Yoga and Christianity

Recently Dr. Al Mohler found himself in a heated debate. Dr. Mohler is no newcomer when it comes debates, yet this time he was a bit surprised at who his opponents turned out to be. It was not the atheists or the Darwinists that opposed Dr. Mohler’s views, but Christians.

What was the issue? Predestination, baptism, or any of the other usual contestants? None of the above. He simply said Christians should not practice yoga. Twenty years ago, this would have been met with the reply “well of course, everyone knows that!” But much has changed in the last few decades, as Dr. Mohler now has proof of.

It all started on September 20 when he posted his article “The Subtle Body — Should Christians Practice Yoga?.” The articles begins with the premise that only in very recent times have Christians even considered participating in Eastern religious practices, including yoga.

The articles begins with:

Some questions we ask today would simply baffle our ancestors. When Christians ask whether believers should practice yoga, they are asking a question that betrays the strangeness of our current cultural moment — a time in which yoga seems almost mainstream in America.

Then on October 7th, an Associated Press writer published a story on Mohler’s article entitled “Southern Baptist Leader on Yoga: Not Christianity.” The next thing you know, Mohler’s views are scrolling across CNN and being summarized in USA Today. Mohler’s reports here that his inbox began to fill up with hundreds of emails from Christians,  call him “insane, incompetent, stupid, vile, fundamentalist, and perverted.” The funniest (or saddest) email stated “How do we know that the apostles and early Christian guys did not use yoga to commune with Jesus after he left?”

So what’s the big deal with Christians doing yoga? Yoga contains both physical stretching and chanting to Hindu gods, which in turn is meant to bring the participant into a higher level of consciousness with that god.

In his words:

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. The bare fact is that yoga is a spiritual discipline by which the adherent is trained to use the body as a vehicle for achieving consciousness of the divine. Christians are called to look to Christ for all that we need and to obey Christ through obeying his Word. We are not called to escape the consciousness of this world by achieving an elevated state of consciousness, but to follow Christ in the way of faithfulness.

In response, many Christians have said that they are simply practicing the more westernized version of yoga. The AP article reports that one yoga studio owner has done just that, replacing the Hindu chants with “Christian themes”. The owner reported that “yoga brought her closer to her Christian faith” and “it opened my spirit, it renewed my spirituality”

But yoga is defined as both a physical and mental (spiritual) discipline. Mohler says it best:

I have heard from a myriad of Christians who insist that their practice of yoga involves absolutely no meditation, no spiritual direction, no inward concentration, and no thought element. Well, if so, you are simply not practicing yoga. You may be twisting yourselves into pretzels or grasshoppers, but if there is no meditation or direction of consciousness, you are not practicing yoga, you are simply performing a physical exercise. Don’t call it yoga.

What do you think? Is living a Christian life and practicing yoga a contradiction?

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