Questions Still Surround Tucson’s Rambling Native American Blessing

I must admit, it struck me as downright shocking that a memorial service held at a public university for the Judeo-Christian victims of the Tucson massacre would offer a pantheistic pagan blessing by a Native American rather than a blessing from a representative of the faiths of the victims. This becomes even more perplexing when you consider that the Yacqi Indian who gave the blessing is Catholic.

As you may or may not know, the blessing was presented by Dr. Carlos Gonzales, an associate professor at the University of Arizona College of Medicine.

“I was asked by the university to give a traditional Native American blessing,” Gonzales told “This is the type of blessing that we give at memorial services to open up a ceremony. A medicine man will do a variation of it to open up a pow-wow. It’s basically a recognition of the powers of the seven directions and how they influence human beings–and how each direction has a certain characteristic; that when you pray to that direction, you ask for the inspiration that comes from that direction.”

The Seven Directions are believed to be energy paths which are known as North-Earth, South-Fire, East-Air, West-Water, Above, Below, and Within. For example, the North-Earth energy is said to be receptive and makes one practical and wise. The South-Fire energy is considered a masculine force that enlightens and is sumbolic of the divine light within. West-Water is associated with psychic abilities, intuition, emotion and dreams. Below represents “grounding” and is a means of attaching one’s energy to the Universe and the Earth.

A person really needs to know the meaning behind this blessing to understand just how inappropriate it was for use as an invocation at a memorial to honor victims such as Judge John Roll, a daily communicant, and the critically injured Gabrielle Giffords who is Jewish. There was not a single victim of the tragedy in Tucson who was Native American, so it begs the question as to why this was arranged in the first place.

But before I get into that, it’s important to understand that I have a special place in my heart for Native Americans. Being a student of American history, I’m appalled at what was done – and continues to be done – to discriminate against these peaceful and gentle people.

Even more tragic is what’s being done to their belief system by New Agers. Native American spirituality is one of the fastest growing new areas of interest for New Agers and this has resulted in a wholesale exploitation of Indian beliefs. It is so full of misinformation and profiteering that the Lakota Indian tribe actually issued a declaration of war against them (they refer to New Agers as “plastic shamans”) because of how grossly they have distorted their sacred customs. These distortions come in varying degrees of seriousness, from the medicine wheel earrings New Agers like to sell to the deadly sweat lodge erected by New Age guru James Ray last year that led to the death of three people in Sedona, Arizona.

Even though Native American spirituality and its inherent shamanism is not something I believe in, it is the American way to respect one another’s faiths and not to distort them for the purposes of making money.

However, when confronted with these criticisms, New Agers typically claim the “First Amendment” saying their right to religious freedom gave them the “right” to Native American spirituality because “spiritual knowledge belongs to all humans equally.” (See Lisa Aldred’s Plastic Shamans and Astroturf Sun Dances: New Age Commercialization of Native American Spirituality,” American Indian Quarterly, 2000 available here )

Having said all that, no matter what your religious or political persuasion may be, offering a Native American blessing during a memorial dedicated to Judeo-Christian victims is inappropriate, insensitive, and just plain wrong.

“Regardless of one’s view of Pantheism, its prominent inclusion at the opening of a memorial service on a state-run university campus featuring a lengthy list of public officials would seem, by the familiar expressions of liberal multicultural conventional wisdom, a blatant violation of separation of church and state,” writes Mark Tapscott in the Washington Examiner.

But it wasn’t just this blatantly selective “inclusiveness” that was so upsetting.

“It was also something  . . . that is far more significant in the ultimate scheme of things. Organizers made a conscious choice to exclude participation by a priest, minister or rabbi, just as they made a conscious choice to include the Native American blessing. The program was thus a statement of exclusion: Separation of church and state only applies to people of Christian or Jewish faith.”

While no one should question Carlos Gonzales’ right to practice whatever faith he chooses “it ought to be recognized that his religious beliefs and practices were used by the few to send a message of exclusion to the many,” Tapscott writes, “thus illustrating the utter hypocrisy at the heart of multicultural political correctness.”

Tomorrow’s New Age blog will offer some thoughts from the Pontifical document Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life about how diversity and consumerism is fueling the rapid spread of the New Age in our culture.

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