Quick Notes: Hinduism in Africa, Michigan’s Bullying Law, and the Keystone XL Pipeline

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  November 12, 2011 — 21 Comments

Just a few quick news notes for you on this Saturday.

Hinduism in Africa: The Times of India reports on the rapid growth of Hinduism in Ghana and neighboring Togo, exploding from just small group in the 1970s to between 2000 and 3000 families today. How did Hinduism grow in Ghana, which is 70% Christian? Through example.

“We have not achieved this through the winning of souls as other religions do, but have attracted people into the practice of Hinduism simply by the lives we lead,” [Kwesi Anamoah] said, adding: “Our lives shine in the community to attract people.” [...] “We do not evangelise like other faiths do, but we have attracted people because they see how we live our lives as Hindus and come to make enquiries and then find their way into our folds.”

One has to wonder if this is something we’ll see more and more of in the future. In Indonesia the ancestor-worshipping religion of Borneo’s indigenous forest people, the Dayak, is being cannily re-branded as Hinduism in order to stave off Christian missionaries and cultural eradication. Could African forms of Hinduism be providing a similar umbrella to indigenous forms of religion and spirituality in Ghana and Togo as well? What new religious hybrids will emerge from the intersections of Hinduism and indigenous beliefs? As India grows as a world power could we see Hinduism became a new alternative for those seeking to escape missionary efforts from the dominant monotheisms? We should keep an eye on this trend.

Michigan’s Bullying Law: An increasing amount of attention has been paid recently to Michigan’s proposed anti-bullying law, which recently passed through the Senate, due to the “moral” and “religious” exemptions inserted into the language. These exemptions, critics argue, make the law a meaningless piece of paper, giving bullies a loophole they can easily exploit.

“The Senate Republicans took an already ineffective bill and made it an abusive bill that justifies bullying against our students. While the national spotlight is on the neglectful actions of the Senate Republicans, House Republicans can pass the strong, comprehensive, enumerated bill Governor Snyder references when he recommends Michigan legislators model this legislation after the State Board of Education policy. Oregon wasted ten years following a policy that accomplished almost nothing before it took responsibility for Oregon kids and passed the effective enumerated language Michigan advocates are requesting. Michigan has the data and case studies to do what is right for our students the first time. The nation is watching.”

These exemptions bring the case of Tempest Smith immediately to mind, a 12-year-old girl who committed suicide after being repeatedly bullied for her interest in Wicca, and manner of dress. The Michigan law, as it stands, would simply allow religiously-motivated harassment of kids like Tempest, you can almost see the scenario of ineffectual school officials saying they can do nothing. All students should have 1st Amendment freedoms, but a bullying law that exempts “moral” bullying under the guise of free speech is worthless. One can only hope that the language is refined to close off loopholes, and becomes something truly useful in empowering teachers and officials to stop bullying in their schools.

Keystone XL Pipeline: On Thursday the State Department announced that it was postponing construction of a new pipeline that would move tar sands oil from Canada to Texas refineries. The pipeline, known as Keystone XL, was hugely controversial among environmentalists and American Indian groups due to its proposed path through sensitive areas and reservation land. Now, with the pipeline postponed for further study, Native American activists are voicing cautious optimism at the development.

“I have come here to be part of this peaceful circle of people to shine a light on President Obama to be visionary and deny a corporate plan whose promise of destruction of our lands is certain,” Lakota activist Debra White Plume said in a speech at the protest. “President Obama will be an Earth Warrior, standing in the way of something bad coming toward the people, or he will step aside for TransCanada to foul our water, land, and health for generations to come.”

The Pagan Newswire Collective’s nature and environment blog, No Unsacred Place, has been covering the pipeline and its environmental ramifications, with contributor John Beckett noting that “it’s hard to look at the photos of tar sands extraction and not think it’s bad. It’s hard to calculate the risk to the Ogallala Aquifer and not think it’s bad. It’s hard to think about exacerbating climate change and not think it’s bad.” Here’s hoping that this delay will result in a compromise that’s acceptable to all parties interested in this issue.

That’s all I have for right now, have a great day!

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • Mike

    That bullying law is a freakin joke. Michigin should be ashamed of itself.

  • http://www.magickal-media.com Alice C. “A.C.” Fisher Aldag

    I want to point out that the State House of Representatives here in MI, also run by Repubs, independently passed a separate anti-bullying bill, with stronger language and including the Oregon law’s wording. It was sponsored by Repubs and endorsed by our Repub. Speaker of the house.

    You can read about it on the Huff Po http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/11/michigan-house-passes-ant_n_1088306.html

    It looks like the Senate bill may (rightfully) go down in flames.

    RIP to Matt Eppling for whom Matt’s Safe Schools Law was named.

  • http://heathenfaith.blogspot.com Norse Alchemist

    Wow, that law is crap. Already I can see how this is going to go bad. Wear a pentagram or a Mjolnir and the Christian and Muslim kids will pick on you. Put ham on your sandwich and the Muslim kids will really pick on you (Deerborn has a large and apparently rather intolerant Muslim Population from what I’ve read). Dress “immodestly” or do anything “immoral” and watch the war let go.

    Little pagan kids are gonna get it because of this. The only good news might be if we get some of our kids who can use this law and fight back against their oppressors.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1183329613 Joseph Max

      Fight back! Like this…

      • The Bony Man

        I love this picture. I have long considered renting a billboard and pasting this up in some large, well-seen space.

  • RW Rawles

    When you think of it, Penn State’s Jerry Sandusky’s disgusting crimes were not about football, but about bullying, and about the silence and toleration of bullying.

  • Mountaindwellinchick

    The whole missionary thing just needs to stop, period.

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      I agree. Using Hinduism as a cover for Animism is like using Unitarian Universalism as a cover for Paganism. We shouldn’t need covers.

      • http://heathenfaith.blogspot.com Norse Alchemist

        Sadly, there’s a big difference between what we should and what we need, sometimes. :(

    • Rombald

      I’d have thought Muslim pressure was stronger than Christian in Indonesia. That aside, I think missionary pressure is only one issue, the other being that Indonesian law insists on everyone belonging to one of the main world religions. To some extent, this coincides with ethnicity, eg. someone of Chinese ancestry without any defined religion is automatically classed as Taoist.

      People with tribal religions are classed as Hindu, partly because both are “pagan”, and partly because Indonesia was heavily Hinduised 1000 yrs ago, and Bali, for example, is still mainly Hindu. Indonesian culture, even among non-Hindus, has various scraps of Hinduism embedded in it (theatre uses Hindu gods, etc.), and I suspect that tribal religions, though not recognisably Hindu to an Indian, have been influenced by Hinduism to some extent.

      I have also heard Hindus argue that all “primal” religions are actually Hindu, with the same status as the beliefs of remote tribal people within India.

      • http://entdinglichung.wordpress.com Entdinglichung

        in general, pressure by islamic fundamentalists or similar currents may be stronger in Indonesia but being “animist” or an adherent of a “tribal” religion makes you fair game for the weirdos of the New Tribes Mission (SIL)

  • http://twitter.com/whitestagforest Aine Llewellyn

    For two years in high school I was harassed by Christians that wanted to convert me because I was openly not-Christian (openly Pagan as well). I wanted my teachers or the administrators to do something about it, but it wasn’t viewed as a problem. In fact, it was viewed by some as a good thing they were trying to convert me. I can’t tell you how many times I was told I had ‘demons around me’, that I needed to ‘come to Jesus’, who would ‘fix all my problems’. Or how often I was told by my friends that I would go to hell who, when I told them to shut it (you can’t be polite when every week people are ‘informing’ you just how evil you are), said they were just worried about my soul. They often tried hardest to convert me on stressful days, such as when two of our classmates and friends died in sophomore year. I was dragged into a bathroom by one of the girls and told how I just ‘needed to come to Jesus and it would be alright’.

    And that law makes what happened to me totally okay. Because they really, honestly believed my soul was in danger of going to hell and that I really was surrounded by demonic energy.

    • http://heathenfaith.blogspot.com Norse Alchemist

      Hmm, too bad you didn’t ask how many demons there were, then you could have “named” them and treated them like pets and really freaked those kids out. But then I’ve come to embrace being called evil so I suppose it’s different for everyone. ;)

      Also, a tip. Next time someone tells you to go to Hel, thank them and say she’s a nice lady, but you’ll get there when you get there. :)

      • Mike

        I’m going to use that. Thanks

  • http://egregores.wordpress.com Apuleius Platonicus

    Hinduism is sometimes wrongly conceived of as an “ethnic” religion specific to a particular “people” and a particular “place”. The problem is that the “people” who practice Hinduism are 1/6 the human race and they comprise a dizzying diversity of languages, cultures, and “ethnicities”. In fact, Hinduism has been even more diverse and widespread in the past, for at one time all of modern day Southeast Asia was largely Hindu, although today it is mostly Muslim and Buddhist.

    Perhaps something like what is happening Ghana and Togo could happen in the US? Hinduism would be a quite natural choice for the millions of “spiritual but not religious” Americans, especially since many of them already believe in such things as reincarnation and astrology.

  • Jack Heron

    “Moral bullying”? There’s no such thing as moral bullying. All bullying is immoral by definition. And just because you think you’re ‘doing the right thing’, that doesn’t mean you aren’t an arrogant, ignorant idiot.

    • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

      They meant Religious-based bullying, wherein “moral=religious”. Which is basically all of it.

  • Westernwhitewolf

    I wish that Senator Whitmer was in my state! It looks like she has more cojones than all the male Republicans in that room combined!

  • Daniel SnowKestral

    Surely, then, this law would also work both ways in terms of being able to make verbal rebuttals of disagreement with those who would use religious motives to brow beat one into submission and silence. It would be my statement, for instance, that I can state my opinions just as boldly. Such as: “My Path does not have a devil to blame. He is your evil god, not mine. You can keep him.”

    And for those who say I am going to hell…I simply tell them “Hel is a lovely Norse Goddess. I am sure you’ll meet Her someday.”

  • Obsidia

    Another take on the Hinduism-in-West-Africa story: Many followers of the Mami Wata (and other Vodun) spiritual paths believe that their paths are older than the Hindu gods and, in fact, the movement was FROM Africa TO India. Here is an interesting page on Denzu, a Water God:

    http://www.mamiwata.com/Densu.html

    More here:

    “In the summer of 1975, Henry John Drewal recalled, he “heard Mami’s call and had to answer.” At that point, he became a man if not obsessed, at least heavily preoccupied with a water spirit.

    “The epiphany occurred as Drewal was traveling in eastern Ghana. He saw a striking shrine mural – a triptych painted on a wall – that portrayed a beautiful mermaid sitting on a rock and combing her hair. She was framed by images of the Hindu deities Lakshmi and Krishna.

    “A passerby in Ghana explained that the image was “Mami Wata,” or Mother Water – a powerful and awe-inspiring water spirit who dwells in the Volta River. But Drewal, guest curator of an art exhibition devoted to Mami, found out that she was far from a local deity. Mami Wata melded the worlds of mermaids, snake charmers, Brazilian Indian heroes, astrological figures, the Kongo ancestors of Brazil and the gods of India and West Africa.”

    http://news.stanford.edu/news/2010/july/cantor-mamiwata-exhibit-072810.html

    • http://egregores.wordpress.com Apuleius Platonicus

      Everything human comes from Mother Africa if we go back far enough.