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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Should Christians (and other non-Hindus) beware of yoga?

Texas Faith : Should Christians (and other non-Hindus) beware of yoga?

12:59 PM Tue, Oct 19, 2010 |
Sam Hodges/Reporter

Here's what we posed this week to the Texas Faith panel:
The president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Albert Mohler, caused a stir with a recent column decrying the practice of yoga by Christians. He did a follow-up, not backing down, but noting the fierce reaction to his original piece.

Mohler wrote the column after reading Stefanie Syman's book The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America, which describes how yoga has been adapted and secularized here.

Mohler concluded the column this way: "Christians who practice yoga are embracing, or at minimum flirting with, a spiritual practice that threatens to transform their own spiritual lives into a `post-Christian, spiritually polyglot' reality. Should any Christian willingly risk that?"

If you agree with Mohler, why? If you don't, do you see anything objectionable about how a Hindu spiritual practice has morphed into something quite commercial and secular in this country - including "power yoga" and "hot yoga"? Are there cautions you would give to Westerners who want to borrow from non-Western religious traditions?Or should everyone, including Al Mohler, just limber up and chill out?

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Al Mohler, just limber up and chill out

It is human to protect oneself from perceived threats to his or her way of life and Al Mohler’s take on Yoga is the classic case of deficiency in one’s faith.  When Galileo supported the view that Sun was at the center of the universe, the church condemned it as false and contrary to scripture, thus he was forced to spend the rest of his life under house arrest. The discovery shook up the guardians of religion; it was like pulling the rug out from under their feet.  It was a loss of control rather than the perceived depletion of faith. 

Mohler seems to be threatened with the popularity of Yoga, a beautiful practice to bring composure to oneself. He is obsessed with the idea that Yoga is a bait to lure his congregation away into “a spiritual practice that threatens to transform their own spiritual lives into a `post-Christian, spiritually polyglot’ reality”, and then he asks, “Should any Christian willingly risk that?” How mistaken can one be? Yoga is not a mutually exclusive practice, nor is it a religion; it is indeed a catalyst in achieving the union of mind and body that is central to all spirituality.

A similar call was made in Malaysia a year ago, the Muslim clerics called Yoga was Hinduizing their faith and wanted to ban the practice of Yoga in their country, likewise, the radicals among Hindus routinely vandalize the stores that sell Valentines cards claiming that it is an invasion of their culture. The Middle Eastern nations ban display of religious symbols in public space for the fear that they may lose their flock. 

The power of faith is stronger than anything out there, even though it is an intangible possession; people have given up their lives but not their faith. Historic events like Masada, Inquisitions, Bilal, Guru Tej Bahadur and several other events of the world stand testimony to one’s commitment to faith. People should have the freedom to pursue happiness and spiritual fulfillment. 

The insecurity of self proclaimed guardians of faith is exhibited by their desire to keep a tighter leash on their followers without realizing that humans are born to be free, you cannot bind them through fatwas, but freedom.    

Yoga is neither Christian nor Hindu; it is a beautiful gift that originated in India for the benefit of mankind to function cohesively.  All individuals and nations should give and receive the good without labeling it.

Mike Ghouse is a speaker on Pluralism and Islam offering pluralistic solutions to the media and public on issues of the day. His blogs and sites are listed at http://www.mikeghouse.net/ 

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