Tuesday, September 04, 2007

No yoga in churches? Hindus upset

Apparently, two churches (one Baptist, one Anglican) in Taunton (southeast England) decided that having their property used for yoga classes is against Christian principles. In response, the Hindu Council of the UK has expressed outrage, and also written to the Archbishop of Canterbury. (The full-text of the ENI story is below. Here's a link to a story at the Times.)

There's two issues here.

a) The idea of some Christians that yoga is inappropriate for a Christian congregation, or yoga classes are anti-Christian, and shouldn't be offered on Christian property.

Now some Christians find yoga to be incompatible with being a Christian (for instance Indian evangelical Vishal Mangalwadi has a piece talking about why yoga might not be such a good idea for a Christian attn: PDF link). Obviously, others don't (for instance, Paulist Father Tom Ryan thinks it (at least in a Christianized form) to be quite healthy and ok.)

b) The Hindu Council's outrage, because this is perceived as an attack on Hinduism.

Now it's understandable that the Hindu Council might be upset that some Christians think that yoga, because of its association with Hindiusm, might be suspect. But what do they expect the Archbishop of Canterbury to do? Order Christian churches to offer yoga classes? (And like the Baptist church would follow his bidding! Heck, given the state of things in the Anglican communion, even the Anglican parish might not!) And what if this had occurred at a mosque? Would the Hindu Council be writing to the imam that Islam is not supposed to insult Hindus? Can any religious group say anything at all that might be perceived as criticial of another group without being lablelled "medieval-like"? Who decides what the facilties of any particular group should or should not be used for?

Now, I don't think that yoga is of the devil, though, I tend to get irritated at the way in which Westerners exoticize India through yoga. Is yoga inherently Hindu? Both the Hindu Council and these churches seem to think so. I don't know that that is necessarily the case. However, the larger issue seems to be this: in a relativistic age, when the unreflexive response is that "all religions are the same" -- which seems to mean that all religious are equally useless from the secular point of view -- perhaps it's not such a bad thing that some churches in secular Britain are at least concerned about issues of identity, and fidelity. I'm just not sure that yoga is the issue over which to draw such lines.

By Trevor Grundy

Canterbury, 4 September (ENI)--Leaders of Britain's Hindu community are expressing disbelief and outrage at claims by two English church ministers that yoga should be banned after saying that the meditative exercise is a sham and not compatible with Christianity.

"I have written to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, about the reported actions of the two men," Anil Bhanot, general secretary of the Hindu Council U.K., told Ecumenical News International. "These priests might appear to be advising Christians not to practice yoga because they believe it is based on a sham and a false philosophy. But what in effect they are saying is that Hinduism is a false religion."

The Hindu council's spokesperson on yoga, Amarjeet-singh Bhamra, noted: "It is very disappointing that such medieval-like irrational prejudice is still allowed to flourish in the Christian church in 21st century multicultural Britain."

On 31 August, The Times newspaper reported that a children's exercise class was banned from two church halls in Taunton in southwest England because it was teaching yoga.

Louise Woodcock, who was looking for a new home for her Yum Yum Yoga class for toddlers, was turned away by the Silver Street Baptist Church and the St James' Anglican Church.

Woodcock had been using the Baptist church hall to conduct her classes, which were based on songs and simple movements aimed at relaxing small children, when the Rev. Simon Farrar withdrew his consent after he discovered she was teaching yoga.

"We are a Christian organization," Farrar was quoted as saying by The Times, "and when we let rooms to people we want them to understand that they must be fully in turn with our Christian ethos".

The Rev Tim Jones of St James' Church said, "Yoga has its roots in Hinduism àYoga may appear harmless or even beneficial, but it is encouraging people to think that there is a way to wholeness of body and mind through human techniques ," said the Rev. Tim Jones of St James' Church.

Still, Bhamra, one of about 600 000 Hindus in Britain, told ENI, "Yoga is one of the oldest medical systems enshrined in the Atharva Veda, the most ancient Hindu book on wisdom, and it is now at the forefront of holistic and integrated medicine in the West." [390 words]

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