Yoga: The New Antichrist

By Philip Goldberg
In a widely circulated blog last week, Reverend Albert Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, took aim at yoga. “When Christians practice yoga,” he wrote, “they must either deny the reality of what yoga represents or fail to see the contradictions between their Christian commitments and their embrace of yoga.” The essay got attention, but it’s really just the latest variation of an old story. In fact, Mohler is practically ecumenical when compared to some of his predecessors.

Conservative Christians have been issuing lurid warnings about contamination from the East for more than a century. Back in the 1890s, Swami Vivekananda, the first Hindu leader to make a splash in the U.S., was mercilessly assailed on his Midwestern speaking tour. In newspaper exchanges that would have made for great TV had the technology existed, the erudite Vivekananda gave as good as he got, blasting Christian arrogance and winning the hearts and minds of open-minded Americans in the process. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, the gurus and yoga masters who trickled into the West were greeted with alarm by xenophobes and self-appointed defenders of womanhood. Articles like “American Women Going after Heathen Gods” stoked fears of innocent maidens being seduced by dark-skinned pagans. In 1911 a broadside titled “The Heathen Invasion” claimed that yoga “leads to domestic infelicity, and insanity and death.” Come the late 1960s and early 1970s, a tidal wave of popular gurus attracted followers and were accused of doing the Devil’s work. In 1975, for instance, when Maharishi Mahesh Yogi appeared on Merv Griffin’s talk show (the Oprah of its day), protesters outside the studio carried signs like, “Jesus Is the Lord, Not Maharishi.”

Now the anxiety is directed at what has aptly been called modern postural yoga. Fifteen to 20 million Americans attend yoga classes each year, and naturally most of them are from Christian backgrounds. On top of that, several varieties of Christian Yoga have cropped up. This has caused consternation and sometimes alarm among certain clerics; Reverend Mohler apparently is one of them.

I can’t help thinking: What are they afraid of? Are they that insecure? Do they think so little of their flock as to fear that they’ll convert to Hinduism because they chant some Sanskrit mantras, or say “Namaste” instead of goodnight, or hear some tidbits of Vedic philosophy while stretching? Non-Christians absorb through osmosis countless doses of Christian theology just by living in America. We sing Christmas carols like they’re pop tunes. Yet, despite the relentless exposure, there is no sign of mass conversion. One is tempted to tell worried Christians to calm down with a few forward bends and some alternate nostril breathing.

What makes the fear of stealth Hinduism especially bizarre is that the ancient tradition has never even entertained the concept of conversion. Every Indian teacher who made a mark in America has presented his or her teachings as more of a spiritual science than a religion — something students can try on for size and adapt to their own lives as they see fit, whether for secular self-improvement or as a spiritual practice that need not interfere with their own religions. This is, of course, especially true of contemporary yoga, which most students see as a fitness or wellness regimen and many find compatible with their various spiritual orientations.

Read the entire Huffington Post Article, here.


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4 Responses to Yoga: The New Antichrist

  1. “Time/Space + The Modes of Nature meets Religion” certainly creates some interesting scenarios.

  2. As a yoga teacher myself I do try to give to my yoga students something more than just asanas and pranayama – some deeper philosophical understanding of the final goal of yoga, being defined by Sri Krishna in Bhagavad Gita as “yoga is the perfect action” or also can be translated as “yoga is perfection in action”. I tell them that through the asanas we try to purify the body, through pranayama we try to purify the mind, but both are done with the higher goal of liberating the soul from the double bondage of body and mind self-identification which limits us.

    “Yoga” means “connection” and thus yoga is a science about the different connections which we experience – biological, social and universal. It’s a science teaching us how to purify our connections on different levels and harmonize them. Thus yoga has different messages for humanity – message to the body, to the mind and to the soul. Reaching harmony on biological level is the message of yoga to human body. Harmonizing one’s individuality with the other individualities is the message of yoga to human mind. While harmonizing the individual person with the Whole or God is the message of yoga to human soul. To reach these 3 levels of harmony is like arranging the cube of Rubik. The art is how while arranging one side not to mix the others and finally the whole cube with all it’s sides to be arranged color by color. The same way as for arranging the cube of Rubik there is a system of formulas and methods, yoga also offers a system of formulas and methods. If one follows them he/she will be successful in his/her practice and will gain personal experience which no book can substitute.

    By explaining yoga in this manner to my students I don’t get in conflict with their own religion. I tell them that the best religion is the one which brings you closer to God, and yoga can only help you in this if you practice it sincerely and try to understand it in depth. By purifying our body, mind and heart through the practice of yoga, we would be able to offer them to God as a temple to reside in.

  3. This was my mothers greatest fear which was over come when my father read the 5th canto and explained it to her that this is divine literature and makes sense.

  4. I can see the health benefits of yoga but a friend has really got in worshiping a particular yoga guru like a god. It also seems like his ability to see world at large is a getting a bit dimmed. He would say he’s more “enlightened” but I’m sensing a cult like obedience in the way he speaks and obsesses about yoga. The guy plans to go to India to get really deep into it. Seems like there is personality change going on.
    I don’t know whether this is the result of yoga, or some other events in his life, or a combination thereof. Heck it might even be good for him but again I can’t deny there is a strange impression I am sensing with these transformations.

    I also knew this woman who left her husband who she had kids with, after really getting into yoga. The husband commented she became very detached from the relationship and thought she probably had been sleeping with a male student in teacher training.
    I also remember the phrase she would use to describe things during that time. She would say:
    “I live in the now, I don’t worry about the past or obsess about the future. I am present with my feelings and alive”.

    Maybe all the Antichrist talk is really a manifestation of a concern when people start treating yoga leaders like gods, or start worshipping themselves at the expense of meaningful real world relationships with others.

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