The First Church of Sports?
February 12, 2012 9:53 AM   Subscribe

Is there an organized non-religious, non-magical, science-based system of "spiritualism" or philosophy that reveres physical activity and athletics?

If not, what's the closest thing to it?
posted by Cool Papa Bell to Religion & Philosophy (17 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Is there something disqualifying about yoga or tai chi? Those come immediately to mind.
posted by kitarra at 10:05 AM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Followers of Gurdjieff believe in the development of one's "moving center" and do complex physical exercises to do so.
posted by Obscure Reference at 10:06 AM on February 12, 2012

Hatha Yoga might fit the bill?
posted by BrandonW at 10:07 AM on February 12, 2012


I'm not being snarky - it's an organization based on the pursuit of "functional fitness" with a lot of dogma, a nationwide reach, etc. I'm not sure exactly what you mean by "spiritualism" though.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:07 AM on February 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

I was going to say suggest rock climbing and feel stupid about it, by restless_nomad suggested crossfit... as they say, rock climbing is 1/3 strength, 1/3 technique and 1/3 mental. Tonnes of literature about the meaning and spirit of climbing in general, focus, mental training, etc.
posted by ye#ara at 10:49 AM on February 12, 2012

Buddhism can be practiced as a philosophy rather than a religion. See the book Zen and the Brain for the crossover between Buddhism and science. Yoga provides the athleticism, and there is an emphasis on balance between body and mind.
posted by hazyjane at 10:54 AM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would offer communities of distance runners. There is certainly a mental and emotional spiritualism to it and physical activity is paramount.
posted by thewestinggame at 10:59 AM on February 12, 2012


I don't know that you could say it "reveres" physical activity, but it is a science-based philosophy that has athletics at its core.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:07 AM on February 12, 2012

Apologies, it doesn't even satisfy your basic requirements.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 11:10 AM on February 12, 2012

Yeah, those were the two things that immediately came to mind for me, Crossfit and the Greek concept of arete. There are definitely high-school and college athletics programs that use arete as something like a rallying call to athletic excellence. Actually, the high-school coach/teacher who first taught me about the concept of arete is now a Crossfit nut, so there are definite parallels there, I think.
posted by limeonaire at 11:21 AM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Historically? The German Wandervogel.
posted by oxfordcomma at 1:28 PM on February 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

There's the Sri Chinmoy marathon team. I don't know enough about them to say if they'd count as spiritual yet not religious or magical.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:00 PM on February 12, 2012

The ancient Greeks revered athletes, and this is reflected in both their poetry and philosophy. Aristotle goes out of his way to talk about what makes a good athlete in his Rhetoric:

Strength is the power of moving someone else at will; to do this, you must either pull, push, lift, pin, or grip him; thus you must be strong in all of those ways or at least in some. Excellence in size is to surpass ordinary people in height, thickness, and breadth by just as much as will not make one's movements slower in consequence. Athletic excellence of the body consists in size, strength, and swiftness; swiftness implying strength. He who can fling forward his legs in a certain way, and move them fast and far, is good at running; he who can grip and hold down is good at wrestling; he who can drive an adversary from his ground with the right blow is a good boxer: he who can do both the last is a good pancratist, while he who can do all is an 'all-round' athlete.

(Rhetoric I 1361b15)

Although he also placed lower importance on physical excellence than he did on intellectual pursuits:

It is absurd to hold that a man ought to be ashamed of being unable to defend himself with his limbs but not of being unable to defend himself with speech and reason, when the use of reason is more distinctive of a human being than the use of his limbs.

(Rhetoric I.1355b1)

So I don't know if that counts as a philosophical reverence for athletics, exactly, but at least a healthy respect. Also relevant might be the saying mens sana in corpore sano.
posted by edguardo at 2:04 PM on February 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Sri Chinmoy's followers are definitely people who are engaged in spiritual exercises, whether or not they'd self-define as "religious".
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:14 PM on February 12, 2012

Pretty much any system of East Asian martial arts, including Japanese archery and swordplay, comes with a philosophical component. The way people move in karate, aikido, iaido, etc. is determined by what the founder of the school believed was the most powerful and noble way for people to behave in that situation and in general.
posted by shii at 4:58 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Falun Gong. A lot of people attend the exercise classes and don't even realise it's a fully-fledged, persecuted religion.
posted by Acheman at 3:19 AM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

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