Saturday, July 29, 2017

Back From Vacation...

So, on Monday I got back from my vacation in Europe. I went to London, Paris, and Amsterdam, and spent a few days in the Dutch countryside too. Overall the trip was a success, and by success I mean that I achieved my goal of getting a cultural feel for Europe in a way that helped me understand it, along with having some fun of course.

London was amazing. I did many of the touristy things, but I also went bar hopping and talked with locals, and I went to an all day philosophy conference that showcased several talks by philosophers on the arguments for god. Afterwards some of us went for drinks and talked religion and philosophy, and they were buying me drinks all night long! Amazing.

After 5 days in London I took a train to Paris. I actually missed my train because I got lost in the St. Pancras train station, but I eventually made it. Paris is beautiful. It's every bit as beautiful as they say it is. I rented a bike to get around town easier and made my way to the Eiffel Tower, only to find that the line to go up was too long. So the next day I went to Tour Montparnasse, which has an observation deck and was almost empty. I took some amazing photos there.

I went bar hopping and talked with some local Parisians. Paris is more English-friendly than I thought. But after a few days I was off to Amsterdam. I arrived at night with not much time to explore, and the next day checked out its famous coffee shops and of course the red light district.

Like Paris, Amsterdam is absolutely beautiful. I love the way the canal bridges light up at night. I love its tiny little alleyways where you find sex shops and quirky stores.

In many ways Amsterdam is the epitome of modern, liberal, secularism. It's open, tolerant, progressive, and two thirds of the city are irreligious according to Wikipedia. It's basically what every secular liberal progressive strives to create. I met some Swiss nationals at a coffeeshop and we talked about this over a joint. They told me how prostitution is legal in Switzerland. This is exactly the kind of society I want to nourish, one where prostitution and drugs are legalized, and one where there is universal health care, and of course, secularism. Now Western European countries are not without their problems, but whatever problems they have, I'd implement the sword of reason to fix it. I see the US heading toward such a society eventually. But that's only with the diligence and perseverance of secular activism.

Then I met up with my sister, my nephew, and her new boyfriend, for a spiritual retreat in the countryside about 40 miles outside Amsterdam. My sister is a total hippie. She blesses the water she drinks, and I was pressured to pray. She and her boyfriend run a spiritual cleansing program and they travel the world doing retreats. I love my sister and I wish her well, and I'm glad that she's doing exactly what she wants for a living, but in many ways her lifestyle and what she's trying to spread are antithetical to what I stand for. She's spreading superstition and religious beliefs that have no real basis in reality. There's nothing wrong with being a loving compassionate human being, but there's no reason why you have to mix it in with supernatural nonsense. We can have love and compassion without the supernatural metaphysics.

But I did not challenge her. It wasn't the right time or place. This was her business after all. The other people in the retreat were her clients. I didn't want to ruin her means of making a living. So I played along. I took ayahuasca for the second time, and san pedro, and we smoked some hash as part of the ceremonies. I didn't have any deep spirtual insight, but I managed to relax and evaluate my life a little bit.

After a few painful and uncomfortable days at the retreat I was whisked back to Schiphol airport and after a 12 hour layover in Iceland, I was home. Back in New York with just 2 days to prepare for my public debate on whether religion is overall more harmful, I had almost forgotten about this while on vacation and I did almost no prep work. But I know the subject matter and my debate partner is an extremely passionate atheist, and so it wasn't that hard to put together a 5 minute argument. And we handedly won the debate (the audience votes before and after so we can see how many minds were changed). It was recorded and I'll have the video up when I get the chance. Should be within a week.

And lastly, tomorrow I get to finally see one of my favorite bands for the first time, Nine Inch Nails. So over all it's been a good couple of weeks. I've been so tired lately that I haven't had the desire to blog all that much. But I'm hoping that will change in the coming weeks and I can get back to blogging at least twice a week.

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