Yoga, ‘Demonic Hindu Gods,’ Perez Hilton & a Student Newspaper Op-Ed Controversy

A student newspaper in Arkansas has somehow managed to anger representatives of Hinduism and the world’s largest bloc of peaceful meditators in a single op-ed. Even Perez Hilton has weighed in. Ready for this one? Assume the Lotus position.

A recent commentary in The Threefold Advocate at John Brown University contends that yoga has its roots in some actual devilry of the Hindu variety. As student Deborah Raiees-Dana writes:

“This column is not a theological exegesis, but rather a heartfelt cry. I understand that yoga has become an accepted part of the American culture. The National Institute of Health promotes it vigorously and much of the Church has accepted it as harmless. I have to disagree. As I have been thinking of all the arguments and reasons why yoga is not as beneficial as we’ve been led to believe, it all keeps coming back to the fact that yoga has its roots in the worship of demonic Hindu gods.”

Wait, what?

Raiees-Dana continues: “I believe that while yoga may offer some benefits, those benefits have hidden, demonic strings attached. I spoke to one of our chapel speakers years ago about this. He was a Dalit ‘untouchable’ from India who had become a Christian. His view is that yoga is the beautiful face that the very ugly religion of Hinduism uses to sell itself to Americans.”

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Yowzer. Is yoga really nothing more than a calm, flexible sales pitch for Hinduism and a road to potential demon heathenism? And what’s up with Hinduism being deemed “very ugly”?

Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism, has publicly declared his disgust for the views shared in the commentary. In a letter to the Threefold Advocate, he blames the university — a private Christian school in northwest Arkansas — as much as the paper. As he argues:

“Universities are meant for education and research and should not be in the business of denigrating religions. JBU should not shy away from its responsibility for this denigrating article by just saying The Threefold Advocate is a student publication and operates with nearly complete autonomy. … Despite our urging, JBU President Dr. Charles Pollard has not apologized to the perturbed Hindu community and [the] objectionable article has not been removed from The Threefold Advocate online edition. … Hindu gods are highly revered to Hindus and they consider them divine and worship them and their religion is very sacred to them. JBU … should be more sensitive about the feelings of ‘others.'”

In response, Threefold Advocate editor-in-chief Sidney Van Wyk issued a statement of support for Raiees-Dana — while reminding readers that “[v]iews expressed by columnists or in letters are not necessarily the views of the publisher, adviser or staff.” According to Van Wyk, “All opinions, even those considered ‘counter-culture’ as Raiees-Dana described her own, are welcomed in our paper and we often publish columns side-by-side that are in direct disagreement with one another.”

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By the way, this is what Perez Hilton had to say about the whole shebang: “Religion is a touchy subject, and everyone is surely entitled to believe what they want — but even this is a little bit silly! … We mean, at its basic core, yoga is breathing and stretching! Besides, so what if yoga is demonic, you’ll have a demonically seksi bod and we’re just fine with that! LOLz!”

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Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan also sounded off. His take:

There is nothing in the world of journalism more delightful than a stupid opinion piece published in a college newspaper. What race, gender or religious group will be hilariously insulted by an undergrad this week? The great thing about college newspaper uproars is that they are simultaneously more outrageous than regular newspaper uproars, and less meaningful. Op-eds in college newspapers impact nobody. Who gives a shit what a college sophomore thinks about anything? For that reason, we are free to revel in their awful opinions and/or the misplaced campus outrage over their opinions without any lingering sense of guilt. (This is also why we should not be so harsh on college journalists who mess up. That is the whole point of college journalism.)”

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