Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Mindfulness: Skip the Spirituality *Please*

My apprehensions about linking Mindfulness to spirituality grew a bit yesterday.

In my previous episode of this blog, I described my fears about connecting Mindfulness conspicuously to ancient Buddhist practices and beliefs. Mindfulness might well have zen roots, but at this point, I argued, faith references can only put people off who identify with other faiths. I mentioned that one journal author was already proposing a Christian version of mindfulness based on contemplative  "centering prayer."

What I didn't mention is that faith groups are invariably prone to fractioning and bitter division. Putting Mindfulness in a faith context makes it subject to these.

The growth spurt in my apprehension was brought on by reading an article by Dr. Gary E. Gilley, an evangelical pastor at Southern View Chapel in Springfield, Illinois. Gilley's blog is a diatribe against contemplative prayer.

A Christian version of Mindfulness would be open to Gilley's criticisms -- which center on there being  no Biblical basis for contemplative prayer. Meditative and mystical practice should not be part of spiritual formation, Gilley says, because such practices were invented and promoted by human beings. Prayer, he says, should not be listening for an inner voice or awaiting some inner experience of God. This isn't in the Bible. Prayer should be us speaking to God -- praising, thanking, requesting, for example. God speaks audibly in the Bible, not via inner voices heard during meditation. So no one needs to be trained in special practices to hear Him. If God wants to tell us something, He'll say it right out loud.

Gilley concludes:
Spiritual formation seeks to lure evangelicals into ancient Catholic and Orthodox contemplative practices in order to draw closer to God, experience His presence, and hear His voice apart from Scripture. In order to embrace this mystical form of spirituality, contemplatives are willing to compromise at virtually every turn. Central doctrines such as sola fide and sola Scriptura are shrugged off as secondary. Methods never found in the Bible as the true means of spiritual growth and of knowing God, are emphasized. And complete heretics such as Thomas Merton are seen as reliable spiritual guides to spirituality. The contemplatives have sold out to Catholic mysticism and abandoned the clear teaching of Scripture. Sadly, in the process many undiscerning evangelicals will follow suit.
I expect Gilley would find a Buddhism-based Mindfulness even more objectionable than contemplative prayer.

Could he and other Christians accept Mindfulness strictly as a therapeutic practice, supported by research and scientifically validated data if all the Buddhist references were expunged? Could he see this as a healthy living practice, like washing your hands, not smoking, eating your veg, getting exercise, and keeping your weight down?

The nice thing about medical practice is that it's testable. If you have a theory about some aspect of a scientific practice, you design an experiment and confirm or reject the theory. People can argue with your experiment and perhaps design a better test, but accepted practice follows the data.

Spiritual practice is another kettle of fish. One faction believes this; another that. One group says subjective personal feelings and experiences are allowed as evidence in support of a spiritual practice or truth. Another group says only the experiences of approved saints, the Pope, and the Bible are allowed. Evidently Dr. Gilley believes only the Bible (and probably only one translation and his interpretation of it) are the basis for true religion.

The Bible vs the Buddah? Catholicism vs Conservative Protestant Evangelicalism? Science -- and Mindfulness -- simply don't belong in these contentious realms where truth and the paths to it depend on subjective choices and group affiliation, not testable hypotheses.

Update, 4 December 2014 ... The battle between Evangelical Christians and mindfulness continues, though still at a fairly low level. From the Associated Press via the Worcester, Massachusetts News Telegram:
Last year, an elementary school in Ohio ended its mindfulness program after parents complained it was too closely linked to Eastern religion and a conservative Christian law firm unsuccessfully sued on behalf of a couple in Encinitas, California, arguing their school district's yoga classes indoctrinate children
Just saying...

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