Calmer, karma-chameleon

As a child I used to call it ‘the locust position’. This seemed to make sense, since that’s kinda what my aunt looked like when she adopted what I was later told was in fact the Lotus Position. Of course at that time I was pretending to be a real boy and following Formula One, so I assumed it meant ‘painful, behind’—which again sort of made sense. Yoga—it’s not just the name of a smarter-than-average hat-wearing bear. Actually it’s not that at all. It is, according to last week’s news, either an innocuous system of breathing and stretching that is every British child’s birthright or a sinister plot to turn skinny, bendy people towards the devil. Of course, as one of the non-skinny, unbendy classes, I am tempted to say he can have ‘em. But the charity for all mankind that my faith gives me and my love of supermodels and Fashion TV add a shot of lime to my bitterness.

Anyway, last week’s news was full of reports about two Christian churches in Taunton that refused to host a children’s Yoga class. A BBC presenter on Radio 4 pretty much chuckled all the way through an interview with one of the vicars, saying that a little bit of stretching and bending was hardly going to turn any of the children into devil-worshippers (the Today Programme producer somehow managed to edit out the sound of said presenter patting himself on the back for that one).  A case of confusion and religious ignorance, nothing more? Perhaps. But the devil-worshipping jibe betrays something else.

Beneath the banner of tolerance, under the surface of the ‘let’s not take this too seriously’ frivolity in that one interview is something troubling. It is the assumption that, as long as it is not Satanism, Christians should have no problem with it. In fact, they should embrace pretty much anything, particularly ‘religious stuff’. Why? Because underlying the attitude that cannot believe a Christian church would turn down popular activities just because their form, structure, origins and ultimate meanings are rooted in Hindu and Buddhist religion, is a belief as clear as any Christian fundamentalism. It is that there is no meaningful difference between the religions. If God exists at all , he is accessible by any path as long as it is sincere. It’s a charming belief (I mean that literally, without trying to sound patronising) and one I used to hold. But in a tolerant, religiously free society, that’s all it should be: a competing religious view that differs from that of traditional Christianity. What it has become is the new meaning of the word ‘tolerance’. What it has become is a philosophy that aims to purge society of all competitors, and last week it found many supporters in the media.

Personally, Yoga doesn’t scare me (except in the sense that most of its positions would snap me like a Yarrow stalk) and if you think it’s harmless, cool. But I am also aware that (depending on which practitioner of whichever Dharmic religion you choose to listen to) it is a way of connecting with an impersonal god who I do not recognise as the Lord, a method of attaining enlightenment in nothingness and/or one way to escape the endless cycle of karma and reincarnation. So even if it is for the kids, even if those doing it have sucked all spiritual meaning out of it, Christians have as much right not to support it as atheists have not to be forced to say the Lord’s Prayer, even if they can cross their fingers. 

Tellingly, the media last week also denounced the Chinese state for interfering in the spiritual affairs of Tibetan Buddhists.




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