Christianity-Theosophy Conference: Compatible Worldviews?

Originally printed in the January - February  2001 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Ellwood, Robert. "Christianity-Theosophy Conference: Compatible Worldviews." Quest  89.1 (JANUARY - FEBRUARY  2001): 5.

By Robert Ellwood

[An invitational Christianity-Theosophy Conference was held under the sponsorship of the Kern Foundation at the national center of the Theosophical Society in America. Conference participants were John Algeo, David Bland, Richard Brooks, Ruben Cabigting, John B. De Hoff, Robert Ellwood, Gracia Fay Ellwood, Jenny Gresko, Stephan A. Hoeller, Brant A. Jackson, John C. Kern, Anton Lysy, and Jay Williams. Corresponding participants were Joseph L. Tisch, Edward F. James, and Leslie Price. The following introductory report is the first of a series by participants.]

Can a Theosophist be a Christian? And how about a Christian who is also a Theosophist? Are the two worldviews compatible? Or does it depend on what kind of Christian, and what kind of Theosophist, one is talking about?

These topics were basic to a conference on Theosophy and Christianity held at Olcott, Wheaton, Illinois, the weekend of November 10–12, 2000. Those in attendance were well aware that Christianity, in at least some forms of the traditionally dominant religion of Europe and the Americas, has been very severely criticized by Theosophical writers from H. P. Blavatsky on down. Others, largely of the "Esoteric Christianity" school of such Theosophists as Annie Besant, C. W. Leadbeater, and Geoffrey Hodson, have endeavored to show that the Western faith, understood in an inner and mystical way, runs well in tandem with Theosophical principles. It seemed time to revisit the whole issue, particularly in view of the reality that both Christianity and Theosophy have developed considerably during the decades since the first and second generations of modern Theosophy.

The conference participants first made up a list of what we regarded to be basic themes of Christianity as normally understood. These included such ideas as exclusivity, original sin, vicarious atonement, a personal God, God as Trinity, Jesus Christ as true God and true man, the authority of scripture and of the church, the self-correcting prophetic tradition in Judeo-Christian religion, and the ultimate realization that God is love and acts in the world. We then went through these one after the other to discuss their relationship to Theosophy.

Vicarious atonement, for example, the belief that Christ died for our sins, reminds one of the bodhisattva ideal, the ideal of one who could enter nirvana but instead returns to earth voluntarily to undergo great suffering on behalf of all sentient beings, and of the spiritual master who is able to share and thus lighten the karma of disciples. The Trinity bespeaks the three Logoi or outpourings of creation told of in The Secret Doctrine and other sources.

At the same time, we were well aware that no religion, including Christianity,is simply doctrines, but is also innumerable ordinary people with their spiritual quests and their needs for worship and community, which churches often fulfill in ways that Theosophists ought to honor and understand. We felt then that we need to build bridges of respect and sharing both individually and collectively with Christian churches and other religious institutions, such as Christian colleges and service organizations.

This conference was a start in this perhaps long overdue discussion in North American Theosophy. We trust it will continue. To aid in this process, a series of very short articles relevant to Theosophy and Christianity by participants in the conference will soon begin to appear in the Quest.

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