Thursday 13 December 2012

Weight-training and Christianity


One of the evil signs of the times is the increased prevalence of intensive weight-training.

This is part of a narcissistic, self-regarding, self-advertizing and physiologically- and psychologically-deranging package of extreme exercise regimes, extreme diets, and extreme chemical intake (especially androgen and growth hormones, but other drugs as well - continually expanding).


The purpose of this strategy of self-remaking.

At its most focused, intensive weight-training is about the making of an extreme body - of a kind never before seen in human history - transhumanism.

But at every level it is about focusing the best efforts of your life on trying to look a certain way. A futile, vain and distorting activity.


All this is self-consciously 'macho', but non-masculine.

Manly men just don't behave that kind of way, and they never have done.

The culture of intensive weight-training just is an epicene environment: dressing-up in muscles, posing in front of the mirror, parading oneself for admiration.


It is anti-Patriarchal.

It is an adolescent activity - the product of excessive self-consciousness in the pathologically unattached - not the behaviour of the mind of a mature, married, adult family man who embraces responsibility.

It is also evidence of an anti-Christian mindset.


Think of a Christian man you admire.

Then try to think of him engaged in a regime of extreme weight training - bulking up, seeking a sculpted physique, gulping supplements and drugs and all the rest of it...

In fact don't bother. The idea is absurd, obscene and impossible.


Attitude to intensive weight-training is a litmus test on the political Right.

The secular Right have embraced the new world of intensive weight training as a focus for a lifestyle of strategic hedonism, aggressive posturing and promiscuous sexual warfare; the Christian Right ignore or are hostile to the whole thing.


If you are an intensive weight-trainer wanting to become a Christian but finding this difficult: then quit.

Intensive weight-training is exactly the kind of rooted, habitual sin which makes it very difficult to become (or remain) a Christian.



John Fitzgerald said...

I read Dr Doug Macguffs book on intensive training. All that's needed is ten minutes a week. He does say some weight lifters have a psychological need to do more. But there's no benefit.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Thor- Would you self-identify as a Christian? Or are you, as the name suggests, a pagan? My comment may not apply to pagans...

Anonymous said...

Lots of naked assertions, but nothing to back them up. And several appear, to me at least, to be self evidently false.

"Think of a Christian man you admire." Done. He has worked hard in his life to discipline his body, both in terms of raw exercise (running; weight training) and in terms of combat (Karate). He is one of very few people I know with a Godly household and family. His kids are self disciplined, moral, and side step all the temptations that typically ensnare youth, Christian or not. He works hard, helps his friends and neighbors at every opportunity and without grumbling or complaining, and has been a sorely needed role model to me. Watching him I have learned what a Godly husband and patriarch is supposed to be.

I wish I was the Christian and athlete he is.

Some weight lifters may behave in the manner you describe. Claiming that all are like that is a fallacy.

John Fitzgerald said...

Went through a phase, now I identify as a Christian.

Bruce B. said...

I’ve discussed this topic in the comments section of conservative websites (where I get a lot of disagreement) and I agree with you. The distinction that I would make is that body-building is un-Christian but strength training is not necessarily un-Christian. Body building is everything you describe here. But strength training can be used by a Christian man to help him serve and protect his family and Church. Or it can be misused too.
For the record, I don’t lift weights.

Bruce Charlton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bruce Charlton said...

@Anon - I don't see any relationship between the behaviour you describe and that which I describe.

I am mystified why you should apparently want to defend the kind of behaviour I describe...

BTW I won't be publishing anymore amonymous comments on this thread - read the comment policy.

Ben said...

Be careful Bruce, all the half brained trolls are sadly going to come out on this one and start purposefully misinterpreting you and otherwise muddying the argument.

Are there situations where weight lifting is acceptable? I used to lift weights for purely vain reasons but now do it to improve my health and mental focus (which I find is greatly improved after an hour in the morning of squats / pushups.)

The Anti-Gnostic said...

Can you define your terms? What do you mean by 'intensive' or 'extreme. I lift weights for an hour three days a week. I don't want to be a fat diabetic and I want to have enough presence to handle dickey situations if the need arises. I also want to be healthy for my grandkids.

We are in the middle of an obesity epidemic which is manifest to an embarrassing extent in the church. I wish more Christians lifted weights.

Kevin Nowell said...

Where is the line? I work out for an hour 4-5 times a week. I don't take any supplements and my gym doesn't have any mirrors; but, my workouts are definitely intense. I do it for health, to be good at sports and for functional strength. Also, I'm not married so I guess part of it is to be able to attract a wife.

Is this unchristian behavior in your opinion?

Josh said...

I think your real disagreement is with bodybuilding, not weight training.

Davidstanley said...

I think you need to clarify exactly what you mean by intensive. God has given you a body but he expects you to look after it. Most Anglican men appear to be slope-shouldered Eloi unable to maintain the historic ruins in which they worship ,(or do they worship the buildings?.)I train because I enjoy the fellowship and competition and the feeling of aliveness. Have you noticed how many christians seem to be depressed all the time. How many of them have a healthy body. Vanity takes many forms but C.S.Lewis wrote that the physical was less serious than the spiritual.

Chris C. said...

I believe you should have used the term 'bodybuilding' which connotes the entire (narcissistic) lifestyle you describe.

'Weight training' is perfectly compatible with being a Christian man. In fact the greatest effect of very low volume/very high intensity (e.g. 30 minutes, once per week) weight training for men is proper hormonal regulation.

I think Christian men with slopped shoulders and pot bellies advertise lack of discipline.

The Continental Op said...

When an attack on ANY weightlifting is taken to be an attack on ALL weightlifting, you know you are dealing with a cult.

" is clear that his argument is actually directed against all weightlifting and intentional body improvement."

The fanaticism of the cult of fitness knows no ends.

The Continental Op said...

Some weight lifters may behave in the manner you describe. Claiming that all are like that is a fallacy.

See? You criticized the extreme end, and he says that your criticism of ALL lifting is a fallacy. He can't see straight, he's in a cult.

George Goerlich said...

I wonder if Anonymous is "taking this the wrong way"? It seems evident that weight-training taken to excess in body-building is not only vain and all-consuming, but most likely unhealthy for the heart and liver, assuming various supplements. For example, look up the extreme of "synthol" abuse.

It is rare to here this mentioned in the US as the far more prominent problem is extreme laziness and total lack of physical movement.

Bruce Charlton said...

It is interesting.

This post was 350 words long - and I am a clear writer, clear enough to have written for national papers like New Scientist and The Times of London, yet apparently this post was too difficult to follow for most people engaged in intensive weight-training.

If you can't spot clear definitions of of my terms without having them labeled with flashing lights, maybe this blog isn't for you.

Also, this post was explicitly addressed to Christians and those who want to become Christian - I don't understand why non-Christians and those hostile to Christianity, or those who want to lead a hedonic lifestyle would be interested by what I have to say, or feel a need to defend themselves against Christian criticism.

Therefore, non-Christian reasons for weight training, coming from people who do not self-identify as serious Christians, are irrelevant to the argument.

I use this neologism of intensive weight training, instead of bodybuilding, because bodybuilding refers to a competitive 'sport' - what has happened is that vast numbers (millions) of people are using bodybuilding methods and adopting a bodybuilding lifestyle - but do not self-describe as body builders. Some even suffer the delusion that intensive weight-lifting and the associated lifestyle improves their health!

As for impressing women... it depends on what kind of women you want to impress, and with what aim.

I am writing for those who want to live a Christian life.

Matthew C. said...

I think this same criticism applies just as accurately to Christian "Game" bloggers, of which there is a very large overlap with Christian intensive weight trainers.

Asdf said...

It seems obvious Bruce is talking about bulking up to extreme lengths. A good rule of thumb is anything that involves steroids, exotic supplements, or a degree of lifting that can cause damage with age and repetition can be takIng it a bit far. I hurt my neck working out to hard for instance.

Bruce Charlton said...

COMMENT FROM PROPH (submitted to the wrong post)

"Yikes, lots of hypersensitivity here. I do some moderate weight training along with cardio stuff, mainly to stave off the cholesterol problem that runs in my family. Not for a second did I think Dr. Charlton was speaking of guys like me. Beyond a certain point, I question the real health benefits of lifting. There's a notorious association of intensive weight lifting with joint problems of the sort that haunt you through life. In a way then, intensive bodybuilding is kind of like the liberal impulse on a micro scale -- cannibalistic destruction of the future self for a limited and illusory benefit now."


If you think what I printed was - ahem - hypersensitive, you should see some of the comments I preferred not to print

(other not published comments were fine, qua comments, but I simply left them out because they did not add substantively to the discussion - or raised questions I had already answered or declined to answer - in my by-definition-authoritative opinion).

Pillars of the Church said...

Strength training through the medium of lifting weights is a great way to achieve a healthy lifestyle. When you do some good, hard work, you feel good physically and mentally. I personally work at a hospital, sitting behind a desk all day and I can feel myself degenerating because of lack of physical activity. Cue 45 minute weight lifting session early mornings or right after work several days a week... I feel better physically, mentally and have had a better relationship with the Lord because of it. Instead of crying to the Lord about my physical ailments, I looked at the options he gave me to deal with my depression and fatigue... antidepressants? Not for me. Physical activity through weight lifting? Yes, please. I've never felt better. It builds a stronger mind/body connection and through this the Holy Spirit has a greater command of my body because I am more physically disciplined. Paul said that he "beat his body into submission" 1 Cor 9:27. How should we best understand this than through direct experience of this in our own training? In verse 25 he says athletes do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we an imperishable. We are using the physical discipline to gain a spiritual understanding.

Yes, weight training can be used for vanity, or it can be used as a means to strengthen ourselves mentally and spiritually. Example, we use the physical person of Jesus to explain spiritual truths. I am not saying that weight lifting is the new gospel, but it is certainly a healthy way to exercise mind and body and then translate that discipline into doing the Lord's work. Plus, being a godly influence in the gym is just as much necessary as any other. Just the other day I signed up for a new membership and invited the person who helped me to Bible study. How many others will I reach out to? The friendships built in the gym are great ways to evangelize. I could go on and on... but maybe I'll end with this... 1 Cor 9:20 "I became like one of the jews to win the jews"