January 29, 2012 by Bill
“Sunnylands,” the estate of Walter Annenberg is being opened in February as a think tank for world leaders, a Camp David of the West coast. In March the general public will be able to see the estate. Reading about this brought back many joyful memories of Sunnylands and Walter Annenberg.
Our friendship began when he started reading my weekly column in The Desert Sun. At the time my wife and I lived in Idaho where I was writing for the The Idaho Statesman.
One morning at the Post Office, I had a letter from “Walter Annenberg, Sunnylands.” I had never met him but knew who he was of course. I have never forgotten his opening paragraph. He wrote this to me:
“I consider your columns monumental in raising the level of religious literacy.” I was floating about a foot off the ground for the rest of that day. Our friendship had started on a very high plane and continued until the time of his death, years later.
He became my patron in 1990, saying he wanted to free me to speak and write full time, with no strings attached. He kept encouraging me to move to Palm Springs and start my own Sunday Symposium where I was free to lecture to any open minded person and free thinker who wanted to attend, with no dogmas, doctrines or creeds that forced people into mental concentration camps.
My wife, Elizabeth, and I did that 17 years ago and we are still at the Palm Springs Tennis Club every Sunday morning at 10:00 a.m.
Walter Annenberg was a very big man. In his study he had pictures of as many Democrats as Republicans. Even though Ronald Reagan was his friend, I wrote a searing column on how Reagan was playing cozy with the Christian broadcasters – Pat Robertson types of crackpot preachers. I thought, “Well, there goes my grant.” But no, on the contrary, Walter said to me, “Call ‘em like you see ‘em, lad” and he never blinked. He was a very big man.
My wife and I were invited out to Sunnylands many times and always enjoyed laughter and jokes about the religious and political quacks, phonies and hypocrites. I have saved over 200 letters from him over the years.
January 22, 2012 by Bill
In the study of religion among primal peoples you find that many believed in “magic.” Magic is defined as the belief that supernatural forces can be controlled, influenced and manipulated by executing a ritualistic formula, either physical or verbal. We still, today, in a more fashionable way, utilize superstition, prayer wheels, magic, sacrifices and elaborate doxologies to induce God to favor our requests, grant our wishes and perform miracles upon demand.
Minister, rabbi and priest are expected to offer prayers on behalf of the desires of their congregation. Does this not make God a divine magician? And does this not make the minister or priest a magician’s apprentice?
I am asking, “Can something called “God’s Will” really be changed by requests from the earth?” And if so, what kind of a capricious, chaotic universe would this be? What kind of chaos would it be if the eternal will of an eternal God with an eternal design could be changed from time to time as this design was subjected to millions and millions of people in a barrage of requests to make things different?
One of my sources of amusement and disbelief is to read the headlines of the tabloids as I am going through the grocery store check out line. Such as PRAYER AND GOD CURED MY CANCER ON MY DEATHBED…or…PRAYER SAVED ME WHEN THE AIRLINER CRASHED…and on and on with similar daily headlines of superstition. Or an even greater amusement is to turn on the television channels from time to time and watch the ultimate con men, the ultimate hucksters and shysters at work with their “healing” stage shows.
Our heart goes out to the believing victims of these stories. The believing of the naive… the gullible… the desperate… the hopeless… the ignorant who are such easy prey for religious parasites.
Finally, to their everlasting credit, the prestigious Mayo Clinic has thrown the weight of their name and reputation behind the task of educating the public and exposing the phony claims as to the relationship between religion and health. Phony claims that are not just in tabloid journalism but in well-read national magazines as well.
January 15, 2012 by Bill
When we look at creative lives, past and present, that have been made great by great ideas, it brings to us a very stimulating message, a challenging message. It is THAT YOU AND I NEED NOT BE VERY GREAT TO CHOOSE AND BE USED BY SOME VERY GREAT IDEAS. An inspiring message to us is that the wake we leave behind us as we live our days will be more significant and more monumental as our wake has been filled with some of the great ideas of civilization.
We are constantly being used by ideas and if we are not being used by great and noble ideas, we are being used by small, petty and trivial ideas.
In every generation the great ideas and the sick ideas must find human beings that they can use or they would die out. Generation after generation, human beings come and go, but ideas remain and words live on. Human beings die but ideas survive and knock on a living mind and say, “Let me use you now in your time.”
So, the “bottom line,” as they say, is this:
THE ULTIMATE MEANING OF OUR LIVES AS HUMAN BEINGS IS TO BE FOUND IN THE IDEAS THAT WE ALLOW TO USE US.
We magnetize into our lives and thinking whatever ideas we hold in our thoughts. In every generation the great ideas and the sick ideas must find a human mind that they can use or they would die. Human beings die but ideas and words survive.
Ideas are not a person’s private property. They are historic. They cannot survive with a human being representing them. I hear a speaker put forth an idea, I read an idea in a book, and I say YES… YES I will represent you with my life and thought.
Thomas Jefferson approached death in bankruptcy. They made Socrates drink the hemlock. They died, but knowing that they had lived their lives to the fullest and had allowed only the greatest ideas to use their days on this earth. Jefferson said that when he wrote the Declaration of Independence, he had used the greatest ideas of civilization, known to him, to be included. But we do not have to be a Jefferson or Socrates to be used by great ideas. Water is represented not just be large lakes or an ocean, but water is represented also by brooks and small streams.
Being used by great ideas makes the wake we leave behind one of substance for those in its path. There is an immortality to the ideas we leave in our wake. There are more people today reading Lao Tzu, Buddha, Jesus, Meister Eckhart, Voltaire, Erasmus, Jefferson, the philosophers of Athens and Rome, than in their own time. The immortality of words and great ideas leaves a wake of gigantic importance and influence that widens and prolongs our human path and contributes to its fanlike expansion.
It is true that the more we associate with and read great and giant spirits, the more we are liberated from trivia. Read more