Sunday Sermon – That Phallic Symbol

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

Wilshire_n_StataMonica_Jan_1988_750h

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

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Santa Monica Beach

SantaMonicaBch_Jan_1988_750w

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

By_SantaMonica_Deli_Jan_1988_750w

Welcome to California!

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

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

graphic_words_over_him
(or, a real “Good Book”)

Introduction
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 Amazon.com 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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