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New Age: Cultural Colonialism

There are few things that are liable to rile me up more than the exploitation of one people's culture by another group. The only thing that can usually anger me more is the instances that group doing the exploiting were also responsible for attempting to obliterate those cultures.

New Age religion is just another attack on a former subject race by its masters. Look over the history of the last two centuries and you will find it rife with examples of Colonial masters working to suppress people. The easiest way was to destroy their language, which in turn would lead to the suppression of their culture.

In a move typical of empire building the world over, closely following the armies, would come the missionaries, to bring the natives news of their salvation. Surely, they could not want to live without the benefit of Christ and suffer the eternal fires of damnation.

While the missionaries taught English and spread the gospel according to King James or the Pope from Shanghai to Bombay, to the deep woods of Northern Ontario, and the Amazon basin, governors passed laws to assist them in their holy duties. The laws would create schools for children to be shorn of their culture, ban the use of religious languages in sacred texts, and encourage the development of the narcotic trade.

Through the obliteration of languages and religion, it became easier to assimilate and convert an indigenous population. The Victorian English gave this process the quaint name of "The White Man's Burden", where in they saw that it as their responsibility to take the coloured people of the world and lead them into civilization whether they wanted to or not.

Once they had settled the issue of culture the creation of the period's history had to be taken care of. Historians and anthropologists would look for proof that supported theories that pointed out the primitive nature of the indigenous people's lives and how much better off they were under their new rulers.

But of primary importance, before anything else was to turn them into good Christians whether they wanted to be or not. It was just another part of the White Man's Burden to ensure that the poor, ignorant, people weren’t allowed to miss out on having their souls saved from eternal damnation.

So what's changed? Why are the grandchildren and children of the oppressors now seeking answers to their questions about God, religion, and spiritual enlightenment from the same cultures that their ancestors tried to obliterate? Or has anything changed at all in the way cultures of other nations are treated by the people who call themselves New Age.

On the surface, it looks as if there is a movement towards treating the teachings and religions of other cultures with respect. People certainly seem interested enough in learning about them. But is that the reality?

Look closely at some of the books that are for sale in either the new age section of your bookstore, or even scarier, a new age bookstore, and check out the titles. Predominate will be stuff like Ten Easy Steps To Empowerment, Hidden Secrets Of Mystical Buddhism Revealed, Shamanism, Dreams, And Power, or Bang The Drum Slowly: Power Dances of the Native Americans.

If the titles of the books didn't make you gag wait until you see the authors of the books and their biographies. There's never been a collection of blonder, blue-eyed Indians, Hindi, or Amazon basin Shaman in history. Well maybe they've studied, or done research, and in spite of their cheesy titles, the books are legitimate works of scholarship?

Well if you call channelling the spirit of a ten thousand year old shaman, or being the reincarnation of a Cree medicine woman, or making it up off the top of your head research, then yes they have. But even if they had some sort of access to knowledge, and even if what they were saying had any basis in reality, what right do they have to set themselves up as teachers and purveyors of another's culture.

Less then two hundred years ago, European and North American governments were doing whatever was in their power to obliterate these cultures. By some miracle, these people managed to survive our best attempts to destroy their traditions, and in some cases are only now managing to begin their recovery.

How do you think it feels for them to see the faces of their former oppressors looking back at them from the dust jackets of books claiming to sell their practices? Wouldn't it make them just a little pissed off?

I don't know if any of the titles I listed above exist or not, I wouldn't be surprised if they did, but there are many of similar type written by people claiming some sort of knowledge or other. What it boils down to in the end is just another form of imperialism. These people have decided that they, and they alone, are the ones qualified to teach people about cultural concepts belonging to other peoples.

That no one seems to question the right of buxom, buckskin clad, blonds, or red headed, sari draped seers, or golf slacks wearing gurus, to sell and teach paths to enlightenment based on cultures that are not their own only serves to show how little respect our society has for other people's faiths.

What does it matter that there are millions of people alive today who are legitimate followers of those faiths, who were born into a society governed by those philosophies. The implication is that they don't know as much about their own faith as these members of the elite.

Is it any wonder that in more and more cultures, especially those of former colonial countries, the populations are turning against North America and Europe? Our general attitude towards them is still condescending and arrogant, from our theft of their culture to our unwillingness to recognise their rights to have control over their own natural resources. In spite of their having gained independence they must still feel like they are treated as a lesser among equals.

In colonial India The British East India Tea Company forbid the printing of Hindu religious texts and histories in Sanskrit, and would only allow them to be printed in approved English translations. Not only did that destroy Sanskrit as a language but it ensured that everything that everybody read about their religion and history was from a British point of view.

Walking into a New Age bookstore today is like seeing that policy put in effect for the whole world. Not only is it rare to find a book instructing you in the practices of a culture written by a person of that culture, scarcer still are ones that have anything to do with the original intentions of that culture.

For people who claim to have found the path to enlightenment, the authors of these books are at best ignorant and at worst exploitive thieves. Cultural colonialism hasn't ended; it's just wearing a new disguise, and it's called New Age.

Leap In The Dark

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wow richard- quite a hardhitting post! great going.

Well done, Richard! Trust you to take the well-trousered pants off that bunch of fakers and phonies. Keep telling it like it is.

Great article Richard! Being the eternal optimist, I am sure that this form of imperialism will also wear out in time, just like suppression of freedom. The current day mind is searching for avenues to understand itself and the concept of life. For a truly intent seeker, nothing stands in the way - not imperialism, religion or biases. As long as practioners of the different faiths of this world can keep that candle alive and bright, the seekers of answers to eternal questions have guides. Like you, I also look forward to the day when humankind will accept all cultures and faiths as treasures that need to be accepted, respected, practised and preserved for future generations. They all represent different well trodden paths by the questioning Mind.

you are probably one of the select few who knows or feels the end time is very near i can only say that no matter how you try to present the truth the ones that are not to understand it wont i have spent afew years trying to find out the important things like who i am meaning what clan i come from thats the first step and i would also like to add that these cerimonies you talk about with people torturing themselves is wrong i certainly agree how can you be connecting spiritually with the CREATOR GREAT SPIRIT that way when the creator is love not torture today if you look at all the things our people are taught they are reversed so that we dont do what we should i personally feel and look at my dreams as my religon i did at one time go out searching and participating in different ceremonies sweatlodge and so forth but there was alot of things that i felt werent right to me there are those three special times ayear when we should honour the living the dead and the CREATOR GREAT SPIRIT (SPRING)FOR LIFE (FALL)for our ancestors(winter)for the CREATOR GREAT SPIRIT now if you look at that spring brings with it new life fall is when things go back to sleep (winter)purity to rededicate ones self to the CREATOR GREAT SPIRIT i am an indian woman who is searching


I'm honoured that you felt you coul speak here. You are balways welcome to say what you need to say here whenever you feel the need.

I don't know which nation you are, but where I live is mainly people of the flint, and they would say Onakawahi- go with spirit-(that's almost spelt right, but any Mohawk speaker out there is free to correct that)
Nywah and Megueech for visting.

Richard Marcus

You need enlightenment to understand that there is no truth left in any religion. The original teachers had enlightenment and taught good teaching, but over time the true teaching becomes eroded and people add their own incorrect ideas. They all taught the same thing which is to watch what you are doing, is it good or is it bad, good actions make good results, bad actions make bad results. Jesus did not tell people to "worship" him, to sing songs and go to church and make statues and crosses, Buddha did not teach Zen, meditation, chanting or bowing to statues, Buddhism means teaching of buddha, but buddha didnt teach this so its not buddhism, You need enlightenment.

Thanks Richard i do not know how to formalize all the things you are nailing but alot of truth is bleeding from your arrow.I am Metis and had a big native urban upbringing in a rural white cultural area close to one reserve.I used to like the new agers and their outstanding idealogies and sacred corn flake card stuff till they were to close to my heart and didnt get me.I then thought to myself they were a bunch of salad makers with bad math, music, art, archeological practices and strange people on cereal box acid trips,I mean it got sad..they are pulling their wires at camp trying to fit in somehow then being money mongers and natural gamblers and lazy they could never allow someone like my dad or grandma or me to take first place in anything except the washroom lineup for fear of us peeing on their new shoes.These weirdos are making a shit load of coin off our undies and sacred trust beware ......recall who you are in your ancestry..hey hey