Let’s Talk about Spiritual Technologies—Theologically
What is a “spiritual technology?” “Spiritual technology” is a term used in scholarly circles of religious studies for any practice that is believed to enhance a person’s spirituality. Usually, it is alleged to have some power to increase a person’s relationship with something sacred—a sacred force or power or person. Usually, if a practice is labeled a “spiritual technology it is non-mainstream although that is not necessary. For example, typically, a religion scholar will not label a Catholic mass (eucharist) a spiritual technology while he or she will label a particular meditative technique that insofar as it is used to “realize” or “actualize” one’s inner divinity or oneness with God or the “All.” However, the line is not perfectly distinct, from a secular religious scholarly point of view. A secular religion scholar, for example, may very well label glossolalia (speaking in tongues) a spiritual technology even in a socio-cultural context where it is common. However, I have never heard a Western religion scholar call a mainline Protestant liturgy a spiritual technology. There is no absolute reason, however, why, from a purely secular perspective, all of those could not be considered spiritual technologies. A classic example of a Christian spiritual technology is the “Jesus Prayer.”
The question I want to raise here is what spiritual technologies Christians should borrow from non-Christian sources and “Christianize” and which ones are so rooted in non-Christian worldviews or belief systems that they should never be used by Christians?
*Sidebar: The opinions expressed here are my own (or those of the guest writer); I do not speak for any other person, group or organization; nor do I imply that the opinions expressed here reflect those of any other person, group or organization unless I say so specifically. Before commenting read the entire post and the “Note to commenters” at its end.*
Ever since the so-called New Age Movement of the 1980s and 1990s, America (and other places) has been a hotbed of a plethora of spiritual technologies. I have personally witnessed, for example, in America: Sufi mystics dancing (so-called Whirling Dervishes), Zen practitioners meditating to achieve perfect mindfulness, Eckists chanting “Hu” to burn off karmic debt, Hare Krishna devotees dancing and chanting “Hare Krishna” to achieve oneness with Lord Krishna. And I could name a myriad of other spiritual technologies that were virtually unheard of in America fifty or more years ago.
Over the past two to three decades I have observed many Christians “borrowing” spiritual technologies from non-Christian sources and attempting to Christianize them. On occasion I don’t see any serious attempt to Christianize them; they are simply attached to the practitioners’ Christianity as valuable in and of themselves—alongside and even in tension with traditional Christian beliefs and practices.
This is one reason I brought up the subject of the essence of Christianity. I believe that Christians should take the time and trouble seriously to consider to what extent a spiritual technology is compatible with the essence of Christianity. However, I do think a spiritual technology’s source and origin matters. Insofar as it arose within the bosom of a non-Christian religion or the occult, for example, that should at least give a Christian pause before embracing and using it.
One thing Christians should consider is the source of the spiritual technology. From where did it arise and why? To dismiss it as absolutely incompatible with Christianity only because of its origin or source would be to commit the genetic fallacy.
Another thing to consider before embracing a spiritual technology, whatever its origin or source may be, is whether it is referred to, however indirectly, in scripture. Did Jesus or the apostles use it or something like it? If not, why not? How helpful can it really be insofar as it is not at all referred to or hinted at in scripture? Remember, I’m only here talking about spiritual technologies, not psychological or physical technologies meant only to help someone’s emotional or somatic well-being.
For example, there is yoga and then there is Yoga. Hatha yoga is, at least in Western circles, commonly used for relaxation and physical well-being. It might also be used for mental and emotional well-being. However, a Christian needs to be careful about moving from that to, for example, kundalini yoga. I have personally known of Christian yoga instructors who have taught yoga in churches and Christian institutions who have not observed that line and have subtly led their students down that path—from yoga as exercise to yoga as spiritual technology to enhance one’s realization of the “God within” (Vedanta). I once heard a sermon in a Baptist church about how Christians should consider greeting everyone they meet with “Namaste.” The young seminary student had recently been to India and had apparently confused Vedanta Hinduism with the Christian idea of the imago dei in everyone. I ducked my head because he was one of my students!
I could mention numerous examples of Christians adopting non-Christian spiritual technologies with very little thought given to their origin, source or compatibility with authentic Christianity. A question to ask about any spiritual technology is “Does using this bring me closer to Jesus Christ as God and Savior and does it glorify Yahweh God or is it primarily a faddish practice meant to help me know myself better with little or no attention to real Christian holiness?”
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