Category Archives: Thanks

Atheists Giving Thanks

It’s apparently a popular meme, on Twitter anyway, for theists, usually Christians, to say that atheists have no one to thank for the good in their lives. Apparently, this cliché was made popular by a blogger Joey Nelson on his Spiritual Questions Blog, or so I learned from About. He wrote:

Perhaps, in an unguarded moment, an atheist will look up this Thanksgiving and say, “Thank you” to the One who has made their life possible. Otherwise, the thing about atheism is that you have no One to thank.

When I see this cliché, I laugh. On Thanksgiving, my family always has turkey dinner. It takes days to prepare, and of course we have to buy all of the food with our own money that we worked to earn. We make the food ourselves. Why should I tank anyone but ourselves? (to be fair, being a child, I didn’t contribute financially, and most of the work preparing the meal was done by my mother. So when I say “we”… ) And if I’m with my family, I need not look up, but across the table to thank the people who made my life possible.

Meanwhile, around the world, people continue to starve to death, and suffer in numerous other ways. Why the hell would I thank a god?

I remember, when attending my brother’s Marine Corps boot camp graduation, listening to the Chaplain speak over the microphone. He told everyone to bow their heads is prayer. I remember feeling so angry as I listened to him thank his god for the work of others. I was there that day because I was proud of my brother for HIS accomplishment, because it was his. Yet here there was a chaplain giving thanks and praise, not the new marines for their accomplishment, not the drill instructors for their training and leadership, but to his own god, his imaginary friend.

For me, this was a repeat episode. Different characters, different setting, same story. The same exact thing happened had two years earlier at my own graduation from Army Basic Training and again at our redeployment ceremony when we returned from Iraq. Each time, someone else was thanked for our own achievements, someone we were instructed to thank as well.
As if that itself wasn’t outrageous enough, this someone isn’t even real. I was, on each of these occasions, feeling very much insulted.

I, as an atheist was not left with no one to thank. I had my leadership, the soldiers to my left and right, my family and friends, and myself. Without religion, I was still able to thank someone, I just thanked the right people. I was able and willing to give credit where it was due. If you’re a believer and you’re happy about an occurrence other than a natural phenomenon (like weather, which requires no thanks) and you want to thank someone, ask yourself, is there really no human being responsible who it would be appropriate to thank?

Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving.

Equi-Sense Day 2: Brandy

Yesterday was my second day working with horses at Equi-Sense. We started out by reviewing what we’d learned to do yesterday. This time, I started off in the big pen working with a mare named Brandy. I began by trying to have her walk along side me, but she had a tenancy to break into trot and walk into me. Twice, she bore her teeth as if preparing to bite me as I’d put put my hand up to keep her from running me over. I had a lot more trouble controlling her than I had with Thunder the day before, but I did eventually get the hang of it and eventually convinced her to walk straight and slowly at my side.

Afterworlds, our whole group was given a new and interesting task. One of the helpers drew a small rectangle in the dirt in the large pen. Our task was to coax one horse at a time to stand in the rectangle for five seconds, and only the leader amongst us was allowed to talk. It was harder for us to convince any given horse that we were in charge since there were three other horses in the pen. Some horses could be guided in after being separated from Boots, the mare in charge of the herd. Others simply followed a human that had earlier established himself as  leader. Boots was the hardest to convince, because first there were always other horses around her, then there were too many people around her so the poor horse didn’t know what we wanted.

That done, we spent the rest of the day working one on one with Brandy in the round pen. We’d put the horse on the lead, then use rope signals to guide her. Walk this way, go faster, slow down, turn around, stop. Then it got harder. A helper put three cones in a triangle inside the pen for us to guide the horse around and through. I had trouble with this at first because I couldn’t get a hang of the pattern. Since I wasn’t sure what I wanted, I couldn’t clearly communicate to the horse what I wanted, and she got a bit cross with me.

She bore her teeth at me again, which is not OK with me. I stopped her and took a second to consider what I was doing. I decided to not worry about the pattern and just take it all one cone at a time as I pleased. After that, the horse and I had no trouble at all.

Lesson Learned:

  • Whether working with horses or people, in order to be an effective leader, you have to be clear about what you want. In order for others to know what you want, you first have to know what you want yourself.

It’s only been two days but I think I’m already a lot more confident and comfortable around horses. It’s almost funny, looking back, how frightened I’d been of Lota, a horse that never showed me any aggression at all, to calmly handling Brandy, a  more difficult horse who did show mild aggression.

By the end of the day, I think Brandy and I came to an understanding. She too, joined me in the center of the pen for a nuzzle.

Equi-Sense Day 1: Lota and Thunder

This pretty boy is Thunder. He’s one of several horses I’ve worked with over the last few days at a nearby horse ranch. I don’t know much about horses, myself, something that’s made some of the tasks I’ve been required to perform over the past few days somewhat daunting.

My fist task after arriving and shortly after watching some mares in a large pen squabble over food, was to enter a small pen and put a harness on a male horse whose name I’d later learn is Lota. Anyone reading this who happens to have experience working with horses will probably laugh at this point, but I didn’t know what to do.

I’d never seen a harness before, I’d been given no instructions on how it works, or even how to approach a horse that I’d never met. My only prior experience with horses was at a petting zoo, and it pretty-much avoided everyone (can’t say I blame it.)

As I approached the animal, I quickly realized just how huge it was.  Being barely 4’11 and 90lbs on a fat day, I admit to being quite a bit intimidated. There was nobody around to help me or tell me what to do. It was just me and the horse. I stepped near its shoulder so I wouldn’t be kicked or easily bitten.

To introduce myself to dogs, I let them smell my hand. What do I do with a horse? I didn’t know, but I figured gently touching its shoulder would be a good first contact.  It didn’t try kill me, so I felt better.  Apart from pointing one ear my way, the animal seemed to just ignore me at first. I waited for it to look my way before tying to slip the harness over its nose (I looked at the horses in another pen to see how it was supposed to go.) Unfortunately, I was too short to be able to reach over its ears to buckle the harness.

I kept an eye on its ears as I fumbled with the buckle to watch for signs of irritation. I remembered that when the horses were squabbling over the food bucket, a large mare (Boots) had pinned her ears back (much like a cat) and bore her teeth as she charged another horse (a mare named Brandy.) But Lota did no such thing. Eventually, the bored-looking horse took pity on me and lowered its head.

A bit shaken by this, I prepared to leave the pen. Just as I neared the gate, the owner of the horses told me he had one more task for me. He wanted me to go back to the horse and lift one of its feet. What?! I was worried the horse would, at best, simply refuse, or at worse, stomp my hand. Not wanting to look like a chicken though, I turned around to do as I was told. To my amazement, the animal offered no resistance and lifted its foot with little effort from me. Hm.

Of course these animals are used to all this. The program I was participating in was called Equi-Sense, the purpose to be a sort of therapy for soldiers like me dealing with physical and/or psychological problems, most of us pending medical discharge. And we aren’t the first group to go through. No, these horses are well trained and used to being handled by inept strangers, and of course the owner would only pick the friendliest of his horses for this task.

For much of the rest of the first day, my partner and I worked with Thunder, a larger male horse. First we just had him walking back and fourth with us (we held his lead, we weren’t riding on him.) Thunder was mostly very cooperative, any problems I found ended up being my fault. As we walked, he had a tendency to cross my path, walking in to me and cutting me off. Each time he did this, I stopped walking and lead him in a circle until he was in the position I wanted him in, then kept walking. I did this because this is what I’d been taught to do with dogs who don’t behave on their leash. I learned to be careful not to pull the lead towards me, so it’s less likely to turn my way, and to wave my hand near its eye when it does to drive it back.

Next, they wanted us to trot along side our horses. I had a lot of trouble getting Thunder to trot. I tried several times, but just couldn’t seem to be able to get him to do it. Then a helper came over and had no difficulty. I noticed that to get the horse going he made sort of a clicking sound. I guess that meant “go.” Would have been nice to know. After seeing this, I gave it another go, making the click noise myself.

We tried some other maneuvers, getting the horse to pivot on its hind quarters, getting it to pivot on its front, and getting it to walk sideways. We got the horses to move their fronts by waving our hands near an eye, and to move their hind ends my gently tapping their hip with the end of the lead rope. Thunder didn’t like the latter maneuver, swishing his tail in protest.

The tasks became more difficult as the day went on. We were asked to get in the round pen with Lota, one at a time, and make him walk, then trot around the perimeter of the pen, and change direction when he wanted us to. The catch? There was no lead rope and we weren’t allowed to touch him. We were to compel him to do what we wanted using our body energy alone. Some people needed only to point and wave their arms to accomplish this. I had more trouble. I tried waving, jumping, yelling, but it was hard to maintain control of the horse. He didn’t seem to take me all that seriously.

Eventually, they gave me a stick to tap the ground with. As soon I held it in my hand though, the horse ran, causing me to wonder if he’d ever been beaten with it. I put the stick back and never held it again. Soon after, we were asked to do the same thing, only this time we were to get Lota to jump over a low stick. It took me two tries (he simply went around it the first time,) but I got Lota to do as I asked.

I remembered the owner’s words from earlier in the day. He said that horses have two modes, leader and follower, but neither was intrinsic. All one needed to do to make a horse a follower was to be a strong, effective leader. A horse that is made a follower is less likely to act aggressively and more likely to be controllable.

Afterwards, Lota approached me at the center of the pen. I petted him between his eyes, and he nuzzled against me, causing me to consider that I’d never thought of horses as cuddly animals. I realized I wasn’t afraid of him biting or trampling me anymore, even though he could have easily done either if he wanted to. I turned and walked away. As I reached the gate, I looked back to see that the horse had followed me. I guess that means it considered me a leader.

Anti-Childfree Clichés

In a five-part series of posts on my other blog, I wrote at length about my experience with a woman on a favorite site of mine, My OB Said What?!? In the comments section of one post there, I made the off-hand comment that stupid/abusive doctors are one of the many reasons I’ll never have kids. This decision of mine was immediately attacked by a self-described “pro-natalist,” despite the fact that I made it clear that I was only speaking for myself. The exchange between this person and myself  makes up the first four parts of the series.

The final part, I’m happy to say, is much more positive. It’s not that I need to be validated, or given permission, but the support and understanding offered by another commenter on that site who’d seen the whole thing was refreshing.

Rather than repost the whole series, I’ll just link to them.

Blog Name

I didn’t much like the original title for this blog, the Weekend Mountaineer. I found it… limiting. This is to be my personal blog and while I LOVE the outdoors and that is likely to be the subject I write the most about here, well, I have other interests too. Besides, I didn’t want anyone to get the mistaken impression that I was a mountain-climber (although that would be fun to get in to, if only my poor wrist would allow it.)

I spent much of today brainstorming alternative names.

  • The Wanderer
  • Mountain Wanderer
  • Rocky Mountain Wanderer
  • Weekend Wanderer
  • Diary of a Wanderer (seeing a bit of a theme here)
  • Backcountry Atheist
  • Atheist Outdoors
  • Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost (A way-too-long-for-a-blog-title line from J. R. R. Tolkien‘s poem, All That is Gold Does Not Glitter.)
  • Not lost
  • Pike’s Peak is TALL

Eventually, I just gave up and put it in the hands of Twitter.

Trevlutz suggested The Hiking Humanist, which I ultimately picked. Calling me a hiker rather than a mountaineer doesn’t risk giving any false impressions as to my skills, and Humanist give me freedom to talk about a wide range of topics, apart from atheism, and is more inclusive of any theistic visitors.

Another user by the name of ParsleyV suggested No God in High Places.  I thought that was a great title. It reminded me of when my parents came down to visit me last summer. Among our many sight-seeing trips, we visited Pike’s Peak, one of Colorado’s 54 Fourteeners. I remember standing atop the summit, looking down at the clouds. I didn’t see any weird little cherubs, no angels playing harps, no line in front of any pearly gates for St. Pete to play bouncer. I didn’t see god. What did I see?

Well… I saw Garden of the Gods, actually, but never-mind that!

Big thanks to both Twitterers mentioned above, you’ve both been a lot of help. :)


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