From the Editor's Desk

Printed in the  Spring  2017  issue of Quest magazine. 
Citation:  Smoley, Richard, "From the Editor's Desk" Quest 105:2(Spring 2017) pg. 2

It has become commonplace to say that our country is entering into a dark time.

It may be so; it may not be so. Forebodings of this sort do not have much value as predictions. Dreaded events often never arrive. On the other hand, many nations have marched cheerily and optimistically into bloodbaths.

But there are two points that, I think, need to be made in the current circumstances.

1. All nations rise, reach their peak for a generation or two, then inevitably decline. This appears to be an organic process. As the British author Havelock Ellis remarked, a civilization is no more to be blamed for decadence than a flower is to be blamed for going to seed.

2. All nations undergo periodic convulsions of mass insanity. (I talked a bit about this issue in the editorial for the winter 2016 Quest.) This may be occurring in the U.S. today. It makes sense that it would, because mental illness of all kinds is now pandemic nationwide.

I have never read or heard anything by anyone that gives a really satisfactory explanation of either fact. In War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy argued that history was brought about, not by great men, but by the collective wills of all the individuals taking part in those events. I believe this is true, but it does not take us much further.

Of course no one wants to be scooped up and whisked along by events, but they happen nonetheless. How are we to conduct ourselves in the midst of them?

In the present, standing orders still apply. People of decency and integrity—no matter what their spiritual orientation is—are always bound to live by the highest and best principles known to them. This is necessary in good times, but even more necessary in bad times— if only because, as experience has proved, sometimes your decency is your only safeguard. As the I Ching says about such situations, “The superior man falls back upon his inner worth / In order to escape the dif­ficulties” (hexagram 12, “Standstill”).

It is also useful to remember that, as the Buddhists teach, current conditions represent the ripening of la­tent karma. The seeds of todays actions were sown a long time ago. They will play themselves out, whether we like it or not. There is little one can do to reverse them. Nobody could have stopped World War II on September 1, 1939. This helps explain why The Key to Theosophy (as quoted in Tim Boyd’s “Viewpoint” for this issue) says, “The Masters look at the future, not at the present.”

This does not, of course, mean that we should take no action in regard to present circumstances. But it does mean taking a longer view of them. Some eso- tericists say they are working with a view to fifty or a hundred years in the future.

In light of this consideration, it may be useful to consider how the last hundred years have borne fruit. As Tim goes on to say, one of the great challenges, as seen by the founders of the Theosophical Society, was to counter the “superstition” of organized religion. In one way, this goal has advanced: the intellectual main­stream acknowledges that much of the Bible is not lit­erally true and that many of the dogmas of Christianity make no sense. In another way, the outcome has not been so good, as fundamentalists of all stripes have be­come stronger or at any rate more vocal. To provide a variation on Greshams law, “Bad religion drives out good.”

The weakening of religion has, unfortunately, strengthened another trend that Theosophy set out to combat: the “brutal materialism” of science. Material­ism stands on a shakier conceptual foundation than ever, and yet the mainstream intelligentsia cling to it ever more desperately—fearing that without it, we will have to go back to believing that the world was created 6000 years ago.

It is time to start asking harder questions of science. Here is one: the current environmental crisis is almost entirely the result of scientific development. We would not be facing climate change to the degree that we are if nobody had invented the internal combustion engine. The usual response is to assume that these are unfor­tunate side-effects of technological development, and that science can fix them perfectly well if it is permitted to do so. I wonder. At this point we have to ask, are the present crises merely incidental to a materialistic worldview or a direct and inseparable consequence of them? After all, if the world is simply a mass of dead matter (with the curious exception of ourselves), it is nothing more than a lump of dirt to be mined. We need not bother about cleaning it up.

Just as immediately, we face problems from the softer sciences, such as economics. Many take it as a given that market forces will produce not only the most efficient economy, but also the most just and equitable distribution of wealth. It is not hard to see who might find such theories appealing. But they have proved to be wrong.

Religion, science, economics—all of these disci­plines are working on premises that have long been found to be incorrect. If you are working from false premises, you will end up with false conclusions. That is obvious. The world as we know it is working on these premises. You can decide for yourself about the results.

“The world has not yet experienced any compre­hensive awakening or rebirth,” says A Course in Mir­acles—a statement I find it hard to dispute. Whether we are in dark times or not, clearly there is still much work to be done.

Richard Smoley


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