Yogaphobia

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?

  1. Are the practices of other religions dangerous to Christians?
  2. Can these practices be separated from the religions in which they developed?
  3. 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).

loveWe 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.

Reflections on Easter – The Voyage Home

Reflections on Resurrection Faith

Like most people today, most people in Jesus’ time believed in some kind of life after death. The resurrection of Jesus, on the other hand, is not about life after death.

It is an encounter with the future.

The resurrection of Jesus is not about what happens to us after we die. It is not about life after death. We know little to nothing about that. The resurrection of Jesus is about what happens after that — what happens after life after death.

In other words, the resurrection of Jesus is the historical anticipation of a future event — the bodily resurrection of everybody for judgement. If Jesus is raised, then so shall we all be raised.

In the ancient world, according to New Testament scholar, NT Wright, while most believed in life after death, only the Jews believed in resurrection, and not all of them. The Sadducees famously did not believe in a resurrection and  tried to trip Jesus up with questions about what this resurrected life would be like.

Others, mostly the Romans, believed that some kind of disembodied soul would live on after death. (NT Wright believes this is one of the main misunderstandings of Christians today. This surprised me. I would consider faith in the resurrection to be a spiritual tattoo that distinguishes believers from nonbelievers).

Jews like Jesus believed in a general resurrection (presumably) at the end of time. In other words, they believed that everyone would be raised at the end, not that someone would be raised before the end.

So, if Jesus was raised from the dead, where did he come from? I suggest that Jesus came to us from the future.

This is weird because I don’t believe the future exists yet. So how can Jesus come to us from the future? On the other hand, I also know that the dead do not return. Yet, I am convinced Jesus rose from the dead.

So, there you go. The universe is not as I imagine it. It is much, much stranger.

In the future, we too will be raised like Jesus. That is, we are raised with a transformed physicality that has amazing new features and yet still continuous with who we are today.

So, Jesus is the first to be resurrected. He encounters us from the human future. Kind of like the crew of the Starship Enterprise in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.Star_Trek_IV_1986

In that episode, James Kirk and Mr. Spock must lead their crew to travel back in time to save Earth from impending doom. “Time” in The Voyage Home is connected. In order to save the Earth of the future, they must return to the Earth of the past. Future Earth is imperiled by alien probes that presumably are responding to distress calls that came from whales of an earlier time in Earth’s history.

The crew return in time to transport the extinct whales to the future so that (again presumably) they will communicate to the probes that their species has been saved.

The resurrection of Jesus means that the future of us is already breaking in. We live in the space between the first to be raised and the rest to be raised.

The task of the people of the resurrection is to be a “signal” to the present world of this approaching future. The good news is that this world is rescued from destruction and transformed to fulfill it’s creative potential. And we, as part of this world, will not live as disembodied spirits in heaven. We will bodily inhabit the new Earth. And we can begin now to live out this new ending.

Happy Resurrection season.

What do you think?

Others posts in the Reflections on Easter series…
31 Days until easter 2015 — What Happened to the Other Guy?
The Walking Dead
One Thing We Know: The Dead Do Not Return

Series Blurb…
I write a lot about the future. As we approach Easter 2015, I wanted to write about the past, specifically the resurrection of Jesus and a few other directly related topics. As always these reflections may be slanted towards the future. After all, that’s where the resurrected Christ comes from.

Reflections on Easter – One Thing We know: The Dead Do Not Return

Reflections on Resurrection Faith

Originally published as “On Death and Resurrection” on March 27, 2005

Joyful Easter Season. Fifty thousand years of accumulated experience by the 70 – 100 billion Humans who have lived on this planet have led us to a certain knowledge of at least one thing:

The dead don’t return.

Oh, sure. Almost every culture that ever existed and almost every person who has ever lived believed in some form of life after death. This belief continues today. But while the dead may live on somewhere else, the dead stay dead. They may appear as spirits or ghosts, but they never return.

Accepted practices for disposing the corpse exist in every culture. In some cultures even the  almost  dead were buried to protect their transitioning spirits from the snares of demons. Imagine fearing the transition from this world to the next so much that you would bury alive those near to death. It was an act of love.

The journey from life to death, from here to there is universally understood to be irreversible. Once the living pass over, they are gone forever. The dead do not return. The whole world in every time and place have known the reality and permanence of the final transition.
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This universal knowledge binds all mankind together at a primal level. This is what we know. It is our common lot.

The story of Jesus is rooted in an event that defies that which we – the entirety of the human race – have come to know with certainty.

I love the understated conclusion of Mark’s version of the life of Jesus. After the crucifixion, some women go to tend to Jesus’ corpse. But something unexpected happens. The stone has been rolled away and they experience a theophany. They are told that Jesus isn’t there. He is risen. And here’s the conclusion that I love:

“Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”

That’s how Mark’s version ends.
So subtle. So terrifying.
So open to questions.
What if what we have come to know with certainty is certain no more?
Run, friends. Tremble.
Things are not as they seem.

Others posts in the Reflections on Easter series…
What Happened to the Other Guy?
The Walking Dead
The Voyage Home

Series Blurb…
I write a lot about the future. As we approach Easter 2015, I wanted to write about the past, specifically the resurrection of Jesus and a few other directly related topics. As always these reflections may be slanted towards the future. After all, that’s where the resurrected Christ comes from.

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Originally published as “On Death and Resurrection” on March 27, 2005