Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Pagan Roots of Walking and Reflections on Yoga

A midwestern American clergyman, Rev. John Lindell of James River Church in Ozark, Missouri, made national news by warning people against demonic and spiritually dangerous practices, which include yoga. His sermon is titled Haunted: Pursuing the Paranormal. (Newsweek, USAToday).

Here's one claim about yoga poses: "They were designed, they were created with demonic intent, to open you up to demonic power because Hinduism is demonic..." 

It may be possible to dismiss Rev. Lindell as an extremist except, we find other leaders in other Christian groups (e.g., Catholic) have said the same thing. (Lindell is an Assemblies of God pastor).

But is yoga just really exercise like walking? Isn't it possible to move a body in certain ways whilst a person is engaged or not engaged in a variety of religious thoughts or experiences?


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Christians are walking all over the world but have they considered the pagan roots of this activity? Many wear plastic devices created in godless countries to count their steps as part of daily exercise goals. And walking began long before the sacred texts were written in stone.

Long ago, in the unwritten antediluvian past, humans evolved skeletons that supported their ability to stand on two legs. No more scampering about like chimps. Ancient humans learned to stand up, look around, and use their hands for all sorts of activities while walking.




As the eons passed, humans of different religions kept on walking. Some stood on two feet praying to gods in trees. Others walked great distances to share the messages of their gods. Different humans, different gods, but all walking, breathing, chanting.

Although many humans have almost given up walking in some parts of the world, many still do so to spiritual songs, messages from favorite speakers, and audio versions of their sacred texts. Some even pray whilst walking.

Walking and faith have a long history.
Walking is good exercise.
Walking is good for the soul.
Walking generally improves wellness
Some humans focus their minds on spirituality when walking.

Humans walk for many reasons.

     But,

…some Christians think exercises used by people in other religions along with words directed to their gods ought not to be practiced by Christians.

There are sacred ways to walk, bend, and breathe they say. And one must avoid walking, bending, and breathing in certain ways according to those who tell people what God means and what God does not mean.


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I think there is a more challenging message in Lindell's sermon that takes us back to witch trials. Listen carefully to his words on the sermon page.  "Yoga positions...were designed, they were created, with demonic intent to open you up to demonic power because Hinduism is demonic. Every false religion is demonic."

Demonizing the practices of people in other cultures and religions can produce fear and distrust of people who hold different beliefs, which interferes with friendly relationships. In fact, Christians have killed people suspected of consorting with evil spirits. 

I do not believe Rev. Lindell intends to harm Hindus or people who practice yoga. However, if you believe language can influence behavior, I think one must be careful to show respect for people who have different beliefs and customs.

The Lindell sermon page refers to various scriptures cited to support the pastor's view that Christians ought to be wary of the devil. For example, there's a list of "8 Things We Know About Satan." 

That concept of "We Know" is of course a matter of how Christians interpret the Bible texts  and use their reason to apply old texts to modern life--matters like yoga and meditation that are not mentioned in the Bible.

Who cares about one man's sermon? Well, those who practice yoga in the Ozarks care. Early reports indicate some businesses were negatively affected. But Rev. Lindell is not alone in his views.

According to Relevant Magazine, Clergyman Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, preached a sermon titled, "Jesus and Demons." Driscoll also denounced yoga as demonic (seattlepi).

Go back a few years and find a story in the Independent about an Irish priest, Father Roland Colhoun, who warned people against a path leading into "the bad spiritual domain" and "Satan and The Fallen Angels."

An even stronger position against yoga is that of Catholic leaders (See Amorth note below).


Father Colhoun is not alone, within the Catholic Church, in his suspicions of Yoga as a potential source for evil. In 2011, the Vatican’s own chief exorcist, Gabriele Amorth, told The Telegraph that it leads to a belief in Hinduism, and that "all eastern religions are based on false belief in reincarnation".
         "Practising yoga is Satanic, it leads to evil just like reading Harry Potter", he added.
And the late former Pope Benedict XVI, when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, warned Christians that yoga, Zen, and other forms of transcendental meditation could "degenerate into a cult of the body" that devalues prayer.
(Dunn, 2015

                                 *****
Choosing to avoid yoga or other practices linked to various religions should cause no concern in countries where there is freedom of religion and where the rule of law protects people and their religious practices from those who might attack people of minority faiths as perceived enemies.

A different warning. Guiding followers in how to practice their faith is certainly a part of freedom of religion and free speech. But responsible leaders must be mindful that some demonizing and proclamations of evil can incite people to action against the perceived enemies of Christendom or another faith. It's happened before. It can happen again. 

I am reminded of the Apostle Paul's advice to Christians worried about eating meat sacrificed to idols.



Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.”But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God.[a]

So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. (1 Cor 8: 1-8, NIV)

Avoid yoga if you wish. But consider that not even God sent "his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him" (John 3:17; NIV). Oh, and don't forget that previous, and oft quoted verse, John 3: 16-- the one about God loving the world. In this case, it would be a good idea to love those who believe and behave in different ways.
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Note on Rev. Lindell. I assume Rev. Lindell is genuinely interpreting the Bible as he understands it. I do not assume he has any malevolent motives. We both have the right to freedom of religion and freedom of speech. Because Rev. Lindell has made his ideas public on the internet, and because those ideas may negatively influence others well-beyond his congregation, I offer a different view.

Note on Amorth: The quote from the Independent referred to well-known priest, Bariele Amorth. A comment on the 2016 documentary notes that Father Amorth was never attached to the Holy See but to the Diocese of Rome-he had no special title (Greydanus, 2018).

Read more about Christians as A House Divided and how Christians can find common ground.












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