god-like guiding force. I personally do not think that a feeling of gratitude requires a "giver" to whom one is thankful.

I may not believe in a god or "Creator," yet when I look at the wonders of the world, I feel grateful in many different ways. Looking at the stars above, I am grateful for the knowledge and appreciation of what I am actually seeing. I am moved by the majesty of mountains and feel grateful for the ability to live in (or visit) a place with such beauty.

When I say that I am grateful for being alive, I do not mean that I am grateful that I was created by a supernatural god. I mean that I am thankful that I have survived this long and haven't yet been done in by any of the countless ways that people can die. I am grateful that I haven't been accidentally run down by a truck, shot in a store robbery or taken with a fatal disease. I am grateful that my parents' genetic code successfully (more or less) mingled to create a unique me.

That's not to say that there isn't a person (or more likely, people) somewhere who deserves my gratitude in most of these situations. On closer examination, my feelings of gratitude can almost always be traced back to people in my life who have helped me become the person I am today.

When I appreciate the stars in the sky, some of my gratitude goes toward my parents and teachers for instilling an understanding of those amazing points of light. A portion of thanks goes to PBS for airing documentaries on space, the stars and the universe, and to TED.com for sharing great lectures on astronomy. There's gratitude to my husband for showing me discoveries through his telescope, and to Neil deGrasse Tyson for making astrophysics so very interesting.

While I don't believe in fate or guardian angels, I do know that people can simply be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Given the infinite number of calamities in which I would have very little control, I feel grateful that I am still relatively safe and healthy. Particularly after any activity which has more risk, such as taking a trip or surviving an accident. The same is true for feeling grateful when the people I love are also safe.

When living with so much uncertainty, I'm grateful that my choices have been relatively successful. In the moment, it's hard to know what to do in any given situation. I've made my share of mistakes, but I've also managed to make choices that have kept me alive this long.

Genetics make us each susceptible to different diseases and conditions. I can be grateful for the good elements of my genetic make-up (a matter of science which is outside of my control) and I can be grateful that the choices I've made so far (healthy diet, regular exercise, no smoking) seem to be keeping me healthy.

From my point of view, it feels silly to limit a feeling of gratitude to situations where there is one specific person or entity in which to give thanks. Perhaps there are better words to describe this joy of being alive and the ability to appreciate the world, but I do not see why the word "gratitude" should not apply.


  1. I am a former atheist, i want you to know, you have a God given soul.
    I used to mock God, now
    i praise Him, i pray that God will draw you to Him.
    May God Bless You

  2. Very well spoken. I also believe that many things associated with religion or a creator can be experienced in a much broader scale by all humans. Grace, gratefulness, faith, etc.