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Re: A House of Cards? (Reply to Paul K.)

Jul 29, 1996 08:44 AM
by K. Paul Johnson

According to
> How does one tell if there's something to be found in the                       
> theosophical literature, in the various metaphysical doctrines                  
> that are expounded? One way is an innate deja vu, a recognition                 
> and inner accord with what is taught. There's a sense that one                  
> has known these things before, and that they have the ring of                   
> truth to them.                                                                  
So far, so good.  I know precisely what you mean, experienced
it intensely, dreamed about the SD while reading it for the
first time, and so on.  We're talking intuitive recognition
here.  But what if things have the "ring of truth" not because
they are true but because they are familiar falsehoods?  If I
was a Mormon in my last life, perhaps golden plates and Moroni
will set off my "deja vu" "ring of truth" in this one.  Doesn't
make it a bit more true.

> A second approach is through a study of various religious and                   
> philosophical traditions of the world. Does Theosophy offer a                   
> key that unlocks their meanings? Does it reveal a common thread                 
> of thought behind the many approaches? Blavatsky makes a case for               
> this in THE SECRET DOCTRINE. The theosophical materials are                     
> consistent with or have ties with other great traditions.                       

Yes and no.  Consistent with AND inconsistent with, depending
on the writer, the book, and the tradition in question.  This
criterion definitely cuts both ways. If you were to poll 100
scholars of religion who happened to be somewhat familiar with
HPB, as to how accurately she described the
traditions from which she drew, I don't think the majority
would give her high marks.  (However, she knew as much or more
than experts of her time, so it isn't fair to compare her to
contemporary experts UNLESS you assert that her sources of
information were superior thereto-- as you do.) 

> at what they said. Leadbeater, in his books like "The Inner                     
> Life", was giving materials arrived at by psychical                             
> investigation, which is highly unreliable.                                      
Then own up to that rather than pretend the problem doesn't
exist by careful censorship of the embarrassing parts.

> This is different than Blavatsky's materials, which were arrived                
> at by study, training, and intellectual means.

Exclusive of psychical investigation?

 In one case,                     
> someone is writing down as scientific fact whatever they perceive               
> from out-of-the-body experiences. In the other case, someone is                 
> passing on knowledge from a mahatmic Wisdom Tradition.                          

It's hardly so clear-cut.  Leadbeater's clairvoyance operated
within the general framework of Theosophical ideas, despite all
his variations and alterations thereof.  And your description
of HPB's teachings as "knowledge" simply begs the question Paul
K. is raising.  Is it really knowledge?  Were her sources
really "Mahatmic" and were they all adherents of a single
"wisdom-tradition"?  Just what do those terms mean anyway?
Those are questions she *wanted us to ponder and explore* not
heresies that should not even be expressed in Theosophical discourse.
> You mention a few highly judgemental terms like "cover up". This                
> term, for instance, implies the hiding of something, with perhaps               
> some element of wrong doing. I don't think the term is                          
> appropriate.                                                                    
I can't think of anything more appropriate.  Posthumous editing
in order to make someone appear less fallible than he was is
hiding something, and is wrong-doing.

> There is no evasion, no unwillingness to put Theosophy to the                   
> test. But the test *is not* a scientific report card. The test                  
> is something that can take years, or even lifetimes. It is in                   
> undertaking the study and living the life.                                      

So, *the* test is this multi-lifetime evaluation based on
applying the teachings before you have confirmed their
reliability by intellectual analysis?  There is systemic, rigid
refusal to put Theosophy to the test intellectually in the
sense that Paul K. means.  You are exemplifying this refusal
by denying that the test he describes has any legitimacy.
> You might say that since this is not readily apparent, and it is                
> not provable in your life and in the lives of your coworkers,                   
> that it is untrue. You're entitled to that view, and in a free                  
> marketplace of ideas, I'm equally entitled to my dissenting view.               
But you are not entitled to tell people who don't share it that
they don't belong in the movement.
> Theosophy won't collapse like a house of cards, as someone finds                
> a few references to science to discredit. It may sway the                       
> interest of a few borderline seekers, people without a strong                   
> draw to the philosophy, but apart from that, I see little                       
> happening.                                                                      

Agreed.  But it's not a few references, but many, that are
problematic.  And you keep describing people as "borderline" as
if you are confident that you are making an *objective
assessment*.  Au contraire, when you and others of like mind
dismiss some Theosophists as "borderline" you are making a
*subjective assessment* based on *borders of your own
definition* that unfortunately becomes *self-fulfilling
> If Theosophy seems nonsensical and simply confuses things, the                  
> best advice for the person seeing it that way is: stay away,                    
> forget this stuff, don't return until or unless your heart tells                
> you that something is being missed. On the other hand, if it                    
> seems to be a wide open doorway, leading to a whole new world of                
> experience, I'd say: don't hesitate, jump in and do it!                         

And if you have a strong intuitive sense that Theosophy is an
open doorway to a new realm of experience AND that much of it
is nonsensical and confusing, then what?  Jump in and have
Theosophists attack you for lack of firmness in your faith?
Stay away and lose the opportunity to learn and share with
others of like interests?  Not much of a choice.

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