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Wednesday, 20 October 2010

US pastor says yoga 'demonic', sparks row

 Ever seen a demon in padmasana? A pastor in Seattle, US, is seeing millions of them. Mars Hill Church pastor Mark Driscoll's statement that yoga is an agent of Hinduism, and hence demonic, has many yoga gurus seething and practitioners confused.
Adding fuel to the fire, The Seattle Times newspaper last week quoted R Albert Mohler Jr, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky, as saying that yoga was against Christianity. Some see the statements as acknowledgement of the popularity of yoga, which has been growing as rapidly as religions once did.
A system of meditation and exercise passed down generations in India, yoga has been found to give physiological, psychological and therapeutic benefits. An estimated 15.8 million people practice yoga in the US, where yoga studios are proliferating in every city.
Those who flock to these studios feel that the pastor's statement is an attempt by the church to interference in their lifestyle. "The church has nothing to do with my choice of exercise," says April Mallery, 32, a yoga practitioner and a regular church-goer at Renton, Seattle. "The benefits of yoga are great and never in contradiction to one's practising religion," she said.
What irked people like Mallery was a recent question and answer session of Driscoll with church members.
"Should Christians stay away from yoga because of its demonic roots?" Driscoll asked, before replying: "Totally. You sign up for a little yoga class, and you are signing up for a little demon class."
Contesting the idea of yoga seeking to "connect to the universe through meditation" and not "connecting to God through the mediatorship of Jesus", Driscoll dubbed yoga "a form of pantheism and absolute paganism". Richard Brenin, a teacher at Glow Yoga Center, Washington DC, called Driscoll's comment "a bit of racism".
Contesting the pastor relating yoga with Hinduism because of use of Sanskrit words, Brenin told TOI: "I suspect that there's a bit of racism and nationalism coming from church leaders, who harp on language issues and images of Hindu deities which for many studios are mere decorations or at most stories that inspire and challenge. There is no worship in a US yoga studio."
While many Indians in the US see in Driscoll's sermon a conspiracy against Indian culture, Hari Gopinathan, an Oracle employee in San Francisco, finds streaks of rebellion in Christian yoga practitioners, especially women.
"With an increasingly nuclearised society, women, at the first chance of a free choice, rebel. Yoga started off as one such sub-culture avenue for rebelling. It cuts out middle-men when it comes to spiritualism and offers freedom of expression and minimal diktats on things like sex and gender equality. Add to this the health benefits, and you have a potent adversary to organised religion," says Gopinathan.


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