Christianity versus Chi
by Christopher Dow
I once wrote a review of Chinese Wand Exercises, by Bruce L. Johnson, whose history was quite remarkable. But one element of it gave me pause. Johnson learned judo and other martial arts in Japan and China right after World War II and, on his return to the United States, became friends with Bruce Lee and other members of the then relatively small U.S. kung fu community. But later in life, Johnson became a born-again Christian and promptly rejected his martial arts past.
“These things are not from God,” he once said, referring to chi energy and the martial arts. “God is not in the business of mystical energies or the occult. I no longer practice the martial arts.… As a Christian, I cannot in good conscience, teach or recommend the martial arts to others.” (1) Johnson’s conversion under this mindset was a blow to the martial arts, for Johnson, the final grandmaster of Chinese wand exercises, took a great number of these exercises to the grave.
I’ve heard this sort of thing before from some Christians: The Eastern martial arts, chi kung, yoga, and meditation—and the energies they foster—are anti-Christian and even demonic. After reading Johnson’s statements, I decided to do a little research into the matter. A cursory look online confirmed that a great number of Christians do believe that these energies are corrupting at best and Satanic at worst.
These ideas were perfectly typified in 2010, when Reverend David Rhodes of the All Saints Church Hall in Totley, Yorkshire, England, forbade the church hall from being used for Tai Chi classes. The practice was, he said, anti-Christian. (2) Rhodes’ rejection, bland though it is, is merely the tip of a more treacherous iceberg. So, before I begin my evaluation, let me expose more of the mass of this frozen belief by presenting the opinions of some Christians regarding these matters in their own words.
By definition alone, the idea of chi is not compatible with the Christian faith,” one website states. “A foundational doctrine of Christianity is that God created all things through Jesus (see Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1-4). It is God who gives life, and by God, through Jesus, all things are sustained (see Psalm 147:9 and Colossians 1:16-17)…. Some may argue that chi is just a different term for the ‘life’ that God breathed into Adam (Genesis 2:7). But we can’t transplant the term chi into the Christian faith because the philosophy behind chi (Taoism) is also incompatible with Christianity. For example, the Taoist view of ‘God’ is that each person has his or her own definition of what ‘god’ is, and each definition is perfectly acceptable—neither right nor wrong. In the Christian faith, God is not defined by people’s perceptions. Rather, He reveals who He is to us (see Jeremiah 29:13-14). While God is infinite and beyond human understanding, He has revealed certain things about Himself and is able to be known personally. In Christianity, Jesus Christ is the only way to a real relationship with God (see John 14:5-7). (3)
The website of the Christian Research Institute presents three views on the practice of martial arts by Christians:
1. “Because of its unchristian origin (Eastern mysticism), no martial art form should be practiced by Christians.”
2. “As long as the Christian divorces the religious aspects (Eastern mysticism) from the martial arts, he or she may practice them.” The site then goes on to list a number of martial arts and ranks them according to how easily one can “divorce the religious aspects” from them. Judo/jJujutsu, karate, and Taekwondo, all having a primarily physical rather than spiritual component, make the cautious cut, but Aikido, kung fu, Ninjitsu, and Tai Chi are all too steeped in Eastern mysticism to be “safe” for Christian consumption.
3. “The martial arts are not compatible with Christianity because of their violent nature.” The author goes on to say that while self-defense is generally acceptable, Christians probably ought to turn the other cheek instead. (4)
The author then writes, “The Christian must realize that because this is a controversial area, he or she must be careful not to cause a weaker Christian to stumble by practicing a martial art (Rom. 14). Second, (primarily for youths), the Christian must guard against the temptation of starting fights. Third, the Christian should not allow a martial art to overshadow or detract from his Christian commitments.”
The Women of Grace organization has this to say in a blog titled, “Why Tai Chi and Catholicism Don’t Mix”:
Tai chi is based on the existence of a life force energy that science has never been able to substantiate…. The belief that a life force energy pervades all of nature is known as pantheism and is not compatible with Christianity. The Pontifical Councils for Culture and Irreligious Dialogue called this impersonal energy force a ‘New Age god,’ in their document, Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life…. ‘This is very different from the Christian understanding of God as the maker of heaven and earth and the source of all personal life. (5)
The ironically named The Free Press website has an article titled “Tai chi: occult, dangerous and not for Christians—we answer our critics,” that reads:
[God] does NOT approve it! It is based on a pagan belief that "chi" is a universal force. This is not true. There is no "chi," but the real force that holds the universe together is the will of the Lord Jesus Christ, who made everything and holds all things together (Colossians 1:17). So right there at the very foundations of tai chi, you have a lie. (6)
The text goes on to state: “The slow motion exercises of tai chi supposedly open pathways for the ‘chi’ energy to flow. This should set alarm bells ringing if you are a Christian! Why would you want to control some supernatural power and make it flow through your own body? This is absolutely not of God! If you do open a spiritual pathway, something might just come in!” It should be noted that The Free Press website also has this headline on its front page: "Proof positive - the Catholic Church is not Christian! It is a counterfeit."
Yoga and meditation fare no better than Tai Chi or other martial arts, with the detractors using much the same arguments. And occasionally, the detractors are even harsher regarding Kundalini energy, which often is described as serpentine. Considering how much Christians hate and fear the serpent, it’s no surprise that some consider Kundalini to be particularly Satanic and leading to demonic possession. (7, 8, 9, 10)
If you think you had a hard time reading these statements without your hackles rising, just remember: I had to type up this stuff. And I read even more. But now that the principle Christian arguments against esoteric energies and the practices that foster them are on the table, let me begin dismantling them.
1. Esoteric energies are not compatible with the Christian faith, the first quote above says, because God created all things through Jesus.
The writer cites Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1-4 to substantiate this statement, but unfortunately, neither passage mentions Jesus. They say that God is the one who did all the creating. Jesus doesn't even make an appearance until the New Testament, which begins, according to Christian theological history, began about six thousand years after the God's six days of labor and one of rest. This makes these passages useless as authoritative sources for this argument, even if one were inclined to take the Bible as literal history. So, I want to know if God personally told the writer that he doesn’t like chi energy, or if the writer is just assuming so, since the writer’s sources don’t back him up. And to claim that God only makes his will known through Jesus Christ is also to say that the Old Testament is not a reliable back-up for any argument since everything that transpires in it occurs prior to Christ’s birth, and he isn’t even mentioned much in it. In addition, if all things (reality) were created by God, then he created chi as much as he did the heavens and the earth or plants and animals.
2. Chi is not the same as the God’s “breath of life.”
Well, first of all, was the writer present when God did that breathing? If not, then the writer does not really know the exact nature of that breath of life—or even what the term actually means—any more than he understands the nature of chi. But presumably, the writer means that God inspired the life of living creatures by investing in each of them a small measure of spirit. It seems to me that only an obtuse or exclusivist individual would argue that the breath of life imparted by the Tao is fundamentally different from the breath of life imparted by God. Both are synonymous with the life force imparted into mortal creatures by the unnamable, unknowable universal force behind, beneath, around, and through all of reality.
3. Some individuals insist that chi cannot be the same as God’s breath because Taoist philosophy has an unchristian origin and is not compatible with Christianity.
Right off the bat, this does not logically follow. Christians readily take advantage of modern science, technology, and medicine, none of which have a Christian origin and all of which are based on tenets that are largely incompatible with Christian beliefs. Further, though Christians might deny it, there can be more than one road to the same destination. In any case, Christianity, itself, has its roots in Judaism, which isn’t exactly Christian, either. And add the fact that Jesus disappeared into the desert—and very possibly traveled to the East, where he picked up some of those unchristian ideas that thoroughly informed his belief system—and it seems that the first part of the writer’s argument fails since even Christianity itself is, at least partly, of unchristian origins.
Besides, there are a number of compelling parallels between the basic tenets of Christianity and Taoism. God is the supreme force, creator, and intelligence behind the universe, and he is unknowable. Likewise, the Tao is the supreme force, creator, and intelligence behind the universe and also is unknowable. And both God and the Tao accord humans free will to follow a path back to the creator force or to deviate from that path.
The principle difference is that Christians believe in a personal God who watches over—and judges—every individual, while the Tao is much more impersonal and might not pay particular attention to any one person. And for the Tao, there is no judgement because the Tao simply is and is beyond judgement. But I have to say that, even if the Christian God does watch over us all individually, he rarely steps in to right wrongs, avert disaster, or relieve suffering. In fact, since all this stuff goes on all the time despite multitudes of prayers for relief, God seems just as remote as the Tao and not at all engaged with people on a personal level. But I suppose the Christian could assert that he feels the spirit of God within his breast. Guess what? Me, too, only I call it the Tao. And please don’t tell me that my personal sense of God is somehow bogus or inferior to yours, or I might level the same accusation at you.
For the Christian, God, in the first moment of creation, separated the cosmos into pairs of fundamental polar opposites: the light and darkness and the heavens and the earth. Kind of seems to be the same thing as: The Tao moved, creating the yin and yang. From there, Adam (yang) and Eve (yin) populated the world, just as, in Taoism, the interplay of yang and yin created the many and diverse forms of reality. Even disregarding the findings of genetic studies of the human race, certainly Adam and Eve can’t have been actual humans who physically procreated to produce the human race. I know that the arguments below are old, but if they need to be raised again to beat back old but persistent canards, so be it.
If Adam and Eve were the first people, and they produced only two sons, one of whom murdered the other, then that’s pretty much the end since Cain didn’t have a woman companion, and it takes two to raise little Cains. But, oh yeah, some Christians say that there were other people who helped generate more people, but if so, exactly where did those other people come from? If they were not Adam and Eve’s children but were created by God after he put the first couple on the earth, then they—and we—aren’t direct descendants of Adam and Eve and so should not have inherited their original sin. Assuming you inherit such things like you do your genetic makeup or cultural proclivities.
But the genesis of these other people isn’t in Genesis, and if the Bible is the final and ultimate authority, then all we have is Cain to begin the population explosion that’s now eating humanity alive. You can see the problem there. But let’s say that Adam and Eve did have other children who then populated the earth. That means that we are all, every one of us, the product of incest. It’s even a sort of parthenogenetic incest since Eve came straight from Adam’s rib. If humankind is cursed with original sin, it’s no wonder: We’re all inbred hillbillies. But if we’re all formed from Adam’s exact DNA, how come we don’t all look like Adam and each other? And what about Eve? Did she look just like Adam since she was his clone? Or was that rib…different, somehow? Must have been.
Taoism does not adhere to the doctrine of original sin. It just assumes that people are simply unadvanced and are bound to make mistakes. Thus it does not offer forgiveness or salvation—or even damnation—merely another chance to do better. But there are further parallels between it and Christianity. Christ’s principles of peace and good will toward others, non-violence, and finding a true path to oneness with the creator are not fundamentally different from the tenets of Taoism. But Christian critics of chi energy use a mischaracterization of Taoism to bolster their argument. This mischaracterization is exhibited in the first passage above: “The Taoist view of ‘God’ is that each person has his or her own definition of what ‘god’ is, and each definition is perfectly acceptable—neither right nor wrong.”
This is, at root, false. In the first place, Taoism doesn’t encourage you to make up a concept of God or deity from whole cloth. Instead, it suggests a method—or Way—to conduct one’s life in order to achieve oneness with the whole of creation—at the head of which, of course, must be God—or the Tao. Each person, being an individual, finds that Way on their own and in their own way. I fail to see how this could be otherwise since humanity is clearly not just clones of Adam with identical DNA, nor are we possessed of an overt group mind, like some insects, that dictates specifics of internalized belief, behavior, and revelation. Each of us are different and must find what we seek—be it God or some lesser goal—on our own and through our own comprehension and our own means and methods. I’m reminded here of the saying: Do what you can with what you’ve got.
And despite writing, “In the Christian faith, God is not defined by people’s perceptions,” the writer goes on to say, “Rather, He reveals who He is to us. While God is infinite and beyond human understanding, He has revealed certain things about Himself and is able to be known personally.” Isn’t that pretty much the same as finding your own personal understanding of or connection to God? If God is going to reveal himself to me—at least in small-enough measure that my dinky human psyche can withstand that revelation—how can I experience it other than with my perceptions colored by my background, intelligence, experiences, and so forth? Revelation, like reality, can only be taken in via perception, otherwise it is a wind that we do not feel within the walls of our house.
And of course revelation must be personal because it is a person who experiences it via their perceptions. And each person, being an individual, comes to an individual comprehension of revelation—his or her own definition of God. And seriously, is God going to falsify my perceptions of him? If there’s any falsification, it’ll come from my own weaknesses, foibles, ignorance, stubbornness, and so forth, all of which filter my understanding of God and his revelations into a personal understanding of deity. I’d bet that if you asked ten Christians their exact definition of God, there would be some variance. Aren’t those variances manifestations of a revelation of God from a personal perspective? In other words, each of us—Christian, Taoist, or whatever—has a personal definition of what God is. And all those definitions bear equal weight since it is the fate of humankind not to know its origins or its fate—and, in any case, each and every one of our personal definitions are wrong, if for no other reason than that they are inadequate in every way.
Apparently the writer would not agree since he thinks he’s clenched it when he finishes: “In Christianity, Jesus Christ is the only way to a real relationship with God.” Maybe, but I kind of doubt it. Was Christ saying that you have to worship him as a deity in order to be saved, or was he saying that he knew the way—the means and methods—to salvation (oneness with deity) and that he was willing to show others how to travel that same path?
Call me a Gnostic (though I prefer Taoist), but from my experience, one can have a direct connection to the greater spiritual reality—call it God, the Tao, Allah, or whatever you want. But then, Christian churches have always been about hierarchy, permission, and limited access to deity. It’s a pay-to-play scheme that threatens eternal perdition for failure to adhere to religion’s all-too-human restrictions, no matter how good you are otherwise. After all, if everyone can have direct access to God—the Tao—who needs preachers or churches? Besides, I’m not quite so willing to damn the 99.999 percent of all the people who’ve ever lived who weren’t Christians and let Christians off the hook when they don’t seem to be superior in any way, including holiness, to anyone else.
4. A Christian may practice the martial arts if he or she eschews the esoteric energies.
Well, gosh: Let’s play Monopoly without money or build a brick wall without mortar. Half the point of practicing the martial arts is to develop chi energy! Maybe more than half, in the long run. Anything else is just moving muscle without higher dimensions. Not that exercise isn’t good, but exercise with higher dimensions is better. And when you get old, muscles may wither, but strong chi can help you remain more healthy and vital.
5. The martial arts have a violent nature that conflicts with the Christian tenet of turning the other cheek.
I can’t really argue with the first part of this statement. The martial arts are definitely violent, or can be. They are, after all, arts of Mars, the god of war. But it also is possible to practice them for health, increased internal energy, self-development, and spiritual development rather than for fighting. And certainly, chi kung, yoga, and meditation are inherently peaceful and non-violent and do not have a combat motive or methodology though they all also strongly develop chi energy.
The hypocrisy of this criticism of chi is stunning. For more than a millennium—and often on massive scales—Christians have actively engaged in intentional violence, hatred, murder, genocide, torture, pogroms, and the destruction of historical and cultural artifacts. Just a cursory glance at the Christian Right in America and its political and cultural agendas shows its members to be callous, violence prone, exclusionary, and heavily armed. So much for turning the other cheek. Besides, Christians have fought in every war available to them, and they’ve even fomented quite a few of their own, including several hundred years of Crusades that largely sparked the anti-Western sentiment and conflict in the Middle East that continues today. Why do they fight? “Well, it’s my Christian duty.”
6. Practicing martial arts can tempt other Christian believers to stumble into negative behavior.
In my experience, those who stumble into negative behavior, at least for any extended period of time, probably want to stumble in that direction. And pretending to be good doesn’t make you so, particularly if your actions speak otherwise.
Along with this criticism is another: that martial arts abilities and the commitment necessary to develop them, can cause the practitioner to be distracted from one’s commitment to the feeling of oneness with God. I guess that slavish adherence to Sunday afternoon football, which is little more than stylized warfare, also might qualify as a distraction, too, especially on the Sabbath. In any case, if a given practice can impart health, make you feel good inside and out, and lend a sense of oneness with creation and with your fellow humans, why would you automatically assume that God did not intend for you to undertake that practice or believe that it might somehow be evil?
7. Chi is not real, but a fantasy that has not been substantiated by science. The real force that binds the universe is not chi but the will of Jesus Christ.
Wow, is this an amusing argument, or what? Christians tend to denigrate science at every turn when it posits an Earth that existed for billions of years before humans came on the scene, Darwinism, or many other scientific principles that conflict with Biblical literalism. Many Christians believe that humans and dinosaurs walked the earth together, for example, willfully ignoring the blatant evidence that lies there for all to see. Furthermore, science can’t substantiate either the existence of God or the will of Jesus Christ that Christians say is what is holding the universe together.
Any good scientist will tell you there are many things and forces in the universe that have not yet been examined—or even perceived—by science, much less explained. And while it’s probably true that not everything can be explained by scientists or anyone else, good scientists also will admit that it's impossible to prove a negative—that is, you can’t prove that something isn’t or can’t be. You only can prove what is, and even that’s pretty hard to do, especially when a large contingent of the population won’t consider any scientific evidence much less accept it. And actually, some scientists are actively working toward an understanding of chi as a natural force produced by the body and have made considerable headway. (More on that below.)
And finally, if the will of Jesus Christ is what holds the universe together, I guess we don’t need the strong nuclear force or gravity, the former of which binds atomic structure and the latter of which binds the macro structure of the universe. I suppose the Christian might argue that gravity and the strong nuclear force—two of the four fundamental forces of the universe—are simply the manifestations of that will of Christ that's holding the universe together. But if so, then why isn’t chi also a legitimate a force, especially if it is, essentially, electromagnetism, which is another of the four fundamental universal forces? (See below for more on the idea that chi is electromagnetism.)
8. A belief in chi is equivalent to a belief in pantheism.
This criticism stems from the Christian idea that every other religion the world has ever seen anywhere is pagan, corrupt, delusional, and dangerous. The idea of pantheism is, it seems, a total anathema to the Christian, who worships a single, all-powerful deity and denies that other single, all-powerful deities also exist—or perhaps, that all such deities are, in fact, the same deity in different guises.
But does the Christian God really exist as a singular deity? What about the Trinity of three separate though interconnected aspects of deity? What about all those angels and seraphim, those devils and demons? Aren’t those basically elements of deity (yang) and anti-deity (yin) working their wiles upon humanity no less than the pantheons of Greek, Roman, Hindu, and other religions? No religion asks that its supreme deity do all the work all by itself, not even Christianity. Besides, do you think that it’s actually possible for measly little humans to comprehend even the slightest portion of deity or what it wants? For the most part, we can’t even comprehend ourselves beyond our own dimly envisioned wants, much less someone else so much more grand.
But by pantheism, the Christian also means the belief that all of nature is imbued with living vitality, from the highest creature to the lowest. Most pantheists include plants, and some even inanimate objects. Of course, Christians also deny that any creatures but man have souls, and they wouldn’t even consider that inanimate object could house some sort of vitality or energy. This is at odds, however, with a great number of other religions and spiritual systems that, each in its own way, acknowledges esoteric energies and believes that all of manifest reality is imbued with this spectrum of spiritual energy. This energy, they say, is the way—the means and methods—creation uses to manifest.
Even science accepts the idea that the universe is imbued with vitality—or energy—though science would tend to dispute with religion as to this vitality’s nature, origins, development, and meaning. For science, this inspiriting vitality is the natural system of organization that creates a given set of sub-atomic “particles” out of vibrations, then arranges these several vibrations into various larger groups of interacting vibrations that form atomic structures. Those structures are the elements, the basic manifestations of reality. From there on, the structure of the universe is more a matter of mechanics—adding, subtracting, and combining—to create the more sophisticated aspects of reality, with human intervention overlaying natural constructs with the tools and machinery of our civilizations. For religion, the cause is…. Well, plug in your own name for it; I like the Tao, which split into the yin and yang, whose mutual interplay creates multifold reality.
On a more tangible note, we also now know scientifically that energy does pervade the universe. Even a vacuum contains a steady-state of energetic activity and fluctuation.
Isn’t it interesting that, in a sense, science validates Taoism? According to science, reality is the product of vibration, which is, in and of itself, a yin/yang state. The only real questions are: What is the substance that is vibrating, who or what set the vibrations going, and how and why was that done? Probably we'll never know the answers to the last three of those questions, but science might yet identify the underlying substance with which the Tao’s alternating yin/yang pulsations interact. And though science has not yet specifically identified chi energy to the satisfaction of all (or most), it does parallel Taoist philosophy regarding the origin and sub-structure of reality.
9. Why would anyone want to open themselves to chi energy, which is tantamount to a supernatural power, and allow it to flow inside them?
I fully admit that chi is a supernatural force. How could I not? It, like all of reality, is a mystery for which we have no definitive cause and only the barest understanding. I could say with some accuracy that the whole of reality itself is nothing but an overwhelming supernatural force. And the same with God—or the Tao or Allah or Yahweh or.... Well, there are a whole lot of supreme deities running around the world.
But the Pontifical Council for Culture and Irreligious Dialogue says that chi is an impersonal energy and a “New Age god.” What, then, about the strong nuclear force, the weak nuclear force, gravity, and electromagnetism? These are the four fundamental forces of nature that are recognized by science as being irreducible (as far as we currently know) to any more basic force. All act in a way that is invisible and unknown to normal perceptions. But two of them—gravity and electromagnetism—can be detected by our bodies and by scientific instruments. Are these invisible, imperceptible, and impersonal energies also false “New Age gods?” And what if chi is really electromagnetism? Would it still be considered a false god, or would it be considered a natural force that, though impersonal, remains fundamental?
There is, in fact, strong evidence that points to chi being electromagnetic in nature. See my book, The Wellspring: An Inquiry into the Nature of Chi, for a more comprehensive explanation of what chi is, how it is generated, and how it can be better channeled through the body, but in short, chi likely consists of the electromagnetic fields that surround our nerves and is powered by the movement of nerve impulses.
These electromagnetic fields constantly circulate through the torso, flowing along with the bioelectrical impulses that are generated in the intestines by the physiological action of breathing and are then pushed up the spine and through the brain. Along the spine are two major nerve “intersections.” At the sacral plexus, located in the lower back, some of the bioelectric nerve impulses and attendant electromagnetic fields are pushed into the legs, and at the brachial plexus, located between the shoulders, a similar things happens for the arms.
In the limbs, these fields are quiescent when the body is still, and they move when the nervous system impels movement and sends impulses down the nerves. Chi is not some alien force that one creates or inserts or invites into oneself. Instead, it is part of and engendered by our living bodies. It is simply a pulse of electromagnetic energy that follows nerve impulses. If you do not have chi running through your body, that means you no longer have bioelectrical impulses running through your nerves. In that case, yep: You’re dead.
10. If you open a spiritual pathway, you might be invaded by an evil force.
If you don’t open a spiritual pathway, you will never be invaded by good forces, either, or reach oneness with the universal spirit, whatever you name it. The simple fact is that humans are intended and largely engineered to engage in spiritual advancement—to work our way toward God, so to speak—and developing a higher spiritual consciousness and abilities are inevitable as we grow spiritually. Yes, perhaps evil forces can attempt to invade a person who is working to become a better or greater person. (See Haunted: No. 10.) At all levels of life, from the mundane to the spiritual, one is subjected to pernicious or evil influences, but that doesn’t mean they must be allowed admittance or control. If evil forces can invade a person, most likely it’s a person who is willing to be invaded rather than one who is not.
Humanity exhibits a range of powers, abilities, and proclivities, all of which can be developed and enhanced. The simple fact is that the real issue surrounding chi energy isn’t the energy itself but the way in which it is wielded by those who develop it. Developing spiritual energies and opening yourself to spiritual forces is no different than developing other parts of your being. To say that a person who develops his or her chi will automatically misuse this power or invite demonic spirits is like saying that a body builder will always use the muscles he’s strengthened to bully weaker people or that an intelligent person will inevitably use the knowledge he’s gained to manipulate others.
A good strong man opts to use his strength to protect, and a good intelligent man uses his knowledge for the betterment of humankind. Here’s the question: If someone gave you super powers, would you become a super hero or a super villain? Would you use your power to better others as well as yourself, or would you use it solely for your own ends and to subjugate others and exact revenge? Your answer will tell you if evil influences will prevail over your spirit, whether or not you develop chi energy.
The danger of misuse of chi power in olden China was dealt with by kung fu masters who tested the character of their students as much as they challenged their physical abilities. But even this practice couldn’t prevent evil or corrupt people from learning and developing these powers for negative ends. Don’t forget Shaolin’s evil monk, Bai Mai! Such is life and the nature of reality. Some of us humans are good, some bad, and most are somewhere in between.
The truth is, it is hard enough to control one’s own impulses and change oneself for the better, but it is impossible to do those things for others. All we can really do to change others is to be the change we want to see and to exhibit that better behavior in the hopes that others might emulate it. So, just because someone else uses a strength or power for negative purposes doesn’t mean I have to do the same, even if I gain the ability to do so. When I get my chi flowing more powerfully and freely, it enables me to live life more robustly, and it also gives me something healthful and spiritually important to share with others.
One of the great ironies of Christian rejection of esoteric energy is that each and every human being has chi flowing in them at all times. For most people, this flow goes unnoticed and unheeded, but it is there, nonetheless. Chi-training exercises do not “introduce” some sort of weird, alien force into the body but simply encourage the practitioner to consciously sense, amplify, store, and manipulate an energy that is always present within the body and to open the body to this flow, which has healing properties. If you fear the idea of chi flowing inside you, you might as well fear the idea of blood flowing through your veins.
A second, and perhaps greater, irony is that Christian ministers and congregations regularly employ various methods to unconsciously unify and harness the diverse chi fields of worshippers during ceremonies. Let me begin explaining this through a bit of a detour:
In the summer of 1970, friends and I attended a music festival dubbed the Powder Ridge Rock Festival, which was held at the Powder Ridge Ski Area in Middlefield, Connecticut. This was a year after the Woodstock Music Festival, which I also attended, and my friends and I were hoping for something similar to occur at Powder Ridge, but that was not to be the case. The festival wasn’t really a music festival at all, but a mob rip-off. The promoters rented the ski area during the off-season and sold many thousands of tickets but never booked any of the bands that they advertised would play. In the end, the desperate townspeople, anxious to avert a hippie riot (!), allowed in a couple of ice-cream trucks whose generators provided electricity to a makeshift stage where the folk singer, Melanie, and some local bands played to a massive crowd arrayed up the hill of the ski slope.
My friend and I did not sit in the crowd but occupied a sort of little nook in the tree line off to one side. The crowd spread out below, in front of, and above us, but we weren’t actually part of it. During the time the technicians were wiring the trucks and hooking up the amplifiers, occasional bursts of static or the peal of a power chord from one of the guitars would blare out, and each time, a wave of energy would ripple through the crowd as it worked its way up the slope. These waves were tangible, feeling like a surge of excitement each time one passed, and we could see the people in the crowd react to this wave by becoming more physically animated as it crested over them, then less so as it passed on up the slope.
At the same time, someone had brought in a huge inflated ball and given it to the audience to play with. When I say huge, I mean really big—ten or more feet in diameter. It probably was one of those weather balloons advertised in the back pages of comic books and men’s magazines. This ball wasn’t fully filled with air, so its skin wasn’t taut like a sport’s ball but was somewhat slack. It kind of looked like the big ball that would chase #6 every time he tried to leave the Island in the ’60s TV show, The Prisoner, and it had the same function here in pacifying the potentially unruly. This ball was being bounced into the air and passed around overhead by the audience, and as it moved over the crowd, I could feel ripples of excitement from the people underneath it radiate outward and propagate in whatever direction the ball took.
I realized that I was witnessing a more benign version of the collective madness that can grip a crowd and turn it into a riotous mob. I didn’t know about chi at the time, but I recognized that some sort of hidden human energy—arcane but transmittable—was involved in these waves and ripples of excitement that collectively gripped the audience when the members were mutually focused in some specific way.
Memories of this event submerged as life went on, but after I’d been doing tai chi for about ten years, I was reminded of it in a way that gave me greater understanding of the phenomenon. At the time, I was involved in a video production company, and one of my jobs entailed videotaping a celebration at a fairly large charismatic church. The celebration began with half-a-dozen amateur-hour sorts of performances before moving on to a sermon and the singing of hymns.
During the amateur-hour performances, the atmosphere in the hall wasn’t much different than for any other performance venue, but as soon as the sermon and the singing began, the atmosphere changed radically. It literally became charged with electricity as the entire congregation began swaying and moving to the rhythms of the preacher's voice and the hymns. “Do you feel it, brothers and sisters?” the preacher called out. “The spirit of God is with us!”
Well, yes, I felt it, but it wasn’t the spirit of God, exactly. It was a manifestation of the unified chi fields of the entire audience moving in synchronization, producing a powerful physical, emotional, and psychic effect. I suppose you could categorize this unified energy as the spirit of God since chi is, at root, a manifestation of God’s “breath of life,” but I don’t think it would be correct to draw that exact parallel. This same unified energy is also what powers destructive mobs.
You can even feel in when you’re sitting in a movie theater and the entire audience is gripped with similar emotions. It's said that Helen Keller liked to go to the movies despite being blind and deaf. She could, she said, feel the emotions of the audience. It’s a power that is unconsciously (at least for the most part) manipulated by individuals and groups who perform in front of any large crowd. “Okay, now!” yells the rock singer. “Put your hands together…!” Or the guitarist plays a power chord that sends a wave of energy right through everybody all at once, boosting the energy level in the auditorium. It’s also the feeling you get when practicing Tai Chi in groups, and the unified movements of all the attendant chi fields synchronize into a gestalt that permeates the whole group. Christian churches generate this gestalt on a regular basis through focused group attention, kneeling and rising together in conjunction with prayer, unified chanting of prayers and singing of hymns emotionally bolstered by organ music, and sometimes swaying or dancing. The cadence adopted by many preachers also uses its rhythms—and call-and-response—to focus and collectively move a congregation.
I’ve spent a large amount of time on the question of chi as it relates to Christian beliefs, and some might think that Islam, being similar to Christianity in its roots, would have very similar attitudes. Interestingly, though, Islam has a somewhat less vitriolic response to these energies than does Christianity. But even so, fundamentalist Islamic writers on the subject frequently warn that the practice of martial arts, chi kung, meditation, and yoga can open one up to energies that one can’t handle, leading to mental and psychic disturbances, or to outright possession by jinns—Islam’s version of demons. Fear of the latter seems to be one of the greatest Islamic impediment to developing chi or Kundalini power. (11, 12, 13)
Perhaps it is true that chi and Kundalini—which likely are different manifestations of the same energy—and the practices that can strengthen them—martial arts, chi kung, yoga, and so forth—are anti-Christian. I don’t mean by that that they are deliberately antagonistic to Christianity, but that their concepts are more inclusive of the actual nature of reality, which is less narrowly defined than it is in the Christian belief system. Most religions and spiritual systems that rely on the concept of chi (ki, prana, etc.) say it is a powerful energy in the body that is part of the natural spectrum of being: The soul inspires the spirit, the spirit informs the mind, the mind motivates the chi, and the chi moves the body.
Practices and exercises for chi development state that chi can be enhanced, circulated within the body, and manipulated through the psychophysical tools these practices provide, sometimes allowing the practitioner to perform feats that seem out of the range of normal human possibilities. At higher levels, they even allow the practitioner to experience a pure oneness with the universe (call it God, if you wish), without resorting to prayer, belief in a “personal God,” or “salvation” as prerequisites for entry into eternal bliss, as is espoused by modern Christianity.
Chi power is not Satanic, demonic, or evil. It is part of the physical power spectrum naturally available to humans. This power is not invested in the body; it is a result of the very communications the body uses to function within itself and to interact with the world. To be anti-chi power is to be ignorant of the fact that without chi, you would die, not because chi is a substance that causes life or that fills some sort of vulnerable void, but because it is a manifestation of the body’s physical operation. It is a flowing field that surrounds nerve impulses. It is, by definition, a natural condition of life that, like muscles, can be enhanced and put to practical use through development and will-power. Because an absence of chi indicates an absence of life, it is not something you want to be without. And further, demonizing it and the practices that foster its development is counterproductive to one’s true spiritual advancement.
(1) “Chinese Wand Exercise.” Wikipedia entry, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_Wand_Exercise
(2) “Vicar bans anti-Christian exercise class Tai Chi from church hall.” http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1258888/Vicar-bans-anti-Christian-exercise-class-Tai-Chi-church-hall.html
(3) “Is the idea of chi compatible with the Christian faith?” http://www.gotquestions.org/chi-Christian.html
(4) “Should a Christian Practice the Martial Arts?” http://www.equip.org/article/should-a-christian-practice-the-martial-arts/
(5) “Why Tai Chi and Catholicism Don’t Mix.” (LINK NO LONGER ACTIVE)
(6) “Tai chi: occult, dangerous and not for Christians—we answer our critics.” http://www.thefreepressonline.co.uk/news/1/2522.htm
(7) “Yoga and Christianity: Are They Compatible?—A Biblical Worldview Perspective.” http://www.probe.org/yoga-and-christianity-are-they-compatible/
(8) “Christians and Kundalini.” http://yogadangers.com/christianity-and-kundalini/
(9) Kundalini Energy and Christian Spirituality—Discussion.” http://innerexplorations.com/ewtext/ke.htm
(10) “More on Kundalini Energy and Christian Spirituality, Including an Interview with Philip St. Romain.” http://www.innerexplorations.com/ewtext/moreon.htm
(11) “Fatwa No: 252025—Ruling on practicing Tai Chi.”
(12) “My Story: An experience of Jinn Possession.” (LINK NO LONGER ACTIVE)
(13) “The Truth about Spontaneous Chi Kung (Jinns/Demonic Possession).” http://www.dangerofchi.org/ (Note: This page opens with a veritable catalog of articles and resources for those who fear and demonize spiritual energies, the practices that foster them, and the cultures and religions that acknowledge these energies and their beneficial aspects. Caveat emptor.)