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Problems according to Campbell

Aug 02, 1996 10:54 AM
by K. Paul Johnson

Reflecting upon the statement that "the only problem" in the
Theosophical movement was too many members with too little
knowledge of/interest in the source writings, I reread Bruce
Campbell's section on "Inherent Dilemmas" in his Ancient Wisdom
Revived.  He lists five, which I will summarize below:

1. Mystical Ideal vs. Institutional Reality
This one is most basic, according to Campbell, and underlies
all the rest.  Because Theosophy is identified by abstract
terms like "wisdom religion" and "gupta vidya," members are
reluctant to acknowledge and deal with the day-to-day realities
of organizational existence.  Focused on the abstract, they
leave the concrete details to be taken care of without much
oversight or scrutiny.  Quoting Campbell, "Belief in a mystical
ideal and in the denigration of organizational forms lies at
the heart of the problems... It contributes cetranlly to the
conflicts over succession... It is bound up with the ambiguity
of the Society's lacking official beliefs...renders difficult
the evocation of commitment from religious resskers, masks the
quasi-religious character of Theosophy, and contributes to the
devaluing of intellectual work.

2. The Routinization of Charisma: Problems of Authority and
There is continual strain over claims and counterclaims about
succession in the movement, within and among the
organizations.  Campbell says, "Often today there is a
recognition that each Theosophical group has a unique and valid
mission, but each group also thinks itself to be the genuine
and in some sense sole successor to the early movement.  The
tension between these two views is a continuing source of
strain in the Theosophical movement.

3. Doctrine without Dogma
Campbell opens by describing the confusion created by
Leadbeater's ideas that are contradictory to those of HPB, and
the arguments about what is validly considered Theosophical.
He continues,
"The dilemma of doctrine without dogma has other important
implications.  Religious and spiritual groups need to reexamine
their ideas periodically and to reformulate them to speak to
the needs of different generations.  The claim of religious
neutrality gives Theosophy a false sense of universality and
timelessness, and thus masks this need for reformulation."

4.  Tolerance and the Seeker Mentality
There is a low level of commitment to the TS (here we have the
problem of such concern to Eldon) because as a mystical group
it is loose and informal, lacks a strong core of socially
bonded members, tends to be "easy come, easy go" with a high
turnover in membership.

5. Theosophy: A Religion or a Philosophy
The claim that Theosophy is not a religion creates two
problems.  First, it "blurs the distinction between knowledge
and faith.  Theosophy attempts to appear as reason, but its
central claims are not fact but belief.  The existence of the
Masters, [ahem] karma, reincarnation, human brotherhood-- all
are religious conceptions that elicit faith but are not subject
to proof or disproof.  By avoiding calling itself a religion,
Theosophy does not avoid basic its organization on religious
beliefs."  The second problem is that ritual lends a
cohesiveness to religious groups, which Theosophy is deprived
of because it denies or avoids its essentially religious


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