Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Christianity and Syncretism

About a month ago, Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, KY, issued a statement that Yoga and Christianity were incompatible. This sounds remarkably similar to Mohler's 2005 statement in Time Magazine that Christianity and evolution are incompatible.  Mohler Writes,
"When Christians practice yoga, they must either deny the reality of what yoga represents or fail to see the contradictions between their Christian commitments and their embrace of yoga."
Mohler is clearly against the practice of syncretism. Syncretism, or the blending of other's cultural and religious practices into one's own was considered a serious no-no for the ancient Israelites.  Thus, the Old Testament repeatedly urges the Israelites to refrain from any sort of blending with their neighbors, including the prohibition against intermarriage.  Remember that for Solomon, his big downfall came because he had married foreign women and they had turned his heart after other gods. 

Yet, when we get to the time of the New Testament, syncretism was still an issue.  With the domination of Greek culture throughout the Mediterranean, the Jews were forced to choose whether they would adopt Greek cultural and philosophical practices, or remain steadfast in their rejection of syncretism.  Some, like Philo of Alexandria, readily adopted Greek philosophy as a means of interpreting his own Jewish faith and the Jewish scriptures.  Yet others, like Judas Maccabeus soundly rejected Greek culture.

This question of syncretism was even more pronounced for the Christian faith.  As an increasingly Gentile religion, yet based on the Jewish religion, would Christianity fight or embrace syncretism?  In most ways, the Christian faith embraced syncretism.  One of Christianity's most holy days is Christmas, which celebrates the birth of Christ.  Yet, there is no strong reason to suspect that Jesus was born on this day.  Christmas was merely an incorporation of the pagan winter solstice festival which celebrated Sol Invictus, the unconquerable sun, into their own religion.  In a sense, much of Christian history is made up of Christianity taking over elements of other cultures and "claiming" them for Christ.  Thus, Christianity has largely embraced syncretism. 

So, I return to where I started: yoga.  Can yoga be claimed by Christianity and made to fit with a pure Christian faith? What say you?


  1. I'm going to disagree with your premise that Christianity has embraced syncretism. For Solomon, the issue wasn't that he merely married foreign women, it was that those foreign women turned his heart after other gods. I think that generally is the concern, that the assimilation of the practices of other faiths will corrupt the hearts of the poeple and turn them away from God.

    While there's an argument that the commercialization of Christmas can corrupt the hearts of people and turn them away from God, I'm not sure that's what the druids and the pagans had in mind when they worshiping the sun. Christians don't bow down to the Christmas tree and worship it. Any religious significance placed on the Christmas tree has long since faded away.

    That being said, I have no idea what's involved with yoga so I can't say if it's corrupting the faith of those that do it. I'm guessing not, though.

  2. Another way to consider it may be that study of yoga can bring new insight into Christianity that would edify existing doctrine rather than dismiss real philosophical differences.