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Elephants, blind men, fingers, and the moon (reply to Pedro)

Sep 11, 2004 04:22 AM
by kpauljohnson

Dear Pedro and all,

Reading Prothero's article and replies to it raises issues of 
interdisciplinary rivalry for me. Whether or not the gnosis of sages 
is qualitatively superior to the knowledge of scholars is far beyond 
my grasp. What interests me is oneupmanship among different branches 
of scholarship, and how that applies to the Kantian ding an sich. 

When I brought up the date of the Book of Mormon on a listserv 
devoted to American religious history, the intensity of the 
objections was astonishing. Righteous indignation, a "how dare you" 
tone that was distinctly bullying, came from several participants. 
The bottom line was "how dare you touch the sacred scripture with 
your dirty historical hands"-- which is also the bottom line of some 
Theosophists' rejection of historical investigation of the Masters. 
That it was coming from people who in fact really disbelieved the BOM 
to be a translation from Reformed Egyptian, yet were feigning outrage 
at my allusion to that fact, made it all the more galling. Just as 
enlightening was the private email from historians saying in 
essence "you go, guy." Clearly these two disciplines (if religious 
studies in fact has emerged as a distinct discipline) are engaged in 
a turf war. But one could add psychology, sociology, and 
parapsychology, all of which can offer reductionist accounts of their 
own. So here is a template in which one can fill in the blank:
"One cannot possibly begin to understand the Theosophical Masters"

1. ... *without a lifelong religious devotion to them.* (Eklund, who 
would be supported in this to a certain extent by the religious 
studies model.)
2. ...*without accepting the genuineness of the paranormal phenomena 
attributed to them.* (Caldwell, at least as the objections were 
expressed some years back.)
2a. ...*without rejecting the genuineness, etc.* (Meade, by and 
3. ...*without understanding Blavatsky from a psychological POV in 
terms of multiple personality etc.* (Maroney, as I understand him.)
4. ...*without detailed information about Blavatsky's associations 
with Western secret societies, Indian political leaders and religious 
reformers, etc.* (KPJ)

This can go on and on and can apply to any figure in religious 
history. What I wish could happen is that a thousand flowers would 
be allowed to bloom without people trying to destroy one another's 
flowers saying they have no right to coexist with the others. The 
application of rigid categories and the insistence that a phenomenon 
must be understood only in terms of those categories is not just a 
problem of academicians. Humans are hard wired that way, going back 
to fight/flight, eat or be eaten. We are also hard wired to perceive 
nuances and entertain multiple perspectives, but perhaps only sages 
can stay at that level on any consistent basis. That evolution is 
proceeding in that direction for humanity at large is my faint hope.



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