I have an aversion to pseudo-spiritual travellers that is perhaps more dogmatic than their spirituality. Searching out a bungalow in India, I am deterred by people with serene/vacant looks pinned to their faith-ridden faces. I hate their eyes the most. They are always opened a bit too wide and they pierce my own eyes with condescension. They immediately see that I haven’t read the same philosophical literature as them, but presume my life would be much better if I had. They really aren’t much different from those God-bothering chumps on Swanston Street who advertise His word through a megaphone, reminding every last pedestrian that hell is waiting.
I, like most, have an innate disdain for the Catholic Church, Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons (I have a soft spot for Muslims because they tend to be disproportionately denigrated by mainstream media). Generally though, contact with traditional religion has resulted in a generation of almost-atheists. The modern young traveller has disregarded it as fools-gold. Yet we keep an open mind to Hinduism, Rastafarianism, Buddhism, Taoism, Tantra, Sintergetica, Ayurveda and Astrology because they are exotic, alternative and cool.
But an open mind must be coupled with a critical eye.
Is Rastafarianism really that cool, or do you just identify with it because you like bucket bongs and Bob Marley? I respect people who sincerely invest their time and energy into a religion or philosophy that they consider valuable. But I am hypercritical of hippie travellers who affect wisdom—they’re frauds and wankers.
I’m sure all religions/philosophies have something valid to offer, if only a single idea. Many of them probably contain something life affirming, profound and blissful. But I’m also sure that the proverbial Western guy in fisherman pants who speaks in cryptically vague clichés about his personal journey and the power of the universe has little to offer.
All religions (and many alternative philosophies) require some level of faith. Faith is a word used to describe people’s ability to justify things that can’t be proven and some would say, things that are not real. But I don’t have a problem with faith. Sure, some folks have used it as justification for genocide but most of its proponents are harmless, maybe even altruistic. My problem is with folk who are conceited and arrogant about their faith. I feel like hippie travellers get away with this more than Christians, when in reality they are the same thing: people with faith.
Spiritual types can be intimidating, persuasive and condescending. While travelling in their midst I’ve had moments of feeling inferior and ignorant. In India, I remember being asked to explain what I had learned on my journey thus far, to which I replied that I was learning how to hustle and how to navigate my way through such a chaotically structured country. This was met with those omnipresent eyes—the eyes of condescension. At the time I felt like my answer was inept, but hippies don’t have this effect on me anymore. It is important to hustle and get comfortable with chaos in India and there is no shame in learning that. Furthermore, if I want to go travelling simply to meet local people and abuse substances with them, that is my volition.
I don’t want a guru and I don’t particularly like having allegorical/supernatural/ridiculous concepts explained to me by people who are far too invested in the ideas to present them clearly and objectively. There is no need to feel ignorant or naïve because a hippie has tried to undermine and unauthenticate your travel experience. Meeting local people is probably the most authentic travel experience you can have and it is infinitely more interesting to me than being indoctrinated into the local religion or spirituality.
Many people go travelling because they are lost—spiritually, emotionally or intellectually. Pseudo-spiritual travellers are not cool or intelligent, they can just seem like they are because they are pretentious and have usually been travelling/running away for a long time.
I enjoy the shortfalls of these people, taking cheap shots at their ideologies by picking apart every nuance and calling it a contradiction (without necessarily fully understanding the ideology). Like them, I am dogmatic. But my dogma is defensive, based on shallow judgements of people by their eyes and their arrogance and my own disdain for religion.
Nat Kassel is a freelance writer and assistant editor at Global Hobo. He likes eating out of bins and taking photos of people taking photos.