The Sunday Symposium
October 3, 2010 by Bill
Today, Sunday, October 3, the Edelen Sunday Symposium is starting its 17th year at the Palm Springs Tennis Club, at 10:00 a.m. We are in the beautiful Bougainvillea Room, surrounded by glass with a lovely view. Seating capacity is about 400. You have the choice of an elevator or stone steps to reach the room, and you do not have to be a member of the Tennis club to attend. Attendance is a reflection of the population of the entire Coachella Valley, young and old, straight and gay, male and female, laborer and executive, wealthy and modest incomes, plus we have many visitors from Santa Barbara who come for the weekend. Just a marvelous mixture of independent and free thinkers.
An editorial in “The Journal of Religious Literacy” described it this way: “Bill Edelen’s Sunday morning Symposium at the Palm Springs CA Tennis Club is a sign of the future for those for whom the traditional Sunday morning experience is no longer an option.”
A brief history: When the Honorable Walter Annenberg became my patron in 1990, he said he wanted to free me to speak and write full time. No strings attached. He told me he found my columns “monumental in raising the level of religious literacy,” free of the dogma, doctrines, creeds and debris of archaic and ancient ages. I was encouraged by Mr. Annenberg to move to Palm Springs and start the Symposium. He had his winter estate “Sunnylands” here. We did make that move 18 years ago and started the Palm Springs Symposium.
Testimonials from individuals over the years as to what they have gained from the Symposium still come in a constant stream. One man stood up one day and told the group “I graduated with honors from Georgia Tech with never one hour in the Liberal Arts. I am getting everything I missed here in the Symposium.”
I have told the group many times that they are the ultimate vitamin pill for me, keeping me mentally alert, challenged and charged for my weekly preparation and for responding to their questions. They are going to keep me alive and going strong until I am, at least, 100 years of age.
What do we do at the Symposium? I speak for about 40 minutes on some subject that will contribute to “raising the level of religious literacy.” That is followed by about 20 minutes or so of energetic discussion, and of course, we have coffee and pastries that are freely available.
My subjects will include looking at the various religious traditions and the mythological diffusion from one to another, subjects I have taught at the university level. Also included will be book reviews as well as the lives, thoughts and works of the giant free thinkers of civilization, such as Voltaire, Erasmus, Emerson, Goethe, Thoreau and Mark Twain, Ingersoll, Frank Waters, Joseph Campbell (whom I studied with), Albert Einstein, Carl Jung, Jefferson, Madison and on through the thousands of years of free thought that has brought light into the darkness of religious ignorance and superstition and religious persecution.
Many years ago, I realized the need for a Symposium such as this when the Senior Minister of the First Presbyterian Church in Tacoma, Washington asked me “who was Zoroaster?” I thought “you poor dummy. You are preaching Zoroastrianism every Sunday and do not even know it.”
In our Symposium we have a wonderful perk and advantage. At the bottom of the steps going out is the world-class Spencer’s Restaurant where so many of our people stay for lunch after the Symposium. Up the stairs they are fed food for the brain. They come down the stairs and can get fabulous food for their bodies. The perfect Yin and Yang for nourishment.
The Symposium people become a beautiful and healthy extended family of free and kindred spirits. A great bond has formed between the winter people, who are here for only 3 or 4 months, and the full-time people of the Coachella valley who joke that they only have one home. Rich friendships have formed and yes, even romance has blossomed.
An enormous amount of personal and spiritual growth can take place in a group where the speaker and the people cherish freedom of thought, with no creedal clichés or verbal memorized formulas. In the flowing of free thought there is something wonderful and exciting that happens. It has to do with that person sitting next to you. They could be from Colorado, North Dakota, Nebraska, Montana, Chicago or Philadelphia. Why do they come? They need to know that they are not alone and that they are part of a larger community of kindred spirits who come together once a week from snow country and desert country and who cherish freedom of thought as one of the ultimate values of what it means to be human. The winter people always ask before they go home: How can we continue this bonding when we leave? I tell them that we now have this beautiful new website available to them, at www.williamedelen.org. The site has weekly essays, reading lists and many other offerings. The essays are now being published weekly on a London website in the UK as well. Our website offers a profound way to extend our Symposium and to enrich the lives and thoughts of free spirits anywhere in the world.
I have used the phrase “free thought” and “free thinkers.” This is not a new thought. Perhaps the basic source book of Christian spirituality is the “Theologia Mystica” written in the sixth century by an Assyrian monk, Dionysius Exiguus. It explains that the highest knowledge of God is through “agnostos,” agnosticism, (unknowing). This says that we know God in the most profound sense by admitting that we do not know, therefore we have no images. It is to cease clinging to superstitious conceptions. The “unknowable” Mystery flowing through every cell of our bodies and dancing in cosmic rhythms is beyond our comprehension. The Mystery within us waits to be brought forth and converted into a source of more light for the fulfillment of human destiny in our own time.
The purpose and objective of our Sunday Symposium is to offer support on our journey toward that light within us.