MY FAVORITE CIVIL WAR MONUMENTS

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I see so many excellent graphics, articles and videos on Facebook, many of which have to do with morals and ethics. One of the reasons I’m a Humanist is to study the human condition and continue to learn how to be “Good Without God.”

Unfortunately, our morally bankrupt President is incapable of conforming to the rules of right conduct. Daily he flaunts his illegal and immoral behavior.

I saw this eloquent tweet displayed on FB and I thought that it brings us all back to the moral humanistic power of our wonderful U.S. Constitution:

Tweet

We must be proud of these, protect them, and make sure they’re honored completely, regardless of the political party in power. Here they are for quick reference (Via Wikipedia with links):

– 13th Amendment, 1865 –

Abolishes slavery, and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for
a crime.

– 14th Amendment, 1866 –

Defines citizenship, contains the Privileges or Immunities Clause, the Due Process Clause, the Equal Protection Clause, and deals with post–Civil War issues.

– 15th Amendment, 1869 –

Prohibits the denial of the right to vote based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude.


( I’m new to Facebook. I avoided it until recently. It’s a habit-forming drug. It’s so hard to turn the damn thing off.  
Given the news these days, I need a fix every hour. If you have a technique for turning down FB, please let me know, or make a comment. )

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DESTINY IS A DIRTY WORD

Destiny
“DESTINY” IS A DIRTY WORD
a rant by Ron Steelman, © 2005, 2010
Written for and Performed at the Red Bank Humanists Forum
(read loud, fast, & faux angry)

Destiny is such a small word, and yet it causes so much trouble. Recently I’ve been pondering its insidiousness. Why does it keep forcing its way into my thoughts from a dozen different directions? From where does it come? Who is responsible for it? And how can I keep its promise from becoming a foregone conclusion, which, as the dictionary says, is “a conclusion formed in advance of argument or consideration?” Is my life simply a fait accompli, an open and shut case, a done deal, a fact of life, a grim reality, an irreversible act, a matter of fact? I DON’T THINK SO!

It’s always good to begin with a definition. What does it say about “destiny” in the dictionary? I’ll tell you. It’s the “inevitable or necessary fate to which a particular person or thing is destined; one’s LOT.” Then, more importantly, it goes on to clarify: “a predetermined course of events considered as something beyond human power or control.” And finally, “Destiny: the power or agency thought to predetermine events.” Wait a minute. Who is it, exactly, that’s got the power? “Or Agency?” Agency? Could it be the IRS?

This hideous (dripping with sarcasm) “destiny concept”. . .forces itself into our lives and is reinforced in phrases that we use in everyday conversation:

The-Three-Fates

The Three Fates – Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropo

* A man dies. What do we say, “I guess his number was up.” Or, “It was meant to be.” Or, “His time had come.” And so we shrug and say, “That’s his fate.” His fate?! Look it up! Are you saying the man dropped dead because of three half naked Greek Goddesses named Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos? It must have been some party, huh! I don’t buy it.

* A little boy grows up to become a brilliant concert pianist and the mother says, “He was born to be a concert pianist.” Now there she’s half right because we know that a good portion of his talent came from his genes, from all of his ancestors boiled down into him. But the other part of his brilliance didn’t come from DESTINY, it came from a lot of hard work on his part. And then she really ruins it by saying, “what a wonderful God-given talent.” No, he got his talent from his parents and from years of practice.

* An infant dies of a rare disease. People say, “It was for the best.” Or, “There has to be a good reason. We just don’t know what it is. In time, it will be revealed to us.” SORRY, when an infant dies, it’s a tragedy, pure and simple. Of course, we need to find a way to cope with our loss, but pretending that a supernatural deity did it on purpose and is then making us guess why…is just the (sing-songy) SILLIEST THING! …and I cleaned that up!

* Your house burns down. Your friend says, “It’s part of a larger plan.” Right. It was arson.

* And of course with the hurricane Katrina tragedy, I already heard on the radio that religious fanatics are claiming that the devastation along the Gulf Coast was a punishment by God for the sinful ways of all those people.

Ifh2g4ES

Zeus

Plan, schman!? That is not only crazy, but incredibly stupid. All these clichés are the residual effect of thousands of years of primitive superstitions and religious make-believe. Of course it’s human nature to try to explain things you don’t understand. But, come on…it’s the 21st Century. Even if we can’t explain everything, why do we have to hold on to this ancient fantasy of an all powerful Zeus somewhere up there on a mountaintop controlling everything we do? We’re so pathetic. Why don’t we just perpetuate belief in the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, and angels? Oops…we do.

Unfortunately, the concept of destiny is everywhere. And it’s sneaky. Destiny is like an evangelist in sheep’s clothing. Propaganda, pure and simple. It’s everything I reject. It’s antithetical to my philosophy of life. Yet I can’t get away from it. I have to deal with it every day. People want to talk about fate, about horoscopes, about karma, or past lives. 

As a Humanist, a freethinker, the first thing I must do is THINK. OK, so after countless cups of coffee I achieved my target heart rate for the day, and I concluded that there are two reasons humans hold onto destiny with such a death grip. The first reason has to be EGO! Here’s a quote from The Happy Heretic, Judith Hayes. It’s from a piece she wrote entitled “Body and Soul”: “The human soul. It is invisible. Undetectable by any human means… But the majority of the human population nevertheless is convinced that it exists. They believe there is such a thing as the human “soul.”…we don’t want to be just like all other animals…who simply die. Who wants to stay dead? Surely we are far more important than other animals. Surely we are connected somehow to the eternal Cosmos. Surely we have a “soul.”…The human ego knows few bounds. My, we’re important!”

The idea of Destiny is PURE EGO. Our ginormous egos tell us we’re so important that there’s a god up there somewhere so concerned about ME that he took the time to make a specific life-plan with my name on it. And the plan is called my “destiny.” I guess I rate pretty high in his book, huh? It’s true. “The human ego knows few bounds.”

And the second reason we love the whole destiny trip is because if our destiny is written somewhere, we think we have to go find out what it is. So how do we find out what our destiny is?! We have to go on a SPIRITUAL QUEST.

06maharishi.600.1

The Beatles with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

There’s this romantic notion from the 60’s & 70’s that there are many ways to find your spiritual center. After all, the Beatles tried several different ways. Oh, pa-lease! “Spiritual.” What does THAT word mean? Just look it up. Here ya go; right out of the Dictionary…

(italics are my own comments):
Spiritual:

1. having the nature of spirit; not tangible or material. (we can’t prove it exists)
2. concerned with, or affecting the soul. (something we don’t have)
3. relating to God; deific. (I don’t believe in deities)
4. belonging to a church or religion; sacred. (I don’t believe in churches or religions)
5. having the nature of spirits or a spirit; supernatural (I don’t believe in the supernatural)

(yelling up at the heavens) Can we have some SCIENCE, PLEASE! Science was invented some time ago now, you know. Cause and effect have been written about and studied in every high school, college, and university. Shouldn’t science have eliminated this supernatural canker, Destiny? By now it should be gone, but it isn’t.

The destiny concept is actually so deeply embedded in our culture…that. . .(loudly and creepy like a soothsayer “It may take a Humanist exorcism to save us…”

(step toward the audience, making a mock Humanist blessing gesture [there is no such thing] and sprinkle some water on a volunteer helper [it’s just fun to get them wet].)

And now the ritual sayings:

I summon Daw Aung San Suu Kyi:
We achieve everything by our efforts alone. Our fate is not decided by an almighty God. We decide our own fate by our actions. You have to gain mastery over yourself… It is not a matter of sitting back and accepting.

I summon Franklin D. Roosevelt:
Men are not prisoners of fate, but only prisoners of their own minds.

I summon John F. Kennedy:
Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.

I summon William Jennings Bryan:
Destiny is no matter of chance. It is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.

Hmmm….. “destiny is a thing for me to achieve.”

(exorcism over)  I feel better already.

I suggest the way to find a “spiritual center” without the mythical spirit is to explore our human nature, the beauty of human art and music, the discoveries of science, and the wonders of our natural world. They fill you up inside. They offer the inspiration, awe, joy, and solace that we’re looking for in our quest for a spiritual life. Humanists have such a fantastic life right in front of us, without relying on mythical deities to supply it for us. It’s right here. Enjoy it.

Luckily, my spiritual quest led me to Humanism. And I am inspired by it principles. For those who say, “Well, if you don’t believe in God, then you don’t believe in anything,” they need to be laughed at. They need to be told “Humanists believe in the fullest realization of the best and noblest that we are capable of as human beings.”

We need to share our values with them: “We believe in optimism rather than pessimism, hope rather than despair, learning in the place of dogma, truth instead of ignorance, joy rather than guilt or sin, tolerance in the place of fear, love instead of hatred, and compassion over selfishness, beauty instead of ugliness, and reason rather than blind faith or irrationality.”

These Humanist concepts were not given to us by an outside force. We had these good ideas within us. We humans don’t need the threat of punishment to do good. We know right and wrong when we see it. We don’t need the promise of an afterlife to be good. The point is to do good now, not because we get a prize later, but because it’s the right thing to do. We’re smart enough and fully capable of being good…and doing good…simply by exploring the good side of our human nature.

I don’t believe in ancient superstitions. The words “destiny” or “fate” are dirty little words because they lead us down a path away from our responsibility to be “the best and noblest that we are capable of as human beings.”

I have promised myself that I will attempt to refrain from uttering all clichés related to the concepts of destiny or fate, and that, when necessary and appropriate, I will share the Humanist point of view with others.

I was not born a Humanist. I did not have Humanism thrust upon me. I chose to achieve the best that I’m capable of as a human being. . .all by myself.

Promise never to say the word “destiny” or we’ll just have to wash your mouth out with soap!

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THE PERFECT MATE

The Perfect Mate
by Ron Steelman

(Case study #03059)

Success is a science; if you have the conditions, you get the result.
– Oscar Wilde

Just about everyone I know hopes for success in finding a compatible mate with whom they can share a happy life. However, it is inevitable that one falls in love without any control whatsoever. Affairs of the heart do not seem to fit into the scientific arena. The idea that one could create a list of personality, philosophical, and physical attributes for a potential mate, then find this person, and then have that person fall for you at the same time you fall for them, is simply laughable.

Love won’t play that game. Love doesn’t want to be a controlled experiment that can be replicated precisely in a laboratory. Love is messy, mad, and marvelous. Attempting to control the elements of love in a scientific way is like trying to herd cats, or nail Jell-O to a wall.

My second marriage is working out much better than my first. I’d like to say I had complete control over the conditions that led to falling in love with my current wife of 29 years, but that is not true. I’d also like to say that I utilized all I had learned from the mistakes in the choice of my first wife. I’d like to say that I was totally in control at the moment thunder and lightning struck – I may be mistaken, but I believe the Italian for that is: “tuoni e fulmini.” But, alas, I was simply a pawn. I was not in charge of the experiment. The attraction was too powerful. I was struck dumb with love.

I do think there are a few things I’ve learned about our relationship that may be helpful to analyze. Experience has demonstrated that there are certain compatibilities – certain conditions, if you will – which have proven to be the keys to the success of our particular relationship. This is real science and I will present the supporting data and results at the end. Therefore, here are the four conditions for compatibility.

  1. bone-jokeHumor is our joy. We love to laugh. We both laugh at the same things. We love to make each other laugh. Some people prefer whips and chains for love-making; we are likely to fall out of the bed in hysterical laughter. We often make each other laugh a split-second after we wake up, or even while falling asleep. We share things that make us laugh. Sharing a sense of humor is one important condition.
  2. Civility is critical. ignore-the-snide-comments-quoteWe made a pact early on not to snipe at each other. We don’t use sarcasm in our speech to each other. Snide and mean remarks are not allowed. This forces us to speak to each other in civil tones. And when we don’t, the air turns heavy and dark, and we know why we agreed to this covenant in the first place. We sit down then and figure out what the misunderstanding was between us, or what was the cause of the “hurt” that made us break our agreement.
  3. Item #2 above leads directly to this: Respect. I loathe the typical “battle of the sexes” clichés that many men moan about women over and over behind their backs, and that women wail about men when they’re not around. I love my wife aretha-franklin-respect-1967-30-1and who she is and all of the good things in her character that make her an intelligent, witty, charming, loving partner. When I sometimes hear men trash women, I am surprised. For me, I love women. They’re neat! I’d have two or three if my wife would allow it! (this will make her laugh; see Item #1 above) I stand on my soapbox frequently lecturing others, “My wife is not my ball and chain, she is my accomplice. Life can be hard enough at times. We must help each other get through the day, and nights.” She is truly my partner. She must have my respect.
  4. Religion and Sex. Yes, they do go together. Seek someone who is compatible with your religion or life philosophy. This is key. Sometimes one of the lovers is willing to convert, but I always wonder about that. If you don’t share a religion or a philosophical view of life, you may be on thin ice. If you fail at this, you may also have trouble when it comes to the bedroom. Many religions seek to control your sexual life and birth control. eve_in_the_garden_of_eden_by_whimsicalmoon-d38i967Some religions also like to blame women for the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. Some even attempt to punish women through mutilation of sexual organs. . . to diminish their pleasure during sex. This seems to me to be grossly unfair as well as primitive.  However, once you are aligned in your religious or non-religious beliefs, then be sure to seek a partner who happily shares your desires when it comes to the bedroom. It takes two to tango (if that’s the way you like to do it).

The results of my “scientific study” demonstrate that certain minimum conditions must be present to create a successful partnership. However, before you set out on your journey toward a permanent partnership, you must take some time to conduct the proper experiments yourself to test your assumptions about a potential mate. This chart reveals the possibilities for success given the results of your research.

Mate_Chart

If you have achieved proper test levels, i.e. the target conditions in the four areas of compatibility, this will certainly produce excellent results. Happy hunting!

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THIS IS FOR YOU CLOSETED ATHEISTS

I feel so bad for you closeted atheists.  I was lucky. My parents were both gone when I declared that I was a “devout” atheist. I was so shocked, yet happy, to first hear someone say that. I love describing myself that way now because I know it will rankle all those fundies out there who truly believe in a heaven and a hell. Especially those who expect to shame you or scare you into their belief system. However, because you’re still in the closet, I know you can’t afford to be so cavalier. Some people may take years to come out of the closet. Some people may HAVE to wait for a while. I know it all depends on your situation. I can say that the sooner your journey is over, the better you will feel about yourself and the life you have in front of you.

First, I refer you to my blog post, “My Apostasy.” If you haven’t already read it, that will tell you my story. Maybe it will give you some background about how I came to be an atheist. And maybe you will have a laugh along the way.

Second, I’d like you to read something that when I first read it, it seemed so radical. When my wife and I first moved to Hollywood, we tried to explore that mythical thing called spirituality. Since we knew we were not into organized religion, we studiedCynthia_Voodoo_Priest_e various fringe spiritual groups and decided it was all silly mumbo-jumbo. Have you ever heard of the Hare Crishners? Theosophy? Wicca? Chanting? Ridiculous. Gosh, why not look into Voodoo!

 

Ron Steelman as the Voo-Doo Priest in the comedy, “Sleeping With Cynthia” (yes, rubber chicken)

Sometime in 2000, I discovered secular Humanism. And while researching that, I found the Robert Green Ingersoll, Thanksgiving Proclamation. When I read it I felt as though I had found what I had been looking for. No rules. Just freedom. I wanted to stand up and shout hallelujah (that’s a little joke).


A HUMANIST THANKSGIVING PROCLAMATION

by Robert Green Ingersoll

When I became convinced that the universe is natural–that all the ghosts and gods are myths, there entered into my brain, into my soul, into every drop of my blood, the sense, the feeling, the joy of freedom.

The walls of my prison crumbled and fell, the dungeon was flooded with light and all the bolts and bars and manacles became dust. I was no longer a servant, a serf or a slave. There was for me no master in all the world–not even infinite space.

I was free–free to think, to express my thoughts–free to live my own ideal–free to live for myself and those I loved–free to use all my faculties, all my senses, free to spread imagination’s wings–free to investigate, to guess and dream and hope–free to judge and determine for myself–free to reject all ignorant and cruel creeds, all the “inspired” books that savages have produced, and all the barbarous legends of the past–free from popes and priests, free from all the “called” and “set apart”–free from sanctified mistakes and “holy” lies–free from the winged monsters of the night–free from devils, ghosts and gods.

For the first time I was free. There were no prohibited places in all the realms of thought–no air, no space, where fancy could not spread her painted wings–no claims for my limbs–no lashes for my back–no fires for my flesh–no following another’s steps–no need to bow, or cringe, or crawl, or utter lying words. I was free. I stood erect and fearlessly, joyously, faced all worlds.

And then my heart was filled with gratitude, with thankfulness, and went out in love to all the heroes, the thinkers, who gave their lives for the liberty of hand and brain–for the freedom of labor and thought–to those who fell on the fierce fields of war, to those who died in dungeons bound with chains–to those who proudly mounted scaffold’s stairs–to those by fire consumed–to all the wise, the good, the brave of every land, whose thoughts and deeds have given freedom to the sons [and daughters] of men [and women]. And then I vowed to grasp the torch that they have held, and hold it high, that light may conquer darkness still.


CARROT & STICK + GUILT

Smile_No_Hell_BlackLife everlasting in heaven if you follow the rules. Hell if you don’t. And lots of guilt to keep you in line. Religious folks will use every form of guilt and bent logic possible to make sure you follow all the rules the way THEY understand them (even if that isn’t what it says in their “sacred” book). They want you to suffer along with them. If they  have to follow those silly rules, then everybody should.

If you’re just beginning your journey to freedom, I have to tell you something that made a lot of sense to me. Yes, I’m an atheist, but more importantly, I’m a secular Humanist.

If you haven’t watched any of my videos yet, please do. In 2003 I founded the Red Bank Humanists here in NJ. Many of our members were willing to talk to me on camera and discuss what Humanism means to them. Your homework assignment is to watch all the videos on my video page and listen to these good people. That’s what they are. They are “Good Without God,” as we say.
Goodwithgod

Now I know you might still need to be in the closet, but while you’re in there, first learn about Humanism, and then learn about all the ways the devout religionists attempt to challenge your disbelief. They can show such outrage. If you don’t have your protective shields up, they will confuse and confound you.

I repeat: Yes, I’m an atheist, but more importantly, I’m a secular Humanist. I say this for two reasons: 1) religious people just hate the word, atheist, 2) Humanism is such a positive thing.  Read these:

American Humanist Association Definition

I’m Spiritual, But Not Religious (Bronx Cheer)

To be continued. . .at your request.

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PLEASE DON’T BE SHOCKED . . .when I say I’m an atheist

09madagascar.xlarge1
I always like to point out to people that there are many famous atheists in every profession. To demonstrate that fact, I have prepared a short list of classical composers, many of whom were obliged to create religious music simply to pay their bills, yet they were sincere atheists. Why are there so many atheist composers?

You might expect scientists to be atheists because they haven’t found any proof that there is a God. However, I think many “creative types” may be predisposed to atheism as well. This is pure speculation on my part (or possibly the ramblings of an idiot savant). I think the creative process allows the mind to explore all possibilities – including the denial of the existence of a supernatural being. Once accomplished, that denial sure eliminates a ton of spiritual baggage.

I have included several modern atheist composers as well, just to see if you can find them in the list.

THE LIST:

Béla Bartók

Hector Berlioz

Georges Bizet

Johannes Brahms

Claude Debussy

Frederick Delius

Brian Eno

Leoš Janáček

Tom Lehrer

Tim Minchin

Sergei Prokofiev

Sergei Rachmaninoff

Maurice Ravel

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

Richard Rodgers

Camille Saint-Saëns

Franz Peter Schubert

Dmitri Shostakovitch

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Richard Wagner

Vaughan Williams

Frank Zappa
(yes, he was a serious composer of modern classical music)

Smile_No_Hell_Black

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HOPE REVISITED

(Today I saw a FB post about an interview with Leonard Bernstein. In it, it made clear Bernstein’s feeling that hope is the best weapon to conquer cynicism. It reminded me of my post from five years ago. Perhaps you missed it. I like it because it reminds me of my mother.)

HOPE
by Ron Steelman

Sometimes life can wear you out, beat you up, and leave you sittin’ by the side of the road. You’re down in the dumps. You’re wonderin’ just how you’re gonna keep smilin’ and where you’re gonna find the will to stand up, dust yourself off and get back on that road again. But right then, somethin’ unexpected happens. Somethin’ you never contemplated happens right on cue. That’s right. It starts to pour down rain! wile-e-coyoteSo now you’re sittin’ there in the mud. Oh, thank you, big machine of random cosmic timing. I think we’ve all been there at one time or another, feeling like life couldn’t get any worse. At times like this you just want to roll up into a little ball and crawl under a rock.

In honor of my mother I’ve always tried to be an optimist. She woke up every day with enough cockeyed optimism to give everyone in our family a double dose to start out the day. We all laughed at her dogged determination to create a happy little party, but every morning she distracted us from our worries, coaxed smiles onto our faces. I want my Mommy now!

Getting older though has taken a toll on my optimism, especially given all the things we’ve lived through in recent years. So many people and events in our world have left me somewhat discouraged. At times I feel like I’m teetering on the abyss of cynicism. I really don’t want to become a cynic, though. Cynicism is so cheap and easy. One simply has to be negative and snide about everything. I will continue to be a skeptic, just not a cynic — for believing that selfishness is the only thing that motivates human actions does not sync with my philosophy of life.

Luckily, in my quest to find something to hang on to, something between cockeyed optimism and cynicism, I discovered HOPE.

Vaclav Havel

In 1989 Vaclav Havel, writer and dramatist and the first President of the Czech Republic, wrote: “Hope is an orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced. . . Hope is not the willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but, rather, an ability to work for something because it is good. Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”

I think I understand now why hope is one of the three themes of the new Humanist holiday, HumanLight: reason, compassion, and hope. Hope gives us a clearer perspective on reason, and it certainly informs our commitment to compassion. I do love my Mother’s cockeyed optimism, yet I think it’s time now for a more mature hopefulness. I am focusing my hope on the goal of Humanism, which is to “lead an ethical life that aspires to the greater good of humanity.” That’s the kind of thing that’s worth hoping for, because as Mr. Havel said, it “. . .makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”

So the next time you’re sittin’ there in the mud, I hope you can summon the hope you need to pick yourself up and get on down that road.

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(originally published for the HumanLight essay contest, December, 2009)