Thursday, December 20, 2007

My letter to Religion (for publication)

A longer version is posted online in other fora, but was not for publication. This is what I am asking be published if space allows:

Dear Editors:

In “Marginality and Apostasy in the Baha’i Community,” Moojan Momen names me first among a list of alleged Baha’i apostates. In three sentences he misrepresents me on four crucial points:

"Johnson, a librarian, had been a Baha'i for five years (1969-1974) and could be called a serial apostate (1) since he then became a theosophist and subsequently wrote a book 'debunking' Blavatsky. (2) He has now moved on to Edgar Cayce's Association for Research and Enlightenment. (3) He was active on the Talisman list as an ex-Baha'i, attacking core Baha'i beliefs (4) and publishing an article about the Talisman episode in Gnosis magazine."

I was never a Baha’i apostate by Momen’s definition, resigning as a member at the age of 20 but remaining in friendly relations with Baha’is for many years thereafter. My Talisman membership in the mid-1990s was motivated primarily by the fact that I was writing a book at the time that addressed Baha’i history, and the discussion list provided access to the leading scholars in the field. Several Baha’i members of the list read relevant sections of my manuscript and made helpful suggestions; these included Robert Stockman of the National Baha’i Center and Christopher Buck, both now cited as sources by Momen, as well as Juan Cole, now named as an apostate. Since the book, Initiates of Theosophical Masters, was published in 1995 no Baha’i has ever to my knowledge suggested in any way that it was unfriendly to the Baha’i community. Far from angrily rejecting my Baha’i “spiritual past,” I embraced it in that book and in my dealings with Baha’is at the time.

The statement that I became a theosophist and subsequently wrote a book debunking Blavatsky is misleading in three ways. I wrote three books about Blavatsky, all while an active theosophist with substantial support from fellow theosophists. The research on which they were based was shared in a collegial atmosphere over a ten year period, in Theosophical conferences and lectures across the country and abroad. Although my books aroused some controversy, most Theosophical reviews were favorable. I have never repudiated or attacked Blavatsky and my books have generally, and accurately, been regarded as friendly to her.

It is untrue that I have now “moved on” to the Association for Research and Enlightenment after apostasizing from Theosophy. In 1995 I moved on from Theosophy as a literary subject and began research for a book about Edgar Cayce that appeared three years later. But I first joined the ARE thirty years ago, a few months before first joining the Theosophical Society, and have been involved intermittently with both movements ever since. The two have always been intertwined interests for me, but except for the period when I was writing about Cayce in the late 1990s, Blavatsky has been the greater influence and remains so now.

The claim that I participated in Talisman “as an ex-Baha’i” who attacked “core beliefs” is another misrepresentation. It is more accurate to say that I was there as a Theosophical historian, whose ex-Baha’i status inspired him to write a book that was friendly to the Baha’is. The majority of listmembers were welcoming and did not perceive me as attacking their religion. But in 1996 some of the Baha’i scholars on Talisman were targeted by the administration as dissidents which resulted in the closing of the list. My brief Gnosis article about the experience is the only thing I have ever published that was critical of the Baha’is, so I find it surprising ten years later to see myself at the head of Momen’s list. It is disheartening to see a sectarian enemies list filled with personal attacks on individuals in a scholarly journal, and I hope this will be the last instance of such an article in Religion.

Sincerely yours,

K. Paul Johnson


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