Nov 25, 2020

By Jennifer Bardi

Editor’s Note: Today we are pleased to present a guest blog post by Jennifer Bardi, the former editor of The Humanist magazine. Jennifer reminds us that even during these challenging times, we have things to be thankful for. Along those lines, Americans United would like to say that we’re thankful for all of our members and supporters. You make our work possible. Thank you – and Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is upon us. And while it’s an especially challenging time for a feast, many Americans are also feeling hard-pressed to come up with much to be thankful for in 2020. After all, the pandemic rages on, threatening lives and livelihoods, and our political divisions are anything but tamed after a wild election.

And yet we must find sources of gratitude if we’re to endure the winter ahead. Starting small may be helpful – the autumn color, chatting with an old friend, a brisk run under clear skies, rediscovering a classic film. I’m thankful for my husband’s cooking, my 16-year-old’s penchant for jigsaw puzzles and my 13-year-old’s unabashed commitment to telling a joke none of us really want to hear.

Bigger picture, we can be thankful that the 2020 presidential election was in fact decisive, and the transfer of power from one administration to the next has officially begun.

I found myself tearing up the other night watching a news report on President-elect Joe Biden’s growing White House team and cabinet: the first female Treasury secretary, first immigrant and Latino to head the Department of Homeland Security, a special envoy on climate change who will join the National Security Council and the former assistant secretary of state for African Affairs as ambassador to the United Nations, to name a few.

People who know Washington agree that Biden is putting together a group of highly capable experts with loads of experience, access and integrity. This isn’t a swamp that’s forming but a reset of sorts to a clearer, more functional pool.

Restoring the health of the people and the economy are tantamount for this new administration, and many of us look forward to a host of issues being addressed, including climate change, racial inequality and economic disparity. Let’s also look forward to a resetting of priorities as they relate to religious freedom and pluralism, and a much greater appreciation for the rich diversity of the nation’s faith communities.

There’s no doubt President Donald Trump’s courting of the Religious Right has been bad for secular government, and we’ll long remember the myriad ways Betsy DeVos, William Barr, Mike Pompeo and others pushed their form of Christian nationalism upon us. Because they were so blatant about their theocratic designs, I think it’s fair to assume Biden’s largest popular vote count in history was partly a referendum on those aspirations. The United States is a richly diverse country, and a whole lot of us want to keep it that way.

And while the church-state wall took a beating during the Trump years (Espinoza, anyone?), we should be thankful that our right to believe in the god or faith of our choosing, or none at all, has remained intact. As a humanist who appreciates every American’s freedom of conscience, I will, of course, be keeping a nervous eye on Trump’s judicial nominees. But today I am truly grateful not to be inching closer to a theocracy.

I’m grateful that 12 years after what we call the first Thanksgiving in 1621, Roger Williams left Plymouth in disgust over the colony’s theocratic bent – and out of respect for the Narragansett people whom he felt should be paid for their land. I’m glad he irked the Puritans and pressed for freedom of conscience in his less-than-graceful style. As the oft-quoted Williams line goes, “Forced worship stinks in God’s nostrils.”

What doesn’t stink are the delightful aromas of the Thanksgiving meal and the sweet smell of a renewed and reinforced freedom to practice the religion of your choice, or no religion at all. So, inhale deeply (doing what it takes to avoid the droplets of those outside your small bubble, please!) and try to breathe a little more easily.

Whether you say it with grace or not, there are indeed reasons to be thankful this year.