Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Christian Yoga - The Missing Manual

I first became aware that the Christian college where I work offers a Yoga class back in 2008 so I began researching the topic.  I ended up visiting Yoga classes at the Science of Spirituality, Theosophical Society and the local Hindu Temple to compare their practices and teachings.  The Yoga class at the Hindu temple was the most interesting and that motivated me to learn more about Yoga from the Hindu perspective.  A May 2013 episode (51 minutes) of the Moody Radio show "Up for Debate" on Christian use of Yoga referenced my hands-on research of this topic.

In my initial thinking, I used two arguments that Christians should refrain from Yoga (which I think are still valid, but I now think there is a better way to address this question):

1. Paul argued that while eating meat sacrificed to idols was technically O.K. since idols aren't real (similar to how Yoga is technically O.K. because it is just stretching), he said he wouldn't do it because it could confuse others (my paraphrase).  Also, note that at least two other passages (Acts 21:25, Rev 2:14) seem to condemn Christians eating meat sacrificed to idols.

2. The writer of the book of Kings argued against worshiping God at high places, where the other religions were worshiping.  If you think about it, going up a mountain to worship God requires physical labor (like Yoga), the air is a little thinner so possibly making people at little light headed after climbing (somewhat similar to and including an adrenaline high), and the view is awesome.  Those characteristics help motivate people to think about the big picture (the "mountain top experience", or more simply, a "high"). So it would be easy to think you are getting a spiritual experience on top of a mountain, substituting for a focus on Truth. I like this analogy because it says leaders who were wholly devoted to God nevertheless did not take down the high places, leading to a situation a few generations later where most of the society rejected God.

But I ended up deciding that the best method of addressing this question might be to argue that if you are a Christian considering or practicing Yoga, then I would suggest that you should learn more about the Hindu history and philosophy of Yoga directly from Hindus so that you can make good decisions on this topic.  That is what this blog post is intended to help you do.  So, this is my attempt at a "missing manual" for Christians considering Yoga.

Now, six years later, the college is offering "Lenten Yoga: a contemplative practice for the Lenten Season", which has motivated me to make this updated post.  Also, now I see that there are more Hindu discussions of the meaning of Yoga on YouTube which were not available when I did my initial blog post six years ago.  So, now you can get the information directly from Hindu sources.  If you watch the three following videos, you will understand more about Yoga than probably 99% of westerners.

1. Here is a set of videos discussing the possible future merging of Christianity, Hinduism and Atheism, followed by a discussion of atheists and Christians using Yoga for health benefits at first, then graduating to an understanding of the spiritual meanings/benefits of Yoga (17 minutes).  I also added a video clip on the end of Billy Graham discussing his inclusivist beliefs (which says good people of all belief systems are chosen to go to Heaven, which is similar to but a little different than Universalist beliefs), which C.S. Lewis also shared (the two most honored Christians at the college where I work):

2. Here is a video talking about a panel discussion on the topic from Hinduism Today (15 minutes).  I also added on the end a video clip of Father Keating discussing how his Christian beliefs (step 1) are transcended by Hindu/Buddhist concepts of Oneness (steps 2 and 3 of the "spiritual journey"):

3. Here is a link to buy the below video on Yoga philosophy from the Christian perspective.  This one isn't a Hindu source, and I don't necessarily agree with all the assertions, such as the Yoga moves themselves having actual spiritual/mystical/demonic implications.  Also, I always thought that the idea of Kundalini, being the waking of a sleeping snake at the base of our spine, came from the fact that our intestines look like a coiled snake rather than being a reference to the serpent in Genesis and Revelations.  But in any event this Christian author did grow up in India and the video has some very interesting first hand accounts from the Christian perspective (77 minutes):

If you want more information, check out the Wikipedia article on Yoga, and the origins of the Sun Salutation: "Its origins lie in India where they worship Surya, the Hindu solar deity".  Compare that to Ezekiel 8:15-16 where it says:
15 He said to me, “Do you see this, son of man? Yet you will see still greater abominations than these.”
16 Then He brought me into the inner court of the Lord’s house. And behold, at the entrance to the temple of the Lord, between the porch and the altar,were about twenty-five men with their backs to the temple of the Lord and their faces toward the east; and they were prostrating themselves eastward toward the sun.
I know that most westerners aren't intending to worship the Sun when they do a sun salutation, but at the Hindu temple they did say during our sun and moon salutations that we were "honoring the Sun" and "honoring the Moon".  So I would still suggest thinking about that passage the next time you do a Sun or Moon salutation.

I am a Christian libertarian so I believe that the ten commandments were really talking about how to maintain freedom, through right motivations (don't covet), respect for ownership of yourself (don't kill) and your work (don't steal), and respect for free trade/contracts (no adultery, honor parents, honor God). But to make free choices requires that you have all the information. Now that you have more background information on Yoga you are more free, and also more responsible, to make good decisions.

If you aren't a Christian, then perhaps none of this matters. But if you are a Christian who believes the God of the Bible actually exists, then perhaps Pilates or some other categorization of similar stretches might be a way to obtain the same physical benefits without risking disrespecting God. God gives us freedom to do what we believe is best, but choose wisely.

Monday, February 17, 2014

A Road-map to Self-Directed Christian Liberal Education

See the current summary of this model at

Monday, January 27, 2014

The "How" of Building an Effective Christian Community

I work at a Christian college.  A committee was tasked with created a document called "Working in Community" that describes what it looks like to build Community in a Christian workplace.  In reading the document, it struck me that the document does a very good job of describing what a successful Christian community looks like, but it doesn't seem to focus on how Biblical concepts actually are the foundation of an effective community.  Also, it doesn't indicate how those Biblical concepts are in actuality the same financial and managerial best practices used in all successful organizations, but in a Christian context using Christian lingo.

Much of the confusion in this area seems to come from differing definitions of terms.  I actually view “stewardship” as “delegated ownership” (which includes accountability), whereas most people seem to view stewardship and ownership as opposites.  The practical difference is that many people think the Christian view of management is to give up ownership (and therefore to give up control and responsibility), whereas I would argue that an enlightened understanding of wise, delegated ownership is key to building a good community.  Many times it is when “ownership” is unclear that people try to force others to do what they think is right rather than trying to persuade or trade to get what they want.  Note that the verses in the Bible that seem to argue against “ownership” actually presuppose ownership rights as being valid but then argues that people should trade to obtain greater value.  Also, I would argue that the Ten Commandments actually defines ownership.  For example, “Do not steal” actually presupposes and defines ownership of physical items to be a valid concept, “Do not kill” defines ownership of our own bodies, etc...

Also, I would view the concepts of “community” and “relationships” as actually the same concept as “trade”.  Note that trade is two or more people exchanging things (including exchanging time and information) such that, in the aggregate, they each believe they benefit in some way more than it costs them.  Healthy trade, community and relationships each increases value to all involved otherwise the trade would cease, the community would fall apart and the relationship would end (or at least it would be an “unhealthy” relationship).

The reason I am interested in this topic is that these concepts have been of significant value to my household.  We have eight kids so it is a necessity to maintain a good family community.  What we do when there is conflict is to clarify (delegated) “ownership” of particular areas.  So, when an inappropriate form of attempted control (physical, verbal, tantrums, whining, etc..) takes place we first ask who “owns” that decision, then we have the others involved try to persuade the owner and possibly trade with the owner to get what they want/need.  So, the only methods of control that we use are persuasion/debate and trade based on ownership.  The other methods of control: physical force, punishment, peer pressure, yelling/pouting, tantrums, etc.. are considered to be invalid attempts to control (steal) what other people own.  We teach them that to say “please”, “thank you, “yes ma’am”, etc.. is valuable because that indicates to others that they respect their ownership/choices and will not try to force them to do what they want (which intuitively indicates they will be good trading partners).  Basically, what I am arguing that the non-aggression principle is just a restatement of the golden rule, which is a summary of the Ten Commandments.

We also teach them that grace/forgiveness is very important (assuming they have the right motives), because they can only be motivated to try to do things well if they are assured that there is acceptance when they fail.  Also, emotions are mostly learned “reasoning shortcuts” that motivates us to action of some kind, so emotions should be managed and used for self-motivation.  Note that these ideas work the same universally so our relationships don’t have to change when they get out on their own, there is no need for rebellion (hopefully…) and they are also learning how to interact with others at church and in their careers.

So, I would argue that the Biblical concepts of wise delegated ownership (stewardship) and trade (community, relationships) are actually the power behind building a good community and that these concepts are the best way to resolve conflicts.  Conflicts can also be resolved by “giving up ownership”, but that also removes control and responsibility, leading to less that optimal solutions and many times more conflict in the future.  I sometimes worry that we are good at communicating what godly interactions should look like but that we don’t always communicate well the power of how Biblical concepts promote virtue in the workplace and in communities.

The Liberal Arts and the Ideal Christian Educational Institution

The ideal education system:
The ideal educational system is arguably one where everyone in the world is prepared with the "methods of thinking”, information, and relationships just before they need them in order to create "value", erring on the side of becoming prepared through education sooner rather than later. It would provide an overview and foundational ”ways of thinking”, information and relationships for all areas of knowledge, both the “Liberal Arts” areas and the (broadly defined) “Technology” areas. It would then also train each person to be an expert in at least one specific area such that they can monetize/trade that expertise with other experts to achieve division of labor/economy of scale and maximize value (note: “value” can be qualitative and does not necessarily mean monetized value).

Historical Trade-offs due to limited educational resources:
The problem is that because of limited time and resources we can’t yet reach that ideal. So the question for educational institutions is: what should we leave off? Trade schools and apprenticeships tend to focus on providing a marketable expertise but they tend to minimize training on foundational/broader technology and liberal arts. General undergraduate colleges that focus on technical degrees tend to focus on overview/foundational technology knowledge, but they tend to minimize training in the liberal arts and don’t typically provide a particular area of expertise (unless someone continues to get their Doctorate). The Liberal Arts colleges focus on the liberal arts, but they tend to minimize foundational/overview knowledge of technology and they don’t normally provide a particular area of expertise. And all colleges historically have focused just on the four college years, pre-caching "ways of thinking”, information and relationships for students during those four years that the faculty expect they will likely need in the future (rather than also providing resources the students could access in a just-in-time manner either before or after those four years of college education).

The current day form of Reformation we are living through:
The Reformation was arguably enabled by the information technology of the day, the printing press, which allowed a few leaders to publish directly to the masses. Today we have technology that allows the masses to publish to the masses. So, if the information technology of the Reformation allowed every man to become his own priest (one form of education/motivation), then the information technology of today is allowing everyone to become their own evangelists (another form of education/motivation). As the Reformation had a significant effect on education and community, so too we are living through an era where we need to take these kinds of systemic changes into account.

Opportunity to transcend historical trade-offs:
Today Information Technology is bringing a revolution on the order of the Reformation and the printing press, such that we can now get closer to providing the ideal educational system. So, ideally, liberal arts colleges could offer their students overviews/foundational knowledge in both the Liberal Arts and the Technology areas of knowledge (which in fact I think we actually do in many cases, since in reality the Liberal Arts areas of knowledge create “value” by being the foundational supports to the, broadly defined, “Technology” areas of knowledge), as well as at least giving them a plan for obtaining a particular expertise as well. Also, we can help the learning be more broadly “just in time” and global by offering an asynchronous re-branded subset of our services (including access to training, feedback, a community and credentialing) to prospective students, alumni and the general public, including possibly supporting multiple languages.

Rather than the concept of the “ideal educational institution” being at odds with the “ideal Liberal Arts college”, instead what I am promoting is to allow the Liberal Arts education to transcend limitations that have been imposed on all three models of education in the past due to lack of available resources and lack of needed information technologies. I would argue that separation of the three types of educational institutions was necessary in the past to provide division of labor/economy of scale to deal with limited educational technologies/resources. But, as educational resources/capabilities increase and limitations are being removed, all three models now have the ability to grow into a combined model that also covers the areas that historically have been provided by the other two.

I am not arguing that liberal arts colleges should replace anything that they are doing as a college, because we are doing many things well. And I am not just arguing for online education, since face to face embodied education is the gold standard for many reasons. The disciples undoubtedly received a better face to face education with Jesus than we can get by studying the Bible (a book, which itself is a form of Information Technology). Rather, I am arguing that we need to supplement and expand the concept of our institutions to be closer to the ideal educational institution or we will likely lose out when other institutions expand their services into our areas of strength.

The Liberal Arts and Technologies - A New Model

Please Note: This is an earlier version of my thinking that I have left up for historical reasons.  Please see the updated model.

This model of education refines the concepts of the trivium, quadrivium and areas of technology education as follows (it is not really new, just refined and expanded): 

Please note the following implications of this model:

  • The Liberal Arts areas are separated by the “quantitative” and “qualitative” areas (as is the trivium and quadrivium)
  • Each area lower on the chart is foundational and prerequisite for each area above it
  • The concept of “technology” is more broadly defined than common usage, as being "the methods of doing something of value", and includes the qualitative areas of technology as well as the traditional quantitative-focused technologies (So with this definition we do actually already teach an overview of the various areas of "technology" because there are economic "technologies", social "technologies", etc..)
  • In this model, the liberal arts areas have inherent value because they are required foundations to creating value in the (broadly defined) "technologies" areas
  • The arts and music are included under the area of “social technologies”. They are special in that they have less restrictions on creative freedom than other technology areas, but they don’t get their own category because all areas of technology should include as much creativity as allowed (such as how architecture/civil engineering doesn't have as much creative freedom as art, for example).
  • Education and Communication are special, but they don't get their own areas because they are integral areas of "Information Technologies", in the broadest sense of that term
  • Each of the qualitative and quantitative liberal arts areas are interchangeable with their partner by a process of quantification or qualification (i.e., characterization). 
  • Theoretical science is separated from observational science. Observational science correlates well with recording of history and differs only in that one is quantitative and the other is qualitative.
  • Language includes logic/reasoning since logic is qualitative, so language includes both communication and reasoning (and logic is as key as communicating)
  • Math includes both quantitative reasoning and communicating, so formula literacy/communication is as key as computation

Note that this model doesn't directly address the concept of becoming expert in at least one particular area to be able to trade/monetize that expertise with other experts, in order to obtain division of labor/economy of scale and therefore maximize "value" (note: value is not the same as "monetized value"). So learning an overview of the areas of technologies is more akin to learning the liberal arts areas than it is in just training for a career/job.

Also, when discussing these “areas of knowledge”, I am actually thinking of the term "knowledge" in the “object oriented” sense (a computing term). So, I am using the term “knowledge” in the broader sense to include “ways of thinking”, information and relationships/connections (“Wisdom” might be a better term, but the term “knowledge” is more commonly used). That correlates well with constructivism, instructivism and connectivism, which correlates well with the human brain (thought, memory, and communication).

Using this broader definition of knowledge, what educational institutions do is "pre-cache" (sorry for the computer term) the "ways of thinking", information and relationships/connections/community, that we believe will be useful to the student sometime in the future.