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The culturally imperial and the satanic

By David Fisher - posted Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Most mornings we go to the local community pool to exercise. One of our fellow swimmers told us that the Aborigines were still practicing Satanism. This was news to me so I asked him for details. He told me that Aborigines were still performing pre-Christian rituals and dances. He got this information from his son who was a missionary to the Aborigines. Since he had said that he agreed with Archbishop Jensen's statement that non-Christian religions were "tools of Satan" it seemed reasonable to him to label non-Christian, Aboriginal practices "Satanism".

However, I was taken aback by that. This attitude seemed akin to that of the conquistadores who subjected the indigenous people of the Americas to the Inquisition if they showed evidence of adhering to the faith of their fathers.

Ideological oppression is not restricted to religion. It demands a conformity which causes people to participate in atrocities and/or idiocies. Nazi racial theories inspired industrial-style mass murder. Marxism justified ideological nonsense. Lysenkoism under Stalin resulted in famine and the murder of geneticists. Mao's Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution resulted in an estimated 65,000,000 deaths.


According to A. C. Grayling moral relativism arose from the desire to avoid "the arrogance of cultural imperialism as practiced by dominant societies in the past." Multiculturalism has a similar origin. Moral relativism is the view that there are no universal truths about what is right and wrong. Multiculturalism is the doctrine that several different cultures (rather than one national culture) can coexist peacefully and equitably in a single country.

Probably no one any place really practices multiculturalism or moral relativism although some may give lip service to those ideas. In Australia some practices which are accepted in other cultures are against the law. Forced marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM) are two examples. In Australia itself the culture has changed. Capital punishmenthas been formally abolished in Australia. It was last used in 1967, when Ronald Ryan was hanged in Victoria. It is unlikely that Australia will reintroduce capital punishment in the foreseeable future. The proliferation of restaurants serving food from various non-English speaking cultures show that many Anglo-Australians are quite willing to try a diet which may have been alien to their parents.

Although cultural imperialist attitudes such as expressed by Archbishop Jensen, my acquaintance in the pool and ideologues of various stripes still exist most Australians reject those attitudes. It is doubtful that moral relativism can exist. David Hume claimed and I accept that reason is the slave of passion. Our emotion impels us to act or think in certain ways. Our reason then justifies our acts and thoughts. Since our primary drives are self-preservation and reproduction for individuals in all societies the root of our emotions in different societies is the same.

Chinese philosophy regards the seven emotions as joy, anger, grief, fear, love, hate and desire. That seems to cover the western range of emotions. Since Hume's time we know a bit more about the brain. We know there are 'mirror neurons' in the brain. These neurons activate in sympathy with what their possessor perceives in the activity and experience of others. Due to those neurons we are not going to act too differently from our fellows although we may have the idea that we are completely independent individuals.

Anthropologists have found sixty-seven social behaviours and institutions shared by all of the hundreds of societies in the Human Relations Area Files ( They are age-grading, athletic sports, bodily adornment, calendar, cleanliness training, community organisation, cooking, cooperative labour, cosmology, courtship, dancing, decorative art, divination, division of labour, dream interpretation, education, eschatology, ethics, ethno-botany, etiquette, faith healing, family feasting, fire-making, folklore, food taboos, funeral rites, games, gestures, gift-giving, government, greetings, hair styles, hospitality, housing, hygiene, incest taboos, inheritance rules, joking, kin groups, kinship nomenclature, language, law, luck superstitions, magic, marriage, mealtimes, medicine, obstetrics, penal sanctions, personal names, population policy, postnatal care, pregnancy usages, property rights, propitiation of supernatural beings, puberty customs, religious ritual, residence rules, sexual restrictions, soul-concepts, status differentiation, surgery, tool-making, trade, visiting, weather control and weaving.

All the above exists in our society to some degree. With the New Age phenomenon and astrology columns some of us still practice magic. Some practices that on the surface may seem very different may have the root cause. Those of us who can afford may buy a condominium on the Gold Coast for our aged parents. In New Guinea some tribes people eat portions of the bodies of their departed parents. The acts are very differnt, but they both show respect toward parents.


Let's consider FGM. It is a means of keeping women in a subordinate position. Women participate by subjecting younger females to it. The penalty for not doing it is to have an unmarriageable daughter, and it is a rare mother who wants that.

We may think our society is above such a thing. In the nineteenth century a married woman could not hold property in her own right. No woman could vote or hold public office. Formal mutilation of female bodies was not allowed, but tight corsets producing wasp waists were not conducive to health. Australia has only had its first woman prime minister in 2010. In 1776 Abigail Adams wrote to her husband, John Adams, later to become the second President of the United States, asking him to "remember the ladies" in the new code of laws. Adams replied men will fight the "despotism of the petticoat." It was not until 1920 that women gained the right to vote in the US, and the US still has not had a female president.

Opposition to FGM is not only in the West, but several African countries have enacted legislation against it since 1994, including Benin, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Niger, Senegal, Tanzania, Togo and Uganda. However, gains in the status of women as well as in other areas of human rights can all be reversed.

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About the Author

David Fisher is an old man fascinated by the ecological implications of language, sex and mathematics.

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