12/23/2014 02:10 pm ET Updated Feb 22, 2015

Why Thanking God is Hurtful

We Americans have much to be grateful for: a stable country, a democratic political process, a proud history of scientific progress, and a tradition of standing up for those who need defending, even if we are occasionally slow to rise to their defense.

We give thanks to all those in our lives who help us or are just there for us because it's important to show gratitude for the sacrifices others make on our behalf. Unfortunately, some people have a bad habit of publicly thanking their god for events that went their way, saying, "I survived by the grace of God," or "We're so blessed with good health." They don't understand how thanking a deity for one's own good fortune automatically and unfairly implicates those who face more difficult circumstances.

Take for example some of the survivors of the horrendous school shootings that have recently plagued our nation. When they thank god for letting them live, they are implying that their god actively chose not to save the lives of those who were killed in the incident, either because he loves them less or because their death was just a part of his divine plan. We see this situation repeated with illness, where a sick person thanks god for healing their pneumonia makes someone with another illness feel as though they simply weren't worthy enough to be helped or saved.

Don't religious people find it curious that their god saves seemingly random people, while fating others to painful ends? For every person "saved" by god from disease is an amputee which hasn't been granted a new limb by their god. Was one person simply more deserving of god's favor than the other?

A friend of mine has a teenage son who recently got diagnosed with cancer. As much as I want my daughters to be as healthy as they can be, for me to express thanks for their current cancer-free state wouldn't be a compassionate response to my friend. And if we were believers in an all-good, all-powerful god, such thankful behavior would be worse since it would indicate that god must have chosen one to be sick and the other to be healthy, as if the sick one did something bad, or the healthy one is more moral. All too often, these situations starkly show the lie behind the idea that there's an omnipotent good god.

Most of the people who commit this faux pas have no idea of the impact of their actions, and are just trying to connect the world around them to their faith, or modestly deflect responsibility for good deeds. Although thanking doctors and others who had an observable impact on their condition would be more considerate and have potential benefits down the road. But regardless of their intentions, the impact is the same, and leaves countless individuals wondering what they've done wrong to not receive help from their god.

It's worth mentioning that there are also some people who thank a deity for positive events in their life as a way to brag or display false humility. We all know this type of person, who constantly thanks god for their big house, fast car, or other material possession that is meant to impress friends and acquaintances. Some professional sports players are popular perpetrators of this humble brag, but they are far from being the only ones who act in this distasteful manner.

Gratitude is something we should demonstrate to those we believe responsible for helping us in our time of need, but we should remember to express our gratitude in a way that doesn't hurt those that are still suffering.