Thursday, July 10, 2014

Yoga Endangers Your Soul?

Not this again. Father Padraig O'Baoill, an Irish Catholic priest, has warned his parishioners that practicing "yoga, tai chi, or reiki" puts their souls in danger. As usual, the idea is that even secular versions of these practices incorporate religious teachings from Eastern spirituality. Now I can't speak for reiki, but I have taken yoga and tai chi classes, and none of them included anything religious. So clearly teaching that way is possible, and my understanding is that outside Asia it's quite common.

He told parishioners in his weekly bulletin: “As followers of Jesus Christ, we shouldn't be taking part in any activities that are in conflict with our faith. Therefore don't take any part in yoga classes, tai chi or reiki. Do not endanger your souls for the sake of such unsavoury activities.”

Fr O'Baoill, who is on a pilgrimage to Lourdes, has refused to comment further. His Bishop Philip Boyce was also “away” and unavailable to comment. However, another priest in the same Diocese of Raphoe insisted: “Eastern pagan worship and practices are contrary to church teachings.”

He added: “Perhaps he shouldn't have made such a fuss about it but most priests, myself included, would agree with him.”

The idea that simply holding postures, stretching, or exercising slowly are somehow "unsavoury" is just plain silly. Obviously devout Christians should avoid classes in which students are expected to pray to Hindu deities or something, but I've never encountered a yoga class like that. Furthermore, it's easy enough to just get up and leave if you happen upon one and are concerned that it conflicts with your faith. This whole "fencing" idea leads a lot of people to distrust organized religion, and not just Christianity.

Forbidding activities on the grounds that they might lead to some sort of sin or violation shows up in many religious traditions and is predicated on the assumption that even serious religious practitioners are too stupid to know when they're actually doing something wrong. So authorities need to create a set of harsher made-up restrictions to keep them in line. Over the years this concept has been applied to all sorts of things not even mentioned in scripture like music, film, and other aspects of popular culture, which just makes religious leaders look out of touch with the modern world.

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