Thanksgiving blessings: Half of Americans say grace, half skip it
Ahead of America’s most grateful holiday, the Religion News Service reported on the significance of saying grace, a habit which splits Americans down the middle. For about half of the country, it’s an everyday thing. For the other half, it’s a never thing.
The story says:
Whether it’s a mere “Rub a dub dub, thanks for the grub,” or a more solemn supplication, millions of Americans will bow their heads this Thursday in gratitude for the bounty of food before them.
Even a murmured “Thanks be to God,” before carving the Thanksgiving turkey speaks volumes about the person praying, especially if it’s a daily habit, according to scholars.
In fact, not only is saying grace one of the best indicators of how religious a person is, but it also has strong connections to partisan politics, according to scholars Robert Putnam and David Campbell.
Grace, of course, is the prayer said before meals, either in thanks to a deity who generously provides the food, to the workers who prepared it, or even to the animals about to be gobbled up.
Like many other rituals, Christians probably picked up saying grace from Judaism, according to scholars; nearly every culture has some form of mealtime prayer.
These days, 44 percent of Americans report saying grace or a similar blessing almost every day before eating; 46 percent almost never say it, leaving just a statistical sliver in between, Putnam and Campbell report in their recently published book, “American Grace: How Religion Unites and Divides Us.”
Putnam’s book title is a broad reference to faith in public life, but it also refers to the ritual of grace itself, something he has discussed often since the book was published last month, including at a religion newswriters conference I attended and an address at Rice University right here in Houston.
Putnam, a political scientist at Harvard University, found grace to be a strong predictor of political and social views: The more often someone says grace, the more likely they are to vote Republican. The less often they do it, the more likely they vote Democrat.
(The story does note one exception to the prayer-politics connection: 85 percent of African Americans report saying grace daily, a far higher rate than even Mormons, evangelicals, and mainline Protestants, the runners-up in grace-saying. The rate for evangelicals, for instance, is 58 percent. Yet, blacks remain stalwarts in the Democratic Party.)
Decades ago, in the ’50s and ’60, religious faith and political leanings weren’t so closely linked, but the grace example shows the greater change that’s going on in American politics, even in an increasingly pluralistic society.
Thanksgiving grace is a special kind of grace, though. If you take a moment of pause, of blessing, of reflection one day a year, it’s probably gathered around the table with turkey on your plate.
A humanist blogger on HoustonBelief wrote that Thanksgiving’s message extends beyond believers, quoting a pastor who said, “There doesn’t need to be a theistic object of one’s prayer. We can be profoundly grateful without packaging it and sending a message to God.”
Some faiths have their own versions of grace before meals. Here’s a quick roundup of traditional blessings you might hear
God is great, God is Good. Let us thank him for our food. By his hands we all are fed. Give us, Lord, our daily bread. Amen.
Bless us, O Lord, and these, thy gifts, which we are about to receive from thy bounty, through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
There are Hebrew blessings to be recited before and after meals including one that translates to: Blessed are You, Adonai our God, king of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.