The Theosophists and Their Opponents
The Amrita Bazaar Patrika (Calcutta), June 13, 1879
Sir,—I pray you to give me, in your Calcutta paper, space enough to reply to the mendacious comments of one of your religious neighbours upon the Theosophical Society. The Indian Christian Herald, in the number of April 4th (which unhappily has just now reached my eye), with a generosity peculiar to religious papers, filled two pages with pious abuse of our Society as a body. I gather from it, moreover, that the Friend of India had previously gone out of its way to vilify the Society, since the former paper observes that “the Theosophical Society has merited the epithets employed about it by the Friend of India.”
To my everlasting confusion be it said, that I am guilty of the crime of not only never reading, but even so much as laying my eyes upon that last named veteran organ. Nor can any of our Theosophists be charged with abusing the precious privilege of reading the missionary journals, a considerable time having elapsed since each of us was weaned, and relinquished milk and water pap. Not that we shirk the somniferous task under the spur of necessity. Were not the proof of our present writing itself sufficient, I need only cite the case of the Bombay missionary organ, the Dnyanodaya, which, on the 17th ultimo, infamously libelled us, and on the 25th was forced by Col. Olcott’s solicitor, Mr. Turner, to write an ample apology in order to avoid a criminal prosecution for defamation of character. We regret now to see that while the truly good and pious writer of the Herald was able to rise to the level of Billingsgate, he would not (or dared not?) climb to the height of actionable slander. Truly prudence is a great virtue!
Confronted, as we all have so often been, with the intolerant bigotry—religious “zeal” they call it—and puerile anathemas of the clerical “followers of the meek and lowly Jesus,” no Theosophist is surprised to find the peas from the Herald shooter rattling against his armour. It adds to the clatter, but no one is mortally hurt. And, after all, how natural, that the poor fellows who try to administer spiritual food to the benighted heathen much after the fashion of the Strassburg goose-fatteners, who thrust balls of meal down the throats of the captive birds, unmasticated, to swell their livers, should shake at the intrusion of Europeans who are ready to analyse for the heathen these scripture-balls they are asked to grease with blind faith and swallow without chewing! People like us, who would have the effrontery to claim for the “heathen” the same right to analyse the Bible, as the Christian clergy claim to analyse and even revile the sacred scriptures of other people, must of course be put down. And the very Christian Herald tries his hand.
“Let us,” it says “without any bias or prejudice reflect . . . about the Theosophical Society.” To profess “such a mortal hatred (?) for Christianity and its divine Founder, bespeaks of a moral degradation . . . scarcely equalled. . . .” The Theosophists “stultify and disgrace themselves by their unnatural pretentions and blasphemous statements. . . .” No one “can undertake to describe the moral degradation of persons (the Buddhist, Âryan, Jain, Pârsî, Hebrew and Mussulman Theosophists, included?) who can see nothing good in the Bible . . .” and who “ought to remember that the Bible is not only a blessed book, but our book”!!
The latter piece of presumptuous conceit cannot be allowed to pass unnoticed. Before I answer the preceding invectives I mean to demand a clear definition of this last sentence, “our Book.” Whose Book? The Herald’s? “Our” must mean that; for the seven thick volumes of the Speaker’s Commentary on the Old Testament show, that the possessive pronoun and the singular noun in question can no longer be used by Christians when speaking of the Bible. So numerous and glaring have been the mistakes and mistranslations detected by the forty divines of the Anglican Church, during their seven years’ revision of the Old Testament, that the London Quarterly Review (No. 294, April, 1879), the organ of the most extreme orthodoxy, is driven in despair to say: “The time has certainly passed when the whole Bible could be practically esteemed a single book, miraculously communicated in successive portions from heaven, put into writing no doubt by human hands, but at the dictation of the divine spirit.”
So we see beyond question that if it is anybody’s “Book” it must be the Indian Christian Herald’s; for, in fact, its editors add: “We feel it to be no more a collection of books, but the book.”
But here is another bitter pill for your contemporary. “The words,” it says in a pious gush, “which had come from the prophets of the despised Israel have been the life-blood of the world’s devotion”; but the inexorable Quarterly reviewer, after reluctantly abandoning to the analytical scalpels of Canon Cook and Bishop Harold Browne the Mosaic miracles whose supernatural character is no longer affirmed, but allowed to be “natural phenomena,” turns to the pretended Old Testament prophecies of Christ, and sadly says: “in the poetical (Psalms and Songs) and the prophetical books especially the number of corrections is enormous”; and shows how the commentators upon Isaiah and the other so-called prophets have reluctantly admitted that the timeworn verses which have been made to serve as predictive of Christ have in truth no such meaning!
“It requires,” he says, “an effort to break the association, and to realize how much less they (the prophecies) must have meant at first, to the writers themselves. But it is just this that the critical expositor is bound to do . . . for this, some courage is required, for the result is apt to seem like a disenchantment for the worse, a descent to an inferior level, a profanation of the paradise in which ardent souls have found spiritual sustenance and delight.”
(Such “souls” as the Herald editor’s?) What wonder, then, that the explosion of these seven theological torpedoes—as the seven volumes of the Speaker’s Commentary may truly be called—should force the reviewer into saying: “To us, we confess, every attempt to place the older Scriptures on the same supreme pinnacle on which the New Testament stands, leads inevitably to a disparagement of the later Revelation”?
The Herald is welcome to what is left of its “Book.”
How childishly absurd it was then of the Herald to make a whole Society the scapegoat for the sins of one individual! It is now universally known that the Society comprises fellows of many nationalities and many different religious faiths; and that its Council is made up of the representatives of these faiths. Yet the Herald endorses the falsehood that the Society’s principles are “a strange compound of Paganism and Atheism,” and its creed, “a creed as comprehensive as it is incomprehensible.” What other answer does this calumny require than the fact that our president has publicly declared that it had “no creed to offer for the world’s acceptance,” and that in the VIIIth Article of the Society’s Rules1—appended to the printed Address—in an enumeration of the plans of the Society, the first paragraph says that it aims “to keep alive in man his belief that he has a soul, and the Universe a God.” If this is a “compound of Paganism and Atheism,” then let the Herald make the most of it.
But the Society is not the real offender; the clerical stones are thrown into my garden. The Herald’s quotation of an expression used by me in commenting upon a passage of Sir John Kaye’s History of the Sepoy War, making the Friend of India and Co. primarily responsible for that bloody tragedy, shows the whole animus. It was I who said (see [“The Indian ‘Public’ and Theosophy”] Indian Spectator, March 2nd), that “India owes everything to the British Government and not to Christianity”—i.e., to missionaries. I may have lost my “senses outright,” as the Indian Christian Herald politely remarks, but I think I have enough left to see through the inane sophistries which they make do duty for arguments.
We have only to say to the Herald the following: (1) It is just because we do live in “an age of enlightenment and progress,” in which there is or should be room for every form of belief, that such Augustinian tirades as the Herald’s are out of place. (2) We have not a “mortal hatred for Christianity and its Divine Founder”;—for the tendency of the Society is to emancipate its fellows from all hatred or preference for any one exoteric form of religion, i.e., with more of the human than divine element in it—over another (see rules); neither can we hate a “Founder” whom the majority of us do not believe to have ever existed. (3) To “retain” a “reverence for the Bible” one must at some time have had it; and if our own investigations had not long since convinced us that the Bible was no more the “Word of God” than half a dozen other holy Books, the present conclusions of the Anglican divines—at least as far as the Old Testament is concerned—would have removed the last vestige of doubt upon that point. And besides sundry American clergymen and Bishops, we have among our Fellows a vicar of the Church of England, who is one of its most learned antiquarians. (4) The assertion that the “pure monotheism of the Vedas is a pure myth”—is a pure falsehood—besides being an insult to Max Müller and other Western Orientalists who have proved the fact, to say nothing of that great Âryan scholar, preacher and reformer, Svâmi Dyanand Sarasvati.
“Degraded humanity” that we are, there must be indeed “something radically wrong and corrupt” in our “moral nature,” for, we confess to a joy at seeing our Society constantly growing from accessions of some of the most influential laymen of different countries. And it moreover delights us to think that when we reach the bottom of the ditch we will have as bed-fellows half the Christian clergy, if the Speaker’s Commentary makes as sad havoc with the divinity of the New Testament as it has with that of the Old. “How” exclaims our Indian Christian Pecksniff in righteous indignation, “how they managed to sink so low in the scale of moral and spiritual being must be a sadly interesting study for metaphysicians?”
Sad indeed; but sadder still to reflect that unless the editors of the Indian Christian Herald are protected by post-mortem fire insurance policies, they are in danger themselves of eternal torment. . . .
“Whosoever shall say to his brother, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire,” says Lord Jesus, “the Desire of nations,” in Matthew, v, 22, unless—dreadful thought!—this verse should be also found a mistranslation.
H. P. Blavatsky.
Corresponding Secretary of the Theosophical Society.
N.B.—We insert the above letter with great reluctance. The subject matter of the letter is not fit for our columns and we have no sympathy with those who attack the religious creed of other men. The matter of fact is, a Calcutta paper attacks a body of men, and the latter are thrown at a great disadvantage if they are not allowed an opportunity by another paper of replying to the attack. It is from that feeling alone that we have given place to the above letter.—Ed. Amrita Bazaar Patrika.
1. [Note: for some background, see “Our Directives: A Study of the Evolution of the “Objects of the T.S.”—from 1875 to 1891, by Grace F. Knoche,” and “The Theosophical Society,” by W. Q. Judge, The Path, May 1895. The “Principles, Rules, and Bye-Laws” as of December 17th, 1879 can be found in The Theosophist, April, 1880, p. 179.]