Yoga Is Dangerous IV: Christianity • 3 December 2007

Yogis everywhere linked last week to Pat Robertson discussing yoga on ABC.

Watch the short video, but here’s the central comment:

[T]hey have some stretches that are part of the yoga regime which are very good for you. But when you get into that other stuff, and you’re into a higher consciousness, and you’re supposed to merge with your spirit in with the ever-present god, and gods everywhere: it’s a form of pantheism.

I’ve been waiting for those links to generate commentary beyond the Look at That! impulse, so I can figure out why you all find Robertson’s words at all remarkable.

Not that I don’t understand gawking at fundamentalism. It is a freakshow at times, but this clip is relatively open-minded. He doesn't fear-monger or say yes to the question of whether yoga "has its origins in evil." This looks like a little opening in the black-and-white mind Christians took on during the culture wars.

It’s not like he misunderstands yoga at all. It is about “higher consciousness,” and “merging your spirit in with the ever-present god.” That’s why he has to object to it, ultimately: it really is hostile to his professed monotheism.

Fundamentalist Christians are always confusing themselves on the monotheism thing. Is that they should worship only one god or that there exists only one god? And what about the Devil? Is Satan an alter-god? Just a placeholder for the problem of evil? A minor angel fallen to earth? Are good and evil equal forces, or is it true that (as terrified Christians chant whenever doubt arises) “God is in control”?

I’ll tell you what Robertson taught in the 1980s: the universe is black and white. Every single action, thing, and thought is either good or evil; and there is a constant spiritual battle between darkness and light playing out beneath the surface of all reality. The world is just an illusion beneath which the true clash of angels and demons—the true contest of heaven and hell—is playing out. If this sounds odd, get yourself a Frank Peretti novel for some light holiday reading and thank me later. You’ll laugh your head off, but that’s the cosmology I’m talking about. Speaking from experience, it’s a fun and romantic worldview.

It’s also primitive and divisive. You grow out of it.

That Pat is not standing up equating Siva with Satan and that he’s giving Christian teenagers everywhere an out—it’s just stretching, Mom, don’t worry about me praising Ganesh or anything—is a beautiful step forward. It falls to Christians to become pluralists—to stop seeing other religions as just varieties of Satan Worship. This is a growing process, but many will go through it before they die. 

It's their time. I have escaped that world to ask you to be patient instead of laughing them back into their caves.

Fundamentalist Christians need this. If they can learn to quiet the mind and follow the breath without seeing that as a victory for the dark side, they’ll find their way out of painful delusion more quickly. Because here is the situation: Christian fundamentalists are terrified above all of their own minds. That is the blackest of black boxes, prone to co-optation by the devil, even as “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.” Remember, we are the fallen. Earth is the precipice of hell, and we might fall further at any moment.

It’s impossible for me to convey the fear and self-distrust with which Christian fundamentalists live. Because they believe that quieting the mind exposes them to possession by Satan, they live in fear of contemplating their internal states. The person who gave birth to me has tearfully asked me that I never, ever “stop thinking” (i.e., quiet my mind) because nothing could be more dangerous.

The only escape for many is the rare experience of what they would call (n.b.) surrender to god—a state they reach in moments of praise or prayer. The minute those experiences end, though, they will clarify that they have not merged with god but merely given over to “him”—to be “cradled in the arms of the heavenly father.”

Enough of that back-door mysticism, though, and the fundamentalists start to open up. They start to realize that the experience of god is being generated in their hearts and minds, and they start learning to look inward to find it. They start inching in the direction that they have generated culture wars, and authority structures, and reams of scary bedtime stories trying to resist.

Yoga doesn't own the higher levels of consciousness, but it can give a person a break from the world of black and white. Nothing could be more dangerous!