May 21, 2017
Galileo created a new hierarchy of truths. Tradition, authority, Scripture, philosophy, theology, all the well-known sources of truth, goodness and beauty were now to be subjected to one single new criterion – scientific proof. Thus did the good become the useful; the true, the practical; and the beautiful, the appealing. Modern science has challenged Galileo’s deductions, but modern education and, certainly, the education that many of us received, is still frozen in the icy grip of the sixteenth century.
Which brings me back to yoga!
A world and culture that values nothing but its own material-based experiences cares nothing for the claims of religion or the origins of classical spiritualties and the views of God and Man that underlie them. Thus, any eighth grader will tell you that he likes this part of this religion but another part of another; and the fundamental incompatibility of the religions that he has dismembered and reassembled into what he calls his ‘spirituality’ means nothing. After all, only the objectively verifiable must be accepted and the truth claims of religion escape such verification because they are grounded in faith.
That is how yoga came to be the middle-aged, middle-class vogue of the day. Its verifiable benefits to those who practice it make it desirable. The religious motivation that led ancient Hindus to elaborate this system of motion and rest as a counterweight to an unbridled pursuit of the merely pleasurable or desirable is just irrelevant.
I am not against Galileo or yoga. But the thought that people can justify anything and everything by a mere appeal to utility or pleasure or private taste, creates a culture of self-indulgence and entitlement. Worse, for sure, is the fact that a culture of self-indulgence and entitlement is one in which there can be no consensus, in which there can be no broadly shared values, no vision of what one might call the common good. It cannot become, as Hinduism was, the womb of any spiritual greatness.
The western adoption of yoga is all of a piece with the ‘cafeteria’ brand of Catholicism that flourishes in so many homes and hearts. Catholicism is so large and varied that one cannot do it all. On must be fine, then, in choosing what one will do … or, maybe, in choosing to do none at all … and all the while, calling oneself ‘catholic’.
‘Catholic yoga’, if I may dare to call it that, would lead to such practices as kneeling up straight in church, genuflecting carefully and reverently, participating actively in practices that are uncommon – chastity, fasting, almsgiving, weekly attendance at Mass. All of these are physical and mental disciplines that arose over centuries of church life as expressions of a world-view and a religious faith, just as yoga arose in Hinduism. Neither set of practices makes a lot of sense apart from its religious matrix, although it is easy to see them for what they are as soon as one leaves aside the Galileo-ian spectacles.
At the last, I guess, it is not yoga that troubles me. It is the superficiality with which this exotic practice is embraced and the shallow attention to what is one’s own that makes for such sloppiness on the home front.
Really and truly and home-ly yours,