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Books, heaven and hippie communes… Plus a suggested reading list!

August 12, 2012

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Time for blog #2 and whether you’re just joining me for the first time or you enjoyed my first post and are back for more, welcome!

With this post, I thought I’d share a bit about my interesting weekend at a family reunion / memorial in upstate NY that ended up having some interesting intersections with the topics of beer and atheism. I also came across a great new beer book on that trip, so that sparked the idea of using this blog to record a list of some of my favorite beer and atheism reads for those interested in that sort of thing.

So, if you’d like to hear my story from this past weekend, read on. Or, if you’d like to skip right to the part with my book recommendations, no hard feelings whatsoever… just scroll to the bottom of this post.

Also, I realize this is only blog #2, but if any of you have feedback so far about anything I can do to improve this, please let me know. I have plans to add a “Contact Me” page, but for now you can either post a comment or email me at beerlovingatheist@gmail.com. Other changes I plan to make include improving the “About Me” section, turning the reading list below into a page, adding a “favorite beer” post or page, and adding a page on links to great beer and atheism sites, just to name a few ideas. But please, if you think of anything that’s missing I’d love to hear it. Or, if you think this thing just sucks and is a waste of time, please tell me that too!

Now, it’s story time…

This past weekend I was lucky enough to spend 4 days with my wife’s family at sort of a family reunion/memorial service for her 91-year-old grandmother who just died a couple of months ago. The deceased donated her body to science and this was the first time anyone had gotten together in any sort of organized manner to honor her memory. In fact, one of my grandmother-in-law’s last wishes was to bring her family together for a reunion, so this event truly was a honoring of her wishes in the most literal sense I’ve ever experienced.

Having a combined family reunion and memorial service was something very new for me. I’m used to funeral homes, churches and cemeteries, and this had none of those elements and very little crying. In fact, it felt much more like a celebration of life and honoring of memories and wishes, and in no way was as depressing as the typical event seems to be. Of course, I realize that not all funerals are alike, and in no way do I mean to criticize or put down what works for others. This is simply my own assessment and personal preference based on what I’ve experienced in my life so far.

Before I move off of the topic of the memorial service (and for the record, there were some semi-formal sharing of stories that the family organized), let me offer up one last observation, which I already eluded to above: Unlike the religious funeral ceremonies I’ve attended in the past, this event had no mention of eternal life, or heaven, or anything else supernatural, and yet everyone there seemed much more content. Instead of ashes being spread, flower seeds were spread in the hope that they would result in new life. Now, I realize this is a sample size of exactly 1, so it would be irresponsible to draw any sort of firm conclusions from this. But, I’d be dishonest with you, dear reader, if I didn’t tell you that this transpiring of events, particularly the cheerful nature of things, was extremely curious to me. I realize that despite the beliefs of everlasting life held by the beleiver, there is a real, immediate loss that they experience that makes them sad. But honestly, if you really believed your loved one was experiencing the most intense pleasure imaginable, had been reunited with their parents, a deceased spouse, their friends, etc., how sad could you really be? I mean, I’ve been upset when friends have left the country before, gone on long trips or when we both sort of knew we wouldn’t see each other again. But was I emotionally crushed? Not so much. Now, before you jump all over me for being insensitive to the loss of others and for being out of touch, let me offer the following disclaimer: I get why people are sad when a loved one dies, regardless of their beliefs in an afterlife. And there are certainly some really awful and depressing situations that are bound to be heart-wrenching no matter how resolute the “heaven” belief may be (e.g. death of a child, unexpected or untimely passing of a loved one, etc.), so I get it. But in situations of an expected passing, when an elderly person is in pain & suffering and wants sanctuary from all of this in the most “heavenly” environment imaginable, why is it that the ultra religious are just as sad about their passing as the atheist? I mean, wouldn’t a true believer be visibly rejoicing, as the bible tells them to do, since their loved one is in paradise? Methinks that really deep, deep, deep, deep down, people realize that it’s all a fairy tale.

Moving on to lighter topics like books and hippie communes…

The location for said reunion / memorial service was an old renovated barn in the northern Catskill region of update NY, right in the New York city watershed. (The water was delicious by the way…probably great for brewing beer!). Within the barn and on the grounds there were tents, second-hand mattresses, sleeping mats, etc. set-up to accommodate about 25 people during the height of the event. It was about as close to a hippie commune as I can imagine. And to think, we were just a stone’s throw away (assuming you’re an Olympic stone thrower) from Woodstock, which is about 70 miles southeast. Once again, this was a very different scene than I’m used to for family reunions. In my family, these sorts of events are no more than a day-long affair, and there is plenty of delicious, yet bad-for-your-arteries, food. At the end of the day, everyone goes back to their own home which is no more than a dozen or so miles away, and nurses indigestion for the rest of the evening. At the hippie commune, however, most of the food was “foraged,” and I’m not using the word “forage” in the colloquial sense, as in “I foraged through the refrigerator to find something delicious.” I actually mean that it was literally foraged. So much so, that there was some debate as to whether my father-in-law had gotten sick from excessive amounts of milk-weed and sumac tea, or from a poorly refrigerated eggplant parmigiana. My wife’s family is certainly more on the hippie or crunchy side of the continuum than mine. But, it was still all a lot of fun, and I think both sorts of events (traditional and hippie) have their merits.

And that brings us to the final topic of what has now become quite an epic tale: books. Below I’ve included a list of some of my favorites under the topics of beer and atheism. I decided to include these lists in this particular blog because I came across a new fantastic beer book during my time at the commune. It was purchased at a place called the “Bibliobarn” in South Kortright, NY. As the name would indicate, it’s a barn full o’ books. Credit goes to my wife who found this gem you see pictured above hidden amongst the must, dust and quirkiness of the barn. I’m only a few chapters in, but already I’m loving the perspective on American beer that I’m getting from a book published in 1962. It was truly a different beer world back then. I feel extremely lucky to be living in the beer utopia of today!

So with that, here we are at the end of this week’s blog, dear reader. Any thoughts about the topics discussed above, or any additions to my suggested reading list below? Until next time, happy doubting!

~Beer Loving Atheist

Top 5 Atheism books:

1) The Bible. (In my opinion, there exists no better book to convert someone to atheism. I chose the bible since Christianity is the religion of my upbringing, but you can basically insert any “holy book” you want. All of them seemed to be equally filled with superstition, bigotry and nonsense.)

2) The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins (The book that got me thinking about all of this years ago… the Morpheus to my Neo.)

3) Letter to a Christian Nation, by Sam Harris (If 9-11 wasn’t enough to convince you of the stakes, hopefully Sam can hammer it home for all of you.)

4) God is Not Great, by Christopher Hitchens (In my opinion, the greatest writer and orator of my era. Hitch will forever be my greatest literary hero!)

5) The Magic of Reality, by Richard Dawkins (Note that this is primarily a children’s book, so you won’t find deep philosophical thought or discussions about atheism in here. It will, however, provide you with excellent scientific explanations for many of the world’s wonders, like why the sky is blue, how rainbows form, what evolution is all about, etc. Briefly, I considered listing Sam Harris’ book “The Moral Landscape” as my 5th book, but thought that if someone was going to get 2 books on this list, the great Richard Dawkins was the one who really deserved it. Sam is the man, don’t get me wrong, but when it comes to spreading atheism, there is no greater influencer than a true understanding of science and the world we live in. For this reason, I had to pick Dawkins and this book, which I gave to my nephew on the day of his baptism in the hopes that he would choose science and logic over superstition.)

Top 5 Beer books:

1) The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, by Charlie Papazian (Even if you’re not a homebrewer and have no interest in the hobby, this book is laid back, easy to read, and helps you to appreciate the artwork involved in drinking and brewing delicious beer.)

2) The Brewmasters Table, by Garrett Oliver (As clearly as Hitch writes about religion, Garrett Oliver, brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery, writes about beer. I know of nobody who talks about beer and food as beautifully as Mr. Oliver.)

3) Great Beer Guide, by Michael Jackson (When beer lovers hear the name Michael Jackson, we think of this guy, not the king of pop.)

4) Great Beers of Belgium, by Michael Jackson (He’s written some awesome books on whiskey too, but to me, this is his masterpiece. And of course, the topic of this book Belgian beer, which to many of us beer geeks is as good as it gets. Belgium is our Mecca!)

5) Brewed in America, by Stanley Baron (My newest book. At the end of the day, I’m influenced by American beer culture more than anything else. In just a few short chapters so far, Baron has given me such an understanding of how important this beverage was to our country. I’m looking forward to brewing, by way of my own interpretation, some of the colonial-era recipes in here, like George Washington’s porter recipe.)

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