By Mark Lee
Northwest Asian Weekly
Last fall, Dr. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, received national attention for an article he posted on his website arguing that Christians should not practice yoga. His argument was that yoga is rooted in the religions of Hinduism and Buddhism. Therefore, he believes that practicing yoga is corrupting to people that consider themselves Christians.
I guess you can lump yoga together with religion. However, most people just show up for their one-hour class at the local health club and then go back to their busy lives when it’s over. It is not necessary to debate the merits of Christianity versus another religion because commercialized American ‘yoga’ has hardly any religious significance. Making yoga into the enemy of Christianity is silly and paranoid.
We have our own Seattle version of this type of mentality in the form of Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church. Earlier this year, Driscoll said yoga is “absolute paganism” and “demonic.” He stated, “Yoga and meditation and Easternism [are] all opening to demonism.”
In case you haven’t heard of it, Mars Hill is a megachurch that started in Seattle in the mid-90s. Driscoll is one of its founders. It has grown to the point where, according to its website, the church has nine separate branches. Mars Hill and Driscoll also received national media attention when Driscoll participated in a debate on ABC’s Nightline about the existence of Satan. Mars Hill has acquired an image as a trendy, hip church where young people like to go. Attracting young people has become a priority for many churches in America.
If you judge it by its size and the number of young people attending, Mars Hill is a big success. Mars Hill is kind of like Wal-Mart. You may not like its role, but you can’t argue with its success. Nonetheless, behind the slick exterior, Mars Hill and Driscoll are pushing a backwards, divisive type of social agenda.
Driscoll’s yoga bashing is just one of many ignorant comments he has made about cultural issues.
After the movie “Avatar” came out, Driscoll said that it was “the most demonic, satanic film I’ve ever seen. … It tells you that the creation mandate, the cultural mandate is bad, that we shouldn’t develop culture. That’s a bad thing. Primitive is good and advanced is bad and that we’re not sinners, we’re just disconnected from the divine life force — just classic, classic, classic paganism, that human beings are to connect, literally, with trees and animals and beasts and birds, and that there’s this spiritual connection that we’re all a part of, that we’re all a part of the divine.”
Driscoll ignored the broader point in the movie. The plot of “Avatar” paralleled real life situations where indigenous groups are being pushed off of their land by large corporations with the help of governments. Ecosystems get destroyed, and people who are living off the land lose the ability to provide for their own survival. It is true that some indigenous tribes practice religions other than Christianity. “Avatar” portrayed what appeared to be a form of religion that involved worship of nature.
However, the majority of its audience probably wanted entertainment. Most would not have been influenced by paganism because of a Hollywood movie.
Regardless of whether you think paganism is good or bad, it is ridiculous to portray the movie as a threat. When you consider all the negative messages in popular culture, it becomes even more absurd for Driscoll to select “Avatar” as an example of an evil cultural influence.
The New York Times printed a piece that quotes Driscoll as saying the mainstream church has transformed Jesus into a “Richard Simmons, hippie, queer Christ,” a “neutered and limp-wristed popular Sky Fairy of pop culture that … would never talk about sin or send anyone to hell.”
I am sure that people who like Driscoll’s political attitudes will say he was just being blunt and entertaining. However, this is another example of Driscoll’s tendency to insult people that are either different from him or that disagree with his conservative opinions. It appears that he does this in part to get publicity and attention. By doing so, Driscoll reinforces the image of Christians as being bigoted and narrow-minded.
Believing in Christianity as a religion is an act of faith. But you don’t need to be a Christian to recognize that Christianity has been used for both positive and negative purposes. When Christianity began, it provided a compassionate alternative during the brutality and oppression of the Roman Empire. During the Civil Rights era of the 1950s, it helped to inspire non-violent resistance to racism. During colonial times, Christianity was, in some cases, misused to justify genocide.
At present, Christian organizations provide much needed social services and material aid to impoverished people both in the United States and abroad. Christianity has also been used by right-wing politicians as a tool for their own personal gain.
According to the Bible, Jesus said, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Instead, Driscoll appears to put a priority on promoting his personal biases. ♦
Mark Lee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.