yoginiSouthern Baptist theologian Albert Mohler has come out against the practice of yoga. Time magazine’s NewsFeed blog reports on his pronouncement (WebCite cached article):

In a recent blog post, Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr. president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, examines the argument that practicing yoga may be in direct conflict with the values of Christianity. “Yoga begins and ends with an understanding of the body that is, to say the very least, at odds with the Christian understanding,” Mohler writes.

He was prompted to make this declaration, apparently, by the publication of a single book, according to Time:

Mohler’s warning to Christians stems from Stefanie Syman’s recent book, The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America, a “masterpiece of cultural history” according to Mohler, who argues that it’s yoga’s deeply rooted – and almost ritualistic – meditation through physical positions that should cause Christians to think before they stretch. “Yoga begins and ends with an understanding of the body that is, to say the very least, at odds with the Christian understanding,” he writes. “Christians are not called to empty the mind or to see the human body as a means of connecting to and coming to know the divine. Believers are called to meditate upon the Word of God — an external Word that comes to us by divine revelation — not to meditate by means of incomprehensible syllables.”

I’ll give Mohler points for one thing, and one thing only: Yoga did originate as one of the orthodox philosophies of Hinduism, which is a religion quite distinct and different from Christianity or the other Abrahamic faiths. However, as it’s practiced in the occidental world, Yoga has long since lost any connection with the practice of Hinduism. Aside from the Sanskrit names for positions and exercises, it is not Hinduism. It’s not even “Hinduism-lite.” It’s just meditation and exercise.

(I do admit that the organization called Transcendental Meditation has some religious, even cult-like aspects, however, the vast majority of people practicing Yoga in the US are not part of that group, have no connection with it, and aren’t practicing TM.)

Mohler forgets, though, that the sort of meditation and exercises which make up Yoga, have long had a parallel in the monastic and mendicant movements in Christianity. Devotional prayers are very similar to meditation, and there are many Christian mystical practices with similarities to Yoga. All right, so as a Protestant fundamentalist, Mohler may not really consider these things “Christian” (since they’re most often seen among Roman Catholic and Orthodox monks and nuns, and Protestants don’t think too well of them), but he cannot deny a historical precedent within his own religion.

What happened, I suspect, is that Mohler read Syman’s book, became enamored of it, and wrote a blog post about it. In the process he pretty much dismissed all forms of Christian mysticism as being “un-Christian.”

Photo credit: dharma communications.

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