My problem with writing about people who crave attention is that I hate feeding their egos. People like them lack the self-awareness to see that sometimes we’re not really writing about them but about what they represent. They are simply emblems of a larger problem, and they do such a perfect job of playing into a stereotype that they serve a useful function for the rest of us. That’s the only reason we keep talking about them.
Such a person is, metaphorically speaking, a tool.
Matt Walsh is just such a person.
Here is a guy whose claim to fame is that he disapproves of so. many. things. He regularly goes on rants about one thing or another (gays, transgender people, women who don’t know their place, Democrats) and I doubt that he even understands that the reason so many people keep talking about him is that he so perfectly embodies a toxic culture that it makes him an easy target for everyone who doesn’t share his astoundingly insular worldview.
His is a perspective so dated it should be preserved by an historical society with a placard or a small monument or something so that future generations will never forget how far we’ve come.
And what was he ranting about this past week? The evils of yoga.
He seems puzzled by the amount of flak he’s gotten for firing off a negative opinion on the practice, and of course he chalks it up to both his own importance and to the importance of the topic itself. Surely the strength of the outrage only proves he’s touched a nerve, and the Devil is quivering at the sound of Walsh’s superficially hipster footsteps.
But it’s not really about him, whether he realizes it or not. What everyone is up in arms about is that Walsh has encapsulated several problematic layers of evangelical Christianity at once with only a few words. Such a person is a national treasure, but not for the reasons they themselves suppose. He says of yoga:
It’s kind of amazing to see all of the Christians who think nothing of going to a yoga class. There are many excellent ways to get in shape that do not involve participating in Hindu worship.
First of all, bravo, Walsh, for protecting Christians from exercises that strengthen your core and relieve stress. It’s a dirty job, but somebody had to do it. Heaven knows, we need to keep the Church stressed and tense because it’s good for business. Maybe crossfit will better serve the church’s ends both because it involves a greater risk of injury and because it’s got the word “cross” right there in the name. Besides, throwing tires and ropes around is so damned manly.
And let’s not forget what a stumbling block yoga pants are to men everywhere. That alone should caution us against this sinister practice.
Walsh seems to believe that even with absolutely zero indoctrination, the sheer positioning of the body in certain configurations may somehow invite evil spirits into your soul, making humans antennae for demonic forces to inhabit people against their naive wills. Thankfully, these poor victims of darkness have heroes like Walsh to protect them.
People are sheep, you see, and lack the critical thinking skills to differentiate between stretches and polytheism. Then again, I look at the kind of people rallying around Walsh and I begin to understand why he thinks that.
Of course the internet has had a field day with this guy’s paranoid pronouncements, and this only feeds his ego further. Most of the chatter has focused on the silliness of a grown man still thinking that the wrong set of exercises will turn you into Linda Blair or make you feel at one with the universe. But I suspect there’s at least one other benefit of yoga that makes people like Walsh very, very uncomfortable regardless of whether or not he recognizes it.
The Danger of Feeling Good
I would argue, as I have in other places, that the Christian faith is fundamentally dualistic, and that anything which makes you feel more at home in your own body is a natural enemy to this worldview.
Christianity needs you not to feel at home in your own body. It demands that you feel like an alien in this world so that you will seek escape through whatever means they offer you, and that offering is contingent upon you not being happy with your bodily existence.
Think about it. The church is always marketing itself as kind of hospital for sick people, a place for broken and needy people to come and find rest for their weary souls. And if you happen to walk through the door that day feeling good about yourself, the preacher will do what he can to change that. They need you to find something about which you feel bad so that Jesus can be the answer to that problem.Most of all, they need you to be uncomfortable in your own skin. It’s imperative, because if you feel fine the way you are, you won’t buy what they’re selling. I believe that is a huge part of why the church feels threatened by calming, soothing, centering exercises that have nothing explicitly to do with Jesus.
I realize that people like Walsh will focus on the optics, insisting that an Eastern exercise routine is irrevocably tied to demonic influence. And fine, I suppose I’ll have to grant that, given how people like him think evil spirits are actually real things, he really does think we should be afraid of it. Just like we should be afraid of a thousand other things equally charged with demonic energy and wielded by spooky bogeymen. I can’t imagine going through life being afraid of so many things, or else if not afraid, then sincerely believing that associating with them will somehow make you unclean.
Because let’s face it, that’s what Walsh’s worldview is all about: It’s an obsession with purity, with cleanliness. It’s a primal instinct that’s been sublimated into the most elaborate systems of belief found scattered across the planet in the most dizzyingly diverse social structures you can imagine, each one vehemently insisting that the things they are against are truly wicked, and that if you participate in them, something very very bad will happen to you.
This impulse lies at the root of all religions, in my opinion. Something in our hominid development predisposes us to keep reaching for perfection, however our current context defines that. At times, we seize on otherwise arbitrary things, probably through false attribution of agency to things that in reality are quite random, and in time our thinking about those things becomes calcified through social reinforcement over many generations. Next thing we know, people think a certain set of stretches invite evil spirits to live inside us.
“I don’t know what happened. One minute I was in my downward dog, and the next minute I woke up in San Diego with several tattoos I didn’t recognize and my mouth tasted like sulfur.”
What Would Jesus Play?
Walsh threw in one more bonus statement before moving on to rant about the next thing we should all be afraid of. He made a comparison to a different source of superstition and then pivoted to suggesting a replacement behavior. How thoughtful of him.
The best comparison for Yoga would be the Ouija board. Yes you can play it “just for fun” without any ill intent, but still you are participating in something that was designed to conjure spirits. Better to just play Monopoly or something. Why mess around with it?
Of course, any grown adult who played this as a child knows you move the game piece yourself. That’s how it works. Or hasn’t anybody ever seen Only You? It’s a classic romantic flick starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Marisa Tomei many years before appearing together again in Spiderman: Homecoming as Tony Stark and a much younger Aunt May. The entire plot of that movie hinged on a child’s propensity for putting stock in things that don’t deserve our trust.
Somebody remind me again: What do you call it when a bunch of people stand in a circle, hold hands and attempt to contact dead people in order to communicate with them? Right, that’s called a prayer meeting. But evidently there’s nothing weird about that at all. Not even when the people you attempt to contact start talking back to you.
What gets me about this statement is how Walsh recommends a more wholesome board game like Monopoly. Because surely the followers of Jesus should find nothing wrong with a game that teaches people to get as much money for themselves as possible, eliminating their competitors through monopolizing local businesses until everyone else is broke and they have all the money themselves.
I would imagine a more Christlike version of Monopoly would incentivize giving away as much of your earnings as possible so that no one would lack for what they need. I seem to recall something about it being impossible for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, but then maybe Walsh is thinking of a different Jesus after all.
But hey, it’s just a game, right? Raising this objection makes me look like a stick in the mud, right? It’s not like playing a board game really forces the players to internalize the underlying principle of the game, right?
Now tell me again how stretches can be intrinsically evil, or idolatrous?
Keep talking Matt. I promise, you’re doing all of us a huge favor.
In the meantime, unless you’re just looking for something to be angry about, I would recommend printing out this handy flowchart and putting it up on your refrigerator or bulletin board:
[Featured Image: Adobe Stock]