THEOSOPHY, Vol. 41, No. 3, January, 1953
(Pages 126-129; Size: 12K)


[Article number (14) in this Q&A Department]

WHAT methods and attitudes of mind can best be used in attempting to discuss controversial doctrines with religious devotees CONSTRUCTIVELY?

Too often "attempts to discuss church doctrines CONSTRUCTIVELY with strongly religious people are frustrated by a typical church attitude of annoyance at any sort of questioning. Rejection without consideration seems to be an automatic habit of many "all-out" Christians. It seems quite understandable, however, that believers who are truly bent on living "the good life" might be deeply skeptical of the clever intellectual criticisms which are offered by so many. Some religionists have a philosophy of doing; thus their natural channels of expression and receptivity are in those terms. Referring to that "fast diminishing small minority of those whose sinless lives reflect the glorious example of the Prophet of Nazareth," H. P. Blavatsky candidly states in the Preface to the second volume of Isis Unveiled (a volume particularly "directed against theological Christianity -- the chief opponent of free thought"): "Their charity, and simple, child-like faith in the infallibility of their Bible, their dogmas, and their clergy, bring into full activity all the virtues that are implanted in our common nature. We have personally known such God-fearing priests and clergymen, and we have always avoided debate with them, lest we might be guilty of the cruelty of hurting their feelings; nor would we rob a single layman of his blind confidence, if it alone made possible for him holy living and serene dying."

Unfortunately, even in the twentieth century, this is still not the only type of religious zealot. Self-righteousness (supported by organized Christianity from the beginning) still finds expression through the authoritarian armor of rules of holy conduct, while motives go ignored. Thus, with emphasis on appearances, plus the powerful societal currents of materialism, worldliness and hypocrisy, we find plenty of "all-out" professing Christians; after all, it's fashionable to be "virtuous," i.e., to donate generously to the Community Chest, conspicuously support the right causes, etc. It seems useless to consider what may be the best ways and means of reaching such personalities in polite, mutually enlightening discussions, since, from a theosophical point of view, an almost entire re-orientation of values is needed, and this is not to be achieved until overwhelmingly believed-in fetishes are ousted.

Throughout Isis Unveiled, H.P.B.'s approach involves an almost systematic exposure of the errors and conceit attached to Western Man's Religion, Science and general customs. In the Preface to the first volume, however, we discover her attitude to be impersonal, never vengeful or hateful. "Isis," she wrote, "is meant to do even justice, and to speak the truth alike without malice or prejudice. But it shows neither mercy for enthroned error, nor reverence for usurped authority. ... Toward no form of worship, no religious faith, no scientific hypothesis has its criticism been directed in any other spirit."

To those doctrinal Christians whose narrow-mindedness allows them to claim that both truth and salvation may be realized through one sect alone, we allot in due fairness the term, fanatic. If and when such a person is encountered, our striving for a charitable state of mind and a quiet voice will probably constitute the best approach or method. The bandying of heated arguments with such a person is definitely not a "brave declaration of principles," but a sort of attack.

Tending away from the generally negativistic answer thus far given to the question, there is a dimension that encompasses our personal relationships with religious devotees which should also be considered. Many young people seek to give expression to truly religious instincts through "religionism." Mentioning theosophic tenets or discussing religion with personal friends, we feel, should be entirely subservient to those times when there seems to be a natural receptivity to such ideas. Developing a delicate sense of the fitness of things is strategic in preventing barriers from sealing off the sensitive mind of a friend.

Yet one "method" -- which is really mostly an attitude -- seems invaluable for contributing to relationships with others and also for developing creative thought in ourselves. That is the searching and flexible attitude of mind of the synthesizer. There are some who believe, perhaps, that since H.P.B. made a tremendous synthesis between the essential ideas underlying Eastern and Western traditions of philosophy, religion, and science, students of Theosophy today can profit little from individual, miniature attempts at "synthesis" in proportion to what may be gained from studying "the books." On the contrary, it seems to us that every individual attempt at analyzing radical factors involved in history and current politico-religious phenomena tends to strengthen the qualities of independent manasic inquiry. In relation to this discussion, the synthesizer's ability, first, of recognizing basic truth under any shape or form (e.g., the symbolic Bible), and then the further ability to correlate known theosophic teachings with such verities, make it possible to supplement the theosophic vocabulary with terms common to others of different background. In the case of a highly intuitive religious devotee, when it is possible to point out that our "Father in heaven" (is) "that deific essence of which we are cognizant within us, in our heart and spiritual consciousness," there are good chances that such a suggestion will find a corresponding awareness within him, enabling those in conversation to establish some sort of rapport. This method, conceivably, holds good for other classes of people such as those interested in social and political reform, idealism, "humanistic" psychology, etc. -- depending upon their basic views as to justice, morality, evolution, free will, and immortality. No doubt, all of the key questions and answers needed in developing the "method" can be found in "the Books," but a friend is first interested in your synthesis of what the books say. This is crucial.

It is always necessary to clarify our own intentions and evaluations of what the duty of a theosophical student is in such a discussion. What would our aim be? Would our aim be to knock away people's pillars of belief from under them in order to prove that Theosophy and Theosophy alone has the Truth; or would it be that of H.P.B. in the early sections of The Key to Theosophy? Her first aim seemed to be to help establish an attitude toward the perplexing and seemingly unjust world about the inquirer which would make Theosophy understandable, rather than completely to confuse him by reciting absolute, abstract postulates of teaching. If our own minds have so much difficulty in grasping the three postulates of The Secret Doctrine, even though we desire to grasp them with all our heart, inquirers would certainly be even less apt to comprehend, especially if the person is lacking in practice of thinking in "abstract" terms.

An important point that could be made in establishing an attitude of open-mindedness would be the "eclectic" idea -- that of universal, eternal teachings, which are but rejuvenated or uncovered periodically at auspicious times and places by Great Teachers, of whom Christ was one. With an emphasis made on the differing needs of various people to whom Initiates come, it can be shown that Buddhism and Christianity, now appearing as two opposed faiths, are representative of those conditions under which Jesus and Buddha taught, rather than of differences between the teachers.

In reading the various books by H.P.B., we find that she presents the fundamentals in many different ways. In other words, she uses whatever form or manner of emphasis she sees will achieve the desired end. The Truth is Truth, no matter what it may be clothed in. Moreover, she does not give us an easy system to follow in order to have the philosophy down "pat." Thus it follows that an open mind and understanding of the needs of others are essential. The United Lodge of Theosophists "regards as Theosophists all who are engaged in the true service of Humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, condition or organization," yet it does not say specifically what the "true service of Humanity" is.

How may one diplomatically face the "collection fiends" in a typical business office, where such collections reach ridiculous proportions?

One answer that can be given is that since the promulgation of theosophical work seems of primary importance, ultimately, to all men, most of our spare resources are diverted to that cause.

The problem of contributing to some projects and not to others involves several other considerations besides money. Giving as part of a group is a collective action only in terms of the method. Giving oneself or one's possessions is still essentially an individual action, the ultimate value of all gifts being seated in the motive. So the choice remains with each person alone. Furthermore, it is important in maintaining an individual sense of integrity and resistance to "mob action" that this obligation not be overridden. The nature of the cause needs to be analyzed. Does it arise from a spontaneous desire to benefit others or from a spirit of genuine comradeship among fellow workers which would justify cooperative action, or is it a matter-of-course submission to custom? If a cause of any kind is worthy of financial support, it seems natural to give something of oneself, also, and if one cannot give financial support, one can still give of one's time, labor, suggestions, and, not the least important, enthusiasm. In short, there are numerous means to assist a cause one deems worthy, and a trivial or unworthy one needs no assistance.

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(February 1953)
[Article number (15) in this Q&A Department]

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