Why Mark Driscoll Is Wrong (On Demons, Christians & Yoga)

Disclaimer: If you wish to comment or reply, all I ask is that you carefully read the entire post first!

Nearly one year ago, the self-avowed tough-guy, foul-mouthed pastor of Mars Hill Church in WA made the claim that yoga is demonic. A couple of days ago, he reiterated that claim and attempted to add backing to this suggestion. I want to suggest here, however, that Mark Driscoll is simply wrong on two particular points: 1) Yoga is not inherently demonic, and 2) Christians who practice yoga are not partaking in demonic acts.

The way I want to go about this is to draw attention to two logical fallacies that Driscoll commits in his recent article, namely, the Argumentum ad Baculum and also the Fallacy of Appealing to Experts. First, I want to explain, briefly, how both of those errors in logic are committed in general and then turn to Driscoll's essay in particular. Let me begin with the Argumentum ad Baculum. This fallacy has, at its core, the basis of using fear to persuade audiences to either take or avoid certain courses of action. In fact, the Latin word Baculum means "stick" and carries the connotation of striking fear in someone by threatening to beat them with a stick! Inherent to this fallacy is the notion of one-sidedness. In fact, in his article, Driscoll is clearly one-sided and suppresses the viewpoints that differ from his own by 1) Demonizing them, and 2) Suggesting that God will bring wrath on them. It is fear-driven and one-sided. Driscoll himself is aware of this, as we shall see, but attempts to side-step the matter.

The second error is the Fallacy of Appealing to Experts. This happens a lot, especially within it comes to biblical and theological issues. The mindset is: Appeal to a scholar who shares your view to prove your point. Or, logically: Expert A asserts point 1, therefore point 1 is true. Here's an example: Stephen Hawking says that God does not exist, therefore, it is true that God does not exist. The appeal to an expert does several things: 1) It makes the arguer seem like he/she has an inside expertise themselves, 2) It makes the naysayers appear foolish if they do not know the so-called "expert" or other experts, thereby, they will keep silent, and 3) When an expert is cited as the definitive answer, it is by default ruling out other views by other so-called experts. One helpful thing would be to ask how expert is defined, by what criteria and who gets to really do the defining.

So, at this point, I want to revisit Driscoll's article and show precisely how he is committing these two fallacies. It will actually be easiest to start with the appeal to experts first and then deal with the Argumentum ad Baculum. I should be clear from the start that, I also think that Driscoll commits several other fallacies as well, such as the Red Herring (false comparisons/contrasts) fallacies as well as a historical fallacy. I am not going to focus on those here, however.

Near the beginning of his post, Driscoll says this:
"In this lengthy post, I’ll define what yoga is, give a history of yoga, talk about the various forms of yoga, and take a look at yoga through the 'receive, reject, or redeem' matrix that I commonly use."
What I want you to see here is the fact that Driscoll is the one who gets to define yoga on his terms, explain his version of its history (we all know that any explanation of history is a reconstruction!) and runs it through the matrix of his own criteria for making judgments. From the start, Driscoll puts himself in the "expert" position. It is his definition, his reconstruction and his criteria that are what's right! In other words, he has indirectly and in a sleight-of-hand sort of way, painted himself as the expert. He tries to further substantiate this perception of expertise by appealing to other folks he believes to be experts.

So, immediately after putting himself in the expert position, he asks:
"What is Yoga?"
Can you guess what he does next? He appeals to an "expert". Here's what he says,
"According to Elliot Miller, noted New Age expert and editor of the Christian Research Journal..."
Did you notice that he even used the word "expert" in his sentence! I'd be bummed if you missed it! Okay, so, Driscoll, who is himself an expert on the issue of yoga, does not have his own definition of it. Is something fishy going on? I think so. Just after using Miller's definition, Driscoll says,
"as I’ll show, it’s nearly impossible to practice yoga and divorce it from its spiritual elements. This is a sentiment that is not just mine but also shared by prominent Hindu academics such as Professor Aseem Shukla, who wrote in The Washington Post..."
Ah, I see, another appeal to an expert! Driscoll has back-to-back appeals to "experts" right out of the gate. This one is a "prominent Hindu academic". What we have then, is an expert from the two religious spheres who Driscoll can use to back up his own expert claims. What Driscoll does not do here, is appeal to those who disagree with either his, Miller's or Shukla's views. Of course he wouldn't do that, why would he?

Okay, if he won't, then I will. There are other so-called experts such as Ekhart Tolle that would completely disagree. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not promoting Tolle here. I'm simply suggesting that there are other so-called experts who disagree and that Driscoll should be more circumspect in who he cites. Some have even suggested that Pope John Paul II, (HERE) who had a robust theology of the body, are certainly not anti-yoga. I suppose that Driscoll could have also appealed to the fundamentalist, Southern Baptist preacher and teacher Albert Mohler, too. Mohler shares his view heartily HERE. Yet, at the fear of being labeled a fundamentalist himself, Driscoll abstains saying,
"And, for those unfamiliar with me, I’m no raging Christian fundamentalist. My most vocal critics tend to be from the fundamentalist tribe as I do drink alcohol, have been known to use strong language, and talk very frankly about the joys of married sex. I’m no prude, but I am a pastor."
So, we see an incredible selectivity in who Driscoll chooses to cite as experts! He will cite those whom he deems experts and who share his view and who will not make him look bad. Rhetorically, this is quite a smooth move!

I think you are getting the point by now and so, I really do not need to belabor it. To be sure, Driscoll does continue on with his appeals to other experts, which in turn, make him appear to be the expert. At least one more example is in order. Just a few lines after defining yoga, Driscoll gives a "history of yoga". Again, we must pay attention to the selectivity here! He is only citing those who bolster his point! In other words, instead of doing the hard work of research on his own, that is, digging into primary sources and first-hand accounts, he appeals to secondary sources and secondary literature, that is, modern literature and theory. In the very first line of this section he says,
"According to yoga historian Mark Singleton..."
Okay, okay, okay...we get it. I know how to do this too. I'm a PhD student. I write papers all the time. I research all the time. I engage "experts" on the Bible all the time. However, what I do that Driscoll doesn't, is visit primary sources in addition to secondary sources. If you read through this entire section of his article, what you will see, as clear as day, is Driscoll appealing to modern thinkers and then extrapolating his own theological judgments from others' historical ones. This is problematic in a number of ways, again, not least because he does not go to primary sources but because he simply makes a HUGE leap from history to theologizing or doctrinizing!

In looking at two yogic documents, not only did I find some very interesting definitions but some other very interesting philosophical/theological details. Here's a quote from a Yoga Sutra text,
"Work alone is your privilege, never the fruits thereof. Never let the fruits of action be your motive; and never cease to work. Work in the name of the Lord, abandoning selfish desires. Be not affected by success or failure. This equipoise is called Yoga.”
Here is another from the Kathopanishad,
"When the senses are stilled, when the mind is at rest, when the intellect wavers not- then, say the wise, is reached the highest stage. This steady control of the senses and mind has been defined as Yoga. He who attains it is free from delusion."
Notice how the very texts themselves, offer different definitions of yoga than Driscoll. So, which is the expert Driscoll or the original sources? Hmm...I think that's easy to understand.

Something much like this happens in sermons today too. Instead of understanding the original Greek of the New Testament, pastors will attach some foreign concept to a word or words and then historicize and theologize from "his" definition! So, they set themselves up as the expert! Driscoll has done that here! On a side note, I'm beginning to wonder if the fear of not being painted as a fundamentalist, the drive to be cool (talking bluntly about sex, cussing, wearing Affliction shirts and ripped jeans, etc.) and the self-posturing of himself as an expert might be suggestive of some sort of nasty complex? I don't know,maybe not. Anyway, I could keep driving this point home about selectivity in appealing to experts who share his theories and make him look good are problematic. Perhaps it is just poor research and theologizing.

Now, on to the next point, the Argumentum ad Baculum. In logic, the fallacy is laid out this way:

If A accepts Practice 1 as true, then Result 1 will happen. Result 1 is a punishment on A. Therefore, Practice 1 is false.

Let me use Driscoll's argument as an example:

If a so-called Christian (A) accepts yoga as okay (Practice 1), then they are worshiping demons (Result 1). Worshiping demons (Result 1) is actually a sin that merits God's wrath on the so-called Christian (A). Therefore, yoga (Practice 1) is false (or cannot be valid/true).

Do you see the problem with this logic? It is a sleight-of-hand move! It is such because what it does is that it attempts to, on the one hand, evoke fear in hearers and on the other hand, equate all yogic practices with the worship of demons (which appears to entail demon possession of some sort and at some level). I found a great comparative example on wikipedia. It goes like this:

If an employee (A) believes that investing in a company is a bad idea (Practice 1), then he will get fired (Result 1). Getting fired is a punishment (Result 1) on Employee (A). Therefore, believing that not investing in a certain company (Practice 1) is false (or cannot be valid/true).

In other words, in this analogy, getting fired is the boss's opinion. The boss can use his power and authority to fire the employee who disagrees. Or, the boss can flaunt his expertise over the employee's head, reminding the employee of his expertise and authority. When the boss does this, he strikes fear of job loss into the employee in hopes that the employee will back down and take a different course of action. I think that in this essay, this is precisely what Driscoll is doing. He sets himself up as the expert, finds a bunch of select experts who agree with him (while ignoring other experts) and then, tells readers: If you don't agree with me on this, you are worshiping with demons (and are demonic) and you deserve to and will meet God's wrath/punishment. Do you see how this is working?

But he doesn't just do this once, Driscoll does it again when appeals to the concept of "oneism". He says,
"Oneism—and by association, yoga—is antithetical to Christianity in a number of ways..."
Let's put it in logical terms:

If a so-called Christian (A) practices yoga, which is also oneism (Practice 1), then they are against Christianity (Result 1). Being against Christianity (Result 1) merits God's wrath on the so-called Christian (A). Therefore, practicing yoga/oneism (Practice 1) is false (or cannot be valid/true).

I could lay this out the same way for each of the items on the laundry list of yoga types that Driscoll proceeds to give. The fact is, all of this is a sleight-of-hand in rhetoric and logic on his part. It does not follow that just because someone practices yoga, they are 1) against Christianity, 2) for oneism, 3) worshiping with demons or worshiping demons, and 4) that they are inviting God's wrath upon themselves. The simple issue that Driscoll seems to be missing here has to do with motivations. Why are people doing this? What are their motivations? This is a question that seems to have been a part of Paul's ethical judgments as well as those of Jesus himself. Neither Jesus nor Paul used the threefold alliterated matrix that Driscoll suggests (Receive, Reject, Redeem). Paul suggests that as one under the Law of Christ, as one who operates under the freedom of the Spirit, motivations are significant.

Paul commended the Corinthians to have as their action for motivation the glorification of God (1 Cor 10.31). Jesus leveled harsh critiques against the religious elites of his day because, while showcased piety outwardly, inwardly they were spiritually and ethically bankrupt (Mt 15.8, etc.). I'm not going to launch into an exposition on the role of "motivation" in Christian decision-making and ethics here because others have done a fine job at that. I am simply attempting to bring that point to the surface once again. Paul is quite clear in Gal 6 that it is up to believers, those who have the Spirit, to examine their motivations before acting. Elsewhere he speaks of taking all thoughts captive (2 Cor 10.5), which is another way of saying "run them through your motivation filter before acting on them".

So, what we have here in Driscoll's article is a few deep logical fallacies mixed with zeal; he acts passionately but isn't necessarily reasoning logically or correctly. And before some of you rush to say "who needs logic when we have the Spirit" let me remind you that the Spirit isn't a labor saving device and that as believers, not only are we commanded to love God with our minds, but we're also exhorted to have the mind of Christ himself! God didn't give us a mind so we could check it at the door, no, he gave it to us so we could think critically; thinking can be a "logical act of worship" (Rom 12.1-2).

In conclusion, until Driscoll can ask every single believer their motivations for practicing the stretching/breathing practices of yoga, he should abstain from jumping to conclusions by way of logical fallacies. I say all this as one who has never, does not and probably will never practice yoga. I also say it as a Christian who knows people that do. Some of them tie no spiritual sense to it; they do it because it makes them feel healthier and less stressed. This is a good thing, I think. Others do say that during their yoga they meditate on Scripture or Christ or God's love for them. That sounds like a perfectly reasonable motivation to me. So, for those who are free in Christ, keep your motivations in check and keep doing what you're doing. Don't be bullied; you are free and need not be oppressed by legalists with bad logic, historicizing and theologizing. And you know what, while you need not adopt wholesale practices from other religions, you also need not be afraid of them or demonize them. Christians in this day and age of polarized religions can stand to be patient toward, educated about and attentive to other religions and their practices. Yes, that includes us all, even Mr. Driscoll.

No comments:

Post a Comment