Monday, April 15, 2013

An 'Attitude of Gratitude' Ain't a Religion, Folks

When asked about faith, actress Julianna Margulies was recently quoted as saying “I would say if I had a religion, it would be gratitude. There’s something beautiful about sayings blessings to acknowledge we have food on the table.”

Well, I’m sorry to burst Margulies’ bubble, but “gratitude” is not a religion. Not even. And if this truth does not strike you intuitively, consider what Third US Circuit Court of Appeals judge Arlin Adams said in a pair of cases decided in 1979 and 1981.

“A religion addresses fundamental and ultimate questions having to do with deep and imponderable matters … and is comprehensive in nature, consisting of a belief-system as opposed to an isolated teaching.” Arlin also said that religion “can be recognized by the presence of certain formal and external signs,” such as services, organized clergy, holidays, and ceremonies.

I remember first reading this definition in 2002, after coming across Friedman v. Southern California Permanente Medical Group, which involved Friedman, a vegan, having his offer of employment rescinded after he refused to be vaccinated with a vaccine grown in chicken embryos. Friedman claimed that his veganism was like a religion to him, and therefore Kaiser Permanente should have provided a religious accommodation in accordance with the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Friedman lost, and I never forgot the definition of religion quoted, mostly because I was shocked the court went there.  

Regardless, it wouldn’t matter to be what the court decided, as I know dang well that a general feeling of “gratitude” toward an unidentified, unnamed, spiritual something to whom one has no allegiance or accountability is no kind of religion.

This reminds me of a conversation I had with my father a while back (he’s a nonbeliever) when he mentioned how grateful he was feeling one particular day. A little surprised I asked him, “What are you grateful about?” And he responded that he was grateful for his health and that his bills were paid and I think something about the weather. So I said “Well, if you could have a personal relationship with the awesome being who made all that possible, why wouldn’t you? You could then thank him by name.”

My father said “Why would he want a relationship with me? I’m nobody.”

I just about fell off my chair when he said that.

I told him. “He created you. He knows you. He wants to be in a relationship with you. The bible tells us this.”

My father had no answer to that.

And so, I keep on praying.

I guess I'll go ahead and pray for Margulies, too. 

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