My husband gleefully sent me the following link: Vatican Exorcist Specialist Says Yoga Is The Devil’s Exercise. The Devil? Seriously? I had to go look up more information on this one. Here’s an article in the Telegraph and another from the Vatican Insider, both of which include more information and responses from the yoga community in Italy.
Since there are only a few direct quotes from Father Amorth in this article, I’ll go ahead and refute them, on both logical grounds and on “you don’t have the first idea what yoga is about” grounds. First of all, Father Amorth says that practicing yoga leads to Hinduism, but doing one thing does not ever automatically lead to another. If I have one beer, that doesn’t automatically lead me to alcoholism; for people who have natural tendencies toward alcoholism, having one beer might lead them in that direction, but it wouldn’t do so for everyone. Practicing yoga doesn’t automatically lead anyone to Hinduism (nor can Hinduism be compared to something negative like alcoholism in any way, I was just using that as an example, since that’s the sort of mindset Father Amorth seems to be imagining). Most people who practice yoga, especially in the US, have very little connection to yoga’s Hindu roots besides learning a few Sanskrit words.
Father Amorth also states that “all eastern religions are based on a false belief in reincarnation”. First of all, way to generalize: I find it inadvisable ever to make claims about “all” of anything. Also, while it’s one thing to disagree with the concept of reincarnation, it’s something else entirely to respect the beliefs of other cultures and peoples – to say “I disagree” is a far better statement than “You’re wrong”. And finally, what on earth does Hinduism or reincarnation have to do with the Devil or Satanism? It seems that Father Amorth is really saying that people who practice faiths other than Catholic Christianity are going straight to hell. Official Vatican communications do tend to be respectful of other faiths, so I think we can assume that Father Amorth is not speaking on behalf of the Pope. It’s just troubling that there will be some people out there who read what Father Amorth has said and think that it’s official Catholic policy.
The Telegraph article does reference some of Cardinal Ratzinger’s writings on yoga from before he became Pope, and this I find interesting. Apparently, in 1999, Ratzinger warned of “the dangers of yoga, Zen, transcendental meditation and other ‘eastern’ practises” (as described by the Telegraph), and how these practices can “degenerate into a cult of the body”. I could actually see that as a valid warning as regards the sort of yoga practiced in the US today: most yoga is very focused on the body and doesn’t spend any time at all on meditation or the mind. Further, yoga trends like “power yoga”, competitive yoga, and even just practicing yoga using mirrors can reinforce that yoga is only about the physical. However, there are a lot of other fitness practices and techniques that could encourage a “cult of the body”. What does Cardinal Ratzinger have to say about bodybuilding, aerobics, and pilates? Does he frown on modern dance too, or ballet, or, heck, sports in general? Further, to imply that Zen or other meditation practices could lead to a cult of the body is completely wrong: meditation is all about the mind. I can only assume that the writer of the Telegraph article is misquoting or misunderstanding the original document, because it seems like a very weird statement to make about meditation, and I’d expect Ratzinger to be better educated than that. (And I don’t have the time today to try to look up the original document, so if anyone wants to investigate this further, feel free.)
One thing I like is the response from Giorgio Furlan, founder of the Academy of Yoga in Rome, quoted in the Vatican Insider article. He said that his yoga practice helped to bring him back to his Catholic roots. This is the sort of thing that Christians should be paying attention to, but of course, the exorcist is the one getting all the press!