10 Ways To Oppress People With Spirituality (& Get Away With It)

Just as a point of inquiry, let’s take a moment to explore the relationship between common religious and spiritual teachings and how they might be linked to oppression. I don’t believe there’s some Evil Cabal out to control the world, but let’s consider the actual historical conspiracy of mostly white, cis-gender, heterosexual, property-owning European colonizer men who chose to dominate all women, all Indigenous people, all Black and brown people, all poor people, and all people with other gender identities or sexual orientations. Given that this makes up the majority of the world’s population, how would you get away with something so sinister? If you were to pull off successfully dominating the majority of the population, what kind of psy op would you have to enact in order to get them to go along with the domination without rebelling, rising up, and resisting the oppression?

Well…as sick as it sounds, if you were really interested in dominating the world and getting away with it, you might use God. After all, God is good, right? So if you dress up your domination in the Divine, you might be able to sneak your psy op undercover. This psy op holds up whether we’re talking about conventional religions or New Age spirituality (aka. religious or spiritual bypassing). Let’s see if we can decode how this might have actually worked as a world domination strategy to uphold white supremacy, patriarchy, hoarding of resources, colonization, and genocide.

  1. Suppress righteous anger.

If you wanted to get away with oppressing people, dehumanizing them, and taking away their human rights, you damn well better strip them of their anger and convince them that anger is “unspiritual.” Then when their natural, healthy anger arises in the face of legitimate oppression and they protest the oppression and violation of their God-given boundaries, you shame them, gaslight them, tell them to “get out of their victim story,” inflate yourself and act all superior because you’ve got a handle on your own anger (because you’re the oppressor, not the oppressed), and convince them that if only they pray or meditate enough, their anger will go away (while you continue the oppressive agenda unchecked.)

You teach them to turn the other cheek when one cheek is beaten up and groom them for further abuse. You psychologically manipulate them into tolerating abuse- and maybe even spin it so they feel grateful for the abuse because it’s waking them up to their True Nature and teaching them how to love unconditionally. Then instead of holding their oppressors accountable for the abuse, they let you off the hook by telling themselves the comforting story that “my soul signed up for this abuse as a way to help me grow spiritually” and “My oppressor is really someone from my past life who signed up to abuse me so I could become an old soul” or “This is my karma because of bad behaviors in the past and I should be grateful for the oppression because I can now expiate my karma and clear my soul.” (Yes, the idea of karma came from Eastern religion but is still used in those cultures to justify the oppression of the “untouchable” caste by the Brahman class. And now it’s been hijacked by New Agers as well.)

  1. Instill learned helplessness.

You won’t be able to suppress an oppressed person’s healthy anger right away- unless they were already programmed to suppress it from early childhood by brainwashed, oppressed or oppressive parents. So let’s say a Black or Indigenous girl manages to survive childhood with her anger intact because she miraculously wasn’t poisoned by her parents, her teachers, the society as a whole, or the white man’s religion that stripped her of her tribe’s animism. Then let’s say, as an adult, she seeks out spiritual depth, a community of practice, a deeper purpose in life, or other spiritual quests.

Now you bring that Black or Indigenous woman into a church, temple, mosque, sangha, or New Age spiritual center. You tell her about karma and how horrific things that happen to her are cosmic retribution for misdeeds in past lives. You tell her to choose love over fear. You convince her that her soul signed up for this path of growth and she should surrender to it without resistance. You convince her that her rage is unjustified when she watches her son get murdered during a traffic stop. You suggest she accept that her son must walk his own path to God, and thank the cop for helping him achieve his life’s purpose to a better life on the other side of the veil. You insist she prematurely forgives the cop before he even goes on trial, if that even happens, much less before he is held accountable for the murder. You demonize her hatred when the cop who killed him gets off scot-free. You tell her to bottle up her despair because dispassionate equanimity is what enlightenment looks like. You shame her grief as “it’s just your ego” and convince her to “do The Work” so she can realize that she’s fighting with reality to think she’s entitled to a world where a teenage boy stopped for a traffic violation should still be alive.

You hold contempt for her rage and her grief and somehow convince her that you are better than her because you have transcended your rage and grief and hatred and fear- and in your superiority, you have chosen love, unlike her. And over enough time- when her rage is invalidated time and time again, when her grief is ignored, when her legitimate fear is demonized as “the opposite of a miracle,” when her desperate cries for help are not only ignored but shamed as somehow unspiritual, this woman experiences what psychologists call “learned helplessness.”

Her learned helplessness may look like spiritual improvement because her rage is now exiled. Her grief has been effectively suppressed. She can’t feel the fear that’s meant to protect her from more oppression. Her hatred goes underground, preparing to cause the cancer she’ll get years later. She might even express love for the oppressors because she’s confused and the gaslighting of love reversal has taken her over. Dissociation sets in. She no longer even feels it because the domination is complete. She no longer resists it, feels angry about it, grieves it, hates it, feels frightened by it. She just submits. Oppressions wins. And now we praise her for being a more evolved spiritual being. Go Team God!

  1. Demonize the body, the emotions, and the intuition.

If you really want to oppress and marginalize a majority of the population- especially women- you have to strip them of their birthright and feminine gifts. You cut them off from their connection to the body, their emotions, their relationality, their intuition, and their connection to the lifeblood of nature. You teach them that the body, the emotions, and the intuition interfere with a true path to the Divine and are something to be overcome. You sell them a dissociated, disembodied, emotion-shaming, intuition-violating transcendent spiritual path and glorify it as “Presence,” suggesting it is a better way to God.

You teach them that the body is an illusion, that social justice issues don’t matter, that reality is all “Maya,” that they should just “Be here now” and accept what is, without fighting reality with healthy activism. You teach them that psychic knowing is the work of the Devil and that the sensual, feeling, knowing, attuned, Divinely-created human body is a carnal mistake to be transcended. You gaslight them when they speak up from their intuition about what doesn’t feel okay. You make them doubt themselves and lose trust in their deep knowing.

You tell them that if they don’t like the way their life is going, it’s just because their karma is getting expiated so they can have a better life next time. You sell them on the idea that if they expiate enough karma in this life, if they can survive enough trauma without killing themselves or someone else, they won’t have to come back to this messy Earth plane and can rest in eternal bliss. You convince them to actually feel grateful that their soul chose a life with so much trauma so they can have an accelerated path of spiritual growth. In your state of gratitude, you let the oppressor off the hook and call it grace.

  1. Remove healing from spirituality.

Convince these oppressed and traumatized people that healing trauma is beneath the true spiritual path, that psychology is a lesser pursuit than the path to a transcendent state of consciousness (God.) Tell them their trauma-induced emotions are evidence of spiritual immaturity, something that will simply go away in a flash of awareness, maybe overnight, like magic, if only they meditate longer, pray for deliverance more, and push their traumas down in the dungeon of consciousness more effectively. Remove all healing from the spiritual path and hold contempt for the gritty, messy, snotty, emotional work of healing trauma. Make fun of the people who see therapists or dare to come head to head with their traumatic past. Call them “unspiritual.” Tell them they reify trauma, casting contempt upon them for being so “low vibe.”

  1. Elevate the status of those who achieve this dissociated, glazed-eyed, body-abandoning, social justice-ignoring, peaceful equanimity that comes with a transcendent state of consciousness.

Commoditize spirituality and sell bliss at an extraordinary price tag that only the privileged can afford. Label them as better than the enraged people who are oppressed. Uphold them as superior to the silently submitted ones who learned helplessness. Give them million-dollar book deals and put these dissociated “spiritual teachers” (aka trauma survivors) on stage as enlightened masters. Glorify their flat affects and disembodied trance states as “Presence.” Let them get away with promising that if you follow their teachings, your suffering will end forever (while they take all that cash to the bank.) Let the oppressed BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, poverty-stricken single moms, trauma survivors, and others believe that they’re inferior because this transcendent state feels forever out of reach and they can’t seem to “manifest” abundance, lasting inner peace, their dream job, Presence, or dispassionate equanimity in the face of ongoing oppression.

  1. Suppress judgment.

The first five ways to oppress people with spirituality prepares people for all sorts of shenanigans from the higher-ups. But if you then label “judgment” as somehow “unspiritual,” you can get away with all kinds of abusive nonsense. Just look at what cult leaders have gotten away within the name of waking people up spiritually! Regarding the value of healthy judgment, Karla McLaren writes, “When I refer to judgment, I refer to your capacity to react as an individual and use your discerning intelligence freely. If you have good judgment, you can disagree with others, go off on your own mental tangents, and strike out on your own path of discovery. This is an important set of skills; however, this solid, adult capacity to judge has been treated as a problem. The theory is that judgment stops you from experiencing life completely because you’re too busy categorizing and thinking about things to be fully present in each unfolding moment. This no-judgment rule has had some positive effects, but it has also created a great deal of turmoil.”

  1. Silence the oppressed.

When oppressed people speak up and demand to be treated as equals, when people cry out in pain and beg to have dehumanizing behaviors end – silence them with spiritual aphorisms and tone police them into a very narrow range of scripted ways they’re allowed to challenge the oppression. Valorize white fragility and demonize messy emotions. Teach them “spiritual” communication tools and refuse to listen to the content of their message unless they walk on eggshells to protect your fragility and follow the script just so. Turn away from their anger and refuse to lean in until they get the lingo right. Watch the oppressed pretzel themselves inside out trying to get the oppressors to listen, validate, and honor their legitimate experiences and emotions of being dominated and oppressed. Watch the oppressed beg for mercy while the oppressors transcend their emotions into ivory towers of bliss. Watch with heart-breaking agony how the oppressed give up even trying to be heard because no matter how they try to speak up, the oppressors seem not to care- and then they call it God.

  1. Deny people direct access to the Divine.

Why empower the oppressed by letting them access the power of God/Goddess inside themselves? Instead, deny oppressed people personal access to the Divine by installing a priest class who have exclusive rights to communication with the Divine, starving people by disconnecting them from their birthright- the Divine Source within. Glorify cult leaders, charismatic religious figures, and intermediaries- and make sure you pay those people exorbitant salaries.

  1. Sell the “We Are All One” story without acknowledging that we are also separate and privilege and power are not distributed equally.

If the oppressed start standing up for themselves and finding their voice and their power, demonize them for being “polarizing.” Preach “unity.” Demand “peace.” Show contempt for activists and those who take a firm stand against injustice and for ending the oppression. When the oppressed say “No peace without justice; no forgiveness without accountability,” turn your nose down at them for being spiritually inferior and inflate yourself further.

  1. Rip people from their healthy, empowered communities of equality.

United, people are powerful. Divided, we are weakened. Many oppressed people have absolutely refused to be divided. The resilience many have demonstrated in the face of systemic oppression in the name of spirituality is awe-inspiring and epic. But many have gotten lost along the way, isolated, alone, separated from the flock, where true power resides. Once you have them isolated and disempowered, lure them into cultic communities through the hook of their lack of belonging and disenfranchisement from the safety of a healthy, empowered community.

Lather, rinse, repeat and you have a perfect recipe for oppressing people in the name of God. I can only imagine that the Goddess is weeping.

Of course, it’s not only privileged white cis-gender, heterosexual men who leverage these teachings to justify the oppression. People in positions of power in all cultures have been doing this for ages to justify and anchor whatever power and privilege they have. Once the brainwashing is complete, you don’t have to be male or of European colonizer descent or wealthy or otherwise privileged to parrot these teachings in ways that allow the oppressed to oppress each other. And the psy op is a success.

Now don’t get me wrong. White men and New Agey women are some of my favorite people. My family is full of white men who are Methodist ministers. I also have a BIPOC sister, so she keeps us in check. It is not my attempt (nor my sister’s) to start a campaign of hatred against “the patriarchy” or against religion or against New Age spirituality or against anybody or anything, for that matter.

I’m pro-inclusivity, pro-social justice, pro-embodiment, pro-emotion, pro-feminine principle, and pro-equality. If I’m anti-anything, I’m anti-dehumanization and anti-oppression- in all forms. We can do better. We don’t have to agree to these terms anymore. Spirituality is not dead. We have just been sold a lie so a very small majority of the world could get away with a conspiracy of oppression that is not only killing the soul of the oppressors; it’s going to lead to the extinction of our species if we don’t rise up and stop the unchecked oppression. Waking up means facing the truth, feeling all the feels, coming back home to our bodies, and resolving to love more, bigger, braver, fiercer- so our love flames into sacred activism and we use every bit of our open-hearted, full-throated, gut-intuiting, trauma-informed spiritual awareness to create a more just, equal, passionate, nature-loving, Self-loving, other-loving, and tenderhearted world.

The real Good News is that we are actually waking up. The veils are lifting. We are seeing beneath the oppressive facade and paving the way for a new spirituality, one that includes us all. I don’t know what that will be like, but I feel it arising in all of us- together, like a surging tide. It’s exciting. I’m so curious to discover what arises in this emergent, evolutionary impulse of the collective heart.

Did I miss anything? Do you disagree with me? Feel free to challenge my point of view and crowdsource this with me. I always learn so much from all of you and although it’s hard to swallow sometimes, I am also grateful for the respectful pushback some of you offer.



Lissa Rankin



PS. We’re doing our best to explore non-oppressive spirituality that uplifts, rather than pushes down, those who might feel marginalized or oppressed by conventional religion, New Age spirituality, or cultic groups that don’t leave room for a social justice conscious spiritual awakening process. Join us in Healing With the Muse, where we welcome constructive feedback as we try to create a space safe for everyone.

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