The recent Olympic Games, with its quiet triumphs for Great Britain, might make a Martian think that the line between sport and religion was a very fine line indeed:
However, what about the other side of the coin? What about when an activity generally regarded as a sport, or at least a means of toning the body, ends up being condemned as an 'idolatrous' religion by those of another persuasion.
Thus, an interesting couple of articles in the London Times highlighted the positive and negatives of multiculturalism in a rather startling headline:
Does Yoga sit well with Christianity?
The fact that some churches have spoken out against yoga practices as being of Hindu origin and therefore incompatible with Christian teachings can't have influenced our local church in Prestwich. Here a seasoned practioner continues to hold advanced yoga lessons in the community room where I used to teach biblical Hebrew and in which ping pong is also practised regularly (no doubt much to the approval of a certain Mayor of London!):
I have to admit that I've been a participant in the yoga sessions and felt that, yes, it was hard physical work, but ultimately worthwhile (plus 80% of the actions were a throwback to primary school days - the 'crab', and all that!). But idolatrous? Not at all! And certainly not akin to religion in any way.
I must admit that I much prefer swimming, so have now joined the local Salford baths at a fantastically good rate for people over 55. But I'm sure that yoga is beneficial, as well as being a wonderful workout. And Salford council offers yoga to all and sundry as well - and why not?
There are limits, however. For instance, in 2005 I participated in a Radio 4 programme with a Buddhist. I agreed to visit the Buddhist meditation centre in Manchester and take part in the meditation. If there were Buddhist statues dotted about, I regarded them as part of the furniture and irrelevant to the meditation. However, when asked to visit a statue of Buddha in her attic, I declined. The invitation was somewhat loaded and I didn't see the point!
This reminded me of the story told by a friend over a wondrous meal last Shabbat. Years before, he had been interested in Thai boxing. This sport starts with a bow. He hadn't realised that he was actually bowing to a Buddhist statue. He asked one of the most liberal rabbis around if bowing to a statue of Buddha in the context of Thai boxing was OK, and the rabbi said 'Definitely not'. So he had to explain to his Buddhist teacher, who thought about it and then said:
'Thai boxing entails bowing to a statue of Buddha. However, as I, the teacher,and all the pupils have their back to you at this time, therefore we can't see what is going on!'
Now that's a way to promote a religion, in my book!