Posted by: Mike Ferruggia | April 10, 2011

Christian/Eastern Compatibility

I watched a three part series on the Catholic channel this week on the New Age Movement. The show is hosted by a woman named Johnette Benkovic and her show is called Women of Grace. I was very disappointed. She brought on “experts” and basically just poopood eastern thought and wisdom, painting all new age thought with one broad brush, and then told people it was totally incompatible with being catholic and then gave dire warnings about demons that would be invited in if we continue to pursue things like yoga, and though she didn’t mention it, by extension, tai chi.

Of course, with most arguments, there was some truth to what she was saying. For example, she talked about how so many people try to divorce the “exercise” and stretching of yoga and tai chi from the spiritual philosophies of those studies. It’s true, many people have watered down these treasures to simple exercise programs. But, I think her view that these treasured studies are detrimental to one’s soul are so narrow minded.

There are many reputable catholic thinkers who have drawn bridges between east and west. I have dealt with some of the conundrums in this blog. To think that spiritually uplifting practices such as yoga and tai chi are bad for your soul is not right. Peace, harmony, balance, virtue, modesty, innocence, simplicity, unity, and on and on are all words that come out of the catholic mouth as well as the eastern mouth. Yes, there are people who try to misuse eastern practices for their own ego, to try to manipulate and control, to gain special powers. But you don’t condemn a practice because of the people who have bastardized it.

So many of the arguments she used, if applied to her own catholic faith, would have worked as well. To understand who we are, to begin to become conscious and aware of what it means to be fully human, to progress on the spiritual path, are all things that come to us through yoga and tai chi, and is the very essence of what it means to be catholic.

She mocked alternative therapies as placebo effects. Does she feel the same way about prayer, about the purported healings of the saints? Tai chi and yoga recognizes that the human body is capable of healing itself. It teaches us to take responsibility for our own well being. It teaches us a divinity and sacredness and holiness to our existence. Yes, there are some who try to turn things like yoga and tai chi into an occult practice. But to say that yoga and tai chi are occult practices is wrong.

To engage in debates over things like monotheism verses pantheism doesn’t help. Are we created in the image and likeness of God or are we a manifestation, reflection, of the higher power? Do we call God God, or the Universal Mind, or the Higher Power, or the Source, or whatever, maybe the name that cannot be named. Do we accept in our hearts the mystery of the divine life we live and who we are? Do yoga and tai chi players aspire in the way Johnette thinks, to be gods themselves?

Perhaps the biggest issue dividing east and west is the doctrinal acceptance of Christ as the Son of God and of him as our savior from original sin, reuniting us with the father. If you do not accept this, you cannot rightfully call yourself a christian or a catholic. This may very well be. But, it is a a gulf that I think, in a mystical way, can be bridged and has been bridged throughout the ages. I see all monks, nuns, practitioners of spiritual pursuits, yogis, taoists, buddhists, catholic monks and nuns, even Jesus Christ himself, being very comfortable with each other, and being aware that they are, in a very mystical way, all on the same journey.

I’m thinking of one of my father’s favorite saints, and now one of mine, Padre Pio. As a result of his holiness and sanctity, Padre Pio is purported to have had many powers, or graces. He had the stigmata, he could bilocate, he could heal, he could read souls. He was able to do these things because he was so humble and did not act out of the ego. For ll intents and purposes, Padre Pio is exactly what a taoist adept is. If one attempts to gain these things for egotistical purposes, it is unachievable. But if you accept the mysterious livesa of the saints, then include the saints of other traditions who have lived lives of holiness and sanctity.

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Responses

  1. “I see all monks, nuns, practitioners of spiritual pursuits, yogis, taoists, buddhists, catholic monks and nuns, even Jesus Christ himself, being very comfortable with each other, and being aware that they are, in a very mystical way, all on the same journey.”

    John 14:6, Jesus very clearly states that he is the way and that no one can come to the Father but through him. So who’s right, you or Jesus?

    • hey marty,

      i would never be so presumptuous to say I’m right and Jesus is wrong, but what do you think Jesus feels about the holy saintly people who are not Christian? This is an age old question. Perhaps this might be where you and I disagree as to what Jesus would say.

      Peace,

      Mike

  2. If we are truly God’s children then we should seek peace, harmony in GOD, the Creator not His creations.
    For if we seek the energy of the universe, we violate the First Commandment.
    I think it is foolish to trade 100 years on earth with eteranal damnation.

    • SO TRUE!

  3. ANYTHING WRONG WITH DANCING?

  4. Mr Frank i can tell you that ive done a lot of yoga in the past. I can also tell you i dont worship anyone but Jesus! But thanks for the info! The only chakra id like to open is the one that holds someones heart !!! LOL

  5. Yoga though is indeed a religiuous practice designed to open chakras and is impossible to separate the physical actions from the spiritual side. It is also at the very least a form of vishnu worship.

    See http://www.dontaskthatinchurch.blogspot.com/ for a Chrisitain look at Yoga and qigong.

  6. It’s too bad she would reject it all outright, because that tends to push people to the other extreme: claiming that Christianity and eastern religions are wholly compatible. Neither is true; there is plenty of overlap, but there are important points on which the two cannot be reconciled. For example, is God a person? Christianity (and Judaism) both emphatically insist that He is. Buddhism absolutely rejects the idea. Whether or not God is a person matters a great deal; divine forgiveness doesn’t mean much if God is not a person, and while there could still be an objective moral order to the universe of an impersonal God, morality would lose its bite.

    On the other hand, a lot of overlap: Hinduism’s emphasis on the power of the mind and Tai Chi’s rugged pragmatism both find easy compatibility with Christianity. The relationship between chi and the Holy Spirit needs further research; could these be two names for the same thing?

    Maybe Jesus never did Tai Chi, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t; Jesus never tutored calculus, either. There’s a word for people who refuse to introduce anything into their lives that they can’t find explicitly described in one or another of their holy books. We call those guys muslims. I work in a muslim country and belive me, this is not what Johnette Benkovic wants.

  7. What you’ve described as Ms. Benkovic’s position is taking the Lord’s name in vain. How can she profess to know the mind of God?

    • WHAT CHANNEL OR LETTERS IS THAT STATION?

  8. RELIGION!! DOESNT MAKE SENSE HUH? AND I AGREE WITH MOST OF WHAT YOU WRITE!

  9. Just an addendum on this. One of the reasons I’ve enjoyed watching Johnette Benkovic’s program in the past is because it is one of the few programs that reaches out to women and offers them a deeper approach to life, a life that is not consumed by the secular. To be a “woman of grace” is a cool concept, one that many more women should be made aware of. To see women pursuing their faith, living lives of grace, even, to Johnette’s disappointment, prqacticing yoga and tai chi and budhism, is uplifting. The most important thing, as the I Ching of taoism constantly tells us, stay true to proper principles: innocence, modesty, sincerity, equanimity, love, compassion, integrity, and more. These things cannot lead you wrong.


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