THEOSOPHY, Vol. 40, No. 5, March, 1952
(Pages 202-205; Size: 12K)
(Number 5 of a 20-part series)
[Compiler's Note: All 20 articles have the same name.]
NOTES ON "THE KEY TO THEOSOPHY"
SEVERAL passages in the early sections of the Key indicate the impossibility of over-emphasizing the need for thorough psychological study of "Christian culture." Discussion of "The Objects of the Society" involves, for instance, reflection upon the many ways in which "religious education" -- a combination of faulty methods of instruction and perverse doctrines as to the nature of man -- have encouraged the retention of almost all the retrogressive tendencies of the human mind. In Section IV, the same theme occurs, with greater specific attention shown to the inevitable difficulties Theosophists themselves will have to meet in trying to change the psychological polarity of a cultural inheritance:If the Western Theosophists experience so much difficulty in leading the true Theosophical life, it is because they are all the children of their generation. Every one of them was a Christian, bred and brought up in the sophistry of his Church, his social customs, and even his paradoxical laws. He was this before he became a Theosophist, or rather, a member of the Society of that name, as it cannot be too often repeated that between the abstract ideal and its vehicle there is a most important difference.The quest for "self-improvement" must be, according to the theosophic tradition, a persistent revaluation of mental habits. In terms of philosophy and psychology alone can the divisive and retrogressive influences of habitual thinking be seen to be as much causal to, as the effect of, typically "religious" modes of thought.
From the position made available to us by H.P.B., it is easy enough to condemn various dogmatic religions, but it is far more difficult and more necessary to understand the ways in which our own minds -- whatever the teachings offered them -- tend to duplicate the same errors. If it is true, as H.P.B. suggests, that even the Theosophist would have great difficulty in overcoming untheosophical attitudes of mind, in the various fields of formulated thought, inclusive of psychology, medicine, politics, jurisprudence, history and sociology, also must have been preserved and perpetuated many habits of "religious" thought difficult to eradicate. Therefore it is well to essay an investigation of these fields in terms of such a psychological inheritance. In so doing a clearer grasp of the continuing obstacles which the Theosophical Movement faces may be afforded while, pari passu, the individual student may be encouraged to recognize some of his own provincialisms of non-theosophical thought. None is above this need, we can be sure, if only because we are bound to be in some degree affected by our interests in one or another field of opinion.
One of the worst characteristics of sectarian religious thought is undoubtedly that of Authority as to both doctrine and conduct. Regrettably, much of this form of habitude has been perpetuated in the development of Western psychology. However, this is easy enough to understand, since psychology, more than any other science, involves those problems about which many people wish to be given an authoritarian answer. One can choose his doctors and his lawyers even according to whim, and, if he wishes, change them also; his political opinions are likewise regarded as a matter of personal preference, but when one is psychically disturbed he may no longer want to make choices -- he wants to be told, and told in such a way as to provide him assurance. Therefore, it has always been difficult for psychologists to remain at a half-way house of persuasiveness; there is always the risk that unless they show a sort of impregnable confidence in the correctness of their interpretations of psychic dilemmas, they will not be listened to at all. As presumed specialists in psychological knowledge they have thus often come close to duplicating the attitudes of priests and theologians, and, in a sense, become rivals in the same business. Many psychoanalysts have re-created the atmosphere of the confessional, and were it not for the fact that the best among their number have remembered that the presumed aim of psychoanalysis is the liberation rather than the enslavement of the individual, the Father-Confessor figure would be just as dominant in psycho-therapy as in the Roman Church.
In respect to psychology, again, which deserves extensive attention because its field is the inner or hidden nature of man, we must note the temptation to capitalize on the popularity of iconoclasm. So marked can this tendency become that a strong desire is apt to develop among psychologists to render all interpretations in terms of soul-negation. Facts are cut to fit a materialist outlook, just as they once were cut to fit a theological outlook. In all such cases, the basic temptation and the ensuing gymnastics of thought are the same in quality.
In the field of medicine we may identify the chief psychological carry-over from theology as being the popular persuasion that if a proposed method of curing malaise does something which changes physical polarity, that something must be good for man. This tendency makes injections and wonder-drugs the objects of veneration in a manner similar to the way in which followers of the Church endorsed prayer and ritualistic experience. These, too, did something, in a very immediate emotional sense, to the way a man felt, even physically. Similarly, because some "miracles" are well attested -- cures that are genuine -- the source of the cures is somehow personalized as Modern Medicine, and everything else this wonderful Entity says and does is presumed to be equally marvelous and equally beneficial. So it was with the Church, which, by proving itself right to many in attesting the reality of supra-physical experiences, won the unquestioning faith of the multitudes about everything else. Again, the belief that the happy millennium could be promised man if he would hold fast to his faith in the ministrations of the Church is repeated in the modern belief in a sort of medical millennium to come; all ills will someday be miraculously spirited away by "the men who know illness best."
One of the dominant influences in political thought has been that of Karl Marx, whose "historical materialism" became the focus for most socialist aspirations. Marx, like a self-sacrificing priest, gave his all to evolving a system for the salvation of mankind -- a salvation necessary, in his terms, primarily, because the "class war" was inevitable, in the same way that inherent sinfulness in the masses was inevitable for religious prophets in medieval times. Whenever political thought is based upon the assumption of a pre-eminently selfish or "sinful" substratum in man's nature, men will probably continue to expect exploitation and betrayal. This, obviously, comes close to being a psychopathic symptom, and the behavior of governments and political parties often do more than just "come close." Religionists always were similarly worried about the worst that men might do, for there was no inherent source for a "best." Preoccupation with sin leads to extravagant suspicion of others, and particularly of the motives of others, while views on the mainsprings of human society become warped in a manner similar to the way in which our views on the individual human being become warped.
Despite thoughtful opposition on the part of legislators and jurists who have comprehended the meaning of the U.S. Constitution's attempt to insure citizens against sectarian prejudice, the assumption that the United States is a "Christian Nation" is hard to dislodge -- the reason being, of course, that the mental habits productive of sectarian Christianity are still with us. Legislation especially obligated to care for the "rights of conscience," and religious "freedom," for instance, as pertaining to legal provision for conscientious objectors, insists that conscience be related to "belief in a Supreme Being." While the latter may be interpreted as inclusive of the philosophical Supreme Being of The Bhagavad-Gita as well as the personalized Being of traditional Christianity, it is apparent that many jurists have insisted that no one can have a religious conscience in America unless the Christian God is an article of belief.
As to economic practice, one must grant a certain validity to socialist criticisms of "capitalist society," if one also accepts claims that capitalist and Christian societies are somehow inseparable. In any case, it has become habitual in Western Christian countries to regard any economic advance as desirable, at whatever expense to others, so long as it does not break the letter of existing law. (Cf. H.P.B.'s earlier remarks about the dangers of literal acceptance of Mosaic law).
The list of theologically-inspired psychological influences carried into the fabric of present society can be extended considerably: a certain proportion of history is still written from a narrow nationalistic perspective; our nation is categorically Good and Right, while nations whose interests temporarily oppose our own are categorically Bad and Wrong. Much of current sociology, a new science with a potent influence in higher education, perpetuates the idea of the external determination of human character.
Whatever we read, then, whatever we discuss, exposes us to some points of view essentially at one with those religious orientations of thought H.P.B. calls "pernicious." Though there are many hopeful counter-trends, today, the theosophist who wishes to assist and synthesize these has an obligation to ferret out his own susceptibilities to all viewpoints which derive from the habit of considering man incapable of an independent, noble, moral life.
NOTES ON "THE KEY TO THEOSOPHY"
(Part 6 of a 20-part series)
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