Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Almost Paradise: The Water Could Be Warmer

The Green Turtle is an eco-lodge along the coast. It may take hours to get to Dixcove, but it is well worth it. The dorm beds, which at only three bunkbeds to a big hut were pleasantly spacious, also had mosquito netting hanging from the ceiling to cover my top bunk, which made me feel a bit like a princess crossed with an explorer. The bar is made out of an old fishing boat. There are self-composting toilets lit at night with lanterns, some of them candle lanterns. The showers are outside - cold water, but with the sunlight and ocean breezes and the natural stone structures, they were the best showers I had on the entire trip - in fact, possibly the nicest showers I've ever had in my life. With the Jack Johnson and Bob Marley playing, in some ways it reminded me of all the other beaches I've been to - Thailand, the Philippines. However, the chilly water and the rip tides made swimming unlikely and in the shade the breeze made it a bit chilly.

On our first morning at the beach, I was up incredibly early, as always, but was still the last one up. Finally, real coffee! Along with the French toast, honey, and bananas we had for breakfast, it was fabulous. The fabulousness was slightly hampered by the suicidal flies that kept dive-bombing our cappuccino foam. I had managed to acquire, the night before, about fifty bug bites on each foot and a nasty scratch. I assumed mosquito bites but when we left the lodge, I used a public toilet and two women discussed the bites extensively - unfortunately, they didn't know the English word for what had bitten me.

Lunch didn't happen until 3 p.m. and involved a gin and tonic, plus fresh orange juice, so far the only fresh juice we'd had in Ghana. We spent our day on the beach, sitting on chairs made of old boat seats, listening to the crashing waves, in the shade of short palm trees. Ortencia was taking notes from the Economist and I was reading the magazines I had grabbed in the airport, interspersed with chapters of "The End" of Faith." We read until it was too dark, got a lantern, and then finally had dinner at 7:30 - I only ate mashed potatoes and chocolate fondue. The first was supposed to help settle my stomach, the second I just couldn't resist.

"The End of Faith" was very much a book that preaches to the choir; I don't see anyone but an atheist reading it. I have to say, a lot of this book resonated with me. Back when I worked in the bank, I worked with a guy about my own age who loved to come out with comments along the lines that atheists don't have any self-discipline because they never have to give up anything. It was an almost daily occurrence, his comments on atheists, but had I ever stated my beliefs about religion in detail, I'm pretty sure I would have ended up in quite a lot of trouble - you can insult atheists, you see, and generally that isn't considered a rude thing to do. But to take on religion - there's a reason you don't discuss religion, politics or football in Scottish pubs. Then there was that whole ridiculousness surrounding the Golden Compass movie and books. I've yet to ever meet an atheist or agnostic who would deny their children the chance to read the Narnia novels, but apparently the atheism in the Golden Compass (which, interestingly enough, I didn't even pick up on my first read of the book as an adult, though it isn't really obvious until you hit that last book) is going to convert all the kids who believe in religion - though Narnia really failed to convert me. Anyways, as I said, preaching to the choir: one of his main beefs is the way atheists are unable to even question religion in the public realm without being seen as rude. I very much agree.

"Sex kills, and so does this kind of blushing prudishness." re. money squandered on teaching abstinence.
Nicholas Kristoff

"Apart from logical cogency, there is to me something a little odd about the ethical valuations of those who think that an omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent Deity, after preparing the ground by many millions of years of lifeless nebulae would consider Himself adequately rewarded by the final emergence of Hitler and Stalin and the H Bomb." Bertrand Russell

"What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence." Christopher Hitchens

"To see how much our culture currently partakes of the irrationality of our enemies, just substitute the name of your favorite Olympian for "God" wherever this word appears in public discourse... Clearly the commonplaces of language conceal the vacuity and strangeness of many of our beliefs."

"The most sexually repressive people found in the world today - people who are stirred to a killing rage by reruns of Baywatch - are lured to martyrdom by a conception of paradise that resembles nothing so much as an al fresco bordello."

"But the rise of Islamic fundamentalism is only a problem because the fundamentals of Islam are a problem. A rise of Jain fundamentalism would harm no one."

"What constitutes a civil society? At minimum, it is a place where ideas, of all kinds, can be criticized without the risk of physical violence. If you live in a land where certain things cannot be said about the king, or about an imaginary being, or about certain books, because such utterances carry the penalty of death, torture, or imprisonment, you do not live in a civil society."

"In neurological terms, we surely visit more suffering upon this earth by killing a fly than by killing a human blastocyst (150-cell stage), to say nothing of a human zygote (flies after all, have 100,000 cells in their brain alone)."

"When was the last time that someone was criticized for not "respecting" another person's unfounded beliefs about physics or history? The same rules should apply to ethical, spiritual, and religious beliefs as well."

re. the limits of intelligent dissent: "People who believe that the earth is flat are not dissenting geographers; people who deny that the Holocaust ever occurred are not dissenting historians; people who think that God created the universe in 4004 BC are not dissenting cosmologists; and we will see that people who practice barbarisms like 'honor killing' are not dissenting ethicists."

"Man is manifestly not the measure of all things. This universe is shot through with mystery. The very fact of its being, and of our own, is a mystery absolute, and the only miracle worthy of the name. The consciousness that animates us is itself central to this mystery and the ground for any experience we might wish to call 'spiritual'. No myths need be embraced for us to commune with the profundity of our circumstance. No personal God need be worshipped for us to live in awe at the beauty and immensity of creation. No tribal fictions need be rehearsed for us to realise, one fine day, that we do, in fact, love our neighbors, that our happiness is inextricable from their own, and that our interdependence demands that people everywhere be given the opportunity to flourish."

"And yet it remains taboo to criticize religious faith in our society, or to even observe that some religions are less compassionate and less tolerant than others. What is worst in us (outright delusion) has been elevated beyond the reach of criticism, while what is best (reason and intellectual honesty) must remain hidden, for fear of giving offense."

"It seems doubtful that a person could know that he was successfully practicing addition unless he already believed that 2+2=4. It seems just as certain, however, that you did not wake up this morning believing that eight hundred and sixty-five thousand, seven hundred and sixty-two plus two, equals eight hundred and sixty-five thousand, seven hundred and sixty-four. To really exist inside your brain, this belief must be constructed, in the present moment, on the basis of your prior belief that two plus two equals four. Clearly, many beliefs are like this. We may not, in fact, believe most of what we believe about the world until we say we do."

Sam Harris, The End of Faith

1 comment:

Cairo Typ0 said...

You are the DEVIL! The title of this post popped up in my feed and now i can't get "Almost Paradise" out of my head!

I'm humming it in a library. "I know that i could see forever in youuuuurrrrr eyes!!!! Parrrrridicccee!!!"

Thank you