Muscular Evangelism
June 25, 2017 11:17 AM   Subscribe

 
“You always know if someone goes to Harvard or if they go to CrossFit—they’ll tell you,” said Casper ter Kuile, a ministry innovation fellow at Harvard Divinity School.

Yeah, but which one will they tell you first?

(Also, not everyone who went to Harvard will tell you. Some of them play that "I went to school in Boston" game.)
posted by madcaptenor at 11:42 AM on June 25, 2017 [8 favorites]


I think this is interesting. Incidentally the really good old bars function in a surprisingly spiritual way. I find you meet a better class of scum in bars than in places of worship.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 11:44 AM on June 25, 2017 [10 favorites]


I started attending the local edition of Hamiltunes (Hamilton singalong/karaoke) last year and now I have a tendency to call it going to the church of Hamiltunes. It's a community of welcoming, cheerful people who are genuinely happy to see you and do something fun together even though you only really see each other at these predefined times and places. Good stuff.
posted by miratime at 12:01 PM on June 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


Does church/temple/synagogue cost $200 a month?
posted by FJT at 12:07 PM on June 25, 2017 [3 favorites]


Sometimes FJT. Although it's often less, and at least in my UU experience completely optional.
posted by kittensofthenight at 12:11 PM on June 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


It's fun to stay at the Y.M.C.A.
posted by lagomorphius at 12:11 PM on June 25, 2017


FJT: many synagogues have dues, although there's a trend away from them being mandatory.
posted by madcaptenor at 1:05 PM on June 25, 2017 [1 favorite]




Does church/temple/synagogue cost $200 a month?

Yes if you earn $24,000 a year and only tithe 10%.
posted by notreally at 1:42 PM on June 25, 2017 [5 favorites]


My favorite thing about church is not having to work out, but I'm glad people who feel differently have someplace to go.

The thing about church is that it's not just community, but ritual. Especially around big events like death and marriage. Interest groups can definitely become your community, but it's harder for them to fit into that role. Ritual is comforting, it helps us know what to do when we are emotionally overwhelmed, and I think that has everything to do with why churches exist at all.

I think we like to get excited by the idea that religion will fade away/get replaced, but we have yet to come up with replacements that can do *all* the same things.
posted by emjaybee at 1:48 PM on June 25, 2017 [8 favorites]


I'm not sure that this is really new. I think there was a particular period (at least, in the US), which is now perhaps ending, where secular organizations seemingly shied away from ritual, ceding that ground -- with a few exceptions -- to religion exclusively. I think that's somewhat ahistoric, but I'm at a loss to explain why exactly it happened, although it paralleled a decline in fraternal organizations generally. (My pet theory is that the latter decline was due to a decline in free time on the part of non-retired, working age people as the median real wage stagnated. But I'm not sure about the former.)

There is of course the possibility of sample bias on my part, but I think there's a renewed interest in, or at least realization of the power of, ritual, and secular organizations are slowly realizing that they might have acted a bit hastily.

I'm not sure this points to religion ever being "replaced". Religion existed alongside secular organizations who dabbled in things that, to a late-20th-century person, might have seemed oddly churchy -- rituals with vestments, ceremonies, oaths, suspiciously liturgical-esque books, funny hats, music, etc. -- for a very long time, so the reintroduction of ritual probably isn't going to suddenly change that. But it might fill a certain gap for people who had wondered why secular organizations feel so traditionless and lacking in emotional depth compared to religious ones.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:52 PM on June 25, 2017 [2 favorites]


Inane Thinkpiece Mad Libs, anyone?

'in the midst of the decline of religious affiliation military recruitment in America, and the rise of isolation and loneliness gamer culture, many ostensibly non-religious military communities are “functioning in ways that look a little bit religious military,”'
posted by Sys Rq at 3:54 PM on June 25, 2017 [4 favorites]


"CrossFit expects members to call each other out if they don’t appear at their usual time and let each other know if they’re out of town."

No it doesn't. Not a good article.
posted by youthenrage at 5:23 PM on June 25, 2017


The thing about church is that it's not just community, but ritual. Especially around big events like death and marriage. Interest groups can definitely become your community, but it's harder for them to fit into that role. Ritual is comforting, it helps us know what to do when we are emotionally overwhelmed, and I think that has everything to do with why churches exist at all.

CF in its purest form--completely centered on the WOD (workout of the day), loyal to the Crossfit HQ, devoted to CF and CF only--absolutely does take on a ritualistic aspect. From attending each workout prescribed by your coach, to following the designated warm-up exactly, to attending at particular times, to the regular repetition of the "Girls" and the "Hero" WODs and the excitement around them, they're all their own form of ritual. People get married in their box, and while I haven't heard of an actual funeral held at one it's not uncommon for people to do workouts in a deceased member's honor.
CrossFit expects members to call each other out if they don’t appear at their usual time and let each other know if they’re out of town.
No it doesn't. Not a good article.

Perhaps yours doesn't, but plenty do. There's a practical reason as well if your box schedules WODs in time slots and has high demand.
posted by schroedinger at 5:40 PM on June 25, 2017 [2 favorites]


Though I'll say that I think the communities you see forming at Crossfit are just the extreme of the communities that form at many gyms. Many gyms, especially those with a dedicated core of lifters, end up essentially having workout happy hours where everyone is independently showing up for a workout at the same time and your workout takes like 1-2 hours longer than normal because you're all standing around bullshitting. I see this more often in the weight room than in cardio areas because it's difficult to drift from conversation to conversation when you're running on a treadmill--though you can definitely get little communities forming around classes.
posted by schroedinger at 5:43 PM on June 25, 2017 [2 favorites]


This is relevant to my past research interests, part of which centered around how modern American culture creates rituals (often involving alcohol!) in areas where dominant religious culture has failed to provide adequate rituals, such as coming-of-age (13 in Judaism, typically 13-17ish in Christianity, neither nearly old enough, so people get smashed upon turning 21), or baby showers. Where religion fails to properly ritualize life passages, the culture will find a way, since human beings love, love, love ritual. (My master's thesis was on rituals around pregnancy and childbirth in the monotheistic religions.)

Anyway it makes perfect sense that lacking communal periodic ritual (i.e., weekly religious services) historically provided by religion, people would find that in secular culture.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:18 PM on June 25, 2017 [2 favorites]


The thing about church is that it's not just community, but ritual. Especially around big events like death and marriage. Interest groups can definitely become your community, but it's harder for them to fit into that role. Ritual is comforting, it helps us know what to do when we are emotionally overwhelmed, and I think that has everything to do with why churches exist at all.

I miss that about church, but having to believe in god made attending difficult, need for community or not.
posted by deadwax at 11:22 PM on June 25, 2017 [6 favorites]




This is an old self plug, but I made this exact point in a podcast back in 2014/2015. I think I referenced both Putnam's Bowling Alone and perhaps Oldenburg's concept of the third place. I haven't re-listened because I hate listening to my recorded voice. Just saying, that I was robbed of a reference.
posted by Telf at 5:25 AM on June 26, 2017


I just want to record how goddamn annoying the crossfit people at my old gym were. Like meeting up and staging drills where they run around and then through the building, multiple times.

Don't. Do. That. You are annoying everyone else and even creating an unsafe situation.
posted by thelonius at 5:32 AM on June 26, 2017


Veganism also seems to take on a religio-community thing I've noticed. A friend who is vegan and moves around a lot says there is in every city a little "vegan community" with their own little world of meetups and things.

And interestingly veganism for many adherents is motivated by a kind of "faith" in the evil/sin/wrong of eating animals, for which there is no real scientific-rational basis.
posted by mary8nne at 5:39 AM on June 26, 2017 [1 favorite]


And interestingly veganism for many adherents is motivated by a kind of "faith" in the evil/sin/wrong of eating animals, for which there is no real scientific-rational basis.

Them's fightin' words (not with me, though; I love me some tasty animal flesh)
posted by tippiedog at 6:35 AM on June 26, 2017


As a burned-out Christian, I miss Church. A lot. I have noticed this trend as well among friends and I have been increasingly convinced that I may have to find Church in less-traditional ways and places.

I have been doing improv for a few months now, and for me, that feels like church the most right now. It has creativity and play (duh), community, personal transformation and a limited amount of purpose finding.

What's missing for me though, is spirituality, which I have to find somewhere else I guess.
posted by KTamas at 7:10 AM on June 26, 2017


Ritual: Masonic orgs have all the ritual (and I think a looser "believe in God" requirement) but also have had declining membership.
posted by k5.user at 7:23 AM on June 26, 2017


Boardgaming arguably has ritual as well as community, and is way more fun than church.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 7:41 AM on June 26, 2017 [1 favorite]


I'm no expert (although I do go to church) but I think the question isn't why secular groups end up looking like faith gatherings, and instead ask why church is like church? There's no real liturgy in the Bible, but even with varying underlying theologies lots of churches end up with services that are structurally similar. I think its because you start with "being open to the Spirit" and not having a set liturgy. And then one week some particular combination of words or activities or sounds or smells feels really good (which you can attribute to the Holy Spirit or human aesthetics according to taste) and somebody says: "That was great. We should do that again." And suddenly you've got a liturgy.

Humans are social creatures and we like familiarity, which can become habit or ritual. We also gather in groups that face the issue of how you grow and develop the people who are already on board while still making room for newcomers (apart from the few that seek to exclude newcomers. So you need references to the source texts (or the founder), teaching, celebration (because we're making ourselves better by attending) and - no shock here - often an encouragement to evangelise.

I'm sure other people have explained this better than me...
posted by YoungStencil at 11:07 AM on June 26, 2017 [1 favorite]


"why church is like church? There's no real liturgy in the Bible, but even with varying underlying theologies lots of churches end up with services that are structurally similar. I think its because you start with "being open to the Spirit" and not having a set liturgy. "

Well, not exactly. There's actually a ton of liturgy in the Bible. The Hebrew Bible (/Old Testament) provides enormously specific instructions for liturgies, liturgical calendars, liturgical clothes, liturgical buildings, etc. The Last Supper provides the general model for Christian liturgy; the book of Acts provides some examples, some sketchier than others, of early Christian liturgies. The letters also provide discussion of some finer points of liturgical questions in the early Christian community. There were set liturgies basically from the very start in Christianity, and we have very good external (non-Biblical) descriptions of them from quite early on, as well as plenty of information in the New Testament itself.

You can trace liturgical developments fairly easily -- it's an important thing and frequently written down and written about -- and it's a fairly continuous tradition. The reason most Christian liturgies look quite similar is that they're for the most part all growing out of the same 2,000 years of tradition. Among certain modern Biblical literalist Protestants (mostly in the US), who date to after the US Civil War, there are some discontinuities because they explicitly rejected transmitted traditions and attempted to use a literal reading of (a translation of) the Bible to "start over" within a specific political project (i.e., slavery was good and we're pissed it's gone). However they still tend to end up at a fairly similar place because even if you're reading the Bible the dumb way, there's a lot in it about how worship ought to look.

All that said, there are some sorts of symbols and actions that occur with great frequency throughout religions all over the world and throughout history -- flames and smoke; celestial themes (sun, moon, stars); water and especially ritual cleansings; death and rebirth; green and growing things; expensive and fragrant perfumes or herbs or spices; expensive and highly-decorated paraphernalia; milk; barefootedness; certain postures; breathing and meditation; darkness; silence; music; liturgical (often dead) languages; and so on. (There are also more localized/specific ones -- coastal peoples love them some religious boat symbolism.) So there are certainly some universal impulses towards certain liturgical meanings.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:00 PM on June 26, 2017 [6 favorites]


Eyebrows - I bow to your superior knowledge.
posted by YoungStencil at 12:16 PM on June 27, 2017


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