This post by Bruce Charlton on the evils of weightlifting strikes me as not only perverse, but downright irrelevant in the way that only the True Churchian can manage:
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).
While Charlton points to the drugs as a useful red herring, it is clear that his argument is actually directed against all weightlifting and intentional body improvement. If he lifted regularly himself, he’d know that the difference between a smoothly sculpted quasi-swimmer’s physique and a bulked-up bull’s physique is mostly in the amount of weight one lifts, not the time spent in the weight room and/or pool. It would be interesting to know if he similarly objects to swimming and jogging, which can take up even more time than lifting does. And while it cannot be denied that vanity plays a part in the pastime, he’s missing the personal challenge aspect that is much more important. It’s not vanity that causes the lifter to go for that one more rep when his muscles are burning as if they’re on fire and his energy is rapidly dropping to zero, it is the desire to master the weakness of the body.
More importantly, he is spurning the manifold benefits of the discipline involved, discipline that is so obviously lacking in modern society. It is simply ludicrous that in a post-Christian West, where a ludicrous percentage of the population has lapsed completely into gluttony and sloth, waddling from one sugar distribution point to another like addicts seeking their next fix, Charlton’s criticism is focused on one of the only elements of the population successfully resisting this decline into mindless obesity.
Who is giving into the flesh, the man who is ruled by his desires or the man who mercilessly tames them? Indeed, the routine Charlton describes is more akin to those regarded as the holiest of men throughout most of the Christian era, the ascetics who mortified their flesh. I am not saying weightlifting is akin to holiness; its purpose is not the glorification of God, after all, but neither is it the “rooted, habitual sin” he claims it to be.
Possibly influenced by the Greek ideal, Paul writes the following in 1 Thessalonians 5:23: “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Chris.” Because weightlifting strengthens and preserves the body, because it strengthens one’s ability to tame one’s bodily desires and temptations, it is not only compatible with a Christian life, it is advisable.
Moreover, weightlifting provides more than strength and self-discipline. I always appreciated the sign over the mirror in the free weight room at the Northwest Fitness Center in Fridley, which said something to this effect:
This place is for the weak, that they may become strong. This place is for the strong, that they may become humble.
The iron knows no mercy. The iron strips away pretensions. The iron reveals character. This is not the hallmark of evil.
All that being said, I think Charlton’s position is born more from ignorance than fundamental wrongheadedness. No man who is so sound on the weaseling and treacherous mendacity of Rowan Williams can be totally misguided.