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 3 of a 3-part series
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 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 (!), brought in a couple of ice-cream trucks and used their generators to provide 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.
A couple of friends 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 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 was over and the singing began, the atmosphere changed radically. It literally became charged with electricity as the entire congregation began swaying and moving to the rhythm of 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 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 he 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, 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 their antecedents—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 communication 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 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.” http://www.womenofgrace.com/blog/?p=338
(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.” http://www.thejinn.net/chi_jinn_my_story.htm
(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.)