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I write the monthly “Beliefs” column for The New York Times and also report for The Atlantic, The Nation, This American Life, and elsewhere. I have four daughters and two dogs.

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Is Yoga anti-Christian?

A bit late in the game, let me link to this story about Southern Baptist macher Albert Mohler saying that yoga is anti-Christian. He had read the new, very important history of yoga in America. The Subtle Body, by Stefanie Syman, and was moved to point out that yoga is a spiritual practice that may be incompatible with proper worship of Jesus.

My simple answer is: it depends what yoga. Full disclosure: I started doing some yoga classes last month. So far, what I know is next to nothing. But I do know a lot of people who practice yoga, and for some it is clearly a full-blown spiritual practice, while for others it is basically a stretching regimen. Those who read my first book know that I am of the belief that serious religiosity tends to be exclusive: that is, you pretty much know you are a serious Methodist if you are so Methodist that you cannot also be into Buddhism, or perhaps hard-core yoga. Real religion tends to resist syncretism, at least at the individual level (certainly not over time, or at the culture-wide level). And I do know that yoga teachers, at the very least, are very insistent that they have a full mind/body system

So Mohler may not be so far off, if he is talking about the most committed practitioners. But as a blanket statement, that (downward-facing) dog will not hunt.

But seriously, read Syman’s book.


More on gay religious pioneer Jim Stoll

For those still interested in Jim Stoll, I will keep posting email threads like this one:

Hi Mark & Laura, Yes of course you can mention me on your blog and thank you for the fond memories you brought up with your article.


Jim was not an artist just fond of ethnic art.


5 or 6 of us activists SF Chapter Board members would often sit around in his front room planning our civil liberties agenda. He was a brilliant strategist always knowing the “bigger” issues involved. He was the inspiration in the early ‘90s for the SF Chapter bringing Keith Meinhold, the first Gay serviceman to be discharged from the military when he came out in public, to speak of his experience at a public forum at Golden Gate Law School.


After one of many medical diagnosis Jim received for a host of medical issues he told us that he would rather die with his legs on knowing if he didn’t have them amputated because of his diabetes  he would die. He was totally relieved and at peace with his decision and started making preparations for his death. This included giving away all his possessions and saying good byes to his friends. We loved him.


Take care, Phillip


Phillip Mehas Art Consulting
Tewksbury Heights
5815 Bernhard Ave.
Richmond, CA 94805
Office: 510 237-0066
Cell: 510 693-7000  

“Let the beauty we love be what we do”. Rumi


From: Laura Saponara []
Sent: Thursday, September 23, 2010 10:07 AM
To: ''
Cc: 'Mark Oppenheimer'
Subject: FW: We love your article about Jim Stoll



I will let you respond to Mark’s question (below) directly, okay?



From: Mark Oppenheimer []
Sent: Thursday, September 23, 2010 9:06 AM
To: Laura Saponara
Subject: Re: We love your article about Jim Stoll


Also, could I mention Phil's name on my blog, which I am using as a clearinghouse for people who want to know more about Stoll?

On Thu, Sep 23, 2010 at 12:04 PM, Mark Oppenheimer <> wrote:



On Mon, Sep 20, 2010 at 7:11 PM, Laura Saponara <> wrote:

Many people here have read it and we’re collectively grateful for the time and care you’ve taken to excavate Stoll’s contribution – to history and to our consciousness of the courage it takes to “take a stand for freedom,” as we say.  You succeeded in shining light on both his heroism and his struggles, allowing those of us who didn’t know him to take inspiration from him.  Very meaningful.  Thank you.


I just finally spoke with a fellow who served on the San Francisco ACLU chapter board of directors with Jim, a man by the name of Phillip Mehas.  Phil is one of the people who visited Jim often, remembers him very fondly, and told me about his memories of a catered dinner with a group of loving people gathered around, during those very final days.  He also said that Jim invited his friends to take the artwork that he had in his house, and so Phil has a few pieces that belonged to Jim.  (I’m not clear on whether Jim was an artist, or simply owned art by others…)   If you write more about Jim and want to be in touch with Phil, here is his contact information:  510.693.7000 (cell); 510.237.0066.


Best wishes,



Laura Saponara

Communications Director

ACLU of Northern California

tel. 415.293.6326


What I would have added to the NYT’s Glenn Beck piece.

An admirable and highly readable piece about Glenn Beck in the Times Magazine on Sunday. I remember Glenn Beck from when he was one half of Glenn and Pat, and then one half of Glenn and Vinnie, on the KC-101 FM morning show here in New Haven. He always struck me as a typical morning-radio clown, not a particularly gifted practitioner of the art — no Howard Stern, Gary Craig, or John DeBella — but it does seem he has found his niche with the politics thing. Anyway, I have just three things to add.

First, it really ought to be read alongside this amazing article from’s Alexander Zaitchik. The Times piece sportingly mentions the piece about Glenn Beck a couple times, but really, there is so much to read in the piece. Check it out.

Second, my own small contribution. Mark Leibovich hints at this in passing, but I want to focus on the fact that Glenn Beck actually appeals to listeners by offering them intellectual sustenance (or something pretending to be). My dad was in a Dunkin’ Donuts recently — we are from Massachusetts, after all — and a woman he met there said, “You know, Beck discovered that FDR knew the Japanese were going to invade. Beck has a whole staff of researchers learning things for him.” And as Leibovich notes, Beck can hold people spellbound by talking about the founding fathers and whatnot. Here is the point: the theologian Stanley Hauerwas was once talking to me about premillennial dispensationalists — you can Google it, if you care, but it is a kind of fundamentalist Christian, basically — and he said, “You know, their theories about the end times are not for stupid people. You have to be smart to follow that stuff.” His point was that people want ideas to chew over, they appreciate complex ideas, and they will gravitate toward people or institutions who seem to offer them red meat of that particular kind. Beck with his incredibly convoluted theories, the gold-standard stuff, the hatred for Woodrow Wilson: he really is offering a pretty deep, if internally inconsistent, worldview for people who do not have another worldview, like progressivism or Marxism or monetarism or even Christianity, in place. And he is offering books and thoughts and ideas, without condescension, to people who may not be comfortable getting such ideas from the Times or National Review.

Third, I would have said more about Beck’s place in contemporary Mormonism. I mean, if he and fellow Mormon Harry Reid bump into each other at Mormon worship, how does that go over?


Do the Dutch hate Muslims?

A thoughtful piece from Christopher Beam about why the Netherlands produces so much anti-Muslim sentiment.


Mail I Get When I Write About Atheists

This came to my e-mail inbox after I wrote my Times column about atheist and humanist Paul Kurtz. The subject line was “Mr. Kurtz, he dead”:

Spiritually dead, for sure.
Poor Mr Kutrz, too proud to see the abundant physical evidence of God's omnipotence and omnipresence.
--spontaneous remission of advanced diseases in the baths at Lourdes, France, since 1858.
--the Tre Fontane apparition in Rome, 1947
--the apparition and miracle cure at Isle d'Chambord, France, in 1947.
--the miracle cure of Peter De Rudder, Oostakker (Ghent), Belgium, 1875.
dozens of others, similar to the above, have been extensively chronicled over the centuries.
Please consult "The Miracle Detective" (2002) by a former skeptic and Rolling Stone reporter, Randall Sullivan, for many such cures, and detailed investigation of the miraculus apparitions at Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina, since 1981.
I must say, I do want to go read the Randall Sullivan book, which I had not known.