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Shooting messengers vs producing the goods

Mar 11, 2006 10:30 PM
by gregory

It is disturbing to read the “shoot the messenger” postings directed at Paul
Johnson, but it is probably suggestive of the intellectual decline in the
Theosophical world which (ironically, given the other “pet hates” of most of
Paul’s critics) began with the Leadbeater ascendancy. It requires no more than
a systematic reading of “The Theosophist” from its beginnings to the
post-Blavatsky period to observe the decline in the intellectual standard of
the journal. Under Besant is grew in size and diminished in quality.

I am not a devotee of Blavatsky, although I regard her as a genius. Nor am I an
authority on her life and work. I do, however, know something about the
researching and writing of history and biography. Having read Paul’s work from
manuscript to published form, I remain unconvinced by the hypotheses he
advances regarding the “Masters”. But that I am not so convinced does not mean
I question his research methodology, his sheer hard work in research or the
significance of his contribution to Theosophical history.

Assuming that Paul has got it all wrong, totally misrepresents Blavatsky,
perhaps makes it all up or leaves out significant material: where is the
equivalently scholarly Theosophical response? Indeed, where is one single
scholarly – or honest - Theosophical study of biography or history from within
any of the existing Theosophical groups? Relatively recent publications – from
Mills on the TS in America to Cranston on Blavatsky – are, at best, public
relations brochures, and at worst dishonest distortions in which the difficult
facts are omitted or misrepresented.

Where is the fully documented, unexpurgated, reasonably argued and properly
documented work presenting the Theosophical view of, for example, the life of
Blavatsky or the history of Theosophy? And, if there is no such work, how is
the deficit to be explained? Intellectual incompetence? Lack of anyone with the
ability to do scholarly research? Fundamental incapacity for honesty? Simple
laziness? The material is all there (albeit much of it locked away from any
objective scholarly access, which raises other significant questions).

It is obviously easier to shoot messengers – to denounce Meade and Johnson who
actually did some research, put their own time and effort and money into quests
for something like the facts, however critical I may be of the results – than to
actually compete with them.

I think that a serious, scholarly biography of Blavatsky (and I don’t think
Meade accomplished that, but she’s worthy of a Nobel Prize compared with the
shoddy hagiography produced by Cranston) or an equally scholarly study of her
foundation of the Theosophical Society (and I don’t think Johnson accomplished
that, but compared to his in-house competitors his name must be engraved on an
Oscar) would make for absolutely remarkable reading. She was a woman of such
brilliance – and such eccentricity – that she is worthy of something of
equivalent brilliance and imagination. I only wish I was capable of writing it!

So – a challenge to the Theosophists who devote their time to shooting at Paul
(or, for that matter, me!): there is an appropriate Australianism – put up or
shut up. If you can compete, withdraw from the race.

Dr Gregory Tillett

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