Tuesday, May 19, 2015

It's Just Stretching, Dumbasses!

The Christian hatred of non-sectarian yoga continues to baffle me. Raw Story has an article up today that tells the story of Mike Persi, a man who was wheelchair-bound for many years as the result of an accident.

A member of Mikes congregation, John Taylor, heard about a case where a man regained his ability to walk after intense yoga therapy. John connected Mike with Mitch Menik, a Christian yoga instructor, and after a similar course of treatment Mike was in fact able to walk. However, his church found itself divided over whether his recovery was a miracle or whether it actually came from the devil.

No, really! These folks are trying to figure out whether or not physical therapy is evil. Back in the real world, Mike's recovery was neither a miracle nor dark sorcery; it was his body's natural response to exercises designed to strengthen muscles and improve joint flexibility. The fact that those exercises happened to employ a particular set of poses should be a non-issue, at least to anyone with a modicum of critical thinking skills.

Mike had been wheelchair bound for over three decades, ever since an accident at age 27 left him unable to walk or to speak without stuttering. The odds were long against Mike getting back on his feet. But one week later, an acquaintance who didn’t know about the prayer sent John’s wife a video in which a man with similar injuries regained his ability to walk through intensive yoga therapy. John took it as a sign. So did Mike. So did born-again Christian yoga instructor, Mitch Menik, who even offered to take Mike into his own home during a course of intensive treatment.

When Mike took his first wobbly but unassisted steps, all involved were thrilled and thanked God for a miracle that to their minds was modeled on the ministry of Jesus. But not everyone in Mike and John’s Abundant Living Las Vegas congregation felt the same. When friends set up a GoFundMe page to help Mitch cover income lost during the time he was working with Mike, most parishioners refused to contribute. And when Abundant Living’s pastor blessed the therapy, members (and money) poured out of the church. Many biblical literalists, and charismatic or Pentecostal Christians in particular, are deeply suspicious of yoga, which they see less as a healing or wellness practice and more as a seductive point of entry into the Hindu religion.

Except that it isn't. Modern yoga is in fact neither particularly Hindu nor particularly ancient. While some New Agers treat it as such, the reality is that the systems taught today were formulated in the 1960's by combining European calisthenics with a postures depicted in old Indian texts. And Mike's recovery is neither magical nor miraculous. It's physical therapy, folks! There's nothing evil or heretical about stretching, and I find it hard to believe that a born-again Christian who happens to be a yoga instructor is some sort of "secret Hindu," if that's what these parishioners somehow believe.

Any Christian literalist who thinks that activities devoid of context somehow retain "essences" based on their origins and therefore must be avoided has to accept that he or she is fundamentally screwed. For example, chemistry came from alchemy, which was based on the "Hermetic heresy" that was condemned by the Roman Catholic Church during the Renaissance. So if these people were really being intellectually consistent, all modern pharmaceuticals and industrial compounds and anything made from them should be off limits. I suppose they could go live like the Amish, except without those neon plastic warning signs on their buggies - because making plastics employs chemistry.

And yes, hating on stretching for being "Hindu" when it's taught by a devout Christian is precisely that stupid. I will grant that some of the New Age versions of yoga that employ Hindu mantras and prayers to orientalize the practice as much as possible might constitute a violation of a fundamentalist Christian's religious beliefs, but obviously the solution there is to just teach the stretching without any of those elements. It's not like the postures themselves retain "Hindu cooties," or whatever it is that these idiots are worried about.

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Nerd said...

I'm calling bullshit. Everybody knows that the cure for spinal cord injuries is Young Living essential oils!

Scott Stenwick said...

Yes, but are those oils infected with demons? You know, like Pat Robertson's thrift store clothes!

I. A. E. said...

There was an old "educational" videotape from the mid-80s that warned that martial arts had ties to Hinduism and other "Eastern religions", in addition to warning about the dangers of Dungeons & Dragons and He-Man.

Scott Stenwick said...

A while back one of those tapes was posted up on YouTube about Satanic Ritual Abuse. It was supposed to be distributed to law enforcement as educational material. It was full of all sorts of nonsense about "recovered memories" and the like.

Apparently it was released in 1993, after the massive debunking of the whole Satanic Ritual Abuse industry by the FBI, so it's not clear if law enforcement agencies ever took it seriously. But as a member of a minority religion it's scary to watch. The people who made it contend that there's no difference whatsoever between non-Christians and cartoon Satanists.

As far as I can tell these folks really did believe that a Christian theocracy was the only acceptable government, and some of them still do. When Muslims push for theocracy we call them extremists, but since Christianity is the dominant religion its fundamentalists often get a pass on some pretty nasty stuff.