All right, serious talk now. I wasn’t going to chime in on this debate, other than my facetious last post, but a couple people have now asked what my take on this is.
With this whole uprising about Yoga, and whether it’s “okay” for Christians to engage in it, I worry that the reason Western evangelical Christians are so afraid of practices such as yoga is not really because of its Hindu origins, but because of its non-Western origins. Hinduism–and by extension, yoga–are foreign, Other, unknown, and therefore scary.
Because think about it. Is this really about worshiping Hindu gods? If you think it is, first ask yourself this question:
Is it possible to worship something by accident?
No, seriously. Is it possible to worship something by accident? If you trip and fall to your knees in front of a statue to someone else’s god, does it count? How about if you donate to a charity but then find out that some proceeds go to another religion’s temple, does that count? If you sing a song and then find out that song is a praise to some other god, did you just worship that god?
I sincerely hope that your answer is, “of course not.” Worship is homage, respect, or reverence, literally “worth-ship,” the act of declaring something worthy of… whatever you’re doing to it or giving it. Can you respect something by accident? No, because respect is intentional. So is worship–intention is part of it. You can worship something unconsciously, but you can’t worship something by accident. Paul seems to support this, when he says regarding meat-that-has-been-sacrificed-to-idols,
“Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience— I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?”
In other words, if you ate meat and didn’t know it had been part of a pagan ceremony, there’s no condemnation for you, you didn’t know. It’s not like you participated in or supported said ceremony intentionally. And even if you do find out, the only reason to stop eating is for the sake of other people, not for your own sake. After all, the meat was God’s first.
Now let’s apply this to yoga.
If there’s a Christian who thinks that yoga is just stretching exercises, and doesn’t think it has anything to do with Hindu religious practices, that’s okay. The human body was God’s first, and he designed it to be able to stretch to all those positions. If they don’t think it’s worshiping Hindu gods, then it cannot be worship of Hindu gods, because there is no intent to worship, and one cannot worship by accident.
If they themselves are not bothered by the idea of yoga, the only reason they should stop is in order to protect a particular person’s conscience.
Can pagan artifacts and practices be used or adapted to serve or worship the Christian God?
Can items or traditions that were used to serve one religion’s god(s) be legitimately used within Christianity? Can Greek temples to Zeus be adapted into churches? Can Native American tribal dances and ceremonial dress, once used in worship of pagan gods, now be used to worship Jesus? How about German bar songs, can they be adapted into hymns? The pagan practice of bringing evergreens indoors to keep Spring alive through the solstice, can that be adapted into a celebration of Christ’s birth?
It has its limits, of course. You can’t take a statue of Zeus, paint its beard brown, put it up at the front of a church, and say “Hey look, it’s Jesus!” (Deut 12:3) But so much else is adaptable when it comes to worshiping Jesus, and do you know why?
Because Christianity is not a culture. Nor is it exclusive to Western culture. Christianity is not the white man’s religion, is not any people-group’s religion, and because of that, every people-group–every tribe, tongue, and nation–is free to find its own expression of Christianity. This means that how a Nigerian worships Jesus may look different from how a Malaysian worships Jesus, and how a Korean worships Jesus may look different from how a Ecuadorian worships Jesus, because people from every culture are going to bring in their own cultural practices, cultural artifacts, and cultural traditions into the mix… some of which will have once been used in the service of other religions.
For crying out loud, one of the very Names of God used in the Bible was adapted from contemporary pagan cultures! Paul quoted from pagan poets in his sermon on the Aeropagus, and even referenced a pagan altar in his sermon! (For that matter, he was speaking on the stinkin’ Aeropagus, the Hill of Ares, dedicated to a Greek god!)
To quote the ever-awesome Eric PasstheAura: “The meanings the ancient pagans gave to plants are doubtless at odds with Christian beliefs, but it hardly follows that the plants must have those same associations hundreds of years later for people in different cultural situations. When I give my wife a red rose, I am not saying that I support the house of Lancaster instead of the Plantagenets, even though that’s precisely what it would have meant had we lived in 15th-century England. (Bonus points to anyone who knows who the Plantagenets were.) Associations change easily and are almost entirely subjective. As for us, most Christians agree that “Only God can make a tree.””
This is as true of stretchy positions as it is of roses and trees. Associations are culturally and temporally subjective.
Terry LeBlanc, a Native American Christian, said it this way of Christians of his own culture: “Why are we so distrustful of our cultural identity? Why, as Native Christians, do we believe that our drum, our musical styles, our dance… have less value to the Kingdom than English hymns or German organs, for example. Why do they have less value than Welsh choruses, Irish ballads, Italian frescoes, Roman architecture? These things are very acceptable in the mainstream of evangelical Christianity, but why those things and not our art forms?“
So–application back to the topic at hand. If artifacts, activities and practices that have formerly been used in other religions can legitimately be used in service of the Christian God, as they have been for centuries, then so can yoga, regardless of whether it has been used as a Hindu religious practice or not. God made the human body, he made it to stretch in certain ways, and such stretching is only a Hindu religious practice if the practitioner wants it to be. If the practitioner doesn’t want it to be, it doesn’t have to be–it could even be used as a worship of the Christian God, if one was so inclined.
Story time: I once took a Tai Chi class in which, as part of the martial art, I was asked to meditate. The teacher described meditation as quieting the mind and heart. Well, did you know meditation is a Christian practice as well? It’s slightly different, but it’s quite biblical. First chapter of Psalms: “Blessed is the man who[se] …delight is in the Lord, and in his law doth he meditate both day and night.” And so I stood there, balanced in the wu chi position, and brought to my mind Scripture, and chewed on it, meditating. When it was time to begin the form, my teacher had to say so twice before I noticed.
To sum this up using Bible verses,
1) “To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.” (Titus 1:15)
2) “For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”—yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” (1 Cor 8:5-6)
3) “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” (1 Cor 8:1b)