This is a slight departure from my normal posts on here (as infrequent as they might be!). Normally I simply aim to work out my own exegesis of a passage of scripture which fits in with my preaching life. This post instead is focusing on a particular issue which has arisen via a discussion on twitter and something which is affecting more and more churches across the UK – namely the role of Tai Chi and whether it is compatible with the Christian faith.
The reason why this is an issue is simply because our national health service (NHS) and other community groups are adopting Tai Chi as a gentle exercise and relaxation technique. Ostensibly there is of course nothing wrong with exercise and relaxation, nor is there anything wrong with meditation if Tai Chi is taken to that level. Many churches are being asked if a community or NHS group can hire the church hall or church itself as a meeting place for Tai Chi to take place, and some are falling foul of the media and local residents if they refuse (http://bit.ly/cLMj2o , http://bit.ly/cSZa9e , http://bit.ly/bHDC8Z ). I myself as vicar of a church of England church have just been asked by an NHS group if they can put on a class for elderly people at risk of falling in our church. Nothing wrong with that … except that the class ends with a Tai Chi session (which they failed to mention in preliminary conversations).
So why the concern? And what are the questions?
Tai Chi, or to give it it’s full name: Tai Chi Chuan (meaning “Supreme Ultimate Fist”) is a chinese martial art, at least in its original form. The modern day practice of Tai Chi which is growing in popularity is seen as nothing more than a slow form of gentle exercise, and I dare say that for the vast majority of its practioners today, especially in the West, this is absolutely true. Certainly for the old ladies who would like to use our church halls, thoughts of “Supreme Ultimate Fist” and martial arts couldn’t be further from their minds.
The issue though is the philosophy and the metanarrative which Tai Chi rests upon. The physical movement of limbs is here wholly irrelevant – what matters is the spirit inherent in the belief system which directs and guides and gives shape and purpose to those movements, and the very name which hold them together. That is what we’re going to look at now.
Within the name “Tai Chi Chuan” the word which is most important for our consideration is the word “Chi”. It is this word which the whole system relies upon. It is not so much whether Tai Chi Chuan is compatible with Christianity but whether Chi itself is compatible with Christianity. And if not, then should churches be allowing Tai Chi classes in their places of worship and their meeting halls?
On twitter the brief discussion has been between myself and two other fellow Christians over whether we can accomodate Chi within the Christian belief system. I have been making the case that we can’t, they on the other hand have said they see no problem with it. So here I’m going to detail why I don’t believe it is helpful or right for Christians to talk about Chi as being present, real or legitimate in any way shape or form.
Their contention is that God has made all things, so God has made Chi as well. One even went as far as to link Chi with the Spirit of God, or perhaps the breath of life (which God breathed into Adam to bring him to life).
Chi is the belief system that throughout all of nature (trees, air, water, animals, insects, humans, …everything) a mystical energy force flows – this energy is known as Chi.
Every person has Chi flowing within them and illness, depression, ailments, peace etc etc are all reliant upon their Chi being balanced and ‘centred’. This is not an exercise in inidivualism though, this is an exercise in harmony with nature – our individual being becoming aligned with the rest of the natural world around us.
Many people will be familiar also with the concept of Feng Shui which is another practical outworking of eastern religions which relies upon Chi. In Feng shui it is not just natural things which contain Chi, but our living spaces – homes, offices, entire neighbourhoods all need to be styled, ordered and shaped to keep the flow of Chi balanced harmoniously.
Chi is in all things and flows through all things. It is about being highly interconnected, one thing with another – all things relying on each other for harmony and peace.
The school of thought/belief that this comes from is Taoism, a 2,000 year school of belief systems covering a wide number of specific belief systems (Zen Buddhism, Chinese Alchemy, Astrology, …). Taoism is a polytheistic (belief in many gods) religious system whose ultimate aim is not to lead the believer into the worship of one true God, but to lead the believer into a harmonious relationship with nature.
The nature of man within this system is that we are each a depiction of the whole universe, with various elements of our humanity representing the five major elements of nature (wood, fire, earth, metal, water). So man is a mini-universe – a subservient representation of the larger grander scheme of nature.
There is no creator in Taoism.
In Genesis 1-3 we read the story of creation. We read the story of a creator God who is the one true and living God. He alone is the eternal and majestic author of life. There are no other gods and nature is NOT the be all and end all – He is! The Alpha and the Omega – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Creation is created not to be the highest order of existence upon which man is modelled, but itself as the subservient framework for life within which mankind is placed to subdue and to enjoy. God makes the universe SO THAT mankind can have somewhere to live out their relationship, not with nature, but with God.
Man is made not in the image of nature, but in the image of God. Nature is not the crown of creation, but mankind is.
Is mankind interconnected with nature in all it’s forms, as the philosophy of Chi would have us believe? No, not at all. We see in Genesis 1:26-27
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
These elements are clearly in sharp contrast, no…contradiction, to the philosophy of Chi.
The question remains though, does Chi exist, and is it perhaps a mere mistaken outworking of Chi which has led to a false religion while leaving the presence of Chi perfectly fine for the Christian to accept albeit on Christian terms rather than Taoist ones.
Again I would say no. I would say there is no such thing as Chi. It doesn’t exist, it wasn’t created, it is not there.
What? There is no energy in the universe? Yes – of course there is energy in all places and everywhere. Einstein even worked out a wonderful equation which relates matter and energy, connecting all things within the created universe E=mc². To the layman this seems very much as though a case could be made for Chi. But I’m afraid this is where the layman would be talking very much out of trite naivity. Chi and a western concept of energy are chalk and cheese. Chi is a spiritual energy, part of the creative life force of the unverse – not merely the energy which we know and understand as that which boils water in a kettle when electricity is passed through a heating element. Chi is perhaps more familiar in the sense of the ‘force’ within Star Wars, that which gives the fantasy Jedi their powers.
Yet we can see Chi at work can we not, when we see martial arts experts at work. The force required to with stand huge blows, or in turn to deliver enormous and devastating blows is all about the channeling of Chi. The fingertip of the martial arts expert becomes the channeling point of chi from within their body and funneled into one small point.
Yes, here and in many other ways, we can see, witness, or even experience at first hand the power of Chi flowing through all things. I would simply say this – the philosophy behind Chi is so far removed from the orthodox Christian faith and the creation philosophy of the Bible that I am very happy to align these experiences of Chi as part of a false experience drummed up by Satan to lead more folk away from worshipping the Creator and focus them instead on the creation … just as he did in the garden of Eden when he caused Eve’s sight to be taken away from the truth of God’s word and focussed instead on all the delectable qualities of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3).
Satan wants nothing more than to corrupt the faith of the Christian and to blind the eyes of the world. When Christians say “there is nothing wrong with believing in Chi and in doing Tai Chi exercises” I see there the subtle workings of Satan in encouraging us to use the language and philosophy and practical outworkings of a belief system which denies the creator and reduces mankind to something much less than the crown of all creation made in the image of God.
In Genesis 1 and 2 we read of the Spirit of God hovering over the waters, the Ruach Elohim. This is in no way to be confused with Chi. This is the Holy Spirit which creates, whereas Chi is understood within taoism as part of the natural order. Yes Chi moves and forms, but it is not the originator of creation, for there is no originator – there is only balance – there is only yin and yang. In Christianity there was nothing and then there was God’s word which created (John 1). The Ruach Elohim is the creative power by which all things are made, the breath of God spoken by the mouth of Christ at the will of the Father. It is not divorced from God, it …or rather He, IS GOD!
To link Chi with the Holy Spirit is utter blasphemy. The logical consequences of such a statement are either pentheism or panentheism – either of which fall well outside of the bounds of orthodox christianity.
The other option the Chi proponent could have, in a confused fashion, would be to pick up on the phrase “breath of life” in Genesis 2:7 (also Genesis 1:30, 6:17, and 7:15 for example). Here though again there is clear divergence between the philosophy of Chi and the nature of creation from a Biblical perspective. In Chi there is no limitation for what might contain it – trees have Chi in the same way as cows do. Within the Biblical record there is a very clear difference between framework for life and living creatures. Trees and seed bearing plants do NOT have the breath of life in them. Whereas cattle, living creatures, mankind all do. There is a different order of being.
Furthermore, mankind is not the same as the other animals which have the breath of life within them – only man is made in the image of God for instance and only man is commanded to subdue the earth. This subduing of creation at the behest of God the creator is totally opposed to the notion of harmony found within Taoism and necessary for Chi to be accepted as the energy force permeating and connecting all things.
So what then of the little old ladies wanting to do some relaxation and exercise. Should they be allowed into our church halls? And should Christians think of the universe and all creation as being permeated by this myterious force known as Chi?
The answer is a resolute No! The old ladies offer no threat. Their arms moving gently are innocuous. The opening of the door to a philosophy and a belief system so opposed to our Creator can not be compatible alongside a faith which preaches creator and which seeks to lift us above creation and place us as co-heirs with Christ. We can not allow anyone into our buildings and teach folk that they have a lifeforce called Chi flowing within then which needs balancing and channeling when the gospel calls us to call these same folks to be at one with the creator, and not the creation. It is the Spirit of God we want people to be in harmony with, not the spirit of eastern religion, and not the spirit of deception.
Balancing of Chi is to lead people to find an inner peace divorced from Christ, and yet we know that He himself is our peace (Ephesians 2:14).