The Neutrality of the Senate House
Journal of The Theosophical Society, February, 1884
With reference to a correspondence on the subject of this heading that is now taking place in the Madras Mail, a few remarks will be perhaps timely. At the time of our “Eighth Anniversary” the Council of the Theosophical Society applied to Mr. Duncan, Registrar of the University of Madras, for the use of the Senate Hall for a few hours, wherein our numerous Delegates and members could meet. We were refused—as might have been anticipated—and no reasons given for the refusal. The request was not made in the way as the Madras Mail puts it, i.e., by “the disciples of Mad. Blavatsky,” but by the Council of a Society which counts, besides many thousands of native members in India, some of the most distinguished and scientific men of England—even Fellows of the Royal Society—and of Europe generally. It was neither a religious nor a scientific meeting, but simply a social gathering of men from all the quarters of the globe, who, putting away, for the time, all their political and religious strifes, social distinctions and every race feeling—were to meet on one common platform of Universal Brotherhood, and mutual good will, something orthodox Christianity speaks much about but fails to carry out practically, and which the Theosophical Society alone puts in practice according to its programme. On January 17th, a letter, probably from one of our Anglo-Indian Fellows who felt indignant—as well he might—at the unmerited outrage, appeared in the Madras Mail, preceded by an editorial that does the paper credit. I quote a few sentences from it to show the grievance the more clearly:—
“In your issue of the 9th, there is a little paragraph to the effect that a fancy sale of Burmese curiosities was held in the Senate House at 4pm, on the 8th instant, on behalf of the S. P. G. Ladies’ Association, and the following ladies presided at the stalls:—Miss Gell, Mrs. Handley, etc. You are, perhaps, not aware, that last month certain members of the Theosophical Society, applied for the use of the Senate House for their annual gathering, and were refused. Now, as the Senate House was built with the money of the natives, it seems strange that they should be denied the use of their Hall for one of the noblest objects ever contemplated for the regeneration of the people of India, and that the Senate House should be granted to ladies, one being the sister of the Bishop, to raise funds for the purpose of the conversion of the Natives to Christianity. . . .
Now, Sir, do you consider for one moment that the natives will be at peace when they find their Senate House denied to them, though required for a noble purpose, and that it is but to the sister of the Bishop (a high Government official) for the purpose of raising funds for the conversion of natives to Christianity which is abhorrent to them? Will not their indignation be excited, and will they not consider that the Government has lent itself to their being converted to Christianity, and their own high aims, the seeking of Divine knowledge, ruthlessly crushed out. . . .
Here we see the natives of Madras absolutely refused the use of their own Senate House and the same quietly handed over to the sister of the Bishop Gell for the furtherance of the Bishop’s Missionary work . . .
It will be edifying to know, why the Chief Justice, a Vice-Chancellor of the Senate, should have refused the use of the Senate House to the Theosophical Society, and yet granted it to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel?”
To this, Mr. Duncan replying in the same paper, on the 18th to the effect that “The refusal of the Senate House to the Theosophical Society was the decision of the Syndicate as a body”—adds the following characteristic explanation:—
“. . . It is a mistake to suppose that the question of religious neutrality was the only reason. Many of the Fellows would have objected on scientific, rather than on religious ground, to the Senate House, being given to a Society, whose methods of investigation cannot be regarded as in harmony with the recognized method of modern Scientific enquiry, as the columns of the Madras Mail have frequently shown.
I will not stop to notice the rather curious reference to the columns of the Madras Mail thus suddenly raised to the eminence of a public arbiter in questions on science. But I would respectfully remind the honorable gentleman, who appeals to its decision that the dailies are not generally regarded as very impartial judges. That they often talk of things (theosophy for one) of which they have not the remotest conception; enlivening their leaders with what they are pleased to regard as “chaff” and fun, while they are no better than most slanderous and unmerited attacks upon those they do not sympathize with. The Madras Mail is no scientific, but a political newspaper; therefore, in this connection, at any rate, we have the right to rule its evidence out of Court, as being irrelevant to the subject under consideration. But what I would like to ascertain is, how much more “scientific” than our methods of investigation, are those of the lady-patronesses or the so called “Ladies’ Association of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel?” Has the object they work for, and the subject they would propagate, ever been found more “in harmony” with recognized science than our “methods of investigation?” Can the learned Registrar of the Madras University inform us upon this question or answer satisfactorily this other one;—how much, and what is precisely known to the honourable Syndicate of our “methods of investigation” beyond what it thinks it has learned from the coarse, silly and ever-undeserved attacks on our Society by the daily papers, and positively libellous, wicked, unchristian gossip of the “Christian” Society of Madras and Anglo-Indian Society in general, whose malice against the Theosophists can only be equalled by their ignorance of their objects and doings. For five years we have invited investigation; but with the exception of those English-born Theosophists who have joined our Society to become its staunchest advocates and defenders, the Christian Society in general refused to inquire into the unpopular subject, answering like Nathanael of old: “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?”
Nevertheless, one feature, at any rate, we have in common with the scientific method of investigation. We take nothing on faith, and we go beyond and higher than any dogmatic religion or materialistic physical science, since our motto—“There is no religion higher than truth” is followed by the principle enunciated by Arago: “outside of pure mathematics never pronounce the word impossible.”
H. P. Blavatsky,