Saturday, July 25, 2009

For those who think they can "Christianize" yoga, hear the truth from a Hindu.


pgepps said...

If by "yoga" we mean what this writer has in view, then of course. In fact, it's trivially true that you can't "Christianize" yoga in that sense. It is true in the same way as if I were to say "you can't 'Hinduize' Presbyterianism." That is, yogic Hinduism is an entire major branch of Hindu religious culture and practice, though far from the only one and far from universal among Hindus.

However, Christians have often suffered from an extra-Biblical tendency inherited from the Greek metaphysical vocabulary used in late Patristic and medieval doctrinal disputes. We European Christians tend to view a human as a soul/spirit that "has" a body. This is not very similar to the way the unity of human being is depicted either in Creation, where the body is animated by breath and Adam "became a living soul," or in Resurrection, in which it is the body which has died which rises, though it is then transformed as a grain transforms into a ripened and fruitful plant--a transformation which is morally "new" but physically metamorphic, not creative.

In the often-hostile world of Western scientific medicine, Christians are often served much-needed reminders to attend to the well-being of their bodies in order to achieve useful service, adorn the truth, and more fully embody Christ's transforming work in us. We must use Biblical care to accept and respond to the information and proposed practices we receive from such sources.

Similarly, in holding themselves out to the world at large as cultural repositories of value, religious cultures like Hinduism have already advertised certain of their practices as having secular, empirical, bodily benefits.

You cannot practice the yoga of a Hindu yogi without being a Hindu yogi's disciple. But a disciple of Christ can take some of the atheist's pills when they serve Christ's Kingdom, and the disciple of Christ can use some of the yogi's physical practices when they serve Christ's Kingdom. It is not impossible.

But I think the notion of "Christian yoga" is rather silly. Rather, let yoga be yoga--and in English, "yoga" refers to a set of physical practices widely offered and embraced without specific religious intentions annexed to them. And if a church can develop a theology of the body and a set of practical disciplines that come anyhwere near that level of usefulness, I'm all for it. FWIW, it will probably look much the same. Bodily exercise profits a little, godliness with contentment is great gain. That is worth meditating upon.

Doug Groothuis said...

There isn't enough common ground with yoga to use it. It is a specifically religious disciple geared to transcend the body and ascend to the universal spirit. It is not, then, a bodily discipline at all, since Hinduism does not have a doctrine of creation. The idea is to mystically realize that all is spirit and that one is divine.

There is nothing good to take from yoga qua yoga. We should have a theology and practice of the body, but the body is a different substance from the soul. Taking pills invented by an atheist (if there is such a simplistic equation) is fine, since this doesn't inititate us into a bogus spiritual tradition. Practicing yoga is entirely different. So, you gave a false analogy.

Mike said...

This is a great topic. Personally, I could go either way. Perhaps this falls under Romans 14?

I've studied Chinese martial arts under both circumstances: with an allowance for spiritualism and Taoist philosophy (before I was a Christian), and also just from a purely physical perspective (after I was Christian). But it's important to remember, God is sovereign over all. For example, the doctrine of yin/yang became the foundation of many Chinese martial arts; but of course our God is the Creator of yin and yang (just like He created gravity or any of the other natural laws). But they don't teach that, of course.

Keep in mind, man didn't invent energy, God did. If a man can learn a discipline that promotes health and healing by harnessing energy, that could be a good thing. Still, there will be issues for any believer - not the least of which is being yoked with non-believers, as most people who study these disciplines are not Christians, and extremely new-agey. I also suspect that the further one develops, the more difficult it becomes to avoid the spiritual aspect - especially when it comes to things like guided meditation. This is because these disciplines are designed to indoctrinate one into an integrated mind/body philosophy - one that denies Christ's sacrifice (but not necessarily his moral teachings).

So, if you have doubts, stick to calisthenics, aerobics, sports, weights etc... You can get the same physical benefits without getting tied into spiriual knots. But if you think you're strong enough to tempt the devil.....

Doug Groothuis said...

The Rom. 14 kinds of issues do not include practicing false religion.

Moreover, yoga appeals to occult engery (demons), not God - created energy that is neutral.

pgepps said...

See, there's the underlying difference. I don't admit the concept of "neutral" anything. "Even the plowing of the wicked is sin." The "substance" of a thing is not a matter of material or causal reduction, but consists in its relation to the intentions of Him "who is before all things, and by [whom] all things consist."

Thus, there is no "neutral" energy; there is God's energy being used for His purpose, or abused under His longsuffering and to the destruction of the perpetual abuser.

And there is no "neutral" secular, empirical thought; there is the consistency of God's will that upholds the appearances we classify, and attempt to manipulate to our benefit, under covering causal laws.

So taking pills from an atheist or learning how to train my breathing, posture, and muscle tone in order to adjust various nervous and endocrine responses--both fall under the "Egyptian gold" principle.

It's just easier to attack the idols of other tribes, but I've lived in the East and wrestled with the "conscience of the idol" in matters as trivial as attending an unbelieving friend's taiko drum performance at a shrine where the unbelieving families of my church's Kids' Club students brought them. I don't have a problem with drawing hard lines. You've just drawn this one in the wrong place.

But I don't want you to get "soft" on the idols; just better informed and less chauvinistic.