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Monday, January 24, 2022

How Christian missionaries, Hollywood misrepresent indigenous religions like Africa’s Voodoo as ‘black magic’, ‘evil’

Missionary activities are ongoing long after the colonizing British left Bharat. The fault-lines created due to such conversions have created major problems that include domestic conflicts and separatist movements (as in the North East). Religious conversion is incumbent upon spawning hatred of the original faith and so demonizing and vilifying Hindu Dharma is a non-stop activity for “harvesting souls.” Swami Vivekananda had remarked, “Every man going out of the Hindu pale is not only a man less, but an enemy more.”

Uprooting natives from their traditional culture and moorings (deracination) helps create an army of “brown sahibs” (in the Bharatiya context) who then help colonizers to polarize the colonized country and in the present day context, it aids Break-Bharat attempts by international vested interest groups of all hues.

Like conversion, colonial brainwashing also aids in deracination and has created a group called “Hindus in name only” (HINOs) who provide the requisite cacophony of anti-Hindu noises that help white and Islamist vested interests.

Like in Bharat, colonizer Christians used evangelization in other colonized countries as a tool to gain control over natives and their land and resources. The same modus operandi was used in Africa to decimate traditional spiritual systems. In Africa, the colonialists even abducted people from these lands forcibly shipping them over to their countries to work as slaves under inhuman conditions. With continued propaganda, the US today presents itself as the most noble, altruistic, democratic, and egalitarian country in the world even when its history of slavery and apartheid is quite recent.

These countries conveniently remain silent on their own gory past of slavery and brutality while preaching to Hindu Bharat on inclusivity and alleged caste oppression. Like Hindu Dharma has been demonized by the missionaries and colonialists, African traditional religions and spiritual legacies have also faced vilification.

For example, owing to the way Christians have portrayed Voodoo, the word Voodoo conjures up images of black magic with sinister looking dolls used to harm and hurt others. Hollywood too has been an accomplice in demonizing it such that we associate Voodoo only with sinister horror stories and with evil. Thanks to such propaganda, most of us don’t even know that Voodoo encompasses a host of spiritual traditions and is an African traditional religion. The fundamental principle of the faith is that everything is spirit.  After Christian proselytization, Voodoo has survived by assimilating Roman Catholic tenets and reinvented itself using syncretism.

Like Voodoo was reduced to ‘black magic’, the evangelists tried to essentialize Hindu Dharma by reducing it to the so-called ‘caste system’ and misrepresented it as ‘superstitious cult/Satanic worship’. Despite the constant demonization and onslaught by Christian and Islamic evangelism including Crusades, Inquisitions, and Jihad, Hindu Dharma has been one of the few indigenous faiths that survived.

Africans too were partially able to protect and preserve their traditional spiritual systems in the face of Christian missionary brainwashing and indoctrination. One Al-jazeera article explains that African slaves used syncretism to help parts of Voodoo tradition to survive:

The survival of those African religious traditions is testament to the resilience and spiritual ingenuity of those who survived the Middle Passage…

Another study also discusses the preservation of African traditional cultures in the context of Cameroon:

In the era of burgeoning Pentecostal and charismatic churches in Africa, traditional African religions have been under relentless assault and bastardization. While the state of Cameroon and many other countries across Africa have upheld secularism in place of a state religion, their populations have remained steadfastly faithful to their traditional religions and, in some cases, in conjunction with other foreign religions such as Islam and Christianity.

But as the Al-jazeera piece explains, brainwashing against Voodoo traditions in the US has been so strong that many from the converted Baptist and Catholic black community would rather have Voodoo shops closed down. The piece quotes Gregg, an African-American who has lived in New Orleans for generations:

“If it was up to me, every Voodoo shop in the world would be closed down,” said Gregg, a devout Catholic, “for the simple fact that no one should think they should have that much power over anybody’s life.”

On the other hand, white Americans have become practitioners of Voodoo. Hollywood too has contributed to the demonization:

Some say that after centuries of vilification by the Catholic Church, literal demonization by Hollywood and being virtually outlawed in the South under codes that, for example, prohibited the unlicensed practice of medicine, Voodoo may have become a lot more attractive to white spiritual seekers than to their black counterparts.

One way of looking at this is that white Americans are awakening to the merits of Voodoo. Or one could view it as a form of cultural appropriation. Christian missionaries have been so successful in stigmatizing the spiritual tradition that African converts to Christianity shy away from associating themselves with Voodoo due to the fear of being branded barbaric:

“If you’re black and you’ve fought so hard not to be identified with barbarism, why would you say, ‘Yes, [I practice Voodoo]’?” said Ina Fandrich, a German immigrant, a prominent scholar and the author of “The Mysterious Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveaux.”

While the Catholic and more mainstream Protestant churches were previously active in Bharat, due to the relatively slow pace of conversions under these churches, the Pentecostal churches have now entered the picture. Pentecostal churches attempt rapid conversion using “charismatic” ploys like quack faith healing and appropriation to induce conversion.

Hollywood which has demonized Voodoo hasn’t spared Bharatiya cultural practises and Hindu Dharma either: for example, the film Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) by the much acclaimed Steven Spielberg has an absurd and colonial portrayal of Bharat and brazen distortions when portraying Hindu religion and culture. As mentioned in the book Hinduism in America: A convergence of worlds, the film does not depict Hindu Goddess Kali as she should be, as “a benevolent mother or a protector from evil or a remover of ego and impurity…”

Instead she is shown as “a fierce evil goddess who demands sacrifice….” A crazed-looking Amrish Puri was cast as murderous Hindu priest Mola Ram who presided over the Kali-worshipping ‘cult’. This is just one aspect of the distortion in the film. There are several other distortions. For example, while Hindu food is predominantly vegetarian and in fact saatvik (pure, violence free) yet the Hindus in the film are disgustingly shown to be eating foods like “chilled monkey brains” and soups with eyeballs floating in them! The idea is to present Hindus as uncivilized and barbaric. . See more on the film’s erroneous depiction of Hindu culture here. Other Hollywood movies like Help! have also shown Maa Kali as an ‘evil’ Goddess.

Clearly, Hollywood is complicit in the Christian mission to demonize so-called pagan and indigenous belief systems and to distort and ridicule. Simultaneously, conversion activities are carried out relentlessly.

Not just that, Hindu Dharma is the most inclusive and profound faith and Bharat needs to become a civilizational Hindu Dharmic state for being the only land which Hindus can call as their own. Conversions also create fault-lines which aggravate conflicts such as in the North East. The Bharatiya state and Hindu Dharmics should do all they can to prevent such break-Bharat activities.

This can probably be achieved if the state authorities are vigilant about people entering the country for conversion activities under the pretext of being tourists. Local Hindu citizens in each area also need to keep a vigilant watch on their neighbourhoods where people from underprivileged communities live as missionaries often target these communities. Major steps to reverse deracination of ordinary citizens are also needed.

(Featured Image Source: wikihow.com)

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Anuradha
Writer, Editor, Researcher

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