THEOSOPHY, Vol. 42, No. 4, February, 1954
(Pages 165-168; Size: 12K)


[Part 7 of a 29-part series]

SO far in this series, we have concerned ourselves chiefly with words in the theosophical lexicon which, according to popular usage, have acquired a true duality of philosophical meaning. Complicated as such matters may seem, the tracing of antithetical meanings for certain terms is an easy task compared with examination of a word such as deity. For deity has not two, but scores of shaded meanings and values, and perhaps the first thing to be noted is that this fact of itself demonstrates the philosophical importance of the first fundamental proposition of The Secret Doctrine. The history of religions, both East and West, has shown that since the earliest antiquity "he who thinks he knows it, knows it not at all," while "he who thinks he knows it the least, knows it most truly," to paraphrase a passage from the Samaveda.

Deus, from the Latin, is a derivation from the Greek Theos. When the Greeks referred to "God" as Theos, they referred to the state of godhood -- or to the existence of a collectivity of divine beings. There are indeed, according to H. P. Blavatsky, in a section of the Secret Doctrine ("Gods, Monads and Atoms"), an infinite variety of "deities." Some of these are nature-forces, and some represent high Dhyan Chohanic intelligences. Both categories are, in some measure, describable. But when one oversimplifies the subject of Deity, as the Christians have done, to isolate a single object of worship, the original meaning is dangerously corrupted. For man to consider himself able to make a choice among many gods, to find one special symbol for his veneration, leaves him as free as the gods themselves. By choosing, he himself creates, and what he creates is his own destiny in accordance with the nature of the particular deity he chooses. As Krishna puts it, "whosoever worships the gods, go to them." But if there is but one Great Being to venerate, no choice exists; man lives in a theocracy, intellectually, rather than in a democracy.

A key passage in The Secret Doctrine on this subject occurs on page 445, Vol. I, headed by the simplest of all statements -- "God is our Higher Self." H. P. Blavatsky writes:

Eastern Esotericism has never degraded the One Infinite Deity, the container of all things, and this is shown by the absence of Brahma from the Rig Veda and the modest positions occupied therein by Rudra and Vishnu, who became the powerful and great Gods, the "Infinites" of the exoteric creeds, ages later. But even they, "Creators" as the three may be, are not the direct creators and "forefathers of men." The latter are shown occupying a still lower scale, and are called Prajapatis, the Pitris (our lunar ancestors), etc., etc. -- never the "One Infinite God." Esoteric philosophy shows only physical man as created in the image of the Deity; but the latter is but "the minor gods." It is the Higher-Self, the real Ego who alone is divine and God.
It is also apparent, however, that Madame Blavatsky felt a measure of sympathetic understanding for sincere Christian theists. Thus, in Isis Unveiled, she speaks of the materialist's insistence that there is no God as a "dreadful, annihilating thought." Caught in the worship of a corrupt metaphysic, many devout Christians have focussed their allegiance to "Theos" upon the only symbol made available -- a personal, misleading one. Yet if their gravitation of consciousness is not towards worship of power, they may find even in the word God a focus for the intuitive feeling that all creatures under the sun are our brothers because of one "parent." Krishna speaks of the "divine form as including all forms," and the Christians may be trying to express this vision. Thus they glimpse what H.P.B. elsewhere calls "the eternal immutability of the One."

A discussion of Platonic philosophy in Isis Unveiled helps to show that the only "quality" that can rightly be attributable to Deity is the quality of universality. For Plato, in the Theaetetus, says that communion with divinity means "becoming just and holy with wisdom." Since the quality of wisdom must contain, within itself, dispassion -- the capacity to rise above personal desires -- we can at once see that deity is realized only by ridding oneself of the maya of separateness. This is the "supreme idea" which enables us to see that the "lawgiver of the universe" can in turn only be defined through high abstraction, as "the eternal essence of things." On page vi in the Preface to Isis (I), H.P.B. reveals that her demonstrations of the existence of deity are only meant to prove "god-spirit" through "proving the soul of man by its wondrous powers." It is the deific essence in man which is the proper subject for religious worship, while all authoritarian versions of deity amount, in the final analysis, to little more than an emblem affixed to a sort of political flag. Thus deity, which is supposed to symbolize that which lies beyond all partisanship, has often, through oversimplification and corruption, become a symbol of partisanship. The self-righteous moralist has adopted a political rather than a philosophical approach to life. And thus, while he may be a "god-fearing man," he by no means understands the first basic principle which underlies the science of ethics.

It is true that "God" has, in the last century, acquired more philosophical definition among religionists themselves. This seems due to the genuine dedication of generations of free-thinkers to the task of separating religion from politics. Perhaps it is for this reason more than for any other that we find both H.P.B. and Judge speaking of America as the hope of "a new order of ages." A society dedicated to the principle that each man must be protected from thralldom to political force is already gravitating away from the authoritarian view of deity. In times of great emotional stress, however, a nation, as an individual, is apt to lose philosophical ground. As an aftermath of World War II, for instance, a Selective Service regulation pertaining to the definition of a conscientious objector to military training insists that the objector, to be recognized, must profess faith in "a supreme being." In the Selective Service Training Act of 1940, the "supreme being" was not referred to at all; the sincere religionist was simply regarded as the man whose belief in Plato's "ideal Good" was so intense as to make it impossible for him to subscribe to means incompatible with the ideal. Requirement of belief in a "supreme being," therefore, is a retrogression towards authoritarian psychology, and significantly parallels the dependence of an increasingly military society upon the principle of authority in the management of temporal affairs.

The framers of this last addition to the opinions required of conscientious objectors doubtless felt that there was nothing unconstitutional about their change, and would hold that the phrase "a supreme being" is not an attempted definition of God, but only an acknowledgement of what all men feel God to be. This could only be so, however, if the "supreme being" were allowed to be Krishna's "divine form as including all forms." As soon as God becomes a separate being, and as soon as a body of lawgivers has decided that no one is properly religious unless he considers God in such terms, freedom of religion no longer obtains. Church and State have, then, from a theosophical perspective, to some degree been fused, whether or not either the State or the Church is aware of the fusion.

But, if he follows the example set by H. P. Blavatsky, a theosophist will be less concerned with the term "Supreme Being" than with the use to which the term is put. There is nothing incurably wrong with the words "supreme being," both these words and also the designation "supreme soul" occur in The Bhagavad-Gita. Yet, just as in the transition from Theos to Deus, the popular employment of such a phrase makes the enthronement of authority easier to justify verbally. The crucial distinction is made beautifully clear in Erich Fromm's Psychoanalysis and Religion:

While in humanistic religion God is the image of man's higher self, a symbol of what man potentially is or ought to become, in authoritarian religion God becomes the sole possessor of what was originally man's: of his reason and his love.

That early Christianity is humanistic and not authoritarian is evident from the spirit and text of all Jesus' teachings. Jesus' precept that "the kingdom of God is within you" is the simple and clear expression of nonauthoritarian thinking. But only a few hundred years later, after Christianity had ceased to be the religion of the poor and humble peasants, artisans, and slaves (the Am haarez) and had become the religion of those ruling the Roman Empire, the authoritarian trend in Christianity became dominant. Even so, the conflict between the authoritarian and humanistic principles in Christianity never ceased. The mystics have been deeply imbued with the experience of man's strength, his likeness to God, and with the idea that God needs man as much as man needs God; they have understood the sentence that man is created in the image of God to mean the fundamental identity of God and man. Not fear and submission but love and the assertion of one's own powers are the basis of mystical experience. God is not a symbol of power over man but of man's own powers.

Thus, similarly, writes H.P.B.: "Esoteric philosophy denies Deity no more than it does the Sun. It only refuses to accept any of the Gods of monotheistic religion." The humanistic approach to Deity is essentially that of Theosophy, encouraging man's strength rather than exploiting his fear of his own weakness. The word deity, therefore, may be either an inspiration or a curse, depending upon the meaning intended by one who uses it.

Next article:
[Bigot. Belief. Bias. Partisan.
Brahma. Brahmin. Intellectualism.
Buddha. Sanskrit. Desire.]
[Part 8 of a 29-part series]

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