To all of you who allow my soliloquies to sometimes turn into monologues and in even rarer occasions permit them to become conversations, my most heartfelt thanks. Thank you for sharing your most precious resource with my rants; time. I hope that in some way you have shared my feelings and enjoyed some of the ideas expressed in my posts.
We are at that time of year when many people across the globe get time off to celebrate a diversity of different holidays. Preparations are made for travel to get to a friend’s or relative’s home to share in this special time or sometimes just to get things ready to do this at one’s home.
And may we all put some Hygge into our life, as is a custom of the Danes.
In essence, hygge means creating a nice, warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people around you. The warm glow of candlelight is hygge. Friends and family – that’s hygge too. And let’s not forget the eating and drinking – preferably sitting around the table for hours on end discussing the big and small things in life.
I just finished reading L’Espirit de l’athéisme – Introduction à une spiritualité sans Dieu by André Comte-Sponville. This book’s title has been translated (??) into English as The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality. Why didn’t they use “The Spirit of Atheism – An Introduction to Spirituality Without God”?
The book has three chapters:
I) Can We Do Without Religion?
II) Does God Exist?
III) Can There Be an Atheist Spirituality?
In the first chapter Comte-Sponville says that we can do without religion but wants to hold on to certain aspects of religion. Get rid of faith but keep fidelity, keep communion and love. He also thinks that secular rites such as funerals are bad copies of their religious counterparts. He worries that Nihilism is a danger in this new era and proposes Humanism to counter this threat.
The second chapter goes through many examples of the lack of evidence and strong arguments for the belief in a god. Comte-Sponville writes of the mediocrity of mankind, the problem of evil, the ontological argument, the cosmological argument, amongst others. If you are already an atheist you have been there many times before, if not, it will be new territory.
The third and last chapter touches on spirituality. But what is spirit?
“The human spirit…is our noblest part, or rather our highest function, the thing that makes us not only different from other animals…but greater than and superior to them”
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ “Whatever it is, we can use it to think, to want, or to imagine…. It is the power to think, insofar as it gives us access to truth, universality, or laughter. It is likely that without the brain, this ability would be able to do nothing at all or would not even exist”
In the end he says that it does not matter if this “thing” is the brain. He talks of the capacity to live in the present and give no importance to the past and the future, as they do not exist. He is highly influenced by eastern religion, delving deeply into personal experience as he goes into an explanation of immanence and letting go of one’s ego, being part of everything or having what he calls an “oceanic feeling”.
If by spirit he means the human ability for empathy, awe, ethics and curiosity, that is fine. Give it another name. I am not sure, but “Ethos” would work better for me and remove the possible supernatural connotation.
Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethic based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. It is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality.
No offense, I love you and my intention is not to offend you…I like many have my doubts, and sometimes I believe and sometimes I doubt.I respect that you’re an atheist and you are absolutely sure of your belief. But what I criticize and I see as even a little ridiculous is making atheism a religion, with lectures and symposia. All you need now is to start having Masses to Saint Atheist.
How do you like them cookies?
Nice double standard. I have to – and do – tolerate people wearing crosses, a star of David, an Om symbol or whatever symbol of religiosity, but I can’t wear my atheist bands or t-shirts without somebody bothering me. Good thing my Happy Humanist pins don’t cause any trouble. I must tolerate constant references to a deity, but one word of disbelief and I am being militant.
And well, I am loved and respected but I am ridiculous. But enough of that, on to the vacation.
By no means was I only lying on the beach and sipping on a nice cool drink.
I got a chance to read Testament: Memoir of the Thoughts and Sentiments of Jean Meslier and to start reading L’ Esprit De L‘Atheisme (The soul of atheism) by André Comte-Sponville. The first book I bought on my own accord and the second was a gift from a friend.
Meslier’s book is an interesting impeachment of religion with a dash of anti-monarchism, a pinch of animal rights and a touch of communism. It is probably the first book on atheism. A very interesting read although a bit repetitive. Meslier really wanted to get his message across.
I will get back to you on my thought of Comte-Sponville’s book when I finish it.
At lunch the very first day I came back to work, I got into an enjoyable discussion on some well-known topics:
You can’t have morality if you don’t have religion.
I am a customer of Starbucks, but I never touch their coffee, not even with a ten foot pole. I like some of their sandwiches and a few of the cold drinks served there. I gave them the benefit of the doubt and tried many of their coffees, but for the life of me, I cannot like the taste. Even though they say that the coffee is arabica, many times I have encountered a rubbery taste typical of blends that have robusta and the lack of body is appalling.
Coffee is not just a drink, it is a multi-sensory experience. The very first thing that strikes me is the aroma, more so when I grind my coffee beans. Then comes the sight of that black elixir and the anticipation of taking that very first sip and the explosion of taste, as well as that warm comforting sensation it provides as your drink it. But not just that, coffee also revolves around conversation and ambiance. It is not the same to have your coffee on the run in a disposable cup than to drink it in an agreeable environment.
Starbucks provides a nice place to sit down and enjoy your coffee – oh if only it was good – comfortable, with music, free wi-fi and as in most coffeehouses a sense of community if you want it.
The business model is great and has been picked up by many other coffee shops, some even serve very good coffee.
Maybe as consumers we follow the so called “Principle of least effort” and are more than willing to sacrifice quality to obtain convenience.
And possibly another is some good neuromarketing. It could be our (well not mine, but…) brain remembers the pleasant experience and favors it over the taste.
As social animales we crave a sense of community and this kind of shop offers it to a limited degree.
Some of the people who are part of the coffee house community are young and probably were never exposed to a traditional coffee shop. I had the joy of living next to a small coffee roaster, so every Saturday I would wake to the exquisite smell of freshly roasted coffee (one of the chimneys was just next to my window) and of course run next door for my fresh cup of Joe. I guess that if they get them while they are young, they won’t know better.
Well, as taste is so individual and subjective, maybe I am only being a coffee snob, or as some say “being more papist than the Pope”, but I just can’t help it.
A recent poll by YouGov / The Sun Survey Results has reported results that give hope for the future.
The poll was taken from June the 14th to the 19th and involved young adults aged 18 to 24.
The questions related to their feelings about the future, jobs, relationships, buying a home, etc.
The poll demonstrated, contrary to popular belief, that parents have a great deal of influence upon this group. Much more than politicians, celebrities and a great deal more than religious leaders.
What was most striking were the results of the questions related to religion.
According to the results 56% of this age group have no religion. Only 25% believe in a god and 19% believe in a spiritual greater power. That means that 56% of young adults are non believers, a big difference when compared to the 2011 census. Atheists accounted for 38% and Agnostics 18% which is higher than earlier reports I have commented before.
When somebody sneezes, most people respond in an automatic fashion with a “Bless You”, “Gesundheit” or something along those lines. The person who sneezes does not say anything immediately after sneezing.
As a noisy bodily function you could expect the person who sneezes to say “excuse me” as when one burps, but no.
We have made this response to a sneeze a part of everyday etiquette and do not pause to ask ourselves why we do it.
Where does this come from?
The response to sternutation has its origins in superstition. Long before germ theory, it was thought that our life was intimately connected to our breath, so when one sneezed, there was an increased risk of death. In other stories it was believed that the act of sneezing expelled a demon from the person’s body and the phrase “bless you” was said in an attempt to avoid the demon from reentering the person who had just exorcised himself through the power of the sternutation. Some believed that heart stopped when sneezing or that your eyes could pop out. Pope Gregory the Great during the 6th century ordered prayer for those suffering from the plague and a “God Bless You” for those that sneezed as a wish that they would not fall to the plague. And from this we acquired the custom.
This habit is so ingrained in society, that even though we know it serves no purpose and is rooted in ancient superstition, I find myself saying Gesundheit or an equivalent. Well, sometimes I can fight it back and remain silent.
I think that the person who sneezes should excuse themselves, just as they do after a burp.
Sneezing is a bodily function that most times serves the purpose of expelling a foreign particle that irritates the nasal mucosa, other times it can be the manifestation of an infection such as the flu or cases like photic sneezing (“sun sneezing”), just the expression of a higher sensitivity to visual stimuli or rarer situations like snatiation or even sneezing due to sexual ideation or orgasm (take a look at this great post by Dr. Mark Griffiths called “Sneezy does it: Sex, sneezing, and sneezing fetishes”).
What one should really do is face away from other people and sneeze into a handkerchief o tissue paper, if this is not available then into the pit of your elbow to avoid possible transmission of disease.
And in my profession sometimes I have to sneeze into a mask causing worry as what should be done. It is said that I should just sneeze into the mask facing the wound. And in light of this article, it seems the proper thing to do.
Some will think that wanting to change this bit of everyday etiquette is of no use and is an intrusion into other people’s customs. But this custom has no use, no reason to be. I don’t see many people throwing spilt salt over their left shoulder anymore and like that custom, saying bless you or Gesundheit to a person who sneezes is just acting upon superstition.
The road to non-belief is not straightforward, it is in most cases a slow journey. It is the lowly drop of water and not the majestic wave that slowly erodes the stone and in this way our belief in the supernatural is whittled down until one day we realize that what was once incontrovertible, now is an argument that holds no water.
It seems to me that although non-belief is the result of a long list of things that make us question the validity of that which we hold true, many times there is a first question a first doubt. In my case, I think that the first question was something that I would later learn is called the problem of evil.
When I was a kid, I would always think that nobody could ever go to Hell because God being an all-knowing, all-caring and all-powerful being would not allow it. How could he? He knew everything before it happened. He loved everybody so he did not wish bad things to happen and of course he could do anything.
He could do anything and did everything. So where did bad things come from?
What?! You mean God created evil? No way! Well, yes way.
There are many defences and theodicies that theists use to get around this problem. One way that they defend this problem is through the free will argument: It is a very good thing that God has created persons with free will. God cannot eliminate evil, because in doing so he would remove the possibility of free will and making correct moral choices.
Ok we have free will and can choose good or evil. We are imperfect and at least one time, if not many, we will choose wrong. God being perfect and endowed with omniscience knows this before we do it, in fact even before we come into existence. Or maybe he cannot know this, but that would strip him of omniscience. Of course this would resolve the problem of evil, but would render God imperfect.
And talking of free will. The concept of free will beyond the constraints of the physical universe is childish, downright stupid. Free will must be understood within the constraints of a physical universe as we are physical beings. To think that we could have absolute free will would make us supernatural, would make us in fact gods. The matter at question is: do we have the ability to make free choices within the constraints of a physical universe? That is the true question of free will.
We do not have conscious free will as has been stated elsewhere, and that seems to destroy the free will theodicy, but we are agents capable of decisions, albeit these decisions are made in a subconscious manner.
And I never even got to the question of natural evil, that is a whole new ball-game.
So what got you started? What flipped your switch?
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?”
Today I had my first cup of Kopi Luwak ever. This is an exotic variety of coffee, and as I am always open to try exotic flavors, I gave it a go.
Due to price and availability, I do not think that it will become my daily fare.
The aroma of the coffee was sweet, with a touch of fruit.
The first impression upon tasting this coffee was one of high acidity, maybe even sourness. Maybe I was not expecting what was in my cup. On my second sip came different sensations. This coffee was complex, with only a very little of bitterness that was overpowered by a sweet, nutty and fruity drink with a very good body to it. A small hint of wood with a good aftertaste that lasted for more than my walk back home.
Thirty minutes after I finished my coffee, I still have a pleasant aftertaste on the tip and sides of my tongue. A subtle sweetness if you will.
For me is tastes better than Jamaica Blue Mountain, that in my humble opinion is a coffee with little body and character that does not live up to expectations. And both coffees are really more hype than anything else.
The Kopi Luwak I tasted was a good coffee, but not a great coffee, and certainly not worthy of becoming my daily drink or yours. And it does not justify the price tag.
I assure you it will not replace my daily Illy or my ordinary cup of plain coffee made with some Mexican, Costa Rican or Colombian coffee.
Having deconverted from Catholicism and been witness to a few priests with their “nieces” and “godchildren” and watching how they were changed from one parish to another and some minor corruption, it comes as no surprise.
The report was done by a three-man commission that investigated the Vatileaks affair. Spearheaded by a Spanish cardinal, Julián Herranz. Assisted by CardinalSalvatore De Giorgi, a former archbishop of Palermo, and the Slovak cardinal Jozef Tomko, who was once in charge of the Vatican’s department for missionaries.
It seems that the information contained in the almost 300 page volume was too much for the octogenarian pope to handle. And though his resignation is being purported to be an act of strength and not of weakness, I believe that he is only trying to save face and has more interest in the institution he presides than in the welfare of the members. The pope’s position on human rights and the sexual molestation by the clergy has been lacking. The systematic cover-up makes all those involved just as guilty as the rapists themselves. The Catholic Church has not handed the culprits over to the justice system and the stories of priest-shuffling are myriad. There is no justifiable excuse for not taking an open stance against these criminals. Once detected , they should be immediately removed from their parish, handed over to the police and if found guilty defrocked and have anathema imposed upon them. The problem with the anathema bit is that it would have to include much of the hierarchy including a number of popes.
Wherefore in the name of God the All-powerful, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, of Blessed Peter, Prince of the Apostles, and of all the saints, in virtue of the power which has been given us of binding and loosing in Heaven and on earth, we deprive (Name) himself and all his accomplices and all his abettors of the Communion of the Body and Blood of Our Lord, we separate him from the society of all Christians, we exclude him from the bosom of our Holy Mother the Church in Heaven and on earth, we declare him excommunicated and anathematized and we judge him condemned to eternal fire with Satan and his angels and all the reprobate, so long as he will not burst the fetters of the demon, do penance and satisfy the Church; we deliver him to Satan to mortify his body, that his soul may be saved on the day of judgment.
The article also mentions that the next pope should be strong, young and “saintly” enough to handle this situation. As I can not get my wish to have them all resign and have the institution disbanded and its assets sold with the proceeds put to use in some charitable fashion, I would hope for an ethical pope with a high degree of respect for human rights.
The report mentioned in the article is for the pope’s eyes only and will be handed to the next pope only, so unless there comes a new Vatileaks style butler, don’t expect to be privy to the details.
Recently I had a chance to visit Spain on work related issues, enjoying the wine and the cuisine on the side.
My hosts in Valladolid were absolutely magnificent and made me feel quite at home. Their knowledge of the local wine and food was most helpful.
In Madrid I got to see all the usual places, but had a very good time eating at the Mercado de San Miguel. It is a very interesting place to visit, the food is excellent as well as the selection of wines and deserts. The coffee is very good.
You walk around picking whatever tickles your fancy and then head towards tables at the center of the market place to enjoy your little gastronomic treasures.
The museums signature painting is “Las Meninas” by Diego Velazquez. You can admire it for hours on end.
But I fell in love with the museums only Rembrandt : “Judit en el banquete de Holofernes” also known as Artemisia. I was captivated by the technique, the magnificent use of light and shadow. So much that I decided to have a digital print on canvas made at the museum shop in order to enjoy this image at home.
While I waited for my print I relaxed with a nice cup of coffee, well deserved after walking around viewing the vast amount of paintings this museum has in exhibition.
So if you have a chance to go to Madrid, don’t miss the opportunity to view all the wonders the Museo Nacional del Prado has to offer.
In the past weeks I stumbled upon a series of articles in the news that quite frankly were the harbingers of doom. Modern civilization is coming to an end in this century.
The Mayas missed the date, but it seems that in the later half of this century, civilization will come to a halt. At least in the way we know it today.
The articles all talk about climate change and how around 2080 wild arabica could be extinct. This does not mean that coffee per se will disappear, but it will be more difficult to keep up production of this variety of coffee.
Coffee production will not come to a halt, but we could be in for a change in the variety of coffee used in our blends. Reuters reported in an article called Analysis: Coffee roasters stick with less costly robustathat roasters are using more robusta in their blends due to cost and the possibility to maintain market share . Consumers have switched to non-premium blends of coffee that contain a higher content of lower quality robusta.
The more resistant variety of coffee known as Robusta or Coffea canephoragives your coffee more bitterness, more caffeine and an unpleasant rubbery taste. The best espresso roasts use primarily Arabica beans, which originated in Ethiopia, but have spread around the world. In some blends Robusta beans are typically included in the blend because of their ability to generate crema. High quality Italian espresso blends such as Illy use no robusta at all.
Robusta has on average half the flavour and aromatic oils compared to Arabica. These oils attack the foam and make it disappear. Less oil in your brew equals more foam – crema. But at a cost. Less oil equals less aroma, flavor and overall quality of your espresso.
So let us reduce, reuse and recycle so as to limit our carbon footprint, lest we leave behind a world of low quality/high price coffee to those that come after us.