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Re: your mail

Mar 14, 1995 06:26 AM
by K. Paul Johnson

According to Jerry Hejka-Ekins:
>       Speaking for myself, I don't recall you asking for a
> critique, but I don't doubt that you did.  What strikes me as odd
> however is the circumstances that you are referring to.  Shortly
> after I received a copy of the mss for ~In Search of the Masters~
> in 1990, you told me over the phone that TH was either going to
> publish the book as it was, or you were going to self publish.

Not quite.  I had sent the ms.  to Jim in June, with the
understanding that it HAD to be in print by December for tax
reasons (couldn't deduct any 1990 expenses for travel, etc.
unless I had 1990 income from the book).  My willingness to
revise was huge in June-- I could have done massive rewrites.  By
October, when I heard from you all, it was indicated by Jim that
it would take at least 90 days to do the recommended revisions.
That was the point at which it became impossible to meet TH
requirements timewise, and probably when I told you I was sick of
the ms.  Meaning, really, sick of being in limbo.  But I did have
time to make SOME changes, and asked you (on a phone message
machine-- you didn't return the call) and Jim to suggest some
major corrections that I WOULD be able to make in the short time

> You said that you were "tired of the mss" and wanted it out.  In
> light of your ultimatum, I saw little sense in my continuing to
> make "editorial corrections" that were not going to be used.
> Under these same circumstances, I also don't see how it would
> have made any sense for me to critique the mss for you either.

A misunderstanding that might have been resolved had you returned
that phone call.  But I take some responsibility for conveying
the wrong message in the conversation.

>       Regarding your "lake theosophy" post, I never fail to be
> surprised by your oft make statements of being "distressed" by
> other people's comments about your books.

They can say what they like about the books as long as they
refrain from personal attacks and invented charges.  I think
there are plenty of fair ways to criticize the book, and could
offer a few productive suggestions.  Why not "novice researcher
with limited access to information takes on a project too big for
him and fails due to inadequate qualifications?" One could take
that argument a lot further than "deceiving schemer plots to
mislead all his readers by deliberately distorting the evidence."
But it would still run up against all the academic experts who
have advised me and my publisher otherwise.

  Without even going
> beyond the covers, it seems to me that you are "baiting the bear"
> as they say.  The title of the first book suggests that the true
> identity of the Masters are hidden "behind the occult myth."  The
> word "myth" suggests that the "occultism" which so many believe
> in is false.  The revised title is a little more focused,
> suggesting that the "great white lodge" is a myth i.e. untrue.

The intro explains that I am not using myth in this way; Joy
Mills focused on this distinction in her review in The Quest.
But you are right; the first impression is confrontational.

> It seems to me that the very choice of your titles is asking for
> a negative response from a lot of people who don't like you
> messing with their sacred cows.  If I were to publish a book
> called "Christianity revealed, the truth behind the Jesus Myth,"
> I think I would be a bit on the naive side to think that the
> fundamentalist Christian community would run to embrace it with
> smiles and blessings.

Fair point.  But smiles and blessings aren't what I expect; just
a certain Theosophical forbearance and respect for my labors
regardless of their flaws.  Which has pretty much been the case
worldwide, with just a few exceptions to date.  Maybe if more
people had been hostile I wouldn't be as shockable by it.

  As for Dan's post, it appears that he has
> gone beyond the covers of the book and is questioning the
> methodology and the thoroughness of your research.

Which is an entirely commendable thing to do.  But which does
not at all justify accusations of the sort made or implied.

  It seems to
> me that such scrutiny is part of the game.  If you publish an
> academic book through an academic press, and you will get members
> of the academic community dissecting the hell out of it.

Absolutely.  But the dissection is a bit different.  In addition
to all the Theosophical scholars who reviewed the mss., there
were three experts on Asian religious history to whom SUNY sent
it for comments.  None gave any indication of seeing the books as
deliberately distorted propaganda for a foregone set of
conclusions.  Indeed their statements to the contrary adorn the
back covers of the two books.  As someone who is not an expert in
research methodology or religious studies or history, I do expect
to have made mistakes that deserve criticism.  But Dan's
criticism reminds me of a scary warning given by M.  Gomes at the
Chicago AAR conference.  (He said this in front of others at
dinner so I don't think this violates a confidence).  What
Michael said was "you will be attacked by Theosophists, in fact
the attacks are already underway.  But they can't get you for
your research or your logic, so they'll attack you as a bad
person." I didn't ask who "they" were, but Dan's focus on what is
not in the book rather than what is, and his use of the
"omissions" as a basis for some very dark
insinuations/accusations against my honor, seemed to fulfill the

  That is
> what they do for a living.  Peer criticism is an important and
> necessary activity used to keep the quality of research at a high
> standard.

Without it, I'd have been lost.

  Whatever is in that book, it was published under your
> name, therefore I would think that you want all of the feedback
> you can get in order to do a better job on your next endeavor.


> After all, your book bears your name, and you are ultimately
> responsible for every word in it.  If you find this distressing,
> perhaps you might find more satisfaction in other ways of making
> theosophical contributions.

Perhaps.  But it is also possible that the hostility of
Theosophists to new approaches may gradually diminish through
progressive desensitization.  And believe me, I feel 10 times
more pain from a Theosophist saying my book is evil than from
some academic saying it's poorly researched, or whatever.  But
I hope that future writers will have less of this to deal with,
in part because of my own trial by fire.  Obviously, I have
some desensitization of my own to do.

> I hope that you understand that my comments are not intended to
> throw flames.  As I have said before, I think your book should be
> read and discussed.  But if you find that discussion
> "distressing," then we have a problem.

I think a discussion of the ground rules for fair and mutually
respectful discussion is probably the discussion we need most
at this point.  With apologies for using the same word three
times in a sentence.  I'm sure when you get time to read the
book, you will find things to praise and to blame, and welcome
finding out which is which.

> Peace
and love

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