As an atheist, who do I thank for the good things that happen in my life? This is an interesting question a Christian friend of mine recently asked me. At first, I thought the question was rather irrelevant, but the more I thought about it, the more I began to realise what a good question it actually is, as it can show how differently an atheist and a theist view the source of good fortune.
I guess there are different types of good fortune: the type brought about by the decisions and actions of people, and the type that occurs through pure luck. In this post, I will cover the first kind.
When I used to be a Christian, I used to thank God when I achieved excellent marks for an exam, or if I was promoted at work. But when I pondered the question of who actually spent many nights sweating over books in intense study, or many hours trying to perfect skills in the workplace, I slowly realised that good fortune was often the result of my own actions and hard work, or the result of other people’s actions and decisions. There never seemed to be a clear indication that God intervened in anything at all. After all, how does God make it easier for me to pass an exam, or to get a promotion? Where, in the chain of events that lead to good fortune, does he interfere exactly?
I covered a similar question in an earlier post regarding saying grace before a meal. Even if I was some sort of theist, I think I would hesitate to thank a god for my food. This is not because I don’t appreciate food, or that I take food for granted. Rather, it is because I don’t see any evidence of supernatural intervention in the chain of events that results in food getting to my table.
There is the crop scientist who is trained to increase wheat yield; the farmer who has laboured many hours to cultivate crops; the engineer who designs better harvesting equipment; the food specialist who employs her knowledge to keep the food fresh during transport; and the chain store manager who deals with complex logistics to ensure that her shelves are constantly stocked. The food reached my table because of human ingenuity and hard work. Where is God in all this? So as an atheist, I don’t give thanks to God. Rather, I thank all these people for my daily bread; without them, I would starve.
Of course, I would imagine that many people thank God not so much for good fortune that has resulted from human intervention, but for good fortune that seems to happen by pure luck. Can we thank God for good luck? I will cover this in my next post.