Yes, I did have an epiphany. I saw with greater clarity than ever before in my life that when I say "Thank goodness!" this is not merely a euphemism for "Thank God!" (We atheists don't believe that there is any God to thank.) I really do mean thank goodness! There is a lot of goodness in this world, and more goodness every day, and this fantastic human-made fabric of excellence is genuinely responsible for the fact that I am alive today. It is a worthy recipient of the gratitude I feel today, and I want to celebrate that fact here and now.Saying "Thank God!" as an expression of genuine relief is not always backed by an actual religious sentiment, any more than a reflexive "bless you" after someone sneezes is an attempt to prevent demons from entering through your open mouth. So many people may be thinking, "So what? Does it really matter which word I use?"
But Dennett's reflections made me think. What we say - even if we only mean it in the most formulaic, casual sense - can convey ideas that we do not intend. And it can fail to point our gratitude in the right direction.
In the weeks after I read Dennett's article, I made a conscious effort to use "thank goodness", an expression which reflects my actual beliefs better. It wasn't long before it became completely natural to use that rather than the less appropriate "thank God". It's still a little less natural than the other version, but I kind of like that. It means that, every time I say "thank goodness", I am made every-so-slightly conscious of what term I'm using, and why.
What do you think? Do you try, like me, to keep your speech representative of your beliefs? Are you a non-theist but happy to use phrases like "thank God" and "bless you", since they've basically been leached of their original meanings anyway?
Or, if you are a believer in a god, what do you think of this whole matter?