Jun 9, 2011

The odd implications of Christian opposition to yoga

I don't have any personal connection to either yoga or Mark Driscoll, nor do I feel like I have any commitments to either one. A fight between Driscoll and yoga is pretty low-stakes, for me.

Still, I find the theological implications of the New Calvinist mega church pastor's attack on yoga very, very strange.

It seems like Driscoll is saying -- I'm sure he wouldn't agree, but the implications are there -- that the gods of Hinduism are greater than Christianity's Jesus.

Driscoll argues that "yoga is Hinduism" -- that it, in effect, cannot be secularized. It's always and necessarily a spiritual practice and cannot ever be a Christian spiritual practice. Regardless of content, the form of the practice itself makes it an act of Hindu spirituality. Thus, "If you just sign up for a little yoga class, you’re signing up for a little demon class."

It seems strange to me, first, that he doesn't believe a practice can be secularized. If it were the other way around, and some traditional Christian practice were being used outside of a Christian context and for decidedly non-religious purposes, like, say, there were a fad where communion were done in gyms across Saudi Arabia as a form of exercise and "centering oneself," I wouldn't think Driscoll et al would think that all of those people were being tricked into worshiping Jesus.

Presumably, it would be seen as a blasphemy and a perversion of the true act.

Why wouldn't non-religious yoga, then, be seen as an insult to the yoga gods?

Certainly there are Hindus who feel that way about secularize yoga. They want to "take back yoga" in much the way certain kinds of Christians want to reclaim Christmas and Easter. I don't know of any cases, though, where Hindus are claiming the wide-spread American practice of yoga is some great success for their religion.

Not only does Driscoll not think yoga can be de-spiritualized, he also doesn't think it can be Christianized. The reason for the anti-yoga comments is a new Seattle-area organization that does yoga as a very Christian "worship experience," complete with scripture references and Jesus-centered meditation practices.

For Driscoll, though, this is "trying to treat the name of Jesus like a little magic formula that you sprinkle over the demonic."

Presumably, the point is that this wouldn't work, and that Christ or the name of Christ cannot sanctify yoga or transform it into something good, or even maybe just push the demons aside and make yoga safe for those good Seattle Christians who are looking for a little stretching.

No, Driscoll says, yoga is irredeemably demonic, and Jesus' name has no effect.

This would seem to indicate that the gods of Hinduism are really much more powerful than the God of Christianity, no? The "demons," in Driscoll's conception, are so powerful that what might really be thought an offense to them is re-configured by them as worship and praise. They can take the action -- even if it's done entirely as a secular act, in a secular context, stripped of all the obvious Hinduism, or even if it's done in an direct display of Christian piety, as an expression of faith in and love for Jesus -- and appropriate it. They can take it and make it spiritual to them, basically. They have the power, Driscoll says, to "use the name of Jesus."

Jesus, on the other hand, can't even take for himself overt praise and worship.
I'm sure Driscoll wouldn't be okay with this implication, but it certainly seems to me that his comments give us this theology where the gods of Hinduism are really incredibly powerful, but the God he himself purportedly proclaims is surprisingly weak.