THEOSOPHY, Vol. 41, No. 11, September, 1953
(Pages 506-509; Size: 12K)


[Article number (22) in this Q&A Department]

MANY worthy men who belong to established religious institutions are engaged in the liberalization of these institutions in the hope that a greater majority of people will be able to reach a truer spiritual understanding. Should not Theosophists, themselves, become affiliated with "liberal religion"?

As long as there are established religious institutions there will be philosophers to rationalize their existence. Present-day Church apologists are perhaps nervously attempting to compromise between religious conservatism and reason. There are probably varied arguments on "why a person should belong to a church"; here are a few which seem typical.

"Consider, first, that while it is true that religious institutions have been instruments of destruction, tyranny, and fanaticism, the institution cannot be made responsible for all crimes committed in its name. When a man abuses an instrument, or machine, you do not denounce the instrument -- you denounce the abuser. Therefore, a religious institution is as good as the men who compose it; man is capable of correct as well as incorrect religious action."

"Faith seems to be a necessary component of this civilization, whether it be faith in a political doctrine, in science, or in religion. Faith in religion, some psychologists know, provides for an integrality of character which is to be valued. This is because men equate the higher, social mores of mercy, justice, kindness and love toward one's fellow man with the religion of the church. In this way, the religious institutions have come to symbolize a high moral standard. From this, we can see that the religious institutions bring nearer the realization of the Brotherhood of Man."

"Primitive rituals, magical rites, and religious myths have served throughout history as organizing principles in emotional and moral conduct. The rituals and symbology of the church have stood for, in our culture, the higher and deeper values of this civilization. These rituals and symbolic acts in which church members participate are commitments to these higher values. The very act of prayer, even religious festivals and songs, are examples of this. And church social gatherings prove to be beneficial to the entire community, contributing to its happiness. Symbols, themselves, are not to be taken literally, but as something to stand for an ideal. Believing in an ideal and believing in a definite object are very different. The first is a commitment while the second requires objective verification. In this light, the rituals of religion are symbols to express our commitment to a spiritual good."

The position thus taken -- let us call its spokesmen "Restitutionist Liberals," -- seems to rest on three approaches. (1) An institution can be used for good as well as bad purposes. (2) Since faith is a necessary part of our society, the faith in the higher ideals of religion proves to be better than other "faiths." (3) In committing ourselves "by act of ritual" (prayer, song, etc.) through the church, we will be better able to live up to a higher standard of morality. We shall consider these positions in order.

Using the same illustration of the machine, is there not such a thing as an "antiquated" machine? Theoretically, the church is an instrument of ideas. But when we institutionalize certain ideas of a certain age of thought into certain modes of ritualistic expression, we place limitations on the ideas -- the limitations of that particular age's expression. How could we assume that the votaries of church theology are giving the interpretation of the ideas? The very act of establishing certain specific ideas and sanctioning them with an institution is in direct denial of cumulative truth. Eternal fundamentals may exist in ideas, but anyone familiar with the majority of churches knows that they are concerned with more than philosophy and metaphysics. Ideas are to be considered, but not believed. Acceptance should come only after a long process of understanding, and must be an individual instead of a group matter.

The fact that the stabilizing benefits derived from faith can be obtained from widely differing ideologies demonstrates that it is from "the willingness to believe" that apparent stabilization is gained. This "benefit" probably comes, in most cases, from the fact that the anxieties we experience from problems that appear insoluble have no longer to be faced. The positivist makes physical experiment his God, and the religious fanatic says, simply, "God knows." In one sense both mean stepping away from faith in internal reason. It must be remembered that the "high moral standards" sometimes represented by men of the church do not necessarily make of church theology a moral authority. If a slave-owner were suddenly to start advocating humanitarian standards toward his slaves, it would not alter the fact that he is a slave-owner. Slavery is an antiquated form of society, and the church may be an antiquated institution in society.

A symbol, by the very derivation of the word, is an inference. Once an "authority" has given categorical explanation of the meaning of a symbol, it is no longer a symbol. Symbols, then, are matters of individual interpretation and do not require authoritative institutions for their explanation. If we are to conceive of God as an externality, perhaps, then it does require external, overt acts (in the form of ritual) to remind us of an external standard of morality. However, if our "God" is located within man, it would seem to be a contradiction to kneel and pray, saying: "Dear God within, please help me through this crucial situation," because if anyone is to help us through the situation it can only be ourselves. Rites and rituals may give us temporary psychological comfort, but sooner or later, it would seem, we shall have to shoulder the problem ourselves.

What should a Theosophist do if he feels that a platform speaker is merely expressing something he believes in blindly?

(a) Can we condemn a person because he appears to be saying something dogmatically? Perhaps we ourselves may be taking a dogmatic approach by feeling sure that our judgment is correct.

It would devolve upon the individual listening, also, to discern the difference between dogmatism and conviction of truth.

Whether or not the speaker qualifies his statements sufficiently, isn't it the ideas that count -- can they be made false or any truer, no matter how a person talks? Again, we might ask ourselves, how can we determine that there is any value in the facts presented? Any honest, impartial judge would examine for himself the evidence offered, as well as the method of presenting it or its interpretation. In Theosophy, no one is asked to believe in anything; the Ego's efforts to find the truth for himself being respected.

(b) Whether or not the inquirer is correct in his assumption, there is a clear avenue of investigation. He is free to talk personally with the speaker; to question logic or points of doctrine, or even question personal attitudes. The questioner will possibly be told that all persons are but students of Theosophy and therefore subject to error. In this respect it is the policy of U.L.T. to call attention to ideas and to consider these ideas on their own inherent worth, trying to overlook the personality or circumstances involved. Did the inquirer seem attracted to the basic ideas presented? Maybe he would care to see the words of H.P.B. or Mr. Judge on the subject? [Note: "U.L.T." means "The United Lodge of Theosophists".--Compiler.]

Those who come only as doubters will assuredly leave as doubters, being unable to lay aside their prejudices. Theosophy, though, is for questioners, for they have already taken steps toward the acquirement of truth. H.P.B. repeatedly insisted upon the need for unprejudiced, open inquiry.

(c) How could one tell what is blind faith and what settled conviction? One would need to have a great deal of knowledge himself before he could tell what another understands merely by his expression of an idea. Remember Mr. Judge's discussion of settled conviction vs. blind faith in the Preface to the Ocean? Many there were who took his knowledge and means of expression as blind faith. Could they tell what was really his conviction? Perhaps the inquirer might have an opportunity to question the speaker -- during or after the meeting. If the speaker speaks from knowledge, he must surely be able to give a logical explanation which would appeal to the listener's sense of reason. But the questioner must at least come with an open mind. If he were convinced that Theosophy is blindly dogmatic, little could be done to change his mind. [Note: The reference to "Ocean" stands for the book entitled "The Ocean of Theosophy".--Compiler.]

This question is important for all of us. Are we sure what we say from the platform is the result of careful thought, and have we convinced ourselves that what we are saying has a basis in truth for us? If not, we are going to give the impression that ours is a blind belief rather than a conviction based on knowledge. But, one may say, there are many things in the teachings which we haven't been able to prove to ourselves, e.g., matters concerning cosmic evolution, etc. If it is our task to speak on such subjects, can we be accused of expressing blind belief if we simply state we are presenting what has been written in a certain book? If we are convinced of the basic principles of Theosophy, too, we can use them as a basis upon which to draw logical conclusions concerning the area of thought being considered. By analogy and correspondence one could give a logical answer, speaking intelligently upon the philosophic and psychological background of the tenets of Theosophy when the occasion arises.

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(October 1953)
[Article number (23) in this Q&A Department]

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