Mohler's Yoga critique draws spotlight
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--A simple review of a new book on yoga unleashed a torrent of critical e-mails on R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and often-quoted commenter on the relationship between American culture and Christian faith.
In an 1,141-word Sept. 20 column on Stephanie Syman's "The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America," Mohler noted the contradictions between the practice of yoga and the commitments Christians make when they decide to follow Jesus.
Mohler noted "the growing acceptance of yoga points to the retreat of biblical Christianity in the culture. Yoga begins and ends with an understanding of the body that is, to say the very least, at odds with the Christian understanding. 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.
"Nevertheless, a significant number of American Christians either experiment with yoga or become adherents of some yoga discipline. Most seem unaware that yoga cannot be neatly separated into physical and spiritual dimensions," Mohler added. He quoted Douglas R. Groothuis, professor of philosophy at Denver Seminary, warning that yoga is not merely about physical exercise or health but "all forms of yoga involve occult assumptions."
"The embrace of yoga is a symptom of our postmodern spiritual confusion, and, to our shame, this confusion reaches into the church," Mohler concluded in his 1,141-word critique. "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?"
A little more than two weeks later, an Associated Press article on Mohler's essay hit Yahoo News and an e-mail tsunami crashed into Mohler's quiet academic life. His Oct. 7 column on www.albertmohler.com noted: "Messages have been coming in at a rate of about a hundred an hour. The first lesson -- count the cost when you talk about yoga. These people get bent out of shape fast."
The Christian proponents of yoga who wrote to put Mohler in his place not only completely missed the point of his column, they even proved his point, Mohler said.
"I have heard from a myriad of souls who have called me insane, incompetent, stupid, vile, fundamentalist, and perverted. Some others are best left unrepeated," Mohler wrote. "These souls claim to be Christian, but offer no biblical argument nor do they even acknowledge the basic fact that yoga, as a spiritual practice, runs directly counter to the spiritual counsel of the Bible. Instead, I have been treated to arguments like these. From a 'devoted Southern Baptist church member who resents your ignorance': 'I get much more out of yoga and meditation than I ever get out of a sermon in church.' From 'a Christian who goes to church every service': 'My favorite image I use in yoga is that of Jesus assuming a perfect yoga position in the garden of Gethsemane as he prays.' And, to cap it all off: 'How do we know that the apostles and early Christian guys did not use yoga to commune with Jesus after he left?'"
Mohler also said: "Sadly, almost every protest e-mail makes my point better than I ever could myself. I have heard endless claims that there is no incompatibility between yoga and Christianity because it makes people feel better, it helps spirituality, it is a better way to know God, etc. There is no embarrassment on the part of these hundreds of e-mail writers that they are replacing biblical Christianity with a religion of their own invention."
Christians who insist their practice of yoga involves no meditation, spiritual direction, inward concentration or thought element need to realize they aren't practicing yoga, Mohler added. "You may be twisting yourselves into pretzels or grasshoppers, but if there is no meditation or direction of consciousness, you are not practicing yoga," he said. "You are simply performing a physical exercise."
Mark Kelly is an assistant editor with BaptistPress. Find R. Albert Mohler Jr. online at www.albertmohler.com.