Sunday Sermon – That Phallic Symbol

Steelman The Humanist Sunday Sermon
(aka “What is that phallic symbol between the trees?”)


It was such a relief to leave NYC in January 1988 to vacation in Los Angeles with my girlfriend, Elaine. The Apple was deep in snow, making it murder to find a parking spot on E. 13 St. every two days. However, we left the cockroaches and the snowy streets behind and couldn’t wait to arrive in La-la land. We had a fabulous time visiting all your basic tourist attractions and I took lots of photos (using real film). Of course, Santa Monica and Venice Beach were very special for us because of the proximity to the ocean. We love the water and even had become sailors on Long Island Sound. The photo above was taken in Santa Monica at the end of Wilshire Blvd. where it intersects with Ocean Avenue.

The statue there didn’t register with us then because we didn’t know what it represented and didn’t care. I saw this scene as we as we crossed the street and immediately said to “E” (that’s my girlfriend, Elaine),  “Stop the cars while I take this shot.” We could only do that in LA where the pedestrians have the right of way. If I had tried that in NYC, I wouldn’t be writing this now.

We got married in October that year, but neither one of us wanted to get hitched in a church. Because we loved the water so much, we came up with the idea of having the ceremony on a boat. Although we were non-believers, we hadn’t been together long enough to work out the specifics about that. As time went by we thought more about religion and identified a number of religious concepts that had driven us away from Christianity. One extraordinary Christian doctrine is original sin.

Today I was going through a box of old photos and when I unearthed those ’88 vacation photos I wondered anew what that monument was there at the end of Wilshire Blvd.  I discovered it was a statue of Saint Monica, the patron saint for the city of Santa Monica. Big surprise, huh? You know who she was, right? The mother of Saint Augustine, that crazy dude who promoted “Original Sin.” If you believe in original sin, you must then believe that you have to be saved. You’re bad, but God will forgive you. (I mean, really? Why did she make such bad human beings? Bla, bla, bla, bla.)

We can be evil or we can be good. It’s our choice. We Humanists believe we can be good without god.

At the bottom I’ve included more about St. Augustine. . .if you’re interested.

Meanwhile, here are a couple of other photos we love from that trip:

Santa Monica Pier with the Cirque du Soleil tent


Santa Monica Beach


With the advent of digital publications, I wonder if this many
newspaper vending machines are still there.


Welcome to California!


If you’re interested in my earlier blog about St. Augustine,
check it out here. Click on the postcard.


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“He rescued Adam and Eve from obscurity, devised the doctrine of original sin—and the rest is sexual history.”

Of course, the New Yorker article entitled “The Invention of Sex” caught my eye, especially since it was about St. Augustine. I thought, did a saint really invent sex? Turns out the article by Stephen Greenblatt is about Sarah Ruden’s new, ‘strikingly colloquial translation’ of St Augustine’s, “The Confessions.”  The more I read the more I realized I didn’t care much for Mr. Augustine. Seems he was the one who really promoted original sin and wrote about it for 15 years. I always hated the idea of original sin and the torment that this concept has leashed upon the human race. And he was made a saint for this?! In his book, “Confessions,” written around 397 C.E., Augustine described an event in the bathhouse many years earlier. That day, his father Patricius, saw in him the signs of inquieta adulescentia, restless young manhood, and was thrilled that this might lead to grandchildren.

There are many ways to interpret ancient religious texts, and I personally forswore this fruitless enterprise many years ago. We are reminded by this article of the preposterous intellectual exercises that engage theologians.

Augustine apparently became obsessed with the fact that his penis seemed to have a mind of its own. As a result, his view of Genesis is that, “. . .the consequence of Eve’s disobedience is twofold: women are condemned to bring forth children in pain and to yearn for the husbands who dominate them.” Clearly he blames Eve for the behavior of his randy little penis. Very convenient and a belief that has tormented men and women since the man-made creation of the Bible.

I apologize to all women for this Adam and Eve torment. It’s really embarrassing to me as a human. I have selected certain paragraphs from the article to show why this religious mumbo-jumbo should be deep-sixed in the quicksand of time!

Photo selected by me

“The archaic story of the naked man and woman, the talking snake, and the magical trees was something of an embarrassment. It was Augustine who rescued it from the decorous oblivion to which it seemed to be heading. He bears principal responsibility for its prominence, including the fact that four in ten Americans today profess to believe in its literal truth.”


. . .”Pagans ridiculed that story as primitive and ethically incoherent. How could a god worthy of respect try to keep humans from the knowledge of good and evil?. . .To Augustine sex was a touch of evil. “Surely, any friend of wisdom and holy joys.  . .would prefer, if possible, to beget children without lust.”

Yeah, right.

. . .”Pelagius and his followers were moral optimists. They believed that human beings were born innocent. Infants do not enter the world with a special endowment of virtue, but neither do they carry the innate stain of vice. “

. . .” Augustine embarked on a work, “The Literal Meaning of Genesis,” that aimed at discussing “the scriptures according to their proper meaning . . . For some fifteen years, he labored on this work. . .In the end, it defeated him, and he knew it. The problem is that not every word of Genesis can be taken literally. . .”

From the 1999 film,                            “The Loss of Sexual Innocence”

“. . .How, specifically, were they meant to reproduce, if it was not in the way that all humans have done for as long as anyone can remember? In Paradise, Augustine argued, Adam and Eve would have had sex without involuntary arousal: “They would not have had the activity of turbulent lust in their flesh, however, but only the movement of peaceful will by which we command the other members of the body.” Without feeling any passion—without sensing that strange goad—“the husband would have relaxed on his wife’s bosom in tranquility of mind.” (What about the snake???)

How would this have been possible, the Pelagians asked, if the bodies of Adam and Eve were substantially the same as our bodies? Just consider, Augustine replied, that even now, in our current condition, some people can do things with their bodies that others find impossible. “Some people can even move their ears, either one at a time or both together. . .Others, as he personally had witnessed, could sweat whenever they chose, and there were even people who could “produce at will such musical sounds from their behind (without any stink) that they seem to be singing from that region.”  (Doesn’t this say it all!)

(illustration from

“Adam had fallen, Augustine wrote in “The City of God,” not because the serpent had deceived him. He chose to sin, and, in doing so, he lost Paradise, because he could not endure being severed from his sole companion ♦”


Adam did fall. . .he fell in love with Eve. Give it up, Mr. Augustine.


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“Aren’t ya gonna read some words over him, Bret?”

(or, a real “Good Book”)

You’ve seen the classic western film where one of the good guys gets shot by one of the bad guys. They’re out in the middle of “nowhere big sky country.” There’s no way they can get their dead sidekick (the cowpoke who weighed 300 pounds yet they called him Slim) back to town to the undertaker (a twitchy little guy named Aloysius P. McCreepy,
who sported a glass eye). They’re stuck.

They must follow the rules of the Olde West and bury their stiff compatriot right there where their horses stopped. The movie screeches to a halt while they supposedly dig a grave and plunk him “six feet under.” They must bury him right away for two reasons: the beautiful heroine with the ripped skirt really likes Slim’s horse, plus they’d hate
to see Slim devoured by the buzzards lurking overhead. Since the director of the film realizes that cowboys never carried shovels, making the audience watch the gang dig a six foot hole with their bare hands would not win him an Oscar. He wisely skips that scene and jumps to the scene where they are about to plant a rough‐hewn cross in the rocks they piled on top of good old Slim. At this point they start to saddle up, but the chick who’s showing too much leg (for this period in history) turns to our hero and says, “Aren’t ya gonna read some words over him, Bret?”

Bret turns to Cookie, a smiley and smelly old geezer with a limp, with the brim of his grungy cowboy hat turned up in front. Bret says, “Cookie’ll say’em betterin’ me.”

The camera cuts to Cookie, the chef who ritually burns the beans and biscuits. Cookie gives Bret a dirty look. But when Cookie eyes the gal’s legs and she gives him a big smile, he caves. He says, “Well, I ain’t got no Good Book, so I’ll just say what I always say at times like these.”

As Cookie looks to heaven and opens his mouth to say his favorite “few words,” an arrow zings through the top of his rumpled hat, sending it flying.

Cookie yells, “Dang nabbit,” grabs an enormous black skillet to shield his head, as another arrow ricochets off with a clang. . .

‐ Fade to black ‐

The Main Part – About the New Bible
Speaking of the “Good Book,” aka, the Bible, the world now has a new one. This tome is not for religious people, though. It’s called The Good Book – A Humanist Bible, by A.C. Grayling, the noted British philosopher. It’s important to note that there’s no mention of God or other supernatural phenomena in this book. The following description from provides a
concise overview of the book.

“Few, if any, thinkers and writers today would have the imagination, the breadth of knowledge, the literary skill, and yes‐the audacity to conceive of a powerful, secular alternative to the Bible. But that is exactly what A.C. Grayling has done by creating a non‐religious Bible, drawn from the wealth of secular literature and philosophy in both Western and Eastern traditions, using the same techniques of editing, redaction, and adaptation that produced the holy books of the Judaeo‐Christian and Islamic religions. The Good Book consciously takes its design and presentation from the Bible, in its
beauty of language and arrangement into short chapters and verses for ease of reading and quotability, offering to the non‐religious seeker all the wisdom, insight, solace, inspiration, and perspective of secular humanist traditions that are older, far richer and more various than Christianity. Organized in 12 main sections‐‐‐‐Genesis, Histories, Wisdom, The Sages, Parables, Consolations, Lamentations, Proverbs, Songs, Epistles, Acts, and the Good‐‐‐‐The Good Book opens with meditations on the origin and progress of the world and human life in it, then devotes attention to the question of how life should be lived, how we relate to one another, and how vicissitudes are to be faced and joys appreciated. Incorporating the writing of Herodotus and Lucretius, Confucius and Mencius, Seneca and Cicero, Montaigne, Bacon, and so many others, The Good Book will fulfill its audacious purpose in every way.”

As Stephen Colbert said in his goofy, faux‐far‐right interview of A.C. Grayling, “How can this be a Bible if there’s no God in it? Is this book against God and religion?”

A.C. Grayling answered, “There’s nothing in this book against religion. It’s just a different take on how we live the good life and about ethics, really. The point is we have to take responsibility to think carefully for ourselves about what kind of values we pursue in life and how we form really good relationships with other people.”

Without exploring the premise that the traditional Bible itself is not actually a “good” book, I must say that Grayling’s The Good Book seems to truly be a good book. I also discovered that you can read it from cover to cover, or pick it up and consider one page at a time. Throughout, it is a “good book,” filled with wisdom and advice on how to be good and how to live the good life. . .without a deity.

(An Excerpt)
Here is the last chapter of the last book in Grayling’s The Good Book – A Humanist Bible:
“1. Seek always for the good that abides. There can be none except as the mind finds it within itself;
2. Wisdom alone affords everlasting and peace‐giving joy, for then, even if some obstacle arises,
3. It is only like an intervening cloud, which floats beneath the sun but never prevails against it.
4. When will you attain this joy? It will begin when you think for yourself,
5. When you truly take responsibility for your own life,
6. When you join the fellowship of all who have stood up as free individuals and said,
7. ‘We are of the company of those who seek the true and the right, and live accordingly;
8. ‘In our human world, in the short time we each have,
9. ‘We see our duty to make and find something good for ourselves and our companions in the human predicament.’
10. Let us help one another, therefore; let us build the city together,
11. Where the best future might inhabit, and the true promise of humanity be realized at last.”

Pretty good, huh?

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