The other day, as part of a radio interview, I heard a group of children reciting in that sing-song way that children have, “god is great, god is good, let us thank him for our food….”
A memory stirred, and then another. That chant was part of my childhood. I’m getting old, and the memory is faded. I heard that chant over and over again, and it wasn’t from Sunday School. Where was it? Television … Romper Room perhaps? Maybe some other children’s program I can’t remember. Kindergarten? Did they make us say that over milk and cookies, before all the flap about prayer in school? The memory teases me. It won’t solidify. I think to myself, “How young we were when they began their instruction, their indoctrination, their demand that we accept without question this mythology.”
And who else did we thank? No one.
Never mind the farmer who risked his annual income to grow vegetables and animal feed and livestock. He was probably praying to the god too. He might even think that the god is pulling for him every time the weather cooperates. And when the god screws his brothers somewhere else with hail or drought, well, they must have deserved it by pissing the god off somehow.
Never mind the men who risked their lives pulling oil out of the ground, or from beneath the ocean floor to run the farmer’s tractor, and other equipment. Never mind the truckers and the men who built the trucks that bring the food to market. Never mind the people at the power station, and the line workers, and the other people working to provide the electricity that runs the freezers and refrigerators and assembly lines that make food distribution on this scale possible. Never mind the biologists that create genetic hybrids to increase crop yield. Never mind the engineers that design and constantly improve all of the machinery necessary to sustain this level of food production. Never mind the parents that sell their time to their employers to pay for the food and the table to put it on. Never mind the teachers that helped all these people find and understand the knowledge to do these jobs. In short, ignore the entire vast human infrastructure that put cold milk and Cheerios in front of that kid.
Many of these farmers and truckers and biologists and other employees have beliefs and talismans of their own, and some don’t. The ones that ask their deity for protection and special consideration are just as statistically likely as those that don’t to lose their lives in an accident, but no one seems to notice that. No one that is, except the actuaries at the insurance company that make no discount for religious affiliation because no correlation exists.
A theist might argue that without the god none of the above is possible and we exist only “by the grace” of that god, which I take to mean at the god’s whim. Before I am accused of building a straw man, let me say that I have received that exact argument in response to a similar argument. I have two problems with that in the context of the discussion above. First, none of the ramifications have been explained to the four-year old that is being taught to say “grace”. The kid is left with the impression that god pulled the food out of his armpit or something. Second, it reduces the self-perpetuating ecosystem in general and the Human Race in particular to a cosmic version of Uncle Milton’s Ant Farm