What I Said About What They Said

What I Said About What They Said
by Ron Steelman
2-2-19

I have loved quotes since I was 15 years old. My favorite quotation book from that time is still on my bookshelf with my favorites underlined. When I read a good quote I save it in my “keeper file” hoping to find a good place to work it into a piece I’m writing. But I’ve got so many now, it popped into my brain that I could simply use my current batch of quotes all in one blog post, annotating along the way with some of the Affirmations/Principles of Humanism. I can do this because I have a very large. . .artistic license. So here goes. . . 


Paula Poundstone 3rd cd cover“I’m an atheist. The good news about atheists is that we have no mandate to convert anyone. So you’ll never find me on your doorstep on a Saturday morning with a big smile, saying, ‘Just stopped by to tell you there is no word. I brought along this little blank book I was hoping you could take a look at.’ ”
      —Paula Poundstone, There’s Nothing in This Book That I Meant to Say, 2006.

I always say the same thing at this point. Yes, I’m an atheist, but more importantly, I’m a Secular Humanist. I don’t go door to door proselytizing, but I’m happy to explore Humanism with anyone who stumbles onto my blog. Welcome!


winnie-e1472495518630“The Old Testament is responsible for more atheism, agnosticism, disbelief—call it what you will—than any book ever written; it has emptied more churches than all the counter-attractions of cinema, motor bicycle and golf course.”
      —A.A. Milne (creator of Winnie-the-Pooh )

Thousands upon thousands of people have become Humanists because of the Bible. Many other famous writers are atheists. Famous Humanist writers include Kurt Vonnegut, Joyce Carol Oates, and Alice Walker. Also many composers, who ironically had to write “sacred” music for the church in order to make a living, were atheists:  Brahms, Verdi, Vaughn Williams, Camille Saint-Saëns, Rimsky-Korsakov, Dimitri Shostakovich, Richard Wagner, Tchaikovsky, and on and on.


Alice_Walker“I understood at a very early age that in nature, I felt everything I should feel in church but never did. Walking in the woods, I felt in touch with the universe and with the spirit of the universe.”
– Alice Walker

For many years I hiked in the mountains with my wife and my good friend Rick.  It was better than church. And we were allowed to talk if we wanted! Although most of the time we were just there, quietly sensing our little place on those mountains and on this big earth. We were in awe of the mountains and the sky. And for four years in the 1980’s when we were able to sail on Long Island Sound, the power of the wind to move our boat through the water was truly a spiritual experience.


Nietzsche“There’s not enough love and goodness in the world to permit giving it away to imaginary beings.”
          – Nietzsche

“Humanists are committed to the application of reason and science to the understanding of the universe and to the solving of human problems.” I haven’t had an imaginary friend since I was five.  These days I try to be ‘Good Without God’ and let empathy help direct my goodness to others in the world.


true-friends“One of the most beautiful qualities of true friendship is to understand and to be understood.”
–  Lucius Annaeus Seneca
I’ve always said that my oldest friends were the best, but with my new friends from my Humanist group, I feel we try harder to understand each other. And in turn that has led to some beautiful, true friendships.


large_rec-201701251556“Things are never quite as scary when you’ve got a best friend.” –  Bill Watterson

Yes, Bill Watterson drew that cartoon, and gave Calvin his imaginary best friend, Hobbes.  I think people loved his cartoons for the humor, but also enjoyed how these two were such good friends.


Not All There robertfrost-copy
“I turned to speak to God

About the world’s despair
But to make bad matters worse
I found God wasn’t there.”

A Masque of Mercy
”The kind of Unitarian 
Who having by elimination got 
From many gods to Three, and Three to One, 
Thinks why not taper off to none at all.”
        —Robert Frost

Sometimes poetry can cut to the chase like a surgeon’s knife. It’s true, nothing fails like prayer. . .because there is no God. However, we also think that we Humanists can overcome the world’s despair because,  “We believe in the fullest realization of the best and noblest that we are capable of as human beings.”  It’s up to us to solve the world’s problems and the God we are waiting for has failed miserably. It’s in our hands and we are the ones who must try.


595px-Ruperthughes“As for those who protest that I am robbing people of the great comfort and consolation they gain from Christianity, I can only say that Christianity includes hell, eternal torture for the vast majority of humanity, for most of your relatives and friends. Christianity includes a devil who is really more powerful than God, and who keeps gathering into his furnaces most of the creatures whom God turns out and for whom he sent his son to the cross in vain. If I could feel that I had robbed anybody of his faith in hell, I should not be ashamed or regretful.”

—— Rupert Hughes, “Why I Quit Going to Church,” 1924

I’ll comment by quoting from another of the Affirmations of Humanism:  “We affirm humanism as a realistic alternative to theologies of despair and ideologies of violence and as a source of rich personal significance and genuine satisfaction in the service to others.”

And finally:

“Humanism is a philosophy of joyous service for the greater good of all humanity, of application of new ideas of scientific progress for the benefit of all.”
– Linus Pauling (Nobel Prize in ChemistryNobel Peace Prize, Humanist of
the Year – 1961)

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Spirituality & Humanism

Featured

Spirituality & Humanism
By Ron Steelman (sort of) 

The word “spirituality” is difficult to define. We Humanists equate the word with religion and even with folks who say, “I’m spiritual, but not religious.” Of course most people can’t define what “spiritual” means. With the help of some others, I will attempt this audacious feat.

       [Also, see my blog post on this:   “I’m Spiritual, But Not Religious” (Bronx Cheer)]

[DISCLAIMER]

I’d like to share a good article I just read on Humanist-UK website HumanistLife.  The article is Spirituality and Humanism – by Jeremy Rodell. I have selected those parts that best help to define that terrible “S-word.” I also have illustrated his article with a few of my photographs. These photos may not qualify for you as spiritual, but I hope you can enjoy them and remember for yourselves your spiritual moments. But first we must define that damn word. 


Spirituality and Humanism – by Jeremy Rodell
http://humanistlife.org.uk/2014/08/19/spirituality-and-humanism/

(Here’s where I pick it up     “. . .Experiential spirituality”)


“. . .here’s Andre Comte-Sponville, former Professor of Philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris, from his Book of Atheist Spirituality :

‘The first time it happened I was in the forest in the north of France. I must have been twenty five or twenty six. I had just been hired to teach high-school philosophy in a school on the edge of a canal, up in the fields near the Belgian border. That particular evening, some friends and I had gone for a walk in the forest we liked so much. Night had fallen. We were walking. Gradually our laughter faded, and the conversation died down. Nothing remained but our friendship, our mutual trust and shared presence, the mildness of the night air and of everything around us…My mind empty of thought, I was simply registering the world around me – the darkness of the undergrowth, the incredible luminosity of the sky, the faint sounds of the forest…only making the silence more palpable. And then, all of a sudden…What? Nothing: everything! No words, no meanings, no questions, only – a surprise. Only – this. A seemingly infinite happiness. A seemingly eternal sense of peace. Above me, the starry sky was immense, luminous and unfathomable, and within me there was nothing but the sky, of which I was a part, and the silence, and the light, like a warm hum, and a sense of joy with neither subject nor object …Yes, in the darkness of that night, I contained only the dazzling presence of the All….

…’This is what Spinoza meant by eternity’, I said to myself – and naturally, that put an end to it.’

(Headed West in 1988)
headed_west_nov_1988_3

What he’s talking about is an intense human experience. I recognise it because I’ve had one too. Most religious people, as well as Comte-Sponville himself, as an Atheist, would call this a ‘spiritual experience’. In this example, it’s particularly powerful. But it’s on the same spectrum as the experience created by great art, whether it’s the shiver down the spine from a Beethoven slow movement, or the instant of human connectedness from a great painting, novel, film or play, or the sense of wonder from seeing the stars on a dark night.

(Mt. Baldy’s Devil’s Backbone trail – over 9,000 feet down. . .on each side)
devilsbackbone

Albert Einstein put it in a cosmological context:
‘There are moments when one feels free from one’s own identification with human limitations and inadequacies. At such moments one imagines that one stands on some spot of a small planet, gazing in amazement at the cold yet profoundly moving beauty of the eternal, the unfathomable; life and death flow into one, and there is neither evolution nor destiny, only being.’

(San Diego Harbor double rainbow with my Uncle Bob on his birthday – 3-7-92)
uncle_bobs_78th_bday_sd_harbor_3-7-92

This is non-religious ‘spirituality’ in Comte-Sponville’s sense. Einstein isn’t suggesting there’s a spiritual realm or nature-defying miracles. He’s talking about enhanced human experience, in this case triggered by the natural world. Many artists try to do the same thing. As the painter Mark Rothko said: ‘A painting is not about an experience. It is an experience.’


(Sunset Peak off the Angeles Crest Highway, CA)

sunset_peak_in_front_mtbaldy_6-3-89

There are a few things that these artistic and natural examples of ‘experiential spirituality’ have in common:

  • For a start, they are non-intellectual. As Comte-Sponville found, as soon as you try to analyse what’s happening – in his case by thinking about Spinoza – it disappears. Beethoven didn’t want you to think about the structure of his music, he wanted you to be transported by it.

    (Mt. San Jacinto by Palm Springs, CAds with my wife, Elaine)

    ron_n_e_san_jacinto
  • Secondly, the core of the experience is a sense of transcendence or connectedness. That may mean other people, wider humanity, the rest of the universe, or simply ‘something greater’. The experience carries with it a diminishment of the ego, sometimes to the point where there is no self-awareness, or separation between subject and object. Rather than ‘you’ looking at ‘it’, there is simply ‘looking’.
  • The feeling that goes with it is powerful and positive – elation, joy, compassion. Sadly, for most people, especially those of us who tend to over-intellectualise, it’s often short-lived. We quickly come back to normality as we start to think about it.

    (Kelso Dunes – Death Valley, CA)

    e_kelso_dunes_ca_3-14-94
  • The final characteristic is that the experience is individual. As far as we know, the others in Comte-Sponville’s party just had a nice walk. Even sharing art with others in a concert hall, or a gallery, our experience is entirely subjective and individual.

The big difference between a religious person and a humanist in considering any type of spiritual experience is that the religious person may see it as a religious experience, a manifestation of the spiritual realm, perhaps of the divine. The humanist would say it is a subjective human experience, available to anyone, taking place in a human brain, triggered by a complex combination of external sensory inputs and internal memories and processes, and nothing to do with a spiritual realm or deity, both of which she thinks are imaginary. Spiritual experiences can even be created in the laboratory or by taking the right drugs.

(Mt. Whitney – 14,445 Ft.  Scary, insanely intense.  Early snow on the trail forced us off the mountain. We felt very small up there, and Wow!)
top_whitney13_2

But knowing all that does little or nothing to diminish the power of the experience. Our ability to have a sense of transcendence and connectedness with others is arguably one of the defining features of our humanity.

(In the happy mirror together: transcendence and connectedness – 2004)
101_0198_edited

There is nothing magic here, just the still-mysterious characteristics of human consciousness. . . should humanists actually use the word ‘spiritual’ in this experiential sense? Other terms might do just as well to convey what we mean without confusing the two. ‘Sense of the transcendent’ maybe?

. . . This is from an article by Joe Cornish, the respected British landscape photographer:

‘For some landscape photographers, Nature’s beauty is all the evidence they need of a Divine Creator. For others, scientific curiosity reveals an alternative explanation, where over unimaginable aeons our plant has evolved into the unique wonder that is our home today. This is a form of ‘terrestrial theology’, a belief in the fundamental, non-negotiable laws of physics. It’s not by any means depressing, reductionist scientific thinking based on the inevitability of nature’s immutable laws, but a broad church which encourages compassion and wonder in the beauty that we find in landscape, and humility in the face of what the world has to teach us. There is little doubt that for many of us, landscape photography is a spiritual journey.’

Is anyone going to say to him ‘Sorry Joe, you’re obviously an atheist, so you’re not allowed to use that word’?

(“over unimaginable aeons” – Flying over the Grand Canyon – 1988)
flying_grand_canyon_2

‘Spirituality’ is an ambiguous term. . .The ambiguity lies in its breadth of meaning. . .

. . .Humanists may prefer not to use the S word if there’s another way of conveying what we mean, maybe aesthetic awareness, sense of transcendence, love of nature, or simply love. On the other hand, we shouldn’t let the baggage of religious spirituality put us off if it’s the best word available, or if we need to reclaim it from those who seek to use it to exclude the non-religious.

Whatever terms we use, spiritual experience, and awareness of our own and others’ profound inner lives, are important parts of what it means to be human – and a humanist. And while this will remain an area of difference between humanists and the religious, we can also recognise it as an important area of common ground.

(Reading the notes other hikers had left for us above Death Valley atop Mt. Rose, added to our transcendent moment. The others were as thrilled and overwhelmed with this experience as we were.)e_rosepeak_death_v

Finally, Steelman Says:

If we Humanists can define the word, then we can use it (most people can’t). The best definitions I have found. . .as of today.

Spirituality is the sense of the transcendent.
– Jeremy Rodell, Humanist UK

Spirituality is emotional and psychological well-being.

– Paula Kirby, Washington Post

Spirituality is an awareness of the gap between what you can experience and what you can describe.
– Doug Murder, UU World

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Steelman Presents Aging Video

Here is the flyer from Red Bank Humanists promoting the presentation of the aging video I created . . .”with the help of my friends.” I blogged about it last May. If you haven’t seen it, come to the RBH Forum and put in your own two cents, or watch it here:

AGING VIDEO

PS – That picture is when I still had a little hair:)

RBH_Flyer

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A REAL HUMANIST

A REAL HUMANIST
by Ron Steelman

* ( Languishing in my Drafts folder since July 29, 2018)

 

I love NPR (National Public Radio, listening primarily through WNYC in NYC, where I am a sustaining member)! I heard this on the radio yesterday and wanted to share it because it is a living example of the Secular Humanist philosophy (although I have no idea if Mr. Il Soo Choi is a Secular Humanist).

 

From NPR’s “Weekend Edition – Saturday” – July 28, 2018 

Segment Title:  “A Postman Signs Off”

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Il Soo Choi retired this week after 22 years carrying letters, magazines, catalogs and packages to 643 addresses on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. He’s an immigrant from South Korea. His wife has worked in nail salons. Their daughter is a minister. The postman left a note in the mailboxes of the people along his route this week as reported by The Wall Street Journal. It is a kind of hymn to New York.

Interacting with people of various ethnicities, cultures and religious backgrounds, I’ve gained a love, respect and appreciation for humanity, Il Soo Choi wrote. I’ve encountered a billionaire, a TV anchor, a foreign diplomat, countless doctors and professors. I’ve interacted with both the wealthy and the poor working in Manhattan. The homeless lady, who used to sit by the Vietnamese restaurant, was both a friend and mentor. I believe that we can learn a great deal about ourselves in life when we open up to the world around us in this land, in this city. I’ve learned and gained so much by encountering each of you. It has been a privilege to serve as your mailman.

Copyright © 2018 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

LISTEN TO IT HERE

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I COULD GO ON FOREVER (Video)

I COULD GO ON FOREVER (Ask me what time it is) (VIDEO)
by Ron Steelman
May 9, 2018

Below is a video I made to discuss the wit and wisdom of aging. AKA: “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” I interviewed six “Old” friends who are all members of Red Bank Humanists, an organization I founded in New Jersey in 2003. I edited the several hours of video we shot at our kitchen table, down to 33-minutes. There were so many fascinating comments from which to choose. However, my goal was to keep the overall length under 35-minutes. It was a real struggle to eliminate so many of the insightful answers to my 26 questions, yet this allowed me to end up with the best of the best.

“WHY?!” you may ask, did Steelman ask these folks all these questions?

My goal was to see if what my friends had to say might be useful to others struggling with/or worried about aging. I hoped it might appeal to all “humans,” including the old, middle-aged, or even younger people just starting their journey through life. I think the wit and wisdom shared here gives honest answers to some difficult, universal  questions. We made a montage of their quick answers, making sure we had lots of wit to go along with the wisdom. Most importantly, we think their answers are entertaining!

Get a cup of coffee. Sit back and relax. We hope you enjoy our kitchen-table video:

 

 

Happy to report a good review from the American Humanist Association
in Washington, DC.

Thanks Ron! This is really cool, fun, and nicely edited!

I’m copying a few folks since I see this as having value for multiple purposes. Not only might it be used on social media and possibly our ezine, framed so folks know what it’s about, but I also see it as something we should save in our Humanist Heritage program where we save histories of active humanists in order to capture our history, our evolution of humanism, and make material available for future research and discovery.  
-Roy

 


Roy Speckhardt
Executive Director
American Humanist Association

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What Humanists Espouse

WHAT HUMANISTS ESPOUSE
By Ron Steelman

Humanist pc Front Final web

If you want to know what secular humanism is all about, simply read two short documents below.

The message in these two documents is pretty much the same, but stated in slightly different ways.  The “Affirmations/Principles” document below, from the Council for Secular Humanism, is the first piece about Humanism I read back in 2001. When I finished reading it, I stood up and saluted. These were positions I had been thinking about for a long time.

For years I had gone off searching for a set of morals and values that were not connected to any brand of theology. vitruvian-man-leonardo-da-vinciAnd yet, I wanted a connection to something larger than myself. And what I found here on these pages was a name for that connection: Humanism.  I just didn’t know there was a name for it. I had heard about Renaissance humanism, but didn’t know how it had evolved in our modern era. There it was and it contained every aspect of the type of philosophy I could support.

I am a member of the Council For Secular Humanism (CFI)  and the American Humanist Association.

If you haven’t read these before, please let me know what you think of them in the comments.


From the Council For Secular Humanism
3106964_origNow a program of the Center For Inquiry 

Affirmations of Humanism – A Statement of Principles
Drafted by Paul Kurtz

  • We are committed to the application of reason and science to the understanding of the universe and to the solving of human problems.
  • We deplore efforts to denigrate human intelligence, to seek to explain the world in supernatural terms, and to look outside nature for salvation.
  • We believe that scientific discovery and technology can contribute to the betterment of human life.
  • We believe in an open and pluralistic society and that democracy is the best guarantee of protecting human rights from authoritarian elites and repressive majorities.
  • We are committed to the principle of the separation of church and state.
  • We cultivate the arts of negotiation and compromise as a means of resolving differences and achieving mutual understanding.
  • We are concerned with securing justice and fairness in society and with eliminating discrimination and intolerance.
  • We believe in supporting the disadvantaged and the handicapped so that they will be able to help themselves.
  • We attempt to transcend divisive parochial loyalties based on race, religion, gender, nationality, creed, class, sexual orientation, or ethnicity, and strive to work together for the common good of humanity.
  • We want to protect and enhance the earth, to preserve it for future generations, and to avoid inflicting needless suffering on other species.
  • We believe in enjoying life here and now and in developing our creative talents to their fullest.
  • We believe in the cultivation of moral excellence.
  • We respect the right to privacy. Mature adults should be allowed to fulfill their aspirations, to express their sexual preferences, to exercise reproductive freedom, to have access to comprehensive and informed health-care, and to die with dignity.
  • We believe in the common moral decencies: altruism, integrity, honesty, truthfulness, responsibility. Humanist ethics is amenable to critical, rational guidance. There are normative standards that we discover together. Moral principles are tested by their consequences.
  • We are deeply concerned with the moral education of our children. We want to nourish reason and compassion.
  • We are engaged by the arts no less than by the sciences.
  • We are citizens of the universe and are excited by discoveries still to be made in the cosmos.
  • We are skeptical of untested claims to knowledge, and we are open to novel ideas and seek new departures in our thinking.
  • We affirm humanism as a realistic alternative to theologies of despair and ideologies of violence and as a source of rich personal significance and genuine satisfaction in the service to others.
  • 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, compassion over selfishness, beauty instead of ugliness, and reason rather than blind faith or irrationality.
  • We believe in the fullest realization of the best and noblest that we are capable of as human beings.

From American Humanist Association 
“This is not what we must believe but a consensus of what we do believe.”
220px-Official_AHA_logo

Humanism and Its Aspirations: Humanist Manifesto III, a Successor to the Humanist Manifesto of 1933

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

The lifestance of Humanism—guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience—encourages us to live life well and fully. It evolved through the ages and continues to develop through the efforts of thoughtful people who recognize that values and ideals, however carefully wrought, are subject to change as our knowledge and understandings advance.

This document is part of an ongoing effort to manifest in clear and positive terms the conceptual boundaries of Humanism, not what we must believe but a consensus of what we do believe. It is in this sense that we affirm the following:

Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies. We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience—each subject to analysis by critical intelligence.

Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing. We accept our life as all and enough, distinguishing things as they are from things as we might wish or imagine them to be. We welcome the challenges of the future, and are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.

Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. Humanists ground values in human welfare shaped by human circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond. We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.

Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals. We aim for our fullest possible development and animate our lives with a deep sense of purpose, finding wonder and awe in the joys and beauties of human existence, its challenges and tragedies, and even in the inevitability and finality of death. Humanists rely on the rich heritage of human culture and the lifestance of Humanism to provide comfort in times of want and encouragement in times of plenty.

Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. Humanists long for and strive toward a world of mutual care and concern, free of cruelty and its consequences, where differences are resolved cooperatively without resorting to violence. The joining of individuality with interdependence enriches our lives, encourages us to enrich the lives of others, and inspires hope of attaining peace, justice, and opportunity for all.

Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness. Progressive cultures have worked to free humanity from the brutalities of mere survival and to reduce suffering, improve society, and develop global community. We seek to minimize the inequities of circumstance and ability, and we support a just distribution of nature’s resources and the fruits of human effort so that as many as possible can enjoy a good life.

Humanists are concerned for the well being of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views. We work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties in an open, secular society and maintain it is a civic duty to participate in the democratic process and a planetary duty to protect nature’s integrity, diversity, and beauty in a secure, sustainable manner.

Thus engaged in the flow of life, we aspire to this vision with the informed conviction that humanity has the ability to progress toward its highest ideals. The responsibility for our lives and the kind of world in which we live is ours and ours alone.


Humanist Manifesto is a trademark of the American Humanist Association
© 2003 American Humanist Association

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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.

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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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