Thursday, November 26, 2015
Annie Besant's Conversion to Theosophy
MR. SYMES ON MRS. BESANT'S CONVERSION
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I Have said (in my first note on this pamphlet of Mrs. Besant's) that that lady had brought a scandal upon our movement. The scandal consists in two things. 1st. It is a sort of breach of discipline. 2nd. It is a gross insult to tell our people that Theosophy or Pantheism is part and parcel of Secularism.
As to the first. I admit at once that we have no rigid discipline. But Secularism is an organised movement; whoever enters it as a worker and undertakes to battle in company with others for right and liberty must, in the nature of the case, be expected to give up some measure of his individual right and liberty. Without this no organisation can exist. No person in a voluntary united movement can have all his own way. If everyone claims the right, and practically exercises it, to push or preach his own private fads, anarchy at once ensues, the organisation is dissolved.
I have met with many people who claim to be Freethinkers; but they believe in Spiritualism, in Theism, in popery, in monarchy, etc. Now let us suppose lecturers and leaders of each of those types meeting to spread Freethought, uniting in a crusade against priests, parsons, and all pretended revelation, divine government, etc. Could anything be more absurd? They may be all good men, earnest, sincere, able. But they cannot unite except upon neutral matters. This needs no illustration for it is patent to all.
And if people unite and agree at first, and afterwards develop different beliefs, the dissolution of the union must follow. Let Mr. Bradlaugh accept and preach, as part of Secularism, the immortality of the soul; let Mr. Foote adopt and teach the doctrine of Purgatory and the efficacy of prayers and masses for the dead; let Mrs. Besant do as she is doing: let me adopt Spiritualism and pit it against Theosophy—Is it possible for us henceforth to work together for what we have all along considered to be Secularism? Let Mrs. Besant answer..
Not by any vows we have taken or promises or pledges given are we bound to be true to Secularism; but by the position we have taken up and held so long, a position in which we have been trusted and honored for so many years — and no-one more than Mrs. Besant—we are bound by the most sacred obligations to be true to our people and our movement,
If Mrs. Besant has lost faith in Secularism, her course is clear, to leave it openly. To still cling to it and retain her position in it, after adopting a superstition as gross as can be found, and which, on the face of it, is plainly not Secularism, is a scandal.
Far be it from me to limit the range of freedom of thought. I know no subject that ought to be forbidden to a Freethinker or a Secularist! I am not aware that any subject exists, any creed, philosophy or doctrine that a Freethinker ought not to follow if his convictions bid him do so. That is the only course open to him. But I do not see how a Freethinker can be bound to swallow contradictory systems or doctrines. Secularism repudiates miracles; Mrs. Besant adopts them. It is idle to say it is not a miracle to send letters by disembodied brothers, to project your soul from the body and travel with the speed of thought to the most distant lands, often transporting material things with you. To believe this is not Secularism, unless some remarkably good evidence be forthcoming to support it. Mrs. Besant gives no evidence ret that might not support the resurrection or the miraculous birth of Jesus. And henceforth she can no more denounce miracles, whether those of Jerusalem, Rome or Knock, while holding to the gospel by Blavatsky.
I maintain then that Mrs. Besant, by accepting Theosophy. reverses the whole of her life for the last fourteen or fifteen years. She may be right or wrong in doing this. All I say is that it is a scandal to Secularism to say that her new departure is no departure, to pretend that she still acts as a consistent Secularist, while professing her faith in miracles.
I cannot believe that she herself would admit that I was doing justice to myself or Secularism if I re-embraced Wesleyanism, and preached the old evangelical doctrines from our platform, as a genuine part of Secularism, legitimately and logically within the purview of Freethought.
To accept a god, though he be pantheistic, and miracles? though we are- assured they are not superhuman, are not the acts of an unbeliever, a Freethinker, a Secularist, however deeply Mrs. Besant may be convinced of their truth. It is plain to everyone else that when she became a Theosophist she became a believer. And really, it would have grieved me less to see her joining the Roman Catholic communion than to see her bow her intellect to the transparent imposture of Mrs. Blavatsky.
I have written strongly. I hope Mrs. Besant won't rush away to the conclusion that I feel any personal enmity towards her. I am sure I do not. But I am profoundly grieved to think that so able and earnest an advocate of Secularism, and so fearless a defender, should have turned her back upon it and gone over to the enemy. She must pardon me if I can see it in no other light. I am absolutely sure that Pantheism and Theosophy are no part of Secularism, and never will be until recommended by better evidence than has ever yet been offered for either.
One painful fact is apparent in reading Mrs. Besant's pamphlet, and that is, that not her intellect has led her into theosophy, but its negation. Mrs. Besant is one of the most intellectual persons of the day; and yet her reasons for adopting Theosophy are just on a par with those persons immeasurably her inferiors have given for removing from Freethought to Christianity. Many years ago I read the recantation of John Henry Gordon, who left the Secularists and became "pastor" Gordon, Baptist. Well, and I say it with pain, Mrs. Besant's pamphlet, though far better written, is equally flimsy, inconsequential and disappointing with that! It is simply provoking to find an intellectual person so absolutely wrongheaded. She has published her pamphlet to show her reasons for adopting theosophy; the reasons have been omitted, and paltry excuses take their place—that is, she has evidently adopted theosophy first and then looked about for something to excuse her conduct. And no more flimsy excuses were ever yet offered for a change of front.—Liberator.