D. M. Bennett: The Truth Seeker

D. M. Bennett: The Truth Seeker

produced by Roderick Bradford with Inquiry Media Productions, 2009.
Available from RodBradford@gmail.com. 59 minutes, DVD $20; Blu-Ray $25.

The American freethinker DeRobigne Mortimer Bennett (1818-82) was a defender of civil rights in the great tradition of Thomas Paine. Like most of the Founding Fathers, Paine was a deist, affirming natural rather than revealed religion and morality rather than doctrine and denying that God ever interferes with the laws of nature, propositions with which Bennett would have been fully sympathetic. Paine believed that all human beings have a natural right to freedom—political, intellectual, and spiritual.

In these beliefs, he was closely echoed by D. M. Bennett. Paine's background was Quaker, and Bennett's was Shaker—both groups that set great store on individual liberty and initiative. So both were freethinkers grounded in a moral view of life. These two great defenders of civil rights held views that are basic also to Theosophy: that equality is the essence of life, that human beings have a mind that can embrace the universe (Secret Doctrine 2:17, 105), and that our "future is the future of a thing whose growth and splendor has no limit" as "we are each our own absolute law-giver, the dispenser of glory or gloom to ourselves" (Idyll of the White Lotus).

Like Paine and Annie Besant as well, Bennett expressed his views in print (in a periodical he founded and called The Truth Seeker). And like Besant, Bennett was persecuted for his unconventional ideas and was accused of immorality as an excuse for that persecution. He served time in a New York penitentiary, and after his release he traveled abroad, meeting and being honored by Besant in England. He also visited Henry Steel Olcott and H.P. Blavatsky in India, where he joined the Theosophical Society, whose motto, "There is no religion higher than Truth," was fully in line with his convictions.

For HPB's view of Bennett, see her Collected Works, 4:69, 79-80, 146-48, 285-86, 353, 368-69, 393; 5:119; 10:141n.; a biography-bibliography can be found in 4:625-33. Olcott writes about him in Old Diary Leaves 2:327ff. The Masters' view can be found in Mahatma Letters (chronological edition), 105–06, 114.

Bennett, Paine, and Theosophy are all lights for our own time, possessing the same confidence in our human ability not merely to endure but to prevail. No time is more in need of this confidence than our own.

Paine and Theosophy are both widely known, if not deeply understood. Bennett is not as well recognized. Now, however, an excellent source of insight into his life and ideals is available in a video by Roderick Bradford: D. M. Bennett: The Truth Seeker. It is a complement to a book of the same title, also by Bradford, reviewed in Quest 94.6 (Nov.-Dec. 2006, 236–37). For those more inclined to the visual image than to the printed word, as many of us are, this video is an ideal introduction to its subject. In addition to these two works on Bennett, Bradford, who lives in Allentown, Pennsylvania, has contributed material in The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief (2007) and articles in American History, American AtheistFree InquiryThe Truth Seeker, and Quest.

A three-clip preview of the video can be watched at the following URL: http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php. The second clip, "Infidel Abroad," is especially recommended for its references to Blavatsky, Olcott, Besant, and Theosophy.

John Algeo

The reviewer is former president of the Theosophical Society in America.