“I am the Lord, your God. You shall not have strange gods before me.”
The bulk of this third section of YouCat – on How we are to have life in Christ – is spent explaining the Ten Commandments, which were introduced in last week’s YouCat post. So, since the YouCat goes through them one by one, our next reflections on the YouCat will go through them one by one. YouCat begins by explaining in two parts what it means to recognize that God is God, and that there is no other (Deuteronomy 4:35):
“Because the Almighty has revealed himself to us as our God and Lord, we must not place anything above him or consider anthing more important or give any other thing or person priority over Him. To know God and to serve and worship Him has absolute priority in our life.” -YouCat 352
For those of us who recognize that there is a God who is our absolute priority (the first part of why this website is known as “I am third”), there are some consequences. If there is a God, if He is the one who has revealed Himself to us throughout history and in the Scriptures, then it demands a response from us. But what of those who deny His existence? There is a growing, popular movement where many refer to themselves as atheists – saying there is no God and that no rational person would believe that He exists. (Fr. Claude Burns aka Fr. Pontifex gives a clear and concise answer to them here.) YouCat affirms what should be obvious: if you don’t know what you are denying, it isn’t a sin. But if you consciously choose to reject God, that would go against the first commandment. also, believing that God is God also comes with further implications. YouCat 355 lists several other things that this commandment forbids us from (since they in one way or another put something else before God):
- To adore other gods and pagan deities or to worship an earthly idol or to devote oneself entirely to some earthly good (money, influence, success, beauty, youth, and so on)
- To be superstitious, which means to adhere to esoteric (seeing the truth as being only for a small group of ‘experts’), magic, occult, or New Age practices or to get involved with fortune telling or spiritualism, instead of believing in God’s power, providence, and blessings
- To provoke God by word or deed
- To commit a sacrilege (desecrating something sacred)
- To acquire spiritual power through corruption and to and to descreate what is holy through trafficking (simony)
Most of these should seem pretty obvious. To engage in some kind of pagan worship or consciously choose another person or thing over God is literally to have another God before Him. It is the same thing as my marriage – I have chosen to have my wife before every other woman in the world. There is no room in my life to give myself either partly or wholly to another, since I have promised to be true to her. But some may seem a little less clear. What of New Age practices? YouCat goes on to explain:
“Many people today practice yoga for health reasons, enroll in a meditation course so as to become more calm and collected, or attend dance workshops so as to experience their bodies in a new way. These techniques are not always harmless. Often they are vehicles for doctrines that are foreign to Christianity. No reasonable person should hold an irrational view, in which people can tap magical powers or harness mysterious spirits and the ‘initiatied’ have a secret knowledge that is withheld from the ‘ignorant.'” -YouCat 356
Now, I recognize by even mentioning Yoga, I’m opening a big can of worms. I have good friends who won’t even broach this subject because they enjoy their experience of Yoga so much it can’t possibly be wrong. But, when Adam and Eve took the fruit God had forbidden them to eat, it looked appealing (cf Genesis 3:6). So just because you enjoy something doesn’t determine whether it is right or wrong.
A couple of months ago, I was asked to do some research on the question of Yoga, and I discovered that when you google the Catholic Church & Yoga, you’ll mostly find well-meaning bloggers who warn against Yoga or even condemn it because of its ties to New Age religious practices. The only official Church statement I found on this was a passing reference to Yoga in a document on the New Age Movement:
“The point of New Age techniques is to reproduce mystical states at will, as if it were a matter of laboratory material. Rebirth, biofeedback, sensory isolation, holotropic breathing, hypnosis, mantras, fasting, sleep deprivation and transcendental meditation are attempts to control these states and to experience them continuously”.(70) These practices all create an atmosphere of psychic weakness (and vulnerability).–JESUS CHRIST, THE BEARER OF THE WATER OF LIFE (A Christian reflection on the New Age)
Later in this document, Yoga is specifically mentioned as a “tradition which flows into the New Age.” This isn’t terribly clear if you’re trying to figure out whether Yoga is right or wrong. So I kept looking, and in my research, I also came across an article from Catholic Digest in which its former editor, Dan Connors, does exactly what I was trying to do: get to the bottom of what the Church says (and why) on Yoga. Here’s an excerpt from of his conclusions:
The Church is right to be concerned about the New Age. The New Age movement feeds off not just forms of Eastern spirituality and any other tradition it wants to, but Catholic ones as well. Too often Catholics don’t know enough about their own traditions to know where Catholicism ends and New Age forms take over. For example, I recently read a book about angels written by a woman who is a practicing Catholic and proud of spending all her educational years in Catholic schools. Some of her book is traditional Catholic angelology, but there are places where she starts to go astray, and many times she wanders straight into New Agey, The Secret-style craziness: “Visualize opening envelopes full of cash,” she tells the reader, “or envelopes full of checks all made out to you. Don’t think about bills and not having enough or you will get more of the same. Don’t think ‘This stuff doesn’t work.’ Because if you do, the Universe says ‘Your wish is my command,’ and your potential for abundance disappears.
That is a great example of what the Vatican is afraid of: People who don’t know the difference between Catholic belief and this kind of nonsense easily wander off, from the former to the latter.
And I think this also shows the Church’s concern about yoga: it’s not the stretches and poses that the Church is worried about, it’s some of the Eastern mysticism that underlies them and is often taught with them. Some of that approach to God is really not compatible with our tradition, and if a Christian buys into it and, even unknowingly, blends it with their Christian faith, then that faith may end up in a syncretic mess — perhaps not the portal of hell, but not good for one’s Christian spiritual growth either.
You can read the whole article here (and I’d encourage you to do so): https://www.catholicdigest.com/wellness/body-soul/201106-01is-yoga-sinful/, as I think he’s got a well researched and thought out article.
The point though, in this commandment is that God is supposed to come first, and we should approach with caution anything that would draw us away from Him.