I am currently listening to Women of Grace on EWTN. In this episode they are discussing the practice of yoga and how that impacts Catholics. Their suggestion is that because yoga originated in the spiritual practices of another religion it cannot be practiced by Catholics without danger to the participant and offense to God. They have counseled callers that any yoga practice is a sin against the first commandment. They continually use the word “occult” to describe the practice and the powers that it purports to worship/utilize/release.
I find this whole discussion offensive and radically unbiblical.
The offensive part should be pretty obvious. When the host and her guest use the word “occult,” as they explain, they mean a religious practice that worships false gods. And by false gods, they mean the devil. Yoga has roots in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. There are currently approximately 2 billion of adherents to these religions. This host, Johnette Benkovic, just called 2 billion people devil-worshipers. Catholicism and it’s adherents have the right to claim that their way is the only way but when they find the biggest, boradest brush possible to use to paint billions of people as devil-worshipers they’ve crossed the line from exclusivity into libel.
People who follow a different religion than you should be respected, tolerated, and accorded all the same civil liberties as your co-congregants. Devil-worshipers are a terrifying and insidious force that should be vilified, marginalized, and refused entrance into human rights and dignities. People of other faiths can be recognized as having similar goals to your own, seeking a peaceful and just existence for themselves and for the world. Devil-worshipers, however, want to create chaos and destruction and, if given half a chance, will eat your babies.
There is no way to have a civil conversation with followers of other religions if you are going to call them devil-worshipers. There is no positive way to spin “devil-worship.” There isn’t a neutral way to understand “devil-worship.” It’s highly offensive to dismiss nearly a third of the world’s population as either desiring evil or too stupid to know that their religion desires evil.
Dismissing yoga as a desirable or even tolerable exercise form for Catholics is also unbiblical. Paul addresses nearly this exact concern when he tells Christians living in Corinth that eating meat that has been sacrificed to idols is acceptable because Christians don’t recognize that the idol has any meaning. Paul doesn’t call the idol a devil or demon. He calls it empty. Adherents to the idol aren’t evil, just wrong. Listen to how he phrases the problem (or read all of 1 Corinthians chapter 8 for full context here):
Now about food sacrificed to idols…We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and there there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on the earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God…But not everyone knows this. Some people who are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do…Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.
Eating meat sacrificed to idols doesn’t offend God. It doesn’t hurt you. The only people it can hurt are those who don’t understand the previous two statements. The only people hurt by Catholics practicing yoga are those who believe that it hurts them. Women of Grace should be educating people on the clear biblical precept that idols are empty and a practice that purports to honor them, whether in eating meat offered up to idols or stretching and strengthening one’s body that empowers certain energies, is morally and religiously neutral.
It’s neutral that is, as long as it doesn’t harm anyone with a “weak conscience”. Maybe they think your sun salutation will directly lead to baby-eating. They get freaked out. They are harmed by your neutral practice. You have two moral responses. You can continue in your morally neutral practice in a way so that they don’t see it or you can enlighten them as to why the practice is morally neutral. Then their conscience will be strengthened. Women of Grace is taking the opposite, immoral stance of weakening other’s consciences by creating unnecessary fear and judgement about a morally neutral practice. They are also taking the immoral step of filling those empty idols up with demons and devils. They are more “occult” in this way than the Catholic practitioners of yoga. Catholic practitioners of yoga do not believe that there is any truth or power to the religions that yoga originates from. They only believe in one God. Women of Grace believes that demons can have power over believing Christians, that idols aren’t empty but powerful, they believe that there might be many gods and you better throw your lot in the right one.
There are many, many ways that I disagree with the opinions held by Women of Grace (for example, do you have a gambling problem? It’s because you or your spouse is using contraceptives – no, for real). But this one really takes the cake in being unreasonably, intolerantly, and unbiblically cruel. Women of Grace wants to create monsters where there are none and then hyperventilate over those who recognize that the monsters are nothing but man’s creation.