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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NO RELIGION FOR CHILDREN! PERIOD.

NO RELIGION FOR CHILDREN! PERIOD.
(but Secular parents, I got a book just for you!)

By Ron Steelman

July 25, 2018

Every day I am reminded of the corruption of moral values actually caused by religion.  Children may not understand exactly what is going on in the today’s ridiculous news, yet they are likely to model some of this behavior as they mature. Here are a few of headlines in the news that make me question what is currently being taught by religions. Most people believe that religion is supposed to teach moral values, not illustrate ways to ignore them.


Catholic
We’ve got the exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Heavenly Bodies – Fashion and the Catholic Imagination,” with manikins dressed up in papal robes and accessories from the Sistine Chapel sacristy, revealing the ornate and decadently expensive trappings worn by priests, bishops, etc.

 


Painted_in_Mexico_Met


There were several other art exhibitions featuring famous religious paintings. They were promoted in the newspaper with a photo of three very young children who had been plopped there and left to stare up at a painting of a crucifixion. Nice.

 


Uncle_Dick
Then there’s the extensive story about a bishop who sexually molested an eleven- year-old boy for years (who knows how many others). It included an excruciatingly sad story of how the boy’s entire life was ruined and how only now at age 60 is he finally in recovery and able to confront the
bishop (who is still alive).



Why do these things bother me?
Why am I angry about this? You’ve heard all the answers before. I will review them briefly, then attempt to explain why I must never stop protesting. And, why we should not abdicate the moral teaching of our children to any religious organization.

Numerous people have told me personally that their parents sent them to Sunday school for a moral education by themselves, because their parents had better things to do. Total abdication.

Let’s start with the most egregious example of abdication. Clearly, the Catholic Church has a serious problem with pedophilia. The “black collar” crime is documented by several national organizations and it continues today. My point: why would any parent send their child to a church that cannot (make that, “will not”) keep the pedophile priests away from their child? How can a pedophile priest possibly teach your child about morals and values while they are committing depraved, immoral acts on them?

Two other examples demonstrate how the things children see can corrupt their view of right and wrong.
a) What is right about making children study a painting of a crucifixion? The things children see impact their lives forever. Believing in the fantastic tale that Jesus was the son of God, and yet God sent his son to be crucified, is something adults can choose to believe. However, children shouldn’t have this gruesome fairy tale foisted upon them. When they are grown, let them study all religions and if they buy any of it, then they can choose to believe. Many have grown up in the church and still don’t understand the “why” of that crucifixion story. 

b) The way churches spend the money people donate has got to be confusing. When I was a kid, my church gave me those little envelopes into which I would make my own offerings every Sunday. I thought the money was going to help feed and clothe the poor. I wondered why that money was being used to buy expensive things for the church and for the ministers and priests. The photo above from the Met exhibit is surely an example of how the money can be squandered.
gold-candlestick-holders-pair


WHICH REMINDS ME
In Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible, Rev. Parris wanted golden candlesticks for the altar, and according to the character, John Proctor, the reverend preached about them often. Proctor resented Parris’s rich tastes because he was a poor farmer and considered Rev. Parris to be a 
greedy and ungodly man.



But how can I give my kids a moral compass without sending them to church?
When I first heard of the idea that children should not be exposed to religion until they become adults, I was surprised by the concept. The more I read and studied, the more I am in favor of it. The main worry of parents is that if they don’t have a religion and don’t send their children to church, those kids will become  unsavory characters who will commit some evil act. . .which will then cast a bad light on them. LOL!

Parenting_Beyond_Belief_coverI know you skeptics are saying, “But shouldn’t it be the  church that teaches them their morals? How could I possibly do that?”

Don’t get all nervous, now. I’m not suggesting home-schooling like the fundamental Christians. I believe the best ‘how-to’ book for guidance on is: “Parenting Beyond Belief,” by Dale McGowan. It’s a straight-forward common-sense approach. If there is a better book out there, someone please let me know.

McGowan has pulled together a vast array of voices to give you guidance, including (just to name a few): Julia Sweeney, Richard Dawkins, Dan Barker, Penn Jillette, even Mark Twain and the man who wrote the lyrics for the The Wizard of Oz, Yip Harburg.

How do you raise ethical, caring kids, without religion? Check out “Parenting Beyond Belief.” Or, recommend it to friends/relatives with small children (and no, I do not get a commission). 

Parenting Beyond Belief website

Meet the Author

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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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HOORAY! No Taxes For Churches!

HOORAY!  No Taxes For Churches

by Ron Steelman
cross-and-the-constitution
I am a member of Freedom From Religion Foundation, American Humanist Association, and Center For Inquiry. But you probably know this. And you may know that it makes me crazy that some of our federal tax dollars get spent on various church programs and buildings, private religious schools through vouchers, and giving tax breaks to religious leaders – all in violation of our U.S. Constitution.

Christian organizations continue trying to sneak prayer programs into schools through athletic programs and after-school clubs. They also have to be stopped from placing and maintaining crosses on public property – over and over again. All three of the organizations listed above are constantly in court shooting down these religious zealots. And it takes all three organizations to keep up with the onslaught of illegal activity. It’s against the Constitution for Christ’s sake!

636340900266655411-SupremesHappily, the New Jersey Supreme Court has responded to a suit filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), finding in their favor once again. This time the infraction was against two churches in Morristown, NJ.  In a 7-0 decision today, the New Jersey Supreme Court upheld the state Constitution’s ban against taxpayer funds being used for “building or repairing any church or churches.”

Of course, this is covered big-time in the U.S. Constitution, in the First Amendment and in the Establishment clause. In the Supreme Court it takes longer, but even this decision in the NJ Supreme Court took three years. The Christians won’t quit trying either. They’re like New York City cockroaches that keep turning up even after you spray.

Read about it here at FFRF

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