Up the road, in Encinitas, a couple are suing the district for
introducing yoga into their child's school, as part of its
physical-education programme. Backed by an Evangelical watchdog
group, they claim that it violates the separation of Church and
Most residents are indignant: yoga does not involve any
indoctrination, just relaxation and stretching exercises; so how
could it be religious?
Yoga is religion lite - so light that the religious connection
is virtually imperceptible. Hinduism lite and Buddhism lite have
become so familiar that we hardly notice them. We speculate about
possible past lives, and talk casually about karma, but we do not
take any of it seriously.
Most people in the United States have no objection to yoga
because they see it as inclusive. Everyone, regardless of their
religious belief - or unbelief - can do it. Christian practices are
another matter, however, and the assumption is that they cannot be
done without religious conviction. So public scolders complain that
Christmas displays exclude non-Christians, and demand strict rules
about which ones are sufficiently secularised to be displayed in
the public square.
I have some sympathy with the yogaphobes. The problem, though,
is not that Buddhism-lite or Hinduism-lite products are pervasive,
but that Christianity lite has virtually disappeared. The problem
is that we regard the myths and symbols of Christianity as
expressions of serious religious conviction.
This assumption grows out of the Evangelical tradition, which
rejects the folk religion and "empty ceremonies" that both
believers and unbelievers can enjoy. So Kierkegaard attacked the
cheerful Sunday religiosity of the bourgeoisie of Copenhagen, and
American Evangelicals now insist that Christianity is "not a
religion, but a relationship". For them, Christianity lite is, if
anything, worse than no Christianity at all.
This is the Reformation programme: the attack on superficiality
and folk religion; and the insistence that Christianity demands
conviction. It is the programme that kick-started secularism, and
will bring about the end of religion.
Christianity heavy, the religion of conviction and witness which
shuns superficialities, is too high for humanity: only a few can
conjure up the religious fervour that it prescribes. For many, it
promotes religious fakery - the mass-produced "born-again"
experiences, contrived testimonies, and routine use of inflated
language which make Christians look like hypocrites and fools.
There is a great deal to be said for superficial religiosity. It
keeps religion ticking over. It gives us access to a system of
beliefs that makes serious religion available when we need it. And
it is enjoyable: the customs and festivals that featured in
medieval Europe, and still survive in Mediterranean folk
Catholicism, are simply fun.
The Church was not built on the blood of the martyrs. It was
built on Constantine's patronage. It flourished because it became a
public institution in which people without serious Christian
convictions, including crypto-pagans, could participate in much the
same spirit as contem- porary Californians do yoga.
That is the Church we should want: not the Church of the
martyrs, or the New Testament Church of Jesus's disciples, but the
Church of Constantine - a Church suitable for sinners like us.
Dr Harriet Baber is Professor of Philosophy at the
University of San Diego, USA.