A magazine of martial and movement arts, with a focus on the internal style of Tai Chi Chuan
Christianity vs. Chi
by Christopher Dow
PART 2 of a 3-part series.
BACK to PART 1
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.
But 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 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 be evil somehow?
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. 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 forces? (Again, 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 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 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 creation manifests.
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 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 elements, the basic manifestation 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.
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 creative energy interacts. 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 or understanding. I could say with some accuracy that the whole of reality itself is nothing but an overwhelming supernatural force. 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. In fact, only this year have gravity waves been detected 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 force. 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 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 control or admittance. 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 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.