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When Some Turn to Church, Others Go to CrossFit


When Some Turn to Church, Others Go to CrossFit

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How do you define religion? Google’s definition of religion is “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.” Many people associate the word religion with this definition and a specific world religion such as Judaism, Christianity, or Islam.
But the Harvard Divinity School is expanding our thought on what is religion. The school and its students are studying areas other than churches that demonstrate the same defining elements as a religion – and CrossFit made its list. 
As the school points out: 

Any criteria you choose to define religion will quickly reveal its shortcomings. Is it about belief in a deity? Judaism and Christianity have that, but many varieties of Buddhism do not. Existence after death? Mormons believe in that, but plenty of liberal Protestants do not.

Yet consider football. Religion scholars have noted that it brings people together in large crowds to “worship,” and has a weekly holy day and even annual holidays, like N.F.L. draft day and, of course, the Super Bowl.

In this article published in the New York Times, the possibility of CrossFit serving as a religious entity to its followers is discussed.
When Some Turn to Church, Others Go to CrossFit
What do you think? Does CrossFit serve as a religion? Or is this is a stretch? Does it need to be defined? Post to comments.


6 Responses

  1. Googs

    As someone who’s never been a fan of organized religion, and not much for spiritual stuff in general, I feel it’s a stretch to call CrossFit a religion. That said, I will speak at length with anyone who asks, about the many benefits I’ve realized since I started doing CrossFit, which smacks of some sort of convert looking to convert others. Like the woman in the article, I too get up at 4:45 a.m. to go to the gym (I will never, ever call it a ‘box’). I have changed my diet, and my sleeping habits. I schedule my life around ensuring I can get four to five workouts in per week, because I feel better when I’m going to the gym regularly, even when I’m sore as hell. I am appreciative of my own self and how it works now. I look forward to seeing, and feel accountable to, all the people at Roots — coaches and athletes alike. CrossFit has absolutely changed my life. Shit, this sounds a hell of a lot like some sort of spiritual thing. Maybe it is.

  2. Annette Brownlee Elton

    I grew up going to church and it always seemed like a place
    where adults went to feel connected. Where they went to be reminded to be
    better people, people with integrity, kindness, and humility. They were reminded
    and supported to be people who worked hard to make the best of what they had
    and encouraged to support others to do the same.
    Along with the amazing friends that I have made through
    CrossFit, and the community I feel so grateful to be a part of, I see many
    parallels to that church. However, instead of being reminded weekly to be that
    better person, I’m reminded every single time I show up for a WOD, which is
    much more powerful.

  3. Alex Chaux

    Interesting perspective. I was raised Roman Catholic, went to catholic school run by nuns in full habits, even served as an alter boy. Hated every minute of it and, eventually, all members of my immediate family came to the realization it was not a fulfilling experience. There is the community aspect, which I think draws and keeps a lot of people to religion. Is Crossfit a religion? I think it is a bit of a stretch and I may not like it as much if it were. When you throw religion into the mix, you touch on very sensitive nerves within human nature. How holy are thou? What, can’t backsquat 400 Lbs? Heathen! Who cares how much you can backsquat, Fran is the true measure of a Crossfitter! Soon we will will have Crossfit protestants against the purists, and eventually Crossfit crusades against the Orange Theorists. Religion for me is too judgmental, leave it at the door.

  4. Caitlin O'Donnell

    To be honest, when I watched this community pull together in August to support Shane, it struck me how Roots resembled a religious community, so I started reading articles on this topic. Crossfit obviously lacks a lot of the downsides that organized religion can bring, but I do think it mimics a lot of the qualities that draw people to religion. I think the sense of community, support, accomplishment, and pursuing goals are all common between the two.
    I once heard “god” defined as “that which you worship.” If you interpret worship to mean dedicating time, money, energy, and focus, the “god” of Crossfit might be health, and we happily devote a lot of resources to pursuing it!

  5. I’m glad this was posted, because I had missed that article. What an interesting topic. I’ve been turning this over in my head for a few days, and I echo all the great comments here, as well as Alex’s conclusion that CF is not a religion. I concur, but perhaps for a different reason.
    Exercise is “my church”. It is a way for me to have an inwardly focused, very personal experience that is frequently spiritual. However, this is different than a religion. Caitlin makes a good point about how CFR pulled together for Shane, but he is one of us. I think that what separates religion from just community is the push, the call, to work toward something greater than our own self interest. We support one another at CF, but we are all, ultimately, on an individual journey. We do not reach beyond into the larger fabric of humanity, or our community, to either spread our message (Facebook proselytizing aside!), bring them into our fold (acts based faith, as it were) or simply improve the human condition of others.
    And in this regard I think CF, be it Roots or the larger community of boxes the world over, is a fantastic, supportive, life-changing community, but it is not a religion. Perhaps that is a good thing. As Alex notes, religion carries plenty of baggage and it’s own set of problems. If we are ever judged by the weight of our backsquat, the count of our HSPUs or even the rigor of our diets, we are doomed.