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"Theosophist"-- a fighting word

Aug 13, 1996 07:38 AM
by K. Paul Johnson

The recent dustup between James and Alan illustrates again
a problem that has been recurrent on the list.  Due to all
their ambiguities and complexities, the words "Theosophy" and
"Theosophist" lend themselves to use as weapons in debate.

It all starts with HPB, who is so inconsistent on the subject
that she lends ammunition to anyone who wants to use these
words as weapons.  The inclusive HPB recognizes theosophy as a
long-standing presence in Western thought, and accords the name
Theosophist to anyone who has an inspiration of his/her own
that leads toward the divine.  One could find many, many
passages that would seem to refute once and for all any
limited, exclusive usages of the terms. But on the other hand,
the exclusive HPB says things like "the only real Theosophists
in the TS are in the ES" that give support to those who want to
use the word as a weapon to exclude others.

So when James, privately or not, challenges Alan as to whether
or not he is a real Theosophist, this repeats a form of
aggression that has been used within the movement from the
beginning.  Whether or not one's questions are justified, I
consider this kind of communication below the belt.  There are
so many highfalutin' requirements attached to the term in one
text or another, that we could reasonably wonder if there are
*any* "real Theosophists" in the world who meet them all.

Most of us want to have a sense of belonging, and part of
becoming a Theosophist is feeling that the movement is
something one wants to belong to.  It does violence to that
feeling of affiliation for someone to challenge one's status as
a Theosophist.  They are saying in essence "you don't belong."
It took me quite a while to stop caring whether or not I was
accepted as a Theosophist, partly by realizing that defining
you as an outsider is the only real weapon these people have.  Thus
deciding that it doesn't matter whether or not anyone considers
you part of the group can be liberating, placing you beyond the
reach of their exclusion.

But it was a long hard path getting to that point.  I suggest
that questioning, explicitly or implicitly, whether or not
someone is a "real Theosophist" be considered off limits in our
discourse.  On the other hand, questioning whether a particular
position or attitude is theosophical depersonalizes the issue
somewhat and lends itself to exploration without rancor.

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