Is Yoga a Slippery Slope to Satan?

“I think us Christians can learn a lot from Buddhism,” I suggested in conversation with the young man I’d just met after the service at church last week. He was OK with that. He got where I was coming from.

This was in stark contrast to an online article the same week, on the relationship between Christians and Eastern practices, with a headline that read:

‘It’s a slippery slope from yoga to Satan’ – Irish priest.

Father Roland Colhoun had warned (particularly to the Catholic world) that those partaking in yoga and Indian head massages may be led into the “Kingdom of Darkness.”

I’m no expert on yoga or Eastern religion, but I know that for a lot of people the meditative, physical and ethical principles of Buddhism or yoga are not “religious” or even spiritual, but simply a healthy way of living, promoting positive ways of thinking and being. Many principles of yoga or Eastern spirituality such as Buddhism seem to be generally good for physical, emotional and relational health.

This very morning, at church again, as I was discussing this blog post, another friend revealed that she practises and enjoys the physical benefits of yoga, putting it this way: “It’s as spiritual as you want to make it”.

For the Christian, meditation or relaxation techniques such as mindfully focussing on our breathing, can be used to help us to pray, to be still and know God, to quieten our minds and listen to his still, small voice. All these practices are neutral: until we choose how we use them.

How we use that quietening of our minds will differ between, say, Christians, atheists and Buddhists. The atheist may focus on her breath, achieving a calmer state of being. The Christian may do this too, but also focus on the God who gave her that breath, by faith ‘breathing in’ God’s Spirit and grace, and ‘breathing out’ praise to God (or confession of sins).

There is huge overlap between ancient Eastern meditative practices and ancient Christian contemplation. For the Christian this should come as no surprise, believing as we do that God has made every body (not just those who believe in him), and designed us in such a way that whatever our beliefs, taking time to be still and to quieten our minds is essentially good for our bodies and minds.

A few months ago I had a fascinating conversation with a beautiful, jolly, love-filled, Catholic man, about contemplative prayer. After we discovered that we had a mutual admiration for Thomas Merton, the popular 20th Century Catholic contemplative writer, the man informed me with a wicked, tongue-in-cheek smile that Merton had been responsible for converting more Catholics to Buddhism than anyone else!

It probably isn’t true – I don’t know.

The point is that, although Merton extolled the benefits of contemplation from a distinctly Christian viewpoint, the parallels with Eastern or Buddhist meditation can hardly be lost on his readers. Some Christians recoil at the very thought of anything that may bear any similarity with another religion, holding tight to their version of ‘Christianity’ in fear that they may be negatively affected by some unhealthy spiritual influence.

I am in some sympathy with those people. (In fact, here’s a link to a very balanced BBC article on the concerns about yoga shared by Christians, Jews and Muslims alike.)

But when Christians live in that kind of fear, they betray how small their trust in Jesus is.

The wise, mature Christian has grown out of his childish clinging to the religion of Christianity and instead entrusts everything he knows to Jesus himself.

He closely examines the example of Jesus and prays for the ability to emulate him rather than church tradition.

He observes that Jesus, living in a society ruled by the Romans, never felt the need to denounce their pagan religion, only the hypocrisy within his own (Jewish) religion. What does that say to us?

And Jesus was drawn to, and commended, people of any faith background who had genuine, hungry hearts, rather than those who believed and did “the right things”.

Likewise St. Paul, in Athens*, surrounded by statues of Greek gods, chose not to warn the Athenians about the dangers of false gods, but to find common ground with their culture, with its gods and poets, to communicate the good news of his Jesus to them. In fact, there were already hints about the God of the Universe within their polytheistic literature, perhaps divinely planted there.

Christians, like me, may see things that we think are wrong in other religions, but Christianity in its various expressions can be equally wrong: for example, when its beliefs and practices are exclusivist or prejudiced.

People will often find what they’re looking for. If they’re just looking for relaxation, then they will probably find just that, whether through yoga or churchgoing. If they’re genuinely looking for truth or wholeness, then they will find those too – though it may take a while. Jesus knew what he was talking about when he said “Seek [or keep seeking] and you will find.”

Years ago, I was searching for truth, above all else. My journey took me through Buddhism and other ideas, and led me eventually to Jesus.

Twenty-seven years later, I still believe in him; that he is ‘the way, the truth and the life’. He not only satisfied my need for truth; he turned my life around, satisfied my need for love and is continuing to make this broken man whole.

And I’m enthralled and thrilled at being part of a church that’s not trying to prove its truth, or defend Christianity or the Bible, but is simply intent on blessing the people of Hastings with all that Jesus offers.

—–

“And how can you say that your truth is better than ours?

Shoulder to shoulder, now brother, we carry no arms.”

(Mumford & Sons – I Gave You All)

—–

A few years ago, a friend of mine, a spiritualist, was searching for more, and as he was meditating, he encountered a vision of Jesus that he said was more powerful than anything he’d ever experienced. He ‘became a Christian’ and was baptised. His conversion to Christianity was sadly short-lived, but I remain hopeful for him.

I’ve also heard countless stories of Muslims who, desperately seeking the reality of a relationship with God, have encountered life-transforming dreams and visions of Jesus, and consequently put their faith in him – often in face of serious death threats, such is the strength of their conviction.

Like them, I believe that truth and wholeness are ultimately found in Jesus. I could be wrong. Either way, I have enough confidence in him not to be worried about people exploring other faiths or practices.

In other words, it’s what’s in a person’s heart, their goal, rather than the validity or spirituality of their current faith or practice, that will determine where their search will lead them.

Is yoga a slippery slope to Satan? Or could it, like Buddhism or meditation, be a slippery slope to good health, and perhaps for some, even to Jesus? Who knows?

—–

*The Bible: Acts 17

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5 thoughts on “Is Yoga a Slippery Slope to Satan?

  1. John Hawkins says:

    Very insightful Roger. Too often christianity becomes too much about fear, as if God can’t protect himself and us from Satan! We can’t dwell too much on the negatives when Jesus has so much to offer, although Paul also points out that we are in a spiritual battle and so cannot afford to be complacent either.

  2. Julian searle says:

    The truth like love will out
    ‘Satan’ thrills to distract us with fears about the ‘true’ doctrine – then love doesn’t matter any more because we’re home and dry…..not
    So pleased God owns all truth wherever it may be found and wills us to find it for ourselves
    Keep writing them Roger

    ….The spiritual battle Is nothing mysterious – it’s the one we face everyday from when we get up to go to bed – to do good and become good

  3. A friend posted some very helpful comments on this post, on Facebook, which I’ve copied & pasted (most of) here:

    “Really interesting post Roger. I liked, and agreed with so much of what you’ve written here. I personally have avoided yoga for years, because of its spiritual roots which I thought would conflict with my beliefs as a Christian. I now practise yoga every week and love it! I love the physical benefits that my body enjoys from it. I do however, practise it with care. By that I mean that I choose very careful which classes I do and which instructors whose guidance I put myself under. There are many branches of yoga and many different ways of teaching it. Some focus almost exclusively on the physical aspects, others concentrate heavily on spiritual acts. I find as a Christian, that my spirit, or the Holy Spirit within me has a cautioning reaction in some classes. I feel a spiritual unease, a discomfort and a check. There are some instructors I actively avoid because they lead their classes with a direction to become involved in practices which conflict with my beliefs and feel wrong.
    I think the whole thing is a bit like when teaching was given in the NT about eating meat offered to idols. The meat in itself feeds your body. (Yoga is physically good for your body). The fact that it was offered to idols could lead some Christians to stumble. We don’t point the finger and jeer at ‘weaker’ brothers and sisters. Quite the opposite, we should go to great lengths to make sure nothing we do causes a stumbling block for anyone. The knowledge that Salute to the Sun was originally part of worship to the Hindu Sun God is somewhat disturbing I feel, and could be a problem for many believers. I choose to see it as a series of moves which don’t hold that meaning for me. However it’s one thing to eat the meat (practise yoga) and it’s quite another to actually engage in worshipping idols
    To another Christian, Salute to the Sun may mean engaging in worship. In that case, they shouldn’t do it! I personally would never participate in chanting because to me that is participating in worship/spiritual practices which are opposing to my faith in Christ.
    The other thing I just wanted to comment on was the Mumford Brothers quote about truth. I’d rather stick with your scripture quote of what Jesus says- I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No man comes to the Father except through me. Not very politically correct is it? But there it is, the truth singular. That surely means there aren’t a number of truths, all of which are equally acceptable depending on which one you happen to like the sound of! Yes there will always be wisdom we can learn from other people and faiths. But to come to God, give me Jesus, always and exclusively.”

    And here is (most of) the reply I gave:

    “Great comments, that bring a good balance to my post.
    Just to explain the Mumford quote, which seems a bit at odds with other things I stated about truth ultimately being in Jesus…. my blog is aimed primarily at encouraging people outside Christian faith to engage with Christianity and think about Jesus. I don’t know what Marcus Mumford was writing about in I Gave You All, but the album as a whole seems to reflect his wrestling with his Christian roots and perhaps some ambivalence about having turned away from them. The quote is meant to be something that a non-Christian might identify with – in other words, some have had the experience of being put off Jesus by Christians brashly, arrogantly even, shouting (literally or figuratively) that Jesus is The only Truth and that everything else is wrong…. I empathise with people who feel like this about Christianity and I use this quote to express that empathy.
    If we really believe that Jesus is ‘The Truth’ (and that that truth is in fact love) and would love other people to discover that too, then we’ll do better to express that truth in humility, gentleness, empathy, loving actions, and Spirit-filled prayer, drawing people to Jesus with ‘cords of compassion’, and also by finding common ground on which to build, as I’ve attempted to do in this post. This is pretty much the ethos of Alpha and why Alpha works so well in a postmodern, post-Christian society.
    So rather than coming with a combative attitude of ‘Our truth is better than yours’, we come with an empathic attitude of ‘Shoulder to shoulder, now brother, we carry no arms’.
    Of course, the quote is poetry rather than theology, but this is at least my attempt to explain my use of it 🙂 “

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