October 09, 2010

Yoga and commitment

The President of the Southern Baptist Seminary, one Albert Mohler, is in the news. This AP story is why.

And what's the fuss? In an article he wrote last month, Mohler asserts that there is a significant disconnect between Christianity and yoga. In fact, says Mohler, "When Christians practice yoga, 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 interesting thing about this Mohler essay is that he comes across as actually inquisitive and curious about yoga (and, I'll presume, other practices from other cultures). Read him to see what I mean. Yet I cannot understand his drawing of a line in the sand between yoga and Christianity.

Or perhaps what I mean is, I do understand it. Because all over again, this is precisely what I have always found so troubling about religions. The way they seek forever to delineate what is and what isn't part of their particular religious "commitments". The way religious leaders seek to put their flock into one strait-jacket or another. The way they all have their particular taboos, whether it is yoga or women menstruating or praying at anything but prescribed times.

I'm no theologian. But to me, it seems the only commitments a religion -- any religion -- asks for is that, one, you are a good human being, and two, you are good to your fellow human beings and others who share life with you on this planet.

And I simply cannot see how practicing yoga in any way interferes with those tenets. Maybe that's why I'm not a theologian.

9 comments:

Vinod Khare said...

"I'm no theologian. But to me, it seems the only commitments a religion -- any religion -- asks for is that, one, you are a good human being, and two, you are good to your fellow human beings and others who share life with you on this planet."

Wrong. This is NOT what any religion asks. This is what we feel religion should ask because it is the innate nature of humans to feel sympathy towards other humans. Religions by nature tend to be bigoted and discriminatory. If your particular religion is not the ONLY way to reach God, then why follow it at all? If it is okay to do Yoga, why be Christian at all? Religion by nature is an exclusivist identity. Being nice to other people is only thrown in as an afterthought because they want to be the good people.

Anonymous said...

Define good. That's where trouble begins.

Ketan said...

Dilip,

Just like you're not a theologian, I'm not a philosopher, but you said: "the only commitments a religion -- any religion -- asks for is that, one, you are a good human being, and two, you are good to your fellow human beings and others who share life with you on this planet." So, I want to ask, what then is 'morality'?

Does morality require one to believe in the existence of God? If not, then what has religion anything to do with morality? What is religion if stripped off of the inherent theism? What remains is mere dance, music, traditions (including superstitions and rituals) and a bit of philosophy (e.g., Vedanta). All these exist anyway quite independent of a belief in the existence of God.

I have problems with loose definitions of words like 'God' and 'religion'. Some people tell me "God is everything that exists", so I ask them "then why not just call it the 'Universe'"? So to you I would ask, why not just call what you posited as the sole requirement of religion simply as 'morality'?

The way you defined the sole requirement of religion, it sounds like it is something objective, something that is uncontested, but I am afraid the bitter reality is that the religions and those following them have always clashed with one another, killed others and the self, only because they felt what they wee doing is what the God they believed to exist had wanted them to do. That is religion, for most parts.

As the anonymous above (I guess) meant to point out, some aspects of morality are pretty visceral, but others require intense debates based on few widely accepted premises ("moral axioms" - a term I like to use), and such academic study can be better called as 'ethics'. Law, Constitutions, etiquette are all largely based on the principles ethics.

So, where does religion figure in all of this? The way our human history has evolved, we're living in much more peaceful times (despite availability of far more lethal weapons) than in the past, and this is not because of, but largely despite religion.

Let me put forth a hypothetical question: if you go to a shop, and by mistake you give a Rs. 50 note instead of Rs. 10 and the shopkeeper points that out to you despite having the option of keeping it with himself, what will you term his behavior as - religious/moral/conscientious/pragmatic?

The problem with using loaded words like 'religion'/'God' loosely is that they are seen as exalted, they become unquestionable. And anything that becomes absolutely unquestionable has potential to prove very dangerous.

Quite ironically, today itself even before reading this post of yours, I had published a blog post, which pointed to something exactly the opposite of what you stated about religion. Religion and bigotry go hand-in-hand, otherwise there would be no point in calling certain religion as "one's own".

But I agree with the rest of your post. If one feels Yoga could be of benefit, there is no logic in not practicing it.

Dilip D'Souza said...

I am afraid the bitter reality is that the religions and those following them have always clashed with one another, killed others and the self, only because they felt what they wee doing is what the God they believed to exist had wanted them to do.

Exactly. This is what so disturbs me about the way people practice religion. As far as I can tell, the teachings of religion are about living a reasonable life and looking out for those around you. They are not about hating and killing others.

Yet people seem to believe the opposite.

ketpan said...

Dilip,

Thanks for responding, but that still doesn't answer how's what you say different from 'morality+conscience+pragmatism'? Morality, conscience & pragmatism, though not absolute, at least have been pretty consistent across civilizations. Whereas, religions have been widely disparate both in terms of core beliefs (i.e., nature & attributes of 'God') & their practice.

To the extent I know, verses of none of the religions, except Jainism (& to an extent, Buddhism) give such preeminence to what you say. And even Jainism takes this kind of nonviolence to extremes of irrationality - ordaining of children as 'bhikshuks' - forcing them into a life of asceticism & pain, at a time when they cannot even understand what's being done to them - are all seen with reverence. It's tantamount to luring a child & tying to it vest with remote controlled bombs. Only difference's latter kills the child instantly.

The problem's when you bring in religion (and by extension, theism) into the realm of morality, principles become unquestionable & immutable.

You'll never be able to convince certain people that abortion is not same as baby killing, or that euthanasia is not a crime against God, nor that rituals like 'hawans' where lot of precious wood & 'ghee' are burnt is wasteful & thus, wrong.

My biggest problem's faith is the last resort to turn a blind eye to what our logic & conscience tell us.

Religions can be seen to demand what you suggest only upon a lot of cherry-picking.


I hope, I've been able to articulate my reservations at conflating religion with morality.

Jai_C said...

"the only commitments a religion asks for is that, one, you are a good human being, and two, you are good to your fellow human beings and others who share life with you on this planet."

I think this is an old rev of religion, 2.x or worse. Please consider upgrading to 3.0 which commits its followers to be good to all inanimate objects as well, natural resources in particular.

If you upgrade, you are eligible for a discount when the next rev is rolled out which enjoins its followers to be good to extra-terrestrial life also :-)

thanks,
Jai

Chandru K said...

Doesn't surprise me at all. There are still significant sections of Christianity which have that fire and brimstone, puritanical, racist Calvinist type mentality.

ketpan said...

Chandru K,

When you say "Doesn't surprise me at all" and follow it up with "still" (alluding to the idea that somehow "by now" things should have been different), it comes out as paradoxical. :)

Barabara davis said...

Yoga cannot be a religion. it is a way of life that people can practise whatever faith they follow. I recently blogged about it at:
http://www.divinewellness.com/yoga-Blog/172/religion-and-yoga.htm