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Re: Elitism or Esotericism

Aug 01, 1996 11:54 AM
by K. Paul Johnson

Dear Eldon,

Your post provides the opportunity to try to clarify some
things.  I get the impression that you sincerely do not see
what it is about the statements you make that offends people.
The way you characterize others' objections to your remarks
indicates a blind spot to the subtle message you are conveying
that is so irritating to so many, me included.  So, in the
spirit of brotherhood, let me deconstruct your post and try to
give some clues as to where the problems lie.

> certain occult doctrines. What distinguishes us from other groups
> is, I'd say, the doctrines and what is behind them. We are not
> distinguished in any other way. Brotherhood, comparative studies,
> and paranormal investigations are to be found in a multitude of
> groups.

Is the primary purpose of a group to focus its energy on the
things that separate it from others, or the things that unite
it with humanity?  Needing to be "distinguished" seems to me to
be part of the heresy of separateness.  A.R.E. has a larger
body of unique doctrinal material than Theosophy does, but I
don't see even a tiny fraction of the concern with being
separate from other people.  Which may have something to do
with why it is such a vital, expanding group in comparison.
> I'm not judging people. Are you? I'm not the only one to express a
> concern about Theosophy being watered down over the generations, but
> actually disfigured and lost at times.

Eldon, you didn't just describe a process, you said "the only
problem" was that there were so many *people* in the TS who... etc.
That is very explicitly blaming your present-day
*fellow-Theosophists* as a group for not being sufficiently
devoted to the source writings, etc.
> My concern is with the "anti" attitude, as I find it, where people
> are simply unwilling to allow others to study and promote the
> doctrines, and make of it a spiritual path.

Here's the straw man I've been looking for!!  Who has ever
*refused to allow* others do study and promote the doctrines
and make of them a spiritual path?  How, when and where did
this occur?  Who could even be in a position to do so?  It
looks to me as if anyone in a position to allow or disallow
anything in the movement is totally on your side in this, and
strongly encourages precisely the approach you endorse.  The
people who are unwilling to allow others to pursue Theosophy as
they choose are emphatically *not* the eclectic liberals whose
presence disturbs you, but the doctrinaire conservatives.

 Statement that
> there might be such a thing often elicit anger, as some people
> feel offended when someone says "there's something special here"
> when they personally find no such thing.
Who are those some people?  I certainly find nothing offensive
in that statement, and in fact agree wholeheartedly with it.
So, I'm sure, does JRC, with whom you have had such prolonged
disputes, and Ann, and everyone else on theos-l.  As for some
no longer here...
> We must have quite radically different experiences of members
> of the T.S.'s. You seem to universally rate them highly, despite

All I know is this.  For 10 years I was involved in a
Pasadena-affiliated local group, and networked with other members
of that Society in Maryland.  For the past 10 years I have
visited, usually as a speaker, the Adyar-affiliated lodges in
D.C. and Baltimore on a regular basis.  Once each I have spoken
to lodges in Berkeley, CA and Atlanta.  I have been to two
annual meetings in Wheaton and four history conferences, three
in London and one in San Diego.  Plus the SD Centenary in
Pasadena and the Dissemination conference in New York in 1987.
I'm not "rating" anything, simply saying that there seemed to be a universal
common denominator of interest in esotericism, and a laudable
open-mindedness and desire to learn.  In all that exposure to
Theosophists, the main impression I got was precisely those two
things: avid pursuit of esoteric studies, and hearts and minds
open to new angles on theosophy/Theosophy.

> all the T.S. bashing that went on earlier this year. I don't
> rate them at all -- neither good nor bad -- but observe that
> a majority seem ready to believe almost anything

That may be another straw man.  Perhaps "believe" is more
important in your worldview than that of most Theosophists, and
what they are really ready to do is entertain any hypothesis--
precisely because they are not "believers" in the sense you are.

 and to be
> finding the whole experience of being in a T.S. like joining a
> club. This is radically different than a real spiritual practice,
> which I'll again say *can* be found with Theosophy.
??  What is "unreal" about participating in a club where people
study esotericism and exchange views?  You are making an
opposition out of two things that can and should coincide
comfortably.  People may not have the *same* spiritual
practice, and they surely don't pursue their spiritual practice
in a TS group setting.  But individually, I think most
Theosophists have some sort of spiritual practice, and don't
consider myself qualified to say whether or not it's "real."

> >Everyone I know in any TS is strongly interested in esotericism!
> Huh? That's certainly different than my understanding. When I'd
> speak of someone "being on the Path" or someone being engaged in
> a genuine spiritual process, I'm describing a distinct, discrete,
> unique event that has happened in someone's life.

You would have to know people intimately to judge whether or
not they are "on the Path."  But you seem to take the position
of "guilty until proven innocent"-- making the assumption they
are *not* unless they show you the kind of evidence you
consider necessary to convince you otherwise.

At any rate, "interested in esotericism" and "being on the
Path" don't strike me as synonymous.

> If you water down everything regarding the spiritual to the point
> of mediocrity, where everyone that walks by on the street qualifies,
> you obscure and drive underground any real knowledge of the
> subject.
So now, the average TS member who doesn't strike you as "on the
Path" or "interested in esotericism" is on the level of
"everyone that walks by on the street."  Gee whiz, can't you
see how this strikes your fellow Theosophists as elitism?

> First, as one of many possible approaches to the spiritual, a
> theosophical organization is entitled to follow its own agenda and
> carry out its own specialization.

The agenda and specialization of the TS's is set pretty clearly
in such things as the Three Objects, the Original Programme
ms., the Mahachohan's letter-- all of which endorse an
open-minded, open-hearted embrace of humanity, not a "mine's
better than yours" smug elitism.

> Second, when a genuine spiritual approach is taught, e.g. esotericism,
> there are many that it may not appeal to. Some are drawn to other
> approaches. Others do not yet feel a calling to the spiritual. It is
> not judgemental to say that some people are drawn to it and others
> are not.

You aren't talking about "some people" in this regard, but
about *most Theosophists*-- which is *very* judgmental.
Implicit in the above passage is that you can discern who is
attracted to a "genuine spiritual approach" and who does not
even "yet feel a calling to the spiritual."  If you didn't feel
qualified to make such judgments, there would be no basis for
you to complain about the low level of the average Theosophists.

 It is disrespectful to deny, mock, and charge with egotism
> and pride those that follow a particular path.

Eldon, for the umpteenth time, no one is offended by the path
you follow-- just your constant harping on its superiority to
those followed by the people you're talking to!  I respect you
and your own path, and your right to propagandize for it.  But
I vociferously disrespect the way you keep bashing the large
group of unnamed fellow-Theosophists for not being "ready" to
be just like you.

 It is not appropriate
> to say: "I find nothing in that stuff, and you say there's something
> there, so therefore you're an arrogant, condescending, elitist,
> true-believer."

This tells me that you have been missing the point SO
completely that it may be worthwhile to say it again.  No one
considers you arrogant, or condescending, or elitist, or a true
believer, as a result of the value you find in the source
literature that turns you on.  All those qualities are
expressed, *not* in your positive comments about what appeals
to you, but in your negative comments about people who do not
resonate to the same things in the same way.
> The ULT and Pasadena TS are in less danger of losing their
> philosophical foundation, but the danger is real in any organization,
> regardless of belief, if it is overrun with people of contrary
> beliefs and ideas. The original ideas are left behind and potentially
> lost to the world.

What's contrary and what's complementary?  "Overrun"?  Can't
you see that you are describing your fellow-Theosophists as
aliens who don't belong when you use terminology like that?

> I don't think that people that "believe in" Theosophy are
> fundamentalists,

If they constantly judge and disparage the "belief" or lack
thereof of others, they are.

 and that those that don't have an exclusive
> claim to being able to reevaluate, rethink, and explore the
> philosophy. I'd rather think that those that take the philosophy
> seriously and give it the greatest thought would have the
> greatest progress in exploring it, although you'd likely
> label them among us "fundamentals" and "true believers".

Come on.  I have read the SD four times, the CWs straight
through, etc. etc.  AFAIK, Alan, Jerry S., JRC, and many others
here who are by no means fundamentalist true believers have
probably done so.  There are a great number of people who have
taken the philosophy seriously, given it great thought, made
progress in exploring it.  You are labeling me by suggesting
that I would call all people with such experience
fundamentalists and true believers.  The only cause for
considering someone to fall into that category is seeing them
behave like fundamentalist true believers elsewhere--
constantly harping on the spiritual inadequacy of others being
the first clue.
> When you say that the "insufficiently-orthodox" people are
> "blamed" for the problems of the movement, that's conjecture
> on your part. I don't see blame there. I see the blame in
> those of us who would work to spread Theosophy, and don't
> take responsibility for ourselves as well. The blame is in
> would-be Theosophists for not sincerely trying to tread the
> Path, not in people of differing philosophies, approaches,
> and interests, who won't imitate us and follow the way that
> we're taking.

Somehow I fail to see the distinction.
> Again the same claim! Why is it that whenever I attempt to
> make a case for the genuine nuggets of gold to be found in
> Theosophy, and for a bona fide spiritual approach to be
> behind it, I get all these claims that I and people that
> are equally convinced with me are harping on how superior
> we are? That's totally bizarre.

So no matter how many people tell you the same thing, you are
adamantly refusing to grant it a moment's consideration?
Indeed, reject it as bizarre?  In that case, I won't respond to
future statements of the sort, since there will be no hope of
getting through to you.  Eldon, for one LAST TIME, the problem
is not and has never been with what you find of positive value
in Theosophy, but rather the constant way you express contempt
for people you perceive as not adequately appreciating the same
things.  Evidently, you do that without being at all conscious
of it.  If it were just me perceiving it, I might think there's
just a personal miscommunication here.  But when so many others
react the same way to the same thing in you, I feel confident
that it's not in *all* our imaginations.

 There's no comparison of
> "I'm up here, she's a little lower, and this guy is way
> down there on the scale of things." There's just an somewhat
> awed attempt to describe some wonderful treasures that we've
> been blessed to have because of the theosophical movement.

Consciously.  Unconsciously, there is something quite
different, negative, and untheosophical-- that is clearly
visible to others while invisible to those who express it.
(Scorn of heretical Theosophists was expressed by several
people on your list before I unsubscribed.)

> Given the consistent nature of this reaction, though, I can
> appreciate why esoteric groups are formed, where things can
> be talked about where they won't bring immediate misunderstanding
> and offense to others. This would be "going underground".

There is a self-fulfilling prophecy here, which is really sad
to me.  You start out by telling your fellow-Theosophists, "I
have a deeper appreciation of these teachings than you do, a
stronger commitment, a fuller comprehension, and I am
constantly aware of just how lacking you, my
fellow-Theosophists, are in these qualities."  So of course,
your fellow-Theosophists say "You arrogant bastard, go to
hell."  And then you say "That just proves how right I was
about your spiritual inadequacy."  Unless the cycle is broken,
an esoteric group is probably the only setting in which your
approach to Theosophy won't constantly generate the offense in
others which you find so incomprehensible.

Eldon, I hate flaming like this, and am sorry to drag down the
level of group discourse by pointing these things out.  But the
passive-aggressive way you have of attacking your
fellow-Theosophists and then playing innocent is so
infuriating, that perhaps an openly aggressive response is the
only skillful means to wake you up to what you are doing.

Your pissed-off brother,

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