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Theosophical Reductionism

Oct 13, 1995 00:38 AM
by K. Paul Johnson

I have recently had the reductionist label applied to my own
work by Dr. Algeo, in a review for Theosophical History. The
gist of what he said was "the most serious flaw of the book is
that it is reductionist, reducing HPB's Masters to political
agents of one sort or another, and treating everything else
about them as blinds or myths." My response to this charge,
which will appear in the same journal, is that it the book
itself completely refutes it. At least equal attention is
given to the spiritual and literary concerns of the Master
nominees as to their political involvements. I explicitly
renounce any wish to reduce HPB and her Masters to a solely
socio-political interpretation.

Even that much verbiage about the book may raise cries of "take
it to theos-roots." But my point relates to Don's comments on
another charge of reductionism from the same source. It seems
to me that "reductionist" is the most au courant form of
name-calling, a way in which a single word can dismiss an
entire body of work. In HPB's time, the boo word was

In fact, much of the reaction against my work from Theosophists
smacks of reductionism. One of our number, who I consider a
friend, said to me in private email something like "the
political activities of your characters are absolutely
incompatible with the spiritual nature of the Masters." Dara
Eklund writes in a letter to The Quest that it is "downgrading"
the Masters to identify them as historical figures. The same
point has been argued by several other persons. What this says
to me is that they have reduced the multi-level reality of
HPB's Masters (who were obviously interested in politics based
on their own letters, apart from my identifications of them) to
an exalted, transcendent level -- far too pure and holy to be
real people with real relationships to the socio-political
environment. Reductionism can be spiritualistic as well as
materialistic. The effort to deny a connection to material
reality for entities perceived as spiritual is every bit as
reductionistic as the effort to deny a connection to spiritual
reality for entities perceived as material.

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