Mixing Christianity and Eastern Religions

Here is an interesting article from the Christian Science Monitor, “Why some Americans mix Christianity, Eastern religions.” Where some see relativism, others see the logos spermatikos of Justin Martyr. Anyone find the take on yoga a bit harsh?


  1. Father Ruff,

    What is harsh about their take on yoga? I think the statement at the end by Fr Senior is a very fair one – if someone is strong in their faith then they can practice yoga as an *exercise* and not buy into part of another religious system. To me that may be overly permissive.

    I speak mostly from a position of ignorance on the topic of yoga as an exercise, having never practiced it. I am a convert to the Faith, and was formerly an atheist. While I didn’t practice yoga before entering the Church, I did study eastern religions and philosophies in college for a couple semesters. From the experiences I have had with Catholics around here, for those who practice yoga it has acted almost as a “gateway drug” for them, and they begin replacing more and more Catholic devotions and practices with those from eastern religions and general “new age” stuff. It does not seem to remain a purely exercise function for them. This seems very wrong, and does seem to endanger their souls.

    I just don’t personally get it. If our goal here is to get to Heaven, and there are so many devotions and practices within the Church that help us to grow closer to our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Trinity, then why would we step out into a minefield that has the potential of leading us outside the Church entirely. If Catholics are searching, they just fall prey to the devil on these things when they don’t turn to the Church and the Catholic Faith for guidance.

    I don’t necessarily blame those that find themselves in this position. In many places the catechesis flat out stinks if it exists at all. I speak from experience as a convert on this. These things aren’t generally taught from the pulpit (i.e. never explained why it is dangerous to engage in), and alternatives (devotions, prayer groups, etc.) aren’t provided in many places for the faithful who may be looking for more.

    As an aside, is what this article describes purely an American phenomenon?

  2. Andrew;

    I second your thoughts on this. Why incorporate engrams, mazes, various incarnations of “centering prayer” etc…when we have actual liturgical practices that such activities replace? I even wonder at times why the “Taize” prayer services seem so preferred over the sung offices that they replace. Is it just that the music is “more accessible” or “attractive”? If so, should that really be a rationale for straying from our own liturgical traditions? I don’t know the answer to that question, but it seems that there should be a very high bar set for introducing non-Catholic elements into worship.

  3. It strikes me as a sort of frowny-faced Catholicism: why can’t you do things our way, goshdarnit? These were the same sorts of voices that condemned Thomas Aquinas because he incorporated that pagan, Aristotle, into theology.

    The truth is that many traditional Catholic practices have their own taint of fetishism: self-inflicted violence, domination, and the like as well as other items of questionable moral merit.

    For the record, I think people of all sorts prefer Taize over the Liturgy of the Hours because the latter, when the letter of the rubrics are applied, can be nearly incomprehensible. Too much focus on “doing things right,” and losing any sense of God. To quote a frequent conservative complaint, paging through an unfamiliar Divine Office becomes more of a horizontal exercise rather than an encounter with the Divine.

    I employ Taize as the “genre” upon the framework of evening prayer and night prayer because Taize invites participation in a more prayerful way.

    I can’t escape the notion that FFC’s are just plain jealous.

    1. “The truth is that many traditional Catholic practices have their own taint of fetishism”

      Fetishism? Seriously? Why do you express such contempt for your own traditions?

      What I don’t understand is the persistent desire by some to seek the “Divine” everywhere but from within the Church, as if what we have been given by Holy Mother Church is somehow insufficient, defective, or needs replacing.

  4. Let’s be accurate here and avoid caricature if possible.

    Neither I nor the person featured in the article is seeking “everywhere but from within the Church.” I utilize Taize, which is a Christian prayer form, by the way. I’ve prayed the Hours for decades, but I realize most Catholics, alas, do not.

    Am I also not free to demur self-whipping, for example, as treading dangerously close to sexual addiction, being from a family with a history of addictive behaviors? I could not, in good conscience, endorse the practice as good counsel for parishioners or students, especially if I knew that tendencies for self-hate were in the picture.

    What is being discussed are those who, like Saint Thomas Aquinas or Saint Paul, who employ what is good and godly and adaptable from outside the revealed Judeo-Christian tradition to lead them closer to God. My question is why some Catholics don’t think we’re catholic enough to be able to utilize these tools as the means to a Christian end?

  5. Todd,

    Avoiding caricature – kinda like saying those who are wary of borrowing practices from other religions are the same sorts that condemned Aquinas?

    The article in question is about using practices from religions other than Catholic. I would submit for consideration that not all those Catholics who are turning to yoga and other practices from eastern religions for spiritual fulfillment have done so after an exhaustive search of what can be found in their own backyard to determine whether or not they are actually lacking. Most (all?) of the ones that I know or have met in the past have done very little if anything at all in trying to discover or learn about their own faith and the spiritual riches their tradition has to offer. They are the ones I am concerned about.

    Also, I find it telling that when I mentioned practices and devotions from our Catholic tradition in the general sense, you focused on self whipping. Self whipping is nowhere to be found on my list of “Catholic ways to grow spiritually.” I haven’t actually met anyone who either engages in it or recommends it to others, and I tend to associate more with those of a tradition-favoring bent (let us just say they don’t do yoga).

    I guess if I were to share your mental association of fetishistic self whipping with that of spiritual practices and devotions of Catholic tradition, I might also refer to those who recommend against yoga in favor of them as “frowny-faced.” I mean no offense (seriously), but I think it is a very telling statement about where negative attitudes and prejudices lie.

  6. Thanks for engaging, Andrew. I focused on a practice attributed recently to John Paul II. It was on my mind as a tradition not particularly suitable to the faith, and with a wide practice outside of Christianity.

    As for people who look outside of Christianity, it may be easier to condemn them than to look at our own practices, namely, how many people we invite to Mass, to pray the Hours, to say the Rosary with us, and the like.

    I have no interest in yoga outside of a regimen of physical fitness and emotional calming. While Cardinal Ratzinger’s comments from 1989 aren’t untrue, neither do they capture the essence of most Catholic yoga practitioners.

    So I question the detractors: what purpose does it serve? Is it kind, true, or helpful?

    1. I agree about the need to self examine, and especially in this area. This should always be the case. It is so easy to not recognize our own failings with respect to our neighbors.

      Please don’t misunderstand me here. I am not condemning anyone. In fact, I went out of my way to say that I don’t blame them for searching outside the Chruch. I did so under assumption that it is done from a position of ignorance and a failing in catechesis at the parish level.

      I don’t believe kindness to be virtuous if it is a false kindness that choses feelings over the salvation of souls (i.e. choosing to confirm people in their error or ignore it rather than broaching a hard subject in conversation and helping them to see where they have erred). Correcting those in error is a spiritual work of mercy, and one that should only be undertaken if done so out of true love for our neighbor (i.e. no self-righteous brow beating) and with great gentleness and firm understanding of truth. I don’t find myself in such a position, but (then) Cardinal Ratzinger was in a position of authority to correct potential errors that were being made by Catholic faithful. He did so, and I believe out of pastoral love and concern. So, to answer your question – yes, yes, and yes. What (then) Cardinal Ratzinger was doing was all three.

  7. That Cardinal Ratzinger and others are in a position of authority is not really in doubt. The question would be if they have discerned properly. I’ll conclude my commentary on this thread by reiterating that spiritual practices beyond Christianity are not necessarily errant when applied by believers in a careful way.

    I’ll also comment that sparing feelings is not the reason I would caution for prudence here. Many bishops and other church leaders bring embarassment on themselves and on the Church by a misdiagnosis of a situation. It is easy to appear petty and arbitrary when a person in a position of authority does not appear to be fully informed on the people or traditions involved in a dispute.

    My sense would be to tread carefully here, avoid the appearance of ignorance, and continue to apply sound pastoral assessment.

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