Catholic priests, according to Andrea Jain of Indiana University, are warning the flock about the “dangers” of yoga. Many evangelicals have been doing this for as long as I can remember.
As I stated in Makers of Fire: the spirituality of leading from the future, an essential aspect of leading from the future is the capacity to fearlessly describe the present. And so we must ask, what’s going on out there?
- Are the practices of other religions dangerous to Christians?
- Can these practices be separated from the religions in which they developed?
- As our culture becomes more pluralistic, what is our view of the religions themselves?
As I look around our culture, It’s obvious that the practice of yoga has become ubiquitous. Yoga pants are everywhere. And we as a culture are becoming more Buddha friendly.
But what is the greatest danger: Yoga or what we westerners will do with it?
I think that the practices of other religions are in danger of the American genius for branding and marketing everything. We will take almost anything and figure out a way to sell it and turn a profit.
Doesn’t matter what it is — Yoga, Meditation, Martial Arts, Breathing –we will market it and figure out a way to monetize it.
I think we should warn the world religions of the dangers of exposing their practices to America.
I have to interrupt here with a personal note:
I take this stuff seriously. I made a turn towards Christ through a deliverance from evil. That came as a surprise to me since I didn’t believe in “deliverances from evil” or Christ, for that matter.
So, I write this as someone who was a nonbeliever and is now on a journey towards faith in the God of Jesus. I sometimes joke that I am an atheist who is still surprised by his own conversion. And that’s no joke. (And, for an excellent complementary read, check out the excellent article on Yoga spirituality for Atheists).
Ok, back to yogaphobia.
The Christian practice is to take pagan things and give them new meaning. For example,
- the pagan festival celebrating the Sun (Dec 25) and
- the celebration of the goddess Eostre usually in April
We baptized these pagan celebrations with the new meaning
- incarnation (God’s self giving) and
- resurrection (the new creation)
Then we modern, free market, capitalists empty the newly baptized pagan practices, rebrand them, and market them:
- Christmas…the perfect time to give (thus, black Friday) and
- Easter… the perfect time to get a new outlook (thus, new dresses, bunnies, chocolates, spiral ham).
We need not wonder whether yoga, meditation, and Indian head rubs can be detached from the religions that spawned them. We have proven within our own experience that religious practices can be emptied entirely of meaning and detached from the religion within which they developed. We did it with Christmas and Easter.
I think we have also started to make a case that religious practices can be dangerous to Christians –Christmas and Easter are two prime examples — because, even if they are detached from their original meanings, we infused them with new meaning. Why? Because the human is a religious animal, a meaning seeking creature.
We live in a complex world. We may take up meditation, dabble in buddhism, and become more peaceful. We may start going to church and become more hawkish, more martial. A good friend of mine testifies that using LSD in the 60s opened him up to Jesus Christ later. Not everything leads us in the direction we expect.
So, while Catholic exorcists are claiming the devil does yoga (and they may be right), I would add he also does Easter. And while priests are warning that tai chi endangers the soul (and it might), I would add so might Christmas.
Again, remember my personal note. I do think there are spiritual dangers in the world. Secularism, humanism, and atheism are clueless when it comes to evil. These world views are not good guides here.
According to Andrea R. Jain, Assistant professor, Purdue University:
At one Jan. 9, 2015 morning mass in the Santa Marta residence in Vatican City, the Pope spoke of that day’s gospel reading, and mentioned that only the Holy Spirit could open peoples’ hearts and free them to love, no matter how many catechism courses, spirituality courses, zen courses or yoga courses they took.
Now, I like the new Catholic Pope named Francis. I recognize that he tends to be a person of the “Left” intellectually and politically. (That’s pretty predictable for a latin american intellectual). Still, I think he’s spot on in his comments about connecting to God.
But some misquoted the Pope as saying that yoga would keep people from God. That’s not what he said. He includes Catholic catechism in his list of things that cannot do what the spirit does!
I agree with the Pope here. Only the spirit of God can liberate the heart to love.
Now I have to say that a much younger version of me would probably not trust today’s version of me. As a new believer I warned against Halloween, Easter bunnies, and Christmas trees because of their pagan origins. Today, I exploit whatever raw material is available to introduce the new meaning Christ brings. I was against anything that smelled of nonChristian religions such as buddhism, hinduism, or islam. Yoga was demon worship. Tai chi was invoking ancient spirits. Martial arts had the smell of ancestor worship. Today I appreciate the physical and mental health promoted by these techniques. The bigger shift was that I very quickly began to sense that Christianity presented as much or more of a danger to us than the “foreign” religions.
But, even though I am more open than ever, I do sense that we are in constant danger of being seduced by evil. Yogaphobia, for example, is a form of xenophobia, fear of the stranger. Xenophobia is an ancient evil. I argue in Makers of Fire: the spirituality of leading from the future that, according to the scriptures, God is on a mission to eradicate xenophobia from the face of the Earth.
So, these Catholic priests may be stereotyping a practice when they should be teaching both the commonalities and distinctions between the Hindu and Christian worldviews.
For an example of how to do this with emotional and cross cultural intelligence, check out the Mosaic teaching series, The Truth Between Us, by Erwin McManus. (Podcast available on iTunes). This series touches on the truths shared in common between Christianity and Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Atheism, Catholicism, Judaism, Scientology, and Mormonism. Here’s a link to the episode in the series relevant to yogaphobia, The Truth Between Us: HInduism and Christianity. The content is great, but the deep learning in the series is the emotional and relational intelligence that Erwin models for the Mosaic congregation. Listen to the whole series and let the attitude roll over you. You’ll experience the qualities that we must cultivate if we are to lead from the future.
The secularist press derides the Catholics for this “ridiculous” fear of yoga but we must remember that as secularists and atheists we know nothing about evil. This is a moral category that doesn’t fit well in these world views. As a result, the Catholic priests are way more right than the secularists here.
The Catholic priests have knowledge. They know that there is an evil waiting to pounce. They’ve just misunderstood evil’s ubiquity.
Evil is not lurking in the other religions –or in yoga– waiting for opportunities to enter our religion. Nope. Evil is already at home here. It is among us and available to us in our own practices. And “they” are in as much danger from “us” as we are from them. It is a distraction to point to the evils that may jump on us through yoga.