If you are a Christian, or indeed a Catholic of any stripe, you may be wondering if it’s OK for you take up Tai Chi as a martial art? After all, Tai Chi is a philosophy and it is possible that it may conflict with Christian teachings.
Can a Christian or a Catholic do Tai Chi?
Yes, a Christian can do Tai Chi. There is no prohibition against Tai Chi in the Bible or any other Christian religious text. The advice for Christians from most churches is to be aware of potential conflicts in philosophy and belief. Tai Chi as a physical and meditative practice is fine for Christians and Catholics.
So if you are a Christian and want to try Tai Chi, we have got some good news for you! Here is how you can practice Tai Chi without it interfering with your beliefs.
What Is Tai Chi (And Why Would It Be A Problem For Christians?)
Tai Chi is a Chinese martial art form which is considered to be an “internal” martial art which means it is more concerned with mental preparedness (via meditation) than physical workouts.
It has its roots in both Kung Fu and Taoism. From Taoism, a Chinese philosophy which is similar to but not the same as Buddhism, comes the mental discipline and the focus on mindfulness. From Kung Fu come many of the physical forms that Tai Chi uses.
Tai Chi is rarely practiced as a martial art, today, and most practitioners are drawn to it because of the health benefits it brings. Anyone of any age and any level of fitness can easily incorporate Tai Chi into their lives.
Tai Chi vs. Christianity: 2 Potential Conflicts
There are two issues that potentially conflict with Christianity, but both seem to be based on a misunderstanding of Chinese philosophy.
The first is that many in the West seem to think that Taoism is a religion. It is not, it is a way of life and a philosophy but while there may be similarities to religion – it is not a religion. You can see why the Christian faith would discourage its flock from taking up a new religion.
The second is that the concept of “qi” or a life force shared by all beings appears to trigger accusations of pantheism which is the idea that God and the universe are one and the same. However, this is not explicitly stated in Tai Chi or indeed in Taoism (which does not acknowledge the need for a god at all because it is not a religion).
However, we’d be remiss if we didn’t allow you to make up your own mind and we’ve rounded up what some Catholic and Christian religious figures have to say on the matter.
What Does The Catholic Church Say About Tai Chi?
The site Catholic Answers says, “Tai Chi as a form of physical discipline or exercise is fine, as is learning martial arts to defend oneself or others.
However, mixing in religious ideas, such as believing we have an energy (chi) within ourselves that we can harness, and control is not compatible with Catholicism.
In addition, similar to Yoga, in its religious expression Tai Chi espouses pantheism, i.e., that there is no personal God and that we therefore somehow are God. Consequently, this erroneous religious aspect must also be avoided.”
In short, they both feel that it’s fine to take up Tai Chi as an exercise or sport. They say that this is because there is no monopoly on physical movement and no movement which is forbidden either directly or indirectly in the Christian faith.
They also feel that Tai Chi should not be used as a means of “religious promotion” which I find a little peculiar because Tai Chi is not a religious faith. It is a spiritual practice but not one which is aligned with any religion.
However, if you are a Catholic and want to stay on the safe/Godly side of things, you should of course avoid Tai Chi classes where the leader is promoting any kind of alternative religion.
The authors of Women of Grace, however, feel more strongly about Tai Chi than Catholic Answers does. They say that as Tai Chi incorporates the concept of “qi” (a concept of a life force that inhabits all living things) this is contrary to Christianity because it represents pantheism. Though, they provide no evidence for this position.
They finish with this quote, “Although there is nothing objectively wrong with the physical movements of Tai Chi, there are many philosophical elements contrary to Christianity. The idea that the physical world comes from dualistic principles, which in turn come from an ultimate force, cannot be reconciled with the idea that the universe was created by an all-good, personal God. Furthermore, the attempt to channel and direct spiritual forces and the use of talismans violate the First Commandment.”
This does not constitute a prohibition to study or practice Tai Chi but it is fair to say that it is a stronger admonishment to consider whether or not you would, as a Catholic, feel comfortable about Tai Chi.
However, this feeling is not necessarily echoed in Catholic churches around the world. Both Women of Grace and Catholic Answers are American evangelical branches of Catholicism. The author of Taiji world, states of his local Catholic Church in Sydney, Australia, “Back in the early eighties, I was also ousted from a Presbyterian Church hall in my village in the Blue Mountains West of Sydney for the same reason with the Vicar saying that Tai Chi was not in keeping with Christian beliefs. So we approached the local Catholic Church and they were more than happy to accept our classes in their hall where they also had Yoga and other esoteric exercises.
My Son Ben Montaigue now teaches this wonderful health art in Llandovery at the Catholic Church Hall. (See and advertisement in this magazine). Ben just loves to see those who he is teaching getting something real from this art, something that is helping with mobility and harmony of mind and body. Ben is a registered instructor for the World Taichi Boxing Association and has been training since he was 4 years of age! Our whole family has its culture based in Christianity and we certainly would never have anything to do with the so-called occult.”
So, the best advice on whether or not Tai Chi is “against Catholicism” might come from your local Priest or Bishop rather than online.
Do Other Christian Faiths Have Anything To Say About Tai Chi?
Yes, they do. We found that many evangelical Christian organizations around the world echo what the two evangelical Catholic organizations had to say about this.
The Compelling Truth also denounces the concept of qi, and they quote Colossians 1:16-17 as evidence that this viewpoint is incompatible with Christian faith, “”For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together”
Domenic Marando on Blogspot feels more strongly still about this question and offers a lengthy essay on why he believes that Tai Chi is dangerous and not in any way compatible to a Christian life, however, he does acknowledge that his beliefs are not shared by all Christians and that, in fact, many Christians have welcomed Tai Chi into their lives.
Is Tai Chi Against Christianity?
As you can see, this isn’t a simple “yes or no” answer. It appears that many Christians do practice Tai Chi and do not see any conflict with their faith.
Some may choose to only participate in the physical and mental exercise of the sport and withdraw from any philosophical discussions that may arise. Others may choose to reject the ideas that Taoism in the context of Tai Chi is a religious faith and that qi represents pantheism and thus, may become more deeply involved in Tai Chi practice.
Others may reject Tai Chi completely. All of these options appear to be based on real thought and belief, it is hard to say which is “right” for you.
There is no direct prohibition to do Tai Chi in any Christian religious text. As a well-intended Christian you should be fine with Tai Chi because it itself is not a religion. It is a meditative practice which shouldn’t conflict with your Christian beliefs.