[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next]

Censorship? Not Quite

Aug 12, 1994 06:49 AM
by K. Paul Johnson

I always enjoy Jerry H-E's posts and this one was no exception.  As
to the facts, I suppose there's no basis for disagreement.  But as
to values-- what the facts mean-- we may have the proverbial half
empty vs.  half full glass.

I'll relate my experiences with Theosophical publishers briefly to
illustrate my contention that they're not censors, although they
may not be the epitome of intellectual freedom either.

The Masters Revealed and Initiates of Theosophical Masters are both
outgrowths of my self-published book In Search of the Masters,
which was submitted in the late 80s to TUP, TPH and PLP.  The ways
they handled it and then the ways the various Theosophical journals
reviewed it (or didn't) are instructive on the issue raised by
Richard and Jerry.

Because at the time my strongest ties were to the Pasadena TS, I
offered the book for exclusive consideration first to Grace, then
simultaneously to PLP and TPH.  It was no doubt confusing to
everyone that I kept expanding the manuscript as I was sending it
out, making their evaluation process much more difficult.

Anyhow, each of the three publishers considered the ms.  for a year
before rejecting it.  PLP never formally did so despite repeated
inquiries.  Grace had Sally Dougherty do a reader's report, while
Shirley Nicholson had John Algeo do one.  Both were full of useful
comments; Sally was more ruthless is discussing its literary
shortcomings, which was very helpful, but avoided any discussion of
content.  John on the other hand was more positive about content
and quality of writing, but judged its flaws irremediable.  (The
flaws he objected to were related to a tendency to overinterpret
scanty evidence and force things into patterns without sufficient
consideration of alternative interpretations.  I took this very
seriously and hope to have remedied it in the new books).

The point of all this is the half full vs.  half empty issue.  If I
compare the Theosophical societies against an ideal of how I think
they ought to be, I can come up with some pretty negative
judgments.  Like-- they should have been much more encouraging of
research of the quality I was doing, much less foot-dragging about
prompt replies (although here I must give Shirley N.  a gold star),
much less fearful about publishing something that threatened
received views etc.  After I self-published, William Metzger
assigned a review for the AT to Joy Mills, who I thought was very
fair and open-minded.  Emmett reprinted her review in the AT.  No
Pasadena or ULT publication ever acknowledged the book existed.
Lots of other Adyar-related ones gave fairly positive reviews.  The
only really bad one was in the Canadian Theosophist, whose reviewer
had obviously not read the book (he said I identified Morya as
Mikhail Katkov, when Ranbir Singh, the person I really identify as
Morya, appears less than halfway through the book.) And that's no
longer and Adyar- affiliated journal.  (Oh yeah-- then there's Mark

When I compare the Theosophical response to my work to the real
world of other spiritual organizations, things are quite different.
What would the Mormons have said to me if I'd found the golden
plates, and they weren't what J.  Smith claimed? What would the
Christian Scientists have said if I showed up with Mrs.  Eddy's
secret diaries that revealed unwelcome truths about the origins of
CS? Probably threats of lawsuits in either case and certainly not
one second of serious consideration of publishing.  Theosophical
publishers, on the other hand, at least gave long and hard thought
to my work, and gave me helpful evaluations of it.  And after I
went ahead and self-published, the Adyar Theosophists (not just
here but around the world) were far more receptive and kind than I
had hoped despite the unsettling quality of my findings.

The one thing about which I COULD be really negative is that Sylvia
Cranston's "biography" of HPB got full and enthusiastic support
from all the organizations which rejected me in various ways.  (I
put biography in quotes because it's more of a compilation-- 50% or
more of the text is not by Cranston-- and because it fails to
provide a coherent narrative of HPB's life-- leaving out Yuri for
example.) I leave it to others to compare The Masters Revealed to
the Cranston bio, but will quote The Bloomsbury Review
(March/April): "Johnson's approach is much less credulous and much
more rigorous than Cranston's." The point is, I could say "this
prove's they're all a bunch of censors out to promote a highly
distorted version of history and suppress a sincere effort at
looking objectively at it." But that would be wrong; everyone is
going to be more sympathetic to something that confirms their
biases than to something that confronts them-- human nature.  No
one has overtly tried to suppress my work, they've just refused to
publish it.  And ultimately it can only be good for my work to have
Cranston's alternative so widely disseminated and so clearly
available for comparison.

Gotta run, I'm overdue somewhere.  Namaste

[Back to Top]

Theosophy World: Dedicated to the Theosophical Philosophy and its Practical Application