My friend Birdmaddgirl recently posted a link to an article by Pastor Mark Driscoll, a long and thoughtful discussion of why yoga is an inappropriate practice for Christian people. Pastor Driscoll cites yoga’s roots in Hinduism to denounce it as demonic, by which he means that yoga is a spiritual act of devotion to beings other than the God of the Bible. You can read Pastor Driscoll’s article here. My friend Birdmaddgirl responds to it here. You may not be surprised to learn that I disagree with Pastor Driscoll and agree with Birdmaddgirl. After reading Driscoll’s article carefully, I think that his research is incomplete and his logic is fundamentally flawed. To my view, it looks as though Driscoll set out with an agenda and did only the research he needed to prove his agenda right. That sort of approach is antithetical to the concepts of open-mindedness and true intellectual inquiry.
Pastor Driscoll has some fundamental misconceptions in his research on yoga; those misconceptions, combined with his strict Christian perspective, would certainly make yoga seem incompatible with Christianity, but some deeper searching would reveal those misconceptions to be false. If you look at his reference citations, he has read one article by Elliot Miller, a fellow Christian, about yoga history, and one book by a yoga historian (and looking at the page numbers cited, perhaps he read just the introduction to that book). Driscoll doesn’t claim to have read Patanjali, the Bhagavad Gita, or any other historical yoga or Hindu texts, nor does he claim to have read any material on modern yoga practice. Even his Bikram Choudhury quote is cribbed directly from Miller’s article. Now, I’m not saying that Driscoll should have done exhaustive research just to write a blog post, but I would have preferred him to have read a little more widely on the subject before making such negative conclusions. While I understand some of what informs his viewpoint, it seems to me that he’s trying to make his article seem deeply researched to better support his agenda.
I read over the article by Miller that Driscoll cites, and overall Miller presents the material in an unbiased way and he seems to have read Patanjali carefully. However, Miller (and Driscoll also) includes discussion of tantra, which seems to me to be a purposeful inclusion to raise prurient and negative feeling, since tantra is incredibly far removed from much yoga practiced in the US today, particularly the kinds of tantra that involve “black magic” or “child sacrifice”. To me, this seems akin to including mention of abortion clinic bombers in a general discussion of Christianity, when in reality the vast majority of Christians would want no connection with such violent behavior. There are crazies and zealots in every religion, and Hinduism has some too. However, Miller doesn’t denounce yoga and generally keeps a neutral tone. This article is the first in a three-part series, and this first part only covers history and definitions, with promises to examine carefully modern yoga and its implications for Christians later in the series. Pastor Driscoll draws his conclusions from reading only Part One of Miller’s explorations, without seeing how Miller goes on to look at modern yoga practice or what conclusions he draws. (Miller does eventually conclude that yoga is inappropriate for Christians to practice – see Parts Two and Three. I fail to understand why prana can’t be understood as the Holy Spirit moving in the body, or why saying Namaste, “I honor the divine in you”, is necessarily an affirmation of pantheism rather than an acknowledgment that each of us is one of God’s children. But Miller puts a lot more work and thought into it than Driscoll does, which I respect.)
This topic is important to me. I was raised Catholic and attended 13 years of Catholic school, so I do know something about Catholic Christianity; I also deeply believe that the practice of yoga, and the values that go along with it, can be beneficial to any human being regardless of religious background. And many devout Catholics think so too, as evidenced in this fantastic article about yoga as Christian spiritual practice. I am glad to see that not every Christian believes as Driscoll and Miller do.
This is getting to be a very long post, so tomorrow: some of my own thoughts on how the spirituality behind yoga can be applicable no matter what religion the yogi practices.