Thursday, December 2, 2010

K. Paul Johnson Gets a Clarification

As I am at present ombudsman at Blavatsky News, I have be asked to adjudicate on our piece of November 25, 2010, that commented on a post at the site, History of the Adepts. “All posts at Blavatsky News are vetted by those who write here,” as has been stated. I also read Harry’s piece before it went through the editorial steamroller and did not regard it in any way as being an attack on K. Paul Johnson or the Church of Light. That is not what this site was started for or how it functions.

Going to the site History of the Adepts, at the date of the post one finds Mr. Johnson’s name absent as the originator of the posts; the only thing indicating the source of the material is that it is “Sponsored by the Church of Light.” As it stands it would lead to the impression that the Church of Light sanctioned or “sponsored” the comments. Harry did a bit of investigative journalism and after some searching revealed that K. Paul Johnson was the person behind it. Even Paul Johnson found it necessary to clarify the relation of the Church of Light to his comments after we reported on the site. Where is the attack in this?

Two statements give some perspective for the reader about Paul Johnson. (Not everyone who reads Blavatsky News is involved the theosophical/esoteric/occult world.)

1: Paul Johnson has been struggling for relevancy in the theosophical world for some time, and having gone through a number of groups has now found a home at the Church of Light. Is this an attack?

2: For years Johnson has been defending his theory that Blavatsky’s Masters were a mask for Indian insurrectionists. Is this an attack on Paul Johnson?

In analyzing Johnson’s post, Blavatsky News noted: While giving a lot of material that may bias the reader against Blavatsky’s claims he does not cite any exculpatory evidence on her behalf. Let us look at Paul Johnson’s post to see if this is an accurate statement.

The longest piece of documentary evidence he gives in it is an extensive quote from a missive attributed to Blavatsky. He introduces it with the words: A letter dated May 22, 1878 from Blavatsky to Chintamon was transcribed by Eleanor Sidgwick and is now the archives of the Society for Psychical Research.This date is highly significant as the official date of the amalgamation of the Theosophical Society and the Arya Samaj.The transcription was published in the first volume of the Letters of H.P. Blavatsky. Sidgwick paraphrases at times but mostly the letter seems to be directly transcribed. 

But let us look at the way the letter was presented in the volume where it is taken from. The editor, John Algeo, states: The copies were probably made by Eleanor Sidgwick, who freely abbreviated and paraphrased the material and interjected personal opinions about it. She rephrased passages and described what she saw in the letters, often writing about HPB, rather than recording HPB’s actual words. Her general skepticism about paranormal matters, amounting to a prejudice that distorted her perception and judgment, has been noted by Brian Inglis (360-1). In her transcriptions, it is not always clear what is quotation from the letters and what is paraphrase or comment. The material in quotation marks was presumably quoted directly from the letters, but quotation marks are not used consistently. Some of the parenthetical commentary and summary is in square brackets, but most is not. —The Letters of H.P. Blavatsky, 1: 401.

Here we have two different viewpoints about this material.

Hurrychund Chintamon (or Harischandra Chintamani) was a minor figure involved with the early Theosophical Society. He was head of the Bombay Arya Samaj and after the Theosophists arrived in India it was found that he had pocketed monies sent for the Arya Samaj. Col. Olcott mentions him briefly in his Old Diary Leaves, 1:20: I shall never forget the scene when HPB, at a meeting of the Arya Samaj, let loose at him the bolts of her scorn, and forced him to promise restitution. The money was returned, but our dealings with the man came to a sudden stop. HPB wrote to the Indian press about the experience of the Theosophists with him, and noted in her Scrapbook that he was “Expelled publicly from the T.S. for embezzling Rs. 600 of the money sent by us from America and England for the Arya Samaj. Ran away to England secretly after thus carrying away Rs. 4,000 of Dya Nand Saraswati.”—BCW 2: 48. He was on her radar for years after that for his name appears in her correspondence. He had a motive to discredit her character as a witness, and his offering this material to the Society for Psychical Research shows this.

Mrs. Sidgwick who selected the material in these letters was hardly an unbiased participant in this. Beatrice Hastings has shown how Mrs. Sidgwick, whose style she describes as “something between an oiled butcher’s knife and a rusty saw,” slanted evidence in the 1885 SPR Committee report. The SPR was still smarting after Annie Besant’s casuistic review in Time of March 1891, “The Great Mare’s Nest of the Psychical Research Society.” Richard Hodgson who wrote a large part of their report was forced to make a reply in the SPR Journal. There was an obvious attempt to amass new material that would substantiate their claim of Blavatsky being a fraud, forger, and spy. Interestingly, there was no mention of the extracts that Mrs. Sidgwick made of Hurrychund’s letters. Since accusations of forgery still abounded, Theosophists would no doubt have asked to see the full originals if published. We have nothing of what the Hurrychund part of the correspondence was like, so that there is no indication what his letters may have contained to elicit her replies.

So, these Hurrychund/Blavatsky letters are somewhat problematic, and fairness and scholarly ability should have noted this. At least a line or a footnote stating that their representation as an accurate account has been questioned, which Johnson’s statement: “Sidgwick paraphrases at times but mostly the letter seems to be directly transcribed,” does not fulfill. Ergo, in this piece, While giving a lot of material that may bias the reader against Blavatsky’s claims he [Paul Johnson] does not cite any exculpatory evidence on her behalf.  Is this an attack?

In her 1888 piece, “Is Denunciation a Duty?” indicating the code of conduct for Theosophists, Blavatsky noted: “A natural and truthful statement of facts cannot be regarded as “evil speaking” or as a condemnation of one’s brother,” however much unpleasantness it may cause. Nowhere in the piece now submitted to analysis is K. Paul Johnson vilified, his integrity challenged or his scholarship denied. Mr. Johnson’s work was held up to the same rigorous scrutiny we apply to others. He wrote a piece, Blavatsky News reported on it. That is all. The end.

We apologize to our readers for devoting so much space for a post that has gotten so little traction on this site, taking away from our reporting on real news. Ordinarily we would not have revisited it other than Mr. Johnson has made such a spectacle about it. We are reminded though of Blavatsky’s remark that one cannot always be waving a red cloth and complain when the bull charges at you. So far no one has addressed the central point of the original post at Blavatsky News: that in the piece under review “While giving a lot of material that may bias the reader against Blavatsky’s claims he [Paul Johnson] does not cite any exculpatory evidence on her behalf, which we hope we have adequately addressed here.

We are not for censorship. But if you raise issues, people will comment on them, especially at a news site devoted to the subject. We hold to Blavatsky’s dictum in Isis Unveiled 1: 120: “It is not alone for the esoteric philosophy that we fight, nor for any modern system of moral philosophy, but for the inalienable right of private judgment.” Some would deny us this right, preferring instead to revel behind the notion of an “attack” and fabricate a feud where none exists.

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