(The photo above comes from an awesome article on the same topic. Click here if you’d like to read it. Note that it’s got a British slant to it. For my 2 cents on what makes a perfect pub here in the U.S., simply read below.)
Guinness smartly coined the slogan “the perfect pint.” It’s a brilliant marketing scheme, but while I will certainly admit to enjoying a nice cold serving of the Vitamin G from time to time, I’m not sure I would consider it to be anywhere close to my description of a perfect pint of beer… Saint Patrick’s day aside, of course. Don’t get me wrong, a perfectly poured pint of Guinness is a beautiful thing to behold! Picture it: dark and mysterious looking, a thick and creamy head that starts out tan but turns to ivory as the beer settles, little bubbles that fall downward, not upward, and with a skilled bartender pouring, maybe even a nice little shamrock design sitting atop that pillowy head. (Interested in why the bubbles go downward? Click here.)
In my opinion you’d be hard pressed to name a beer that looks as sexy as a properly poured Guinness; but looks are just one factor to consider when determining the “perfect beer.” And as for pubs –the topic of today’s blog– the same applies. Just like a great beer, a great pub can’t just look amazing, but also needs to deliver on things like atmosphere, beer selection, food quality, diversity of clientele, friendliness, knowledge of staff, and even smell (or more specifically, lack thereof). Like anything else, each person will assess and weigh the importance of these and other factors differently. Sometimes you’ll agree with your friends and sometimes you’ll appear to be the Russian judge who sees it all very differently. But if you’re picky and discerning like me, one thing is for certain no matter what your specific tastes happen to be: Perfection, if such a thing even exists, is elusive. When you come close to finding it, it’s a very special thing indeed!
This past week, travel for work (my non-beer gig that pays the bills) brought me through the lovely town of Buffalo, NY where I found one such place. With a few hours to kill and an empty belly, I logged onto Beer Advocate and started reading reviews of Buffalo’s top beer bars and brewpubs where I might be able to settle in for a few hours for a meal and couple of pints. (For a craft beer geek such as myself, I find Beer Advocate to be the closest approximation to the “American judge,” at least while stateside. As a quick word of caution, beer geeks are likely to find lots of “Russian judges” on websites like Yelp, where the general public seems to value stuff like number of televisions quite a bit more than the beer list.) The winner? The Blue Monk on Elmwood Ave., a gorgeous bistro-style “gastropub” (I know, that term is way overused) with rustic hardwood floors, a gorgeous patio, chalk board displaying its constantly rotating 26 taps (mostly Belgian) and a just-the-right-size crowd for a Tuesday evening in September.
To me, the Blue Monk was as close to my definition of a “perfect pub” as I’ve come across in a while. The clientele was diverse (all ages, a mix of attractive and ugly, almost no “douches,” and multiple colors…because there’s nothing worse than an all-whiteboy frat party), the interior was dark and cozy without feeling claustrophobic, the patio was open and airy, and they had an awesome beer list that complimented an eclectic, yet familiar feeling, food menu. The place was clean, but not overly so (because a bleach-smelling, overly hygienic pub can feel just as awful as one that smells like piss or vomit) and the staff and clientele were all friendly. Again, this is my version of a perfect place, but I’d like to think that even a pizza-and-wings-light-beer-loving-NASCAR-fan would feel comfortable in this place and find something redeeming about it. It was clean, smart and classy without feeling pretentious or elite. And while I may have rolled my eyes at the guy who wanted his pumpkin beer mixed with German lager, the bartender, to his credit, happily obliged.
If you’re like me and you enjoy a nice pub that matches much of the description above, here’s a list of some of my favorite U.S. craft beer bars. (I’m saving foreign bars for a future blog as they’re an entirely different animal.) Disclaimer: I’ve only been to about half of the states in the U.S., so this is not meant as anything other than a list of my personal favorites so far. Most notably, I’ve not been to Seattle, WA or Portland, OR, two of this country’s great beer cities. Clearly, there are a lot of great places left for me to discover. So forgive me if an obvious favorite is missing from my list; but more importantly, tell me about what I’m missing so I can visit someday!
There are probably places I’ve overlooked, so I may update this post if I think of others. There are also great places that are well-known that I’ve purposefully left off this list for various reasons. On one end of the spectrum, I chose to leave off a very well-known beer bar in Albany, NY called Mahar’s. This place has awesome beer and is usually filled with a great local crowd, but because it’s a bit too grungy for my liking (no glasses coming out of their mildew-encased dishwasher could possibly respect the quality of the beer, in my opinion), I chose to leave it off. On the other end of the spectrum, a great and well known DC beer bar called “Churchkey” was left off because I can’t quite justify paying close to $10 for a 4 oz. taster of beer, no matter how rare or delicious it happens to be. Plus, although delicious, there is something a little too metrosexual about overpriced sweet potato tater-tots for my liking. I do enjoy both of these places quite a lot and will go back to both in a heartbeat, but there are slight flaws in each that render them too far from perfect to make my list.
Finding the perfect pub is a tough job, but it’s something I’m willing to keep looking for!
Until next time, cheers and happy doubting.
I’ve heard people affected with Tourette’s Syndrome describe their “tics” as intense, involuntary compulsions, similar to a sneeze. Like a sneeze, they describe, a tic can be suppressed for a time, but eventually it’s going to come out with an even stronger intensity, proportional to the amount of time it was held back.
Luckily, I don’t have Tourette’s, but I do sympathize an awful lot with this description. Sure, I’ve suppressed a sneeze or two in my day, only to end up with a face full of snot for my efforts, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. As I’m sure most of you have caught on to by now, this is the most basic reason why I’m writing this blog: I just can’t help it.
But that’s really just the easy, superficial answer. Despite the desire of far too many among us to live in a world of black-and-white, right-and-wrong, good-and-bad (including a seemingly disproportionate number of American politicians), reality is a whole heck of a lot more complex than that. The real answer for why anyone does anything beyond that which ensures its immediate survival (like breathing) is both complicated and extremely elusive. But as simply as I can possibly hope to say it, the more profound answer for why I write this blog is that I’m in love. I don’t mean that in the traditional sense, as in “I love my wife,” although that too is absolutely true. (And since we’re acknowledging complexities here, I ought to give her a lot of credit, not just for being the smart, beautiful, caring and thoughtful person she is, but also for her unconditional support and encouragement of all my endeavors, including this one. Without her this tic of mine might have stayed suppressed indefinitely, or I may not have had the confidence to express it. Of course, if this blog was just about her and how fantastic she is, my readership may be limited to just me and her family, so I digress.) Instead, what I mean by “I’m in love,” is that I genuinely love everything about craft beer and my atheism, and I am a much better person for it.
With respect to craft beer, I love the artistry that goes into its design, the sense of history and culture it embodies, the variety of flavors, colors and aromas, the community of craft beer drinkers, and of course the sensory experience of enjoying not only drinking a great beer, but doing so in unique locations around the world with others who are just as passionate. It may not be immediately obvious, but pick up any book that deals with the history of beer and you’ll appreciate the lens it offers into human history as well. From the construction of the pyramids in Egypt, to the founding of this country, beer was a crucial ingredient.
With respect to my atheism, my love connection is a little more nebulous considering that atheism isn’t really a worldview, rather, it’s a lack of belief on a specific question (namely, the existence of gods). But my atheism is a direct result of the skeptical, scientific lens with which I look at the world and that’s what I love. I love the clarity of though, reason, rationality and accurate picture of our existence that results. My atheism, then, is really an outcome of that larger worldview, but it’s a fantastic outcome because it opens up the world for further exploration. I heard a great quote recently from Lawrence Krauss, the famous theoretical physicist, who made this point beautifully: “Scientists love mysteries, they love not knowing. That’s a key part of science, the excitement of learning about the universe. That is so different than the sterile aspect of religions, where the excitement is apparently knowing everything, while clearly knowing nothing.” Religion shuts out further exploration and prevents us from understanding critical things about the nature of the world around us. It encamps us into competing tribes, some of whom want to kill other camps who happen to disagree, and it keeps us from getting the right answers that could improve our world. Science, on the other hand, while not perfect, has a remarkable track record of improving the world and remains the single most reliable method for getting to the right answers.
When it comes to this newfound love of mine, it’s been a bit of a long journey. It has taken me far longer than it took me to realize that I loved my wife. (And for the record, she will always be at the top of my list!) For my epiphany of “being in love” with craft beer and atheism, I have to thank Bill Nye (yup, the “Science Guy”) for his nudging. I’m not sure I necessarily would have realized the depth of my feelings on my own, or thought to express it in these terms, but the expression “in love” really is perfect in both sentiment and simplicity. By now, I’m sure many of you have seen Bill Nye’s brief two-minute video that’s been making its way around the internet. In it, he criticizes “creationism” and advocates for a scientifically literate population. It’s one of the most watched videos on YouTube, and in the event your haven’t seen it yet you can click here to watch it.
Finally, some of you may be asking, “If you are really as in love a you say you are, why are you blogging anonymously and why aren’t you spreading the word by posting on other well-known craft beer or atheism forums?” Perhaps I will do some of that in the near future, but for now, I’m still content writing my love letters and letting whoever wants to read them, read them. I’m inclined to use to the saying “shouting from a mountaintop,” here, but not in the traditional sense. The saying usually implies that the person doing the shouting wants everyone to listen, but let’s think about that critically for a second: What are the odds that someone standing on a mountain would actually be heard by others? I suppose it depends on the altitude of the mountain, proximity to listeners, voice projection, air resistance, etc. Needless to say, for now I’m very content with just those of you who’ve come along with me to hike this mountain being the only ones hearing my message.
Besides, specific issues aside, it should be clear to anyone following U.S. politics that people don’t like to have their firmly held beliefs challenged. Facts, evidence, and reality can be jarring. It’s always been, and will probably always be, much more comfortable for people to stay in their own cocoon. And when it comes to jarring facts and reality, the cocoon of religion is one of the most impenetrable. I’m not sure what makes me or other atheists different in this respect. I love to be proven wrong and wish it would happen more often. This statement doesn’t mean to imply that I think I’m mostly right… In fact, quite the contrary. I realize this may sound a little preachy, but to find the truth in any matter, you’ve got to be willing to trudge through lots of information and you’ve got to be willing to draw conclusions along the way, many of which will be wrong. This is the hard road and the one far less traveled.
I realize that my proclamation today and many of my comments above may seem surprising to some of my friends and family who may be reading this. In fact, many people describe me to be a pretty happy person, but also somewhat cynical, a little pessimistic, and a whole lot critical. But the truth is, above all else I’m simply an optimist who happens to be disappointed with things he sees in the world that need not be so. I can’t help but picture how wonderful the world would be if everyone used logic and reason to guide their lives. The world is truly an amazing place that’s ripe for your exploration. Again, I’ll quote Lawrence Krauss: “Forget Jesus, stars died so that you could be here today!”
(By the way, here’s the link to a great Lawrence Krauss lecture on YouTube called “A Universe From Nothing” where I happened to pull these quotes. If you’ve got an interest in how the world may have come into existence and an hour to spare, it’s highly recommended.)
Until next time, cheers and happy doubting.
P.S. I promise (I really, really do this time!) that the next blog will be much shorter and will focus more on craft beer. If you have any thoughts on today’s blog, suggestions, questions, concerns, etc., feel free to comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I thought I’d keep it relatively brief for the second blog in a row (still making up for the Mormon rant I guess) and share a collection of several items that may be of interest. These are all topics within the realm of craft beer and atheism, with the exception of the final bullet where I venture a bit into politics. Plus, it’s not all reading this week… There are a couple of videos and a nice chart that I hope you’ll like. Until next time, cheers and happy doubting!
After that last Mormonism rant, feels like it’s time for a quick, short and relatively non-controversial post to share a few cool things I’ve come across so far this week:
1. I found this great “Jesus Playing Beer Pong at the Last Supper” photo being criticized on an Evangelical website, but unfortunately I have no idea who the artist is. The website refused to acknowledge their source and simply chastised the unmentioned artist for his blasphemy. (At least they didn’t issue a fatwa, so kudos for their tolerance compared to Muslims! Besides, JC is clearly dominating the other apostles, so I don’t really see what the harm is.) Anyway, I’ve decided to return the favor (in the spirit of “an-eye-for-an-eye”), so I will not be mentioning the website. But I would love to know who the artist is and give credit where it’s due, so if anybody out there knows who did this, please let me know! My google search yielded no hits.
2. Click here for a cool article from the NY Times on an interesting German tradition of “second breakfast” involving, of course, beer (heffeweizen to be exact). My wife found this article, so credit goes to her for the great find!
3. Unrelated to either beer or atheism, I got a chance to see some topless women in front of the White House on Sunday while I was biking. Definitely not something you get to see every day. This was completely by chance mind you. Hmmm… Or was it fate? (Just kidding.). Anyway, I googled it afterwards and found out that it was part of a demonstration called “Go Topless Day.” Read more about it here.
Cheers and happy doubting!
Time to tackle one of those pithier issues I’ve been promising to talk about since I started this thing. Despite what the title may lead you to believe, this post was inspired not by the John Krakauer book Under the Banner of Heaven, but by NBC’s Rock Center which ran a story last Thursday evening called “Mormon in America.” If any of you have read Krakauer’s book or know of it, or if you haven’t been living under a rock your whole life, the dangers of religious fundamentalism should be pretty clear. But it’s not the fundamentalist that I want to talk about here, it’s the so-called religious “moderate.” Admittedly, I plan to focus on Mormonism in today’s blog. The reason for this should be obvious, given that we’re just about to nominate our first Mormon presidential candidate from a major political party. But let me be clear: I think all religions are pretty equally nuts, so don’t take my attack on Mormonism as some sort of indication that I think it is somehow worse than any of the other fairy tales. So, if you’ve got an open mind and want to read on, please do. If, on the other hand, you’re a delicate flower and want to keep your blinders on and your fairy tales alive and well, head for the hills.
One final disclaimer before I begin: I’m not pre-judging any person on the basis of his or her religion, I’m judging. There’s a difference. When we pre-judge, we make assumptions about what a person or group of people are like based on uniformed prejudices. These prejudices, often very superficial, may be based on physical observations, like how people may look, act, talk, etc., or they may be based on stereotypes, anecdotes and other sorts of generally uniformed perceptions. Judgement, on the other hand, comes from well informed study, careful reflection, and measured comments. This blog is the latter.
I also don’t pretend to know details about how any specific Mormon, including Mitt Romney, happens to live his life, or exactly how he thinks about things… And the same goes for Christians, Jews, Muslims, Scientologists, or anyone else for that matter. I can’t read minds and I’m not an expert on Mormonism, Joseph Smith, or any specific holy book. I also believe that while religion is ridiculous and harmful to society, the fact that life goes on and doesn’t regularly devolve into chaos means that most religious people are pretty rational and don’t buy into most of what their faith happens to teach. Let’s face it, dear reader, if you’re an atheist like me, you’re the minority! The reality is, most people, religious or atheist, go through their day pretty much the same. As the saying goes, we all put our pants on one leg at a time.
The problem that religion poses is that, despite its largely sane practitioners, its worldview is absolutely nuts. Honestly, what else would you expect from bronze-age ideas? And I know what you’re thinking: No sane person really believes those parts of the book anyway, right? So what’s the harm? The problem is some do, and unfortunately it’s the religious moderate who provides the smokescreen or shelter, sometimes literally and sometimes figuratively, to the zealot. It’s these zealots, the true believers, who are the ones that bomb abortion clinics and fly planes into buildings, taking the most extreme cases. Remember, it’s not lack of education or poverty that caused 9-11, it was ideology. By now, the education level and wealth of the hijackers should be a well known fact to anyone who follows this stuff seriously.
Apart from the extreme cases mentioned above, there are much less obvious, yet far more common examples of how religion poisons the world. And the scary thing is, these examples involve plenty of so-called “moderates” who are by most accounts several degrees of craziness below the zealot. Except in the case of the Diest (who believes in a supernatural reason for our existence, but that this god or gods do not meddle in human affairs), like it or not, our beliefs about the supernatural influence how we lead our lives. These beliefs cause otherwise rational Catholics to support bans on birth control and limiting a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body. They cause peaceful Muslims to believe that burkas are a pretty good idea. And they contribute to tribalism and deep rooted hatred that leads to decade- or even century-long conflicts in places like Northern Ireland and in the supposed “holy land” over in that middle eastern sandbox that seems too comfortably far away for most of us. And I’ve just picked the most contemporary examples here… As any student of world history knows, the list goes on and on.
In the specific case of Mormonism, here’s what the “moderate Mormon” supports. Note that the following are facts, which I’ve used to post-judge, not pre-judge the merits of the religion and the beliefs of those who subscribe to it:
Sure, there are some Mormons who disagree with some of these doctrines, but it’s not in dispute that these are well known, factual elements of the faith. And to me, anyone who buys-in to nonsense like this has an inferior morality to mine, and unless they’ve figured out a way to wall off a portion of their life to reason (which is disturbing in an of itself), they are also an inferior thinker. I don’t mean that I am smarter than all Mormons…in fact, far be it! Jet Blue, started by a Mormon, is the perfect example of my vast inferiority to a Mormon. I’m sure it goes without saying, but I’ve never started an airline, let alone one as awesome as Jet Blue. But how honest, thoughtful, or morally consistent –or perhaps how brainwashed can you be– if you accept a religion that in 2012 holds to the truths listed above?
Now, I realize that it would be very easy to come up with a similar list to the one above for Christianity. Hell, I’ve probably created one before while debating friends about this stuff. But, for better or worse, it seems to me that most Christians are much less enthusiastic about their religion than most Mormons. And in his heart of hearts, I really do beleive that Barack Obama is either an atheist in beleif, or in practice. I actually think most Christians I’ve met, at least the non-fundamentalist ones, are also either closeted atheists or “atheists in practice.” Either that, or they are really bad Christians. What I mean by “atheist in practice” is that almost none of them have ever read the bible or have any idea what it says. They don’t know the commandments (there are over 600 of them, not 10), they don’t realize that the “golden rule” was not an invention of Christianity, and they aren’t aware of facts like the slavery one I mentioned above. Basically, they are good, reasonable people. In my experience, it seems like many followers of the older religions, particularly Christianity and Judaism with which I’m most familiar but perhaps Islam too, do it out of habit or tradition, not actual faith. Of course, if that’s the case, why bother to still call yourself a Christian? Here’s a little thought experiment for you: If you suddenly became God and had to judge someone who fits this description, would you let him or her into heaven? Seems to me like this type of person is sort of mailing it in. Maybe I’m biased, but I’d much rather welcome the atheist into my eternal living room, because at least he’s probably read my autobiography.
So here’s where all of this leaves me… Unfortunately (or fortunately if you’re Obama), all of this renders it impossible for me to vote for Mitt Romney. It’s really a shame too, because I think he and Obama will have an interesting and substantive debate on policy. But I want a president who is moral, intellectually honest, and believes in science. Specific issues like tax policy, health care, and everything else aside, can you trust someone with his finger on the button to make the right call when he has backward thinking like this?
Issues are complex, and while I hold strong beliefs, I’m not an economist, a tax expert, or a job creator. I understand health care a bit, but more than people who have spent their entire lives working within the system trying to fix things? Probably not. The true scientist, mathematician, or basic intellectually honest person is truthful about the limitations of their knowledge. Generally, I beleive in less government and libertarian principles, but the world is complex, and those who oversimplify take shortcuts to the detriment of our society. Let’s not pretend we understand every issue, and let’s admit where we have no clue. I’ll start: I have no clue how to fix the economy, but I don’t think there are very many people who do. And I don’t think that either Mitt or Barack are in the group of those who know.
I also think both candidates are good men, patriotic, well intentioned, and want the best for the country. Both surround themselves with experts. There are some issues that I agree with Mitt on, and some that I agree with Barack on. So for me, how I will differentiate is simple…who’s the better thinker? And let’s remember an important thing about how this country is governed: First and foremost, our president is commander in chief of the military. One of the few things a president is able to do without congressional support (which is adminittedly a bit of a bone of contention for many) is order military action that sends our young men and women into harms way. So, do I want the guy who killed Bin Laden and got us out of Iraq, or the guy who has made gaffe after gaffe while overseas, and seems to have a pretty shaky grasp on foreign policy? For me, the choice seems pretty clear.
I apologize that this blog ended up being so long. It has really written itself, and I’m afraid it’s not a very good editor. Allow me to leave you all with one final plea: Give up the superstitious nonsense and spend whatever time you’re currently spending in church or in prayer doing something useful for the world. Take advantage of the one life that you know you have. If the world were lactose intolerant, it would be a fat kid and religion would be its ice cream. Pick any flavor your want, they’re all going to give you the runs. I suppose I don’t need to go this far. I could have asked all of you to believe what you want, as long as it doesn’t hurt me or take away my rights. But really, who can name me one religion that hasn’t done at least some of that?
By the way, my recommended beer to drink while pondering today’s blog is a nice Coffee Stout. Apart from being delicious, there’s also a delicious irony involved since our Mormon friends are prohibited from consuming alcohol or caffeine. Brooklyn Brewery and Lagunitas both make an excellent interpretation of this variety. (Lagunitas actually calls theirs an “Espresso Stout.”)
Until next time, cheers and happy doubting!
Relax, I’m talking about this blog! (Get your mind out of the gutter.)
No picture or tome-like post today… Just a short paragraph or two on the subjects of: (1) the blog itself and (2) DC Beer Week 2012.
1. On the blog… My wife correctly pointed out that sometimes less is more, and my first two posts were a bit on the long side. Since we’re an A.D.D culture, myself included, perhaps she’s right and I should mix in some quick hits. So, consider this blog a quickie, dear reader! And let’s have some more quickies going forward, what do you say?
2. DC Beer Week 2012… A hearty congratulations to the organizers and sponsors on a successful event. It was a great introduction to the better beer bars, restaurants, and overall beer scene in my new city. I’d like to quickly mention a few of my favorite standouts from the week: On Tue., I got to experience 3 Stars Brewing for the first time. These guys make fantastic well balanced beers, and it was refreshing to try some great beer that didn’t obliterate my palate with bitterness. They make a lovely saison, porter and brown ale which I was lucky enough to try and will definitely seek out in the future. On Thu., I got to try a rare cask of DC Brau at the District Chophouse’s second annual “Cask Night.” The beer was spiced with thyme, rosemary and juniper, and was a light, yet very cloudy, ale fermented using a Belgian yeast strain. With 20 or so casks, the fact that this one was the highlight for me says a lot, especially since I’m not usually a fan of spiced beers. The DC Brau guys have yet to disappoint! And finally, kudos to Smoke & Barrel for their “Sour Saturday” event. If you’re a beer lover and you haven’t experienced sour beers yet, trust me, you’re missing out on some amazingly complex and delicious stuff! Admittedly, it’s a bit of an acquired taste, but it’s not hard to acquire and once you get there, it’s an enlightening and miraculous thing. (And you thought I wasn’t going to talk about religion on today’s blog!) If you’re looking to try a sour beer for the first time, a good place to start is a beer called Rodenbach given it’s accessibility in terms of flavor and availability. Once you get a bit more adventurous and are willing to spend a little more, for me it doesn’t get any better than Jolly Pumpkin brewery and Russian River brewery… Of course finding them, unless you’re local to the breweries, can be a bit of challenge.
Until next time, cheers and happy doubting!
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 email@example.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.)