Is Meditation A Sin? Why Christians Debate This Question

  • By: Ryan Kane
  • Updated: March 29, 2022
  • Time to read: 5 min.

As mindfulness meditation has skyrocketed in popularity in the 21st century, it’s caused a reckoning among many religious groups that have been promoting their own forms of meditation for centuries.

Christianity, for example, has meditation traditions going back hundreds of years, which would today be recognized as meditative prayer and contemplation.

Many Christian traditions have their own forms of meditation. Some discourage secular mindfulness meditation, while others see it as simply a mental health tool that’s compatible with Christianity.

Below, we’ll explore perspectives from across the Christian spectrum.

Is meditation a sin for Christians?

No.

All Christian traditions are open, at a minimum, to meditation practices that incorporate a Christian perspective.

Christian organization Focus on the Family suggests that meditation is “a positive option to manage stress and develop a healthy life,” and is compatible with Christian faith, “as long as it’s rooted in Scripture and focuses on connecting with God.”

In addition, many progressive Christians take the position that mindfulness meditation and Christian meditation can work together.

Baptist minister Shaun Lambert argues that meditation and mindfulness are important for Christians as research-backed tools to improve health:

“In terms of mindfulness for health The UK Mental Health Foundation’s 2010 Mindfulness Report lists a number of significant mental health conditions that mindfulness is being used for, through a number of different mindfulness-based or mindfulness-incorporating therapies, including depression, insomnia, anxiety disorders, stress, chronic pain, psoriasis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, drug abuse, psychosis, eating disorders, self-harm, borderline personality disorder, as well as improving mood and reducing stress for those being treated for cancer.

When I look at this list, I don’t just see medical terms, I see people. People I know, and people who have had their distress alleviated through mindfulness therapies. That’s why it matters for Christians, not just for Christians we know who are suffering from mental health conditions, but because we should be concerned for the common good of all.”

Baptist.org.uk

What does the Bible say about meditation?

The Bible contains a number of references to meditation, and it’s likely that Jesus meditated in some form. The meaning of meditation in this context is more accurately interpreted as similar to deep prayer and reflection, rather than as an exact analogue to modern mindfulness meditation.

A few examples:

“And Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening.”

Genesis 24:63

“But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”

Psalm 1:1-2

“My mouth shall speak wisdom; the meditation of my heart shall be understanding.”

Psalm 49:3

Is meditation a sin for Catholics?

Meditation is not a sin for Catholics. In fact, the Catholic Church has a long history of meditation and contemplative prayer.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “meditation is above all a quest. The mind seeks to understand the why and how of the Christian life, in order to adhere and respond to what the Lord is asking.”

Thomas Merton was a well-known 20th century Catholic monk and writer keenly interested in Eastern spiritual practice. Merton found many of the practices of Buddhism compatible with Christianity. He wrote a book called Mystics and Zen Masters in which he found Buddhism to be a practical spirituality that “explains itself not in theoretical propositions but in acts emerging out of a certain quality of consciousness and awareness.”

Pope Francis has said “meditation is for everyone“:

“Meditation is a phenomenon to be looked on favorably: in fact, we are not made to run all the time, we have an inner life that cannot always be neglected. Meditating is therefore a need for everyone. Meditating, so to say, is like stopping and taking a breath in life. To stop and be still.”

At the same time, Pope Francis also counsels:

“The methods of meditation are paths to travel to arrive at the encounter with Jesus, but if you stop on the road, and just look at the path, you will never find Jesus. You will make a “god” out of the path.”

Why do some Christians think meditation is bad?

While Christian meditation and Catholic meditation are certainly approved techniques backed by hundreds of years of religious precedent, religious leaders are less vocal about promoting mindfulness meditation.

Some Christians see mindfulness meditation as a quasi-spiritual practice that is too rooted in Eastern religious traditions and doesn’t align with their religious teachings. Rather than “emptying the mind” through meditation, Christian forms of meditation place a focus on “filling the mind” by reflecting on religious teachings and seeking divine guidance. Some religious teachers see a danger that meditation is a slippery slope that could lead people away from religion. Meditation is also associated with other practices like yoga and manifestation that are popular in new age spiritual circles.

In a 2004 article in Christianity Today, writer Douglas Groothuis argues that practices like meditation are about discovering a “secret inner divinity” and “higher form of consciousness” that is incompatible with Christianity.

Meditation is exercise for the brain

Meditation used to be an Eastern religious practice, but today, mindfulness meditation is a secular, research-backed technique to improve mental health.

In the decades since the 1970s, mindfulness meditation has been the subject of hundreds of scientific studies as a method of improving mental health and wellbeing. The mindfulness meditation that’s popular today is a secularized version of a practice originating in ancient Buddhist and Hindu traditions.

However, today there are no religious elements left in the methods of mindfulness meditation that are the subject of scientific studies.

Instead, stripped away from any religious or spiritual baggage, mindfulness meditation is best looked at as exercise for the brain. Just as you go to the gym to improve your physical health, mindfulness meditation is a research-backed way to improve your mental health.

While some Christian groups promote Christian meditation as an alternative, there are no mainstream Christian groups that label meditation problematic as a whole.

Mindfulness meditation can be practiced alone, or in conjunction with a faith-based meditation practice.

Frequently asked questions

Is meditation against Christianity?

No.

Christianity, both protestant and Catholic, contains many meditation practices that are officially recognized and promoted.

Some Christian leaders encourage followers to use religiously-oriented meditation practices, and Pope Francis encouraged Catholics to use meditation as a path to discerning divine will.

However, other Christian leaders view secular mindfulness meditation as a research-backed mental health tool that is fully compatible with Christianity.

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