I came across this article on Yoga as the “New Satanism” recently on MMM. It would have been more accurately titled, “Yoga is the new Satanic scare” — since it has nothing to do with actual Satanism, but rather is about certain Christians’ demonization of yoga. The article called to mind an earlier report in NPR about the yoga in the public schools and the allegation that it is promoting Hinduism.
Let me start with a caveat: There are many types of yoga, ranging from what I would call a purely secular form of exercise to a New Agey form of spiritual practice to a form of Hinduism. So every practice would need to be examined individually if we are questioning the appropriateness of its inclusion in the public schools.
But what really caught my attention was this part of the article:
“… when Mary Eady visited one of the yoga classes at her son’s school last year, she saw much more than a fitness program. The third-graders at Olivenhain Pioneer take three deep breaths in the downward dog position during one of their two weekly yoga classes.
” ‘They were being taught to thank the sun for their lives and the warmth that it brought, the life that it brought to the earth and they were told to do that right before they did their sun salutation exercises,’ she says.
“Those looked like religious teachings to her, so she opted to keep her son out of the classes.”
Part of me thinks this is awesome: schoolchildren thanking the sun for their lives. But that’s because I’m Pagan and this looks pretty Pagan to me — or at least Pantheistic. In fact, greeting the sun with an attitude of thankfulness is part of my daily Pagan practice. This isn’t Hinduism. It is Pagan. And that’s religious. And that’s not okay in public school.
If it were Bible stories being taught, I would not be so enthused, so I can sympathize with the concern of some of the parents (who are probably no Pagan). For Christians who believe in a transcendent Creator, teaching their children to thank the sun (which is part of creation) for their lives is understandably problematic. It is precisely the type of religious practice that the Biblical writers condemned. Sun worship is condemned in Ezekiel 8:16 and 2 Kings 23:5. Mark Smith discusses how Yahweh appropriated the solar imagery of paganism in The Early History of God.
So I have to admit to myself that this practice is not okay in a public school. We all love to see our own religions promoted … but public school is not the place. Keep the exercises, loose the worship. Or keep the exercises in school, and leave the worship for home.