Happy Thanksgiving! We often misunderstand gratitude as either a means to our subjective well-being or as an obligation of debt to a giver. So what is the emotion of gratitude? Sameer Yadav (Westmont College) joins Ryan McAnnally-Linz to reflect on a better way to understand gratitude than owing it, being in debt to another person, seeing gratitude only through the dry indifference of a receiver's economic indebtedness to a giver. Gratitude as indebtedness creates problems especially when thinking about gratitude to God, and the two consider instead on a conception of gratitude based in sacrament and creatureliness, mystical shared witness, the meetness and rightness of thanks and praise, and a joyful recognition of the gifts in our lives. This understanding of gratitude would have truly seismic consequences for how we see the world. Thank you cards would no longer feel obligatory, and gratitude lists wouldn't have to be hacked for my subjective well-being, it would simply follow from the glad, mutual sharing in the gift of life from God, and the presence of being what we are to each other.
This episode was made possible in part by the generous support of the Tyndale House Foundation. For more information, visit tyndale.foundation.
- "A debt of gratitude": Is it helpful for Christians to think about gratitude?
- What do we owe to one another?
- Obligations tied up with debts
- Gratitude is historically tied up with political economy
- Robert C. Roberts, Spiritual Emotions: A Psychology of Christian Virtues
- Debts of gratitude as deeply problematic because of (1) the dynamics it presents for human relationships and (2) Christian understanding of the emotion
- David Graeber, Debt: The First 5,000 Years
- Debt, calculation, equivalence
- Owing money vs owing favors
- Forcibly severing us from our contexts: Abstraction from relationships and dependencies
- "The Labor that Pays My Salary" (Isaac Villegas, The Christian Century)
- Seneca on gratitude—internal attention on gift
- Thomas Aquinas on gratitude
- Immanuel Kant on gratitude: You can never do enough as recipient, since you're only ever a respondent; the giver always acts first
- Aristotle on gratitude: Not a virtue for the magnanimous person, since you'd have to owe someone, and self-sufficiency is better than dependence—better to be a giver than receiver
- The role of social hierarchy and the economic image of gratitude
- Gratia vs Gratitudo
- Modeling "gratitudo" on social superiority/inferiority
- Gratitude as an "unfortunate necessity"
- Apostle Paul: "For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?" (1 Corinthians 4:7)
- Affirmation of dependence as essential to the human condition; staunch independence as sinful pride
- "Why not just be happy with indebtedness?"
- Inverting the values of debt obligation
- Indebted to God
- Argument by analogy: Aquinas's distinction between gratitudo and gratia: Everyone has equal indebtedness to God. A bad analogy when you do it on economic terms.
- Jeremy David Engels, The Art of Gratitude
- Christianity and the cancellation of debt
- Christian mystical tradition—Howard Thurman and the divine sharing with creation
- God's life extended in creatures
- Rather than benefactor or beneficiary relationships, God is a transcendent, holy other ...
- "We're a witness and channel for God's holy presence."
- Gratitude as joyful recognition offered to God
- Praise and Gratitude
- Howard Thurman: Gratitude as a sacrament
- Abraham Joshua Heschel: Gratitude as a window
- Reflecting light back to its source
- David Graeber: "What could possibly be more presumptuous, more ridiculous than to think it would be possible to negotiate with the grounds of one's existence? Of course it isn't. Insofar as it is indeed possible to come to any sort of relation with the absolute, we are confronting a principle that exists outside of time or human scale entirely, therefore as medieval theologians correctly recognize when dealing with the absolute, there can be no such thing as debt."
- Debt as a category mistake
- Jacob's Ladder: "You give me everything, and I'll give a tenth back to you."
- "God isn't dealing with losses and gains here."
- Intrinsic relationality
- Eucharistic prayer: "Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. / It is meet and right so to do."
- Glad, mutual sharing in the gift of one another to one another
- Intrinsically egalitarian dimension to sharing
- Eugene McCarraher, The Enchantments of Mammon: How Capitalism Became the Religion of Modernity: "without faith in the sacramental nature of the world, we anchor ourselves in the illusionary and inevitably malevolent apparatus of domination."
- Eucharist = "thanks"
Introduction (Evan Rosa)
This is the obligatory gratitude podcast for the week before Thanksgiving. Thank you. You're welcome. But in all seriousness: Here's to hoping that you're listening to this in the peace and rest and warmth of family and loving community.
But I have to be honest about something; I'm not very good at thank you notes. Don't get me wrong, I try my best to communicate verbally my gratitude for the people and gifts in my life, and I'm ever—often painfully aware of my dependence on others, my need for them, my profound linkage to them. But I feel pretty bad that when it comes to writing the note and formalizing the payment of my debt of gratitude, I falter.
Part of the problem, I gauge, besides the grossness of my narcissism, is that I feel so indebted, so obligated to do it, like my gratitude to you just doesn't count if I don't write the note, or that it's less about the giver and more about the card or the transaction. There's something wrong there.
But I'm equally tempted to err in another way: Ever since I learned from positive psychology that I could hack my own thankfulness for happiness, I tend to exploit gratitude just to feel better.
Our episode today will correct me on both counts, both for thinking of gratitude as something to be exploited for my personal well-being and for thinking of gratitude as an obligation.
Today on the show Sameer Yadav, a theologian at Westmont College, joins Ryan McAnnally-Linz to reflect on a better way to understand gratitude than owing it, being in debt to another person, seeing gratitude only through the dry indifference of a receiver's economic indebtedness to a giver. Gratitude as indebtedness creates problems especially when thinking about gratitude to God, and the two consider instead on a conception of gratitude based in sacrament and creatureliness, mystical shared witness, the meetness and rightness of thanks and praise, and a joyful recognition of the gifts in our lives.
This understanding of gratitude would have truly seismic consequences for how we see the world. Thank you cards would no longer feel obligatory, and gratitude lists wouldn't have to be hacked for my subjective well-being, it would simply follow from the glad, mutual sharing in the gift of life from God, and the presence of being what we are to each other.
And I would be remiss if I didn't take the opportunity to thank each of you, our listeners and subscribers, for joining us each weekend for these conversations. It's our joy to produce them for you, and I don't even feel obligated to say that. Not in the least. So I guess remiss was the wrong word there cuz that means faulting a duty. Aye! That's why we need this episode.
So, how about this: Thanks for sharing in the gift of making this podcast. Enjoy.
- This podcast featured theologians Sameer Yadav and Ryan McAnnally-Linz
- Edited and Produced by Evan Rosa
- Hosted by Evan Rosa
- Production Assistance by Martin Chan, Nathan Jowers, Natalie Lam, and Logan Ledman
- A Production of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture at Yale Divinity School https://faith.yale.edu/about
- Support For the Life of the World podcast by giving to the Yale Center for Faith & Culture: https://faith.yale.edu/give