18 September 2007

Yoga and Christianity

It seems that every one is weighing in on this Christianity/Yoga debate, so I figured I would speak my mind on the conversation. I agree with some of the critiques of Doug that he spoke naïvely about yoga in the new program, and about yoga’s potential to distract people from God. I believe that we must be aware that when we borrow/reappropriate things from other cultures, belief systems, and religions that they can have elements which distract from God. I believe that Doug’s apparent naïveté comes from the great experience he and others around him have had with using yoga stretches and poses to connect with the goodness of God’s creation – and with the harmony of God’s love for the world and all that God has created.

It is very good for our faith and our experience of God to be more than just intellectual, but to also be physical. The problem is that much of the Judeo-Christian practices of physical prayer and meditation have been lost. Many of these practices didn’t fit in to Christianity any more because neo-platonic equations were imposed on Christian thought. Simply put the thought goes something like this: God = good And earth = bad. Thus: God has little or nothing to do with our physical existence here and now. This is how MacArthur lays the foundation of his argument against yoga. God’s separation from us is not a Biblical concept, but instead based on Greek philosophy (I will talk a little more on that later.)

If we have lost our traditional physical ways of connecting with God in our world and with God’s creation (part of which is our bodies that are created in the image of God) we should find ways to do that: being fully conscious that this practice is for the Glory of The One True God. The Triune God. There is no other God before God.

The main argument against yoga is that it distracts people from God, because Yoga is the product of another religion/philosophy. This for me is where the argument against yoga loses all of its steam. Christianity as most of us modern day Christians express it is anything but pure in origin.

We can look at Neo-Platonism and how it completely changed Christian thought: Augustine’s neo-platonic background colored deeply all of his theology, which has in turn shaped nearly all theology since then. This was a religion/philosophy that was part of a polytheistic society, which lead many away from Christianity and justified persecution of our Christian and Jewish forefathers. We can look at the celebration of Easter. The word “Easter” comes from the name of a pagan fertility Goddess, hence all the eggs and (fertile) bunnies – we attached the birth of Christ onto a pagan festival so that the Christian faith could reach more people. Good or bad, this is where our current faith stands.

Christmas’ rampant materialism clearly distracts people from seeking God. Many of us Christians are more upset by stores not saying “Merry Christmas” then we are about the fact that our High Holy Holiday celebrating the birth of our Lord is used to increase profit margins. We can even look at the philosophy of pure reason which underlies much of science. This philosophy has taken many people’s thoughts and eyes away from God, but very few are the Christians who won’t use electronics, cars, mobile phones because they grow out of a culture that make logic and reason its gods.

The purity of Christian practice is a myth, so arguing against yoga from that foundation is extremely flawed. However, if we borrow poses and stretches from other cultures/religions/philosophies we must not ignore their source completely (as it Doug appears to do in the interview) but we must be honest about where they come from, and how we are allocating them for a new purpose.


John said...

My critique of Pagitt stems not from MacArthur’s arguments, but rather from Doug Groothuis’. Groothuis’ opposition to yoga stems not from neo-Platonism, but rather from opposition to idolatry. He writes on his blog,

“Yoga, deeply rooted in Hinduism, essentially means to be “yoked” with the divine. Yogic postures, breathing, and chanting are designed not to bring better physical health and wellbeing (Western marketing to the contrary), but to bring union with God Brahman (a Hindu word for God). This is pantheism (all is divine), not Christianity.”

While you’ve got a point about Christian’s re-appropriation of Easter and Christmas, yoga is a much different matter. Yoga, as Groothuis argues is not simply changing the name of something or of a mere distraction, but about worship and faithfulness to serving the One True God.

In a lecture available online Groothuis does make a distinction between using yoga positions and exercises apart from the chanting and otherwise religious aspects of it. Without knowing how Pagitt practices yoga, or how the class at Solomon’s Porch is taught, it is impossible to make a judgment about the class. But it is very important that Christians make a clear distinction between yoga and simple exercise. This distinction is not made clear by Pagitt, and is only alluded to by MacArthur in the CNN video.

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” Matthew 6:24

bobbydale said...

What I was attempting to get at is that idolatry is possible in many forms. As I said, we can idolize technology, the gifts we get at Christmas, Easter candy. In fact, we (Christians) become yoked to our shopping, our gifts and our family get togethers and not first to Jesus Christ. Can any one explain to me how the use of Easter eggs (symbols of fertility) in celebration of the Resurrection of Christ a complete interruption of 'faithful serving of the One True God'?

John said...


I won't defend the indefensible.

I will merely affirm that you are right in saying that we must be vigilant in living a life free of idolatry in whatever form it may take.

Anonymous said...

John you must realize that union with the divine is union with god, is there no god in christianity. Take the word yoga as you will it applies to all religions.
We need to stop saying your god and my god, this is foolish and counter productive.
Do you really think the differences in christianity and hinduism are so great ? Are they really preaching things that are so different. I think the roots of all religions are very similiar.

Of course we can nitpick technicalities and details but we could do this even with different sects under christianity. Everyone has a different idea of god a different way of seeing the divine but does that really mean that god is different or is it really our perception that is different ?

I have a devout christian friend who is a christian yogi in every sense of the word. She practices yoga and meditation every day with the love of christ in her heart and his teachings in her mind. There is no difference to her between yoga and christ.

Anonymous said...

sorry I meant that as
" Is there no god in christianity ?" I wasnt trying to say there is no god in christianity