Here’s the article that got the ball rolling. Pastors are chiming in all over the web, so there’s a sense in which I’m not sure I could add anything to the discussion. On the other hand, it appears to me that some critical pieces are missing from the discussion, so here are what I consider to be some critical observations:
1. The Christian life is about Jesus Christ. It begins with Him, invites us to live in Him, and will move history towards a time when His full reign will saturate the universe with His glory. Paul shares a concern in II Corinthians 11 that it’s easy to get distracted, seduced away from what Paul calls the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. In this sense, yoga can be a seductress that weakens our faith. But professional sports, Facebook, Glee, skiing, concerts, happy hours, home brewing, your job, your kids, your gym membership, even your spouse, can also be distractions. While prudence and wisdom are vital as we seek to bring all of life under rule of Christ, there’s a name for those who, in fear of life’s activities destroying them, withdraw: they’re called monks, and before that Essenes.
Application: We’re at our best, and living our fullest lives, when all our choices are made out from our relationship with Jesus. He balances, heals, and liberates us.
2. Yoga has non-Christian roots, just like Christmas, Easter, and eating meat sacrificed to idols. This is the crux of where I disagree with the good Baptist’s article. The core of his argument (quoting): When Christians practice yoga, they must either deny the reality of what yoga represents or fail to see the contradictions between their Christian commitments and their embrace of yoga. The contradictions are not few, nor are they peripheral.
Paul didn’t see it that way, as he writes here. Of course, he wasn’t talking about yoga, he was talking about meat sacrificed to idols, but it’s the same issue. Christians are participating in something that’s tainted by pagan roots. Here’s a word to Paul: It won’t be the last time. The church will co-opt the winter soltice festival and turn it into a celebration of Christ’s birth, and later, will do the same thing with spring fertility rites, so that we can celebrate the resurrection.
If you’re going to forbid yoga because of it’s roots, you’re going to need to stop celebrating Christmas and Easter, at least in the cultural sense they’re celebrated. Otherwise you’ll be guilty of picking the low hanging fruit – demonizing the practice you don’t do (yoga – or tai chi) while affirming the broader cultural icons of Christmas and Easter. “But those,” you say, “have a new meaning.” Can’t yoga have a new meaning too? But I digress.
3. Paul’s affirmation and warning fit the yoga scene.
Affirmation: We have the liberty in Christ to eat meat, worship on this day or that, sanctify pagan festivals like solstice and equinox, and (unless I’m missing something), inhale deeply and stretch our muscles while meditating on scripture. It’s not a problem. We can bring new meaning to rituals whose roots are outside Christ.
Warning: Our participation in things with pagan roots can be misleading to others. This is Paul’s point here, and it’s worth reading. A key word is “ruined.” and Paul is saying this: If eating meat sacrificed to idols runs the risk of ruining someone’s faith because they’ll be drawn into full blown idolatry, then it’s better not to eat meat. Likewise, if your practice of yoga (or mine) leads someone to jump fully into the monism of eastern spirituality (which means that there’s no distinctions in the universe between good and evil), then you’re better off “stretching” rather than “doing Yoga.”
Finally, it’s fascinating to consider that the Roman church “blessed” and “co-opted” pagan festivals, turning them into Easter and Christmas, but in their mission work, consistently demonized the practices of their colonized cultures as “pagan” and “wicked.” We bless Christmas, with all its frenzy of activity, credit card debt, and obligatory shopping to keep the fires of the economy churning. We then demonize an exercise that, in itself, does nothing more than stretch muscles and enhance breathing patterns. Really? My encouragement is to sanctify all, or separate from all, because our selectively demonizing those things which we don’t happen to practice smacks of the religion of the Pharisees, and we all know what Jesus thought about that.
I welcome your thoughts.