Protestant and Catholic churches in Germany have reportedly warned against an exaggerated focus on health and fitness, which ministers say emphasizes fitness over compassion and stigmatizes those who don’t have an “ideal” body type. The preoccupation with external appearance and fitness is in danger of becoming a “health religion,” religious leaders say.
What do you think? Is society so obsessed with these things that it’s almost a religion in itself?
Jesus said none of us can serve two masters. When we give God His rightful place in our lives, we will “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.” (Matthew 6:24, 34, New American Standard Bible). Other concerns, like physical fitness, will always be secondary and subjected to our primary desire to love and serve Him. In return, Jesus promises that God will provide all the necessities of earthly life
God loves us, and He gave us life, so it is no coincidence that a righteous life is a healthy life. Those who honor and obey Him avoid the destruction of drug and alcohol addiction. They don’t contract sexually transmitted diseases because they are chaste. They enjoy the benefits of being physically active and energetically involved in serving others.
Seeking God first also safeguards the welfare of our souls. Jesus warned that “the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things” choke out the impact of His word in our lives and the fruitfulness of our service for Him (Mark 4:19).
If you are disappointed with your appearance, take comfort that Jesus Himself had “no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him” (Isaiah 53:2). He sought God’s will and our welfare first by being “pierced through for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities.”
Exercise is good for this life, but the healing that comes through faith in Jesus lasts forever.
PASTOR JON BARTA
Valley Baptist Church
Balance is the key.
When asked to express the greatest commandment, Jesus says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37, New International Version). In this statement he brings together the three factors that govern our existence: Heart (body), soul (spirit) and mind (intellect). When the three are in sync, we find a complete expression of our humanity and a connection to the Divine. Therefore, it is essential that they are in balance.
Body and soul are dependent on each other. A healthy body will give opportunities for the soul to expand and renew. Science tells us of the benefits of exercise, not only to produce physically fit specimens, but also to boost self-esteem, confidence and alleviate mild depression.
The Armenian Church, as well as all the ancient Orthodox churches, has practiced this holistic approach to existence since its beginnings. Nearly one-third of the church’s annual calendar is devoted to fasting, so that physical cleansing can accompany spiritual transformation. Bible study is always coupled with exercises for the soul through penance. In other words, the health of body, soul and mind are essential for the completeness of the human being.
Balancing the three and not allowing one to have more dominance over the others is the regimen of life. Exaggeration and too much of anything will destroy the natural order of life.
FATHER VAZKEN MOVSESIAN
Armenian Church Youth Ministries
In His Shoes Mission
Obviously, there is nothing wrong with being fit and taking care of one’s body.
In fact, we have a responsibility to honor this great, God-given gift.
Through our bodies and the talents God has bestowed upon us, we give him glory throughout life.
There is, though, a line that is crossed when someone has an absolute obsession with their body (or with anything else for that matter).
So much time can be spent at the gym or working out that the emphasis is not so much health, but a very ego-centered preoccupation to look good. This often bespeaks a self-image that itself is damaged and immature.
When I am so preoccupied with the self, I can only kneel at the altar of my own existence. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said as much when he commented that moral maturity is reached on the day we realize that we really have only two choices in life: genuflect before something higher or begin to self-destruct.
Narcissism is an unfortunate sign of our culture today.
Much of the discontent in life we see around us is rooted in the search for happiness by serving of the self.
My Christian faith teaches me that true satisfaction is most fully attained by dying to self and serving others. In this I recognize that all I have, life itself and the talents that I possess are not mine alone, but God’s gift to me to be given for the sake of the rest. This is the example that Christ has so generously demonstrated to us.
FATHER PAUL J. HRUBY
Church of the Incarnation
The ministerial code for my denomination has me affirm that “I will endeavor to keep myself physically and emotionally fit.” Insofar as I’m capable, my emotional fitness will sustain, but that’s less concrete to me than what can be done physically, and physical fitness is something that garners little diligence among colleagues and congregants in my denomination or any other.
Recently, this forum addressed the proverbial Seven Deadly Sins, yet most Christians could be cited for violating at least two — gluttony and sloth. When God formed Adam and Eve, you can bet they weren’t rotund. Rather, they were our perfectly honed archetypes that everyone finds innately appealing, and why those who more closely resemble our first parents are the ones we look to for product endorsements and starring roles.
Yet we extra-large Evangelicals, with our pot-bellied pastors, are failing to set the good example by glorifying God with appropriate physical stewardship. We stand convicted.
The world should look to America and think, “How healthy are their Christians!” yet we aren’t. Among America’s overweight majority, a third is obese. Now, someone could sinfully make a god of their body by religiously attending to it (without regarding its Creator) but Scripture declares the opposite is also true; that there are slouches whose “god is their stomach” (Philippians 3:19 New International Version), and doesn’t that put a new slant on our national motto?
Nobody’s perfect, and appearance shouldn’t determine compassion, but despite our genes, it behooves everyone to be responsibly fit.
Maybe Germany has achieved its Übermensch, but America has achieved over-munch, and we need to hit the very gyms that our Teutonic divines are so worried about — without neglecting the soul or marginalizing the infirm. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19)?
THE REV. BRYAN GRIEM
Montrose Community Church
I have to say yes, there are many things in our culture that are worshiped in a religious-like way.
Some people spend one to four hours per day caring for the body through exercise, proper nutrition and diet (including shopping at all the right health food stores). What if we spent that time studying religious texts, meditating or in prayer with God? There are too many things that have been allowed to encroach upon or even replace religion in our lifestyles.
Germany must not have any YMCA or YWCA organizations. The YMCA motto is simple, “to build a healthy spirit, mind and body for all.” This program states a clear balance.
In Scientology, there is also a holistic approach to the spirit, mind and body.
L. Ron Hubbard defines each with the body being, “a carbon-oxygen engine, which runs at 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The spirit is the engineer running this engine in a Homosapien. It is a physical object. It is not the being himself.”
Scientologists like to stay healthy with proper diets and exercise because good health means a longer life in which to achieve goals. Physical strength and well-being keep one fully alert and able to make the most out of life.
But this is never confused as a path to salvation. Only by addressing the spiritual nature can man truly be saved. Scientology addresses the spirit and is practiced to increase spiritual freedom, intelligence ability and to produce immortality.
So, spend more time at church than at the health food store and gym.
Glendale Church of Scientology
I think there are actually two issues here: One is maintaining good health, while the other is idolizing the human body.
We need to differentiate between these two concepts — and once we do, most of us can offer sensible responses.
Leading a healthy lifestyle, such as eating properly and exercising daily to stay strong and fit, is certainly a great idea.
In keeping with Biblical directives, Judaism requires us to be mindful of our health and to guard it wisely.
The human body is a gift from God, and as such should be treated with proper care and respect. Reckless behavior or self-destructive actions that jeopardize our well-being are essentially sinful, and must be avoided.
On the other hand, bestowing undue reverence on the human physique is definitely not in accordance with spiritual beliefs, since it distracts us from focusing on the soul and the beauty within.
Furthermore, if we believe that every human being is created in the image of God, then to insinuate that one person’s outward appearance is in some way superior to another’s is counterproductive — and in some instances can even be dangerous.
Throughout history, such as in Nazi Germany, we’ve seen that idolizing the human body can lead to extremes of racism and worse.
I feel that it’s a religious responsibility to pay attention to our bodies and make sure we keep them safe and sound. At the same time, we must be careful not to let this get so far out of hand that we start to idolize the human body.
Following this balanced approach will ensure greater fulfillment in both the physical and spiritual realms.
There’s no doubt that the human body is a wonderful creation with amazing capabilities — but it is ultimately our minds and our souls that make us special.
RABBI SIMCHA BACKMAN
Chabad Jewish Center
One of the wisest thoughts ever offered, I believe, was Aristotle talking about the mean between the extremes.
So is it possible that there are those in our society who overdo the fitness regimen? I believe the answer is yes.
Now I must admit that I worked very hard in high school and before to make the various athletic teams, and I did achieve a modicum of success for my efforts.
Also, as an adult I have completed something like six marathons, and several shorter-distance runs. But it is possible to worship the body as an idol, and in the three Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) idol worship is not a good thing.
St. Paul does talk about the body being the temple of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 6:19, Revised Standard Version), so we are supposed to take good care of our bodies. But again, the Aristotelian mean is helpful here. To me that means stay in shape, but don’t overdo it. In fact, enjoy “sinful” desserts occasionally; don’t eat the whole cake, but a moderate slice is probably OK.
The point is, don’t let any addiction, including a narcissistic concern for your body, get in the way of your relationship with God.
Sorry, gotta run. My personal trainer is at the door!
THE REV. C. L. “SKIP” LINDEMAN
Congregational Church of the Lighted Window
United Church of Christ
La Cañada Flintridge