[Paleopsych] J. Religion and Society: The Development of Muscular Christianity in Victorian Britain and Beyond

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The Development of Muscular Christianity in Victorian Britain and Beyond
Journal of Religion and Society
[Muscular Christianity was alive and well in Mr. Mencken's day. Teddy Roosevelt 
iirc was a champion. You have to click on the URL to get the Java-based notes. 
The paragraphs are numbered. They are not links.]

Nick J. Watson
York St. John's College, University of Leeds

Stuart Weir
Christians in Sport, UK

Stephen Friend
York St. John's College, University of Leeds


[1] The development of Muscular Christianity in the second half of the
nineteenth century has had a sustained impact on how Anglo-American
Christians view the relationship between sport, physical fitness, and
religion. It has been argued that the birth of Muscular Christianity
in Victorian Britain forged a strong ". . . link between Christianity
and sport" that ". . . has never been broken" (Crepeau: 2). The
emergence of neo-muscular Christian groups during the latter half of
the twentieth century (Putney) and the promotion of sport in Catholic
institutions, such as the University of Notre Dame, can be seen as a
direct consequence of Victorian Muscular Christianity. Modern
Evangelical Protestant organizations, such as Christians in Sport
(CIS) in England and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) in the
U.S., have resurrected many of the basic theological principles used
to promote sport and physical fitness in Victorian Britain.

[2] The basic premise of Victorian Muscular Christianity was that
participation in sport could contribute to the development of
Christian morality, physical fitness, and "manly" character. The term
was first adopted in the 1850s to portray the characteristics of
Charles Kingsley (1819-1875) and Thomas Hughes' (1822-1896) novels.
Both Kingsley and Hughes were keen sportsmen and advocates of the
strenuous life. Fishing, hunting, and camping were Kingsley's favorite
pastimes, which he saw as a "counterbalance" to ". . . education and
bookishness" (Bloomfield: 174). Hughes was a boxing coach and
established an athletics track and field program and cricket team at
the Working Men's College in London where he eventually became
Principal (Redmond). Not just writers but social critics, Kingsley and
Hughes were heavily involved in the Christian Socialist movement and
believed that the Anglican Church had become weakened by a culture of
effeminacy (Putney). Kingsley supported the idea that godliness was
compatible with manliness and viewed manliness as an "antidote to the
poison of effeminacy - the most insidious weapon of the Tractarians -
which was sapping the vitality of the Anglican Church" (Newsome: 207).
From this, the doctrine of Muscular Christianity was adopted as a
response to the perceived puritanical and ascetic religiosity of the
Tractarians, later known as the Oxford Movement.

[3] Aside from the religious motivations for the evolution and
advancement of Muscular Christianity, the Victorians' preoccupation
with health is arguably the most significant factor. "No topic more
occupied the Victorian mind than Health . . . they invented, revived,
or imported from abroad a multitude of athletic recreations, and
England became in Sir Charles Tennyson's words, the world's game
master" (Haley: 3). Haley suggests there were three main reasons for
the prominence of the concept of the healthy body in the
mid-nineteenth century.

[4] First, the Industrial Revolution brought about a Leisure
Revolution within the working class population (Cunningham) and played
a major role in focusing the Victorian psyche on health.
Paradoxically, the automation of industry had led to sedentary
lifestyles and as a consequence an exponential rise in cardio-vascular
and respiratory disease. In addition, poor conditions and long arduous
working hours in the factories resulted in many contracting
occupational diseases. Second, the nineteenth century witnessed a
number of major developments in medical science. The founding of
physiology as a distinct discipline separate from biological science,
and the emergence of physiological psychology engendered a holistic
understanding of health and an emphasis on the mind-body connection.
Third, and often less publicized, there was a real threat of war from
a number of European countries and the Americans. Responding to this,
the intelligentsia saw the need to protect the British Empire and
produce leaders that were well educated and "manly" (Haley). Kingsley
and Hughes, amongst other Protestant elite, saw Muscular Christianity
as an appropriate vehicle for advancing British imperialism and
increasing the health and well-being of the nation (Putney). Through
the medium of sport, Kingsley saw the potential for spiritual, moral,
and physical development:

. . . in the playing field boys acquire virtues which no books can
give them; not merely daring and endurance, but, better still temper,
self-restraint, fairness, honor, unenvious approbation of another's
success, and all that `give and take'of life which stand a man in good
stead when he goes forth into the world, and without which, indeed,
his success is always maimed and partial (Kingsley cited in Haley:

[5] The aim of this essay is to provide an understanding of the
historical and theological development of Muscular Christianity in
Victorian Britain and how this has contributed to the relationship
that exists between Christianity and Sport today. Discussion will
focus on the historical and theological roots of the movement and its
manifestation in the late twentieth^ and twenty-first century.

Historical and Theological Roots of Muscular Christianity

[6] The origins of Muscular Christianity can be traced back to the New
Testament where St. Paul and others used athletic metaphors to help
describe the challenges of the Christian life (1 Corinthians 6:19;
9:24-25; and 2 Timothy. 4: 7).[1]<1> However, the explicit advocacy of
sport and exercise, in the guise of Muscular Christianity, did not
evolve until the mid-nineteenth century in Britain, and the source of
the idiom has been a point of debate amongst scholars (Redmond). It is
commonly accepted that a review of Charles Kingsley's Two Years Ago
(1857) for the Saturday Review, written by the cleric T.C. Sandars was
the first place the term appeared (Simon and Bradley). Ironically,
Kingsley abhorred it and wrote a vitriolic response to the author who
had used ". . . that painful, if not offensive term, `Muscular
Christianity'" (Haley: 109). Thomas Hughes, a friend and supporter of
Kingsley, then used the concept in a follow-up to Tom Brown's
Schooldays (1857), called Tom Brown at Oxford (1861). In contrast to
Kingsley, who seemed worried about the negative connotations that may
have been attached to the secular phrase "muscular", Hughes used it to
promote the athleticism that was so pervasive in his novels (Winn).
This said, Rosen notes that he was careful to clearly distinguish the
concept of "muscular Christians" from the "musclemen" (athletes
without Christian beliefs): "the only point in common between the two
being, that both hold it to be a good thing to have strong and
well-exercised bodies . . . Here all likeness ends", the Christian
belief is ". . . that a man's body is given him to be trained and
brought into subjection and then used for the protection of the weak,
the advancement of all righteous causes" (Hughes: 99).

[7] Interestingly, Redmond has noted that a closer examination of
other children's literature long before the birth of the concept in
Kingsley and Hughes shows that the general thesis of Muscular
Christianity was implicit within works published between 1762 and
1857. The work of writers, such as J.J. Rousseau, William Clarke,
Dorothy Kilner, William Howitt, and S.G. Goodrich all possess glimpses
of the Christian muscular gospel that flowered in the literature of
Kingsley and Hughes. In his classic, Emile (1762), Rousseau emphasizes
the importance of physical education in the development of moral
character: "Give his body constant exercise, make it strong and
healthy in order to make him good and wise . . . The lessons the
scholars learn from one another in the playground are worth a hundred
fold more than what they learn in the classroom" (cited in Redmond:
9). In conclusion, Redmond suggests neither Kingsley nor Hughes can be
accredited with the original "athletic gospel" but they "reaped the
harvest" that gave birth to the Muscular Christian movement during the
Victorian period.

[8] Their personal lives, education, and political and theological
affiliations heavily influenced Kingsley's and Hughes' ideas. The
period between 1850-1900 was characterized by social unrest and
political instability in the form of labor unrest in the working class
population and serious problems with public health (Clark). Both
Hughes and Kingsley had been sympathizers of Chartism, a political
movement that developed in response to the social injustices suffered
by the working classes. As a rector and author of social novels such
as Yeast (1848), Westward Ho! (1855), and Alton Locke (1850), Kingsley
became widely known as the "Chartist clergyman" (McGlynn). Following
the House of Commons' decision to reject the Chartist Petition in 1848
and the subsequent demise of Chartism, Kingsley and Hughes continued
to support the grievances of the working classes as leading proponents
of Christian Socialism. They joined forces with other Christian
Socialist thinkers such as F.D. Maurice (1805-1872), J.M. Ludlow
(1821-1911), and Thomas Arnold (1795-1842). It was Ludlow who
convinced Kingsley and Maurice that Christianity and Socialism could
be integrated to offer an antidote to the political doctrine of
Chartism (Bloomfield).

[9] Although the Christian Socialist movement had a similar goal as
Chartism, its primary focus was on providing solutions to social ills
through educational and moral change, not change in political
legislation (Norman). At the time, this was a radical idea. Before the
late 1840s, the Church of England's attitude to implementing social
reform was conservative with leading evangelicals emphasizing the
hierarchical class system, thus marginalizing the poor and
downtrodden. They saw poverty as being self-inflicted through various
sins such as self-indulgence and intemperance (Parsons). The class
system was also reinforced during the late nineteenth century by the
fashionable concept of Social Darwinism. In short, the primary concern
of the Victorian Church of England before the mid-nineteenth century
had been to "save the lost" (i.e., to win converts) with concern for
social welfare often coming a poor second.

[10] The Christian Socialists heavily criticized the Church's advocacy
of the classic political economy and hierarchical class structure,
which had contributed to the dehumanizing and neglect of the working
class population during the early nineteenth century (Norman). In
respect to Muscular Christianity, Kingsley had stressed the social
benefits that accrue from participation in athletic activities,
especially in terms of demolishing class divisions. Nevertheless, the
Christian Socialist idea of a classless society often concealed ". . .
a deeper belief in the class system and in the bourgeois hegemony"
which is personified by the middle-class boys depicted in Hughes' Tom
Brown's Schooldays (Allen: 120). And although implicit, there seems to
be what Allen calls a "conceptual dilemma" in Hughes' classic work,
between "the classless democracy of the athletic body and the
hierarchical structure of the class system" (120-21). This tension was
also evident in what Hargreaves calls a "leadership cult," which
existed in middle-class public schools where society's leaders were
being nurtured.

[11] The Christian Socialists, a small but very influential group of
academics and Protestant clergy, disseminated their ideas primarily
through two journals, Politics of the People (1848-1849) and The
Christian Socialist (1850-1851). F.D. Maurice, who is recognized as
the movement's most influential and leading thinker, also founded the
Working Men's College in London in 1854, which ran evening classes,
thus acting as a vehicle to educate the working class people. The
theology that underpinned the Christian Socialist thesis and which
complemented Muscular Christianity can be mainly attributed to
Maurice. Heavily influenced by the idealism of Coleridge he believed
that the Kingdom of God should be accessible to all members of
society, a theology of universal brotherhood (Norman). In Maurice's
book The Kingdom of God (1838) and in a later controversial
publication Theological Essays (1852), he championed an Incarnational
theology, which provided an elevated view of humanity with a stress on
the importance of educating the masses to recognize their place in
God's Kingdom.

[12] During the first half of the nineteenth century, there had been
an emphasis on the Atonement within theological circles. Nevertheless,
the advent of the Christian Socialist movement, especially in the work
of Maurice, saw a shift ". . . to promote the study of social and
political questions in the light of the Incarnation" (Norman: 30).
This it was argued, has a sound biblical basis in the teachings of
Jesus (e.g., Mark 3:20-30; Matthew 12:25-32; Luke 4) and provided the
basis for Kingsley's theological position, which recognized the
significance of the embodied soul, and in turn the goodness of
athleticism and physical strength in the formation of character.
Donald Hall has noted that the frequent reference to the body in the
Politics for the People and other Christian Socialist literature
provides evidence that ". . . the metaphors and pedagogical goals of
the Christian Socialists and muscular Christians are inextricably
linked" (48). This highlights the importance and significance of
Hughes and Kingsley's work within the Christian Socialist movement and
its impact upon social and cultural change during the Victorian
period. Of the two, Kingsley has written more on the muscular
Christian ethic and deserves the credit for providing Muscular
Christianity ". . . with a cohesive and conscious philosophy,
consisting equally of athleticism, patriotism, and religion" (Putney:

[13] It can be argued that the most significant idea to evolve from
Kingsley's corpus of writings is "Christian manliness." His doctrine
of masculinity had been originally based upon his ". . . instincts
which told him that the life of a clergyman was compatible with
married life and with that of a sportsman" (Haley: 111). From this, he
sought to provide philosophical and theological justification for his
feelings and borrowed from a diverse group of thinkers. The
philosophical lineage of Kingsleyan masculinity is derived from
Plato's concept of thumos, which he interpreted as a primal manly
force involved in sex, morality, and fighting (Rosen). Although
Bloomfield acknowledges that it is speculative, she suggests
Kingsley's work may have also been influenced by the mystical and
occult philosophy of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772). There are a
number of clear parallels in their work and perhaps most significantly
their ". . . desire - to seek the relationship between soul and body"
(173). Due to the influence of Plato's mind-body dualism and the
liberal philosophy of Swedenborg in his work, his more orthodox
contemporaries frequently accused Kingsley of Neo-Platonism and
Pantheism, an accusation that he angrily refuted. These philosophical
roots were formed while he was reading Classics at Cambridge
University, where he gained a first class degree. He then developed
and focused his ideas into a doctrine of social action and reform
through reading the works of, and collaborating with essayist and
social historian Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) and theologian F.D.

[14] Carlyle had been influenced by the German Romanticist thought of
Herder and Goethe. In trying to synthesize what Kant had described as
the noumena and phenomena, Johan Gottfried von Herder (1744-1803) had
promoted the ". . . veneration of the body as being natural, beautiful
manifestation of life and vitality, a vehicle through which, by means
of gesture, the soul could speak" (Bloomfield: 180). Hence, it is
possible to trace certain elements of German Romanticism in the
thought of Kingsley. Haley proposes that Kingsley's notion of the
muscular Christian or "healthy hero" was primarily based upon three of
Carlyle's ideas: the body is an expression of the spirit and therefore
the obedience to healthy impulse is a sign of constitutional harmony;
the state of health is acknowledgment of the laws of nature and
compliance with these laws; and heroism is a life of action made
possible by observing the laws of health (111-12). In light of this,
neither Kingsley, Maurice, or Hughes accepted the entire "vague
theistic gospel" of Carlyle, but nevertheless it had a significant
impact upon their work. Primarily, it was the ". . . angry Old
Testament rhetoric of Carlyle's social criticism," which was a ". . .
brutally direct stimulus to social action and intervention" that most
significantly influenced the Christian socialist theology of Maurice
and his associates (Vance: 59).

[15] In Alderson's analysis of Christian manliness in Kingsley's novel
Alton Locke (1850), he contends that "the imperatives of a
counter-revolutionary and Protestant culture . . . enabled the
Kingsleyan sense of the ideal male body to become so central to the
masculine self-definition of Britain's rulers" (43-44). In addition to
the fears within the Protestant elite of the feminization of the
Victorian Church, the rise of evolutionary theory and in the late
nineteenth century Freudian and Jungian psychologies also helped
strengthen Kingsley's notion of masculinity (Rosen). The doctrine of
masculinity has been absorbed into the "deep structure" of society and
continues to have a pervasive influence in athletics, religion, and
men's movements within modern Anglo-American culture. For example,
twentieth century men's movements that "seek to rid men of the
problems of pre-sixties' macho and post-sixties' sensitivities" owe
much to Kingsley (Rosen: 39-40). And in relation to sports
participation, Harris proposes that ". . . the muscular novel
according to Kingsley and Hughes contributed to the immense vogue of
athletics from the late sixties onwards" (11).

[16] In light of the widespread and prolonged influence of Kingsley's
notion of the muscular Christian, there were notable Victorian and
post-Victorian writers, such as Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) and
E.M. Forster (1879-1970), who strongly disagreed with Kingsley's ideas
(Putney). Forster suggested that those educated within the movement
ended up with "well-developed bodies . . . and underdeveloped hearts"
(5). Likewise, in a contemporary analysis of values, sport, and
education, Grace suggests, "the irony of muscular Christianity is that
it elevated sport more than the Gospels" (17). There were also staunch
criticisms from a number of leading professors within American
academia, especially before 1880. A major reason for this was the
American Civil War. Soldiers hardly needed to prove their manliness on
a playing field after demonstrating it on the battlefield and thus
often derided the concept of Muscular Christianity (Putney).

[17] One of the key figures in the Oxford Movement, Catholic
theologian John Henry Newman (1801-1890), had also publicly voiced his
criticisms of Kingsley's philosophy. In his novel Westward Ho! (1855),
Kingsley attacked the Catholic Church, and specifically its asceticism
and condemnation of the flesh, and judged what he called "Mariolatry"
as a major reason for the feminization of Victorian culture
(Schiefelbein). According to Schiefelbein, this points out that
Kingsley himself had been prone to confusion between his ascetic
impulses and his sexual desires. The result was the most unfortunate
(for Kingsley!) and infamous Kingsley-Newman controversy, which
centred on a disagreement over the anthropological nature of man.
Kingsley promoted a vision of the "divineness of the whole manhood," a
synthesis of mind and body, and an education wherein ". . . one did
not need to attend a university to form a manly character" (Haley:
119). While Newman agreed with Kingsley's understanding of the
wholeness of man, he rejected his anti-intellectualism and emphasis on
the corporeal dimension within the Christian life. In agreement with
Newman, Fasick has argued against Kingsley's "hyper-masculinity"
commenting, "despite his homage to gentleness and patience, Kingsley's
real attraction is apparently to the displays of power and aggression
with which he adorns his novels" (109). Haley notes that Newman
adopted a more sophisticated approach arguing, "the man of philosophic
habit has `illumination,' not an inborn, infallible guide to conduct,"
which in turn differentiated between manliness and what Newman called
gentlemanliness (Haley: 118). Kingsley had frequently criticized a
number of High Anglican and Catholic clergy, but when he personally
attacked Newman, Newman was quick to respond producing Apologia Pro
Vita Sua (1864), a rigorous defense of Catholicism. In the eyes of the
intelligentsia, this won Newman the debate, much to Kingsley's
embarrassment (Putney).

The Fruits of Muscular Christianity: Socio-Cultural Developments in
Victorian Britain

[18] Following the rise of Chartism and Christian Socialism, and
shifting theological perspectives during the mid-Victorian period, a
significant number of the Protestant elite, especially Kingsley and
Hughes, advocated the use of sports and exercise to promote the
harmonious development of mind, body, and spirit (Hall, 1994).
Mathisen identified four models of Muscular Christianity that had
developed from the ideas of Hughes and Kingsley by the end of the
nineteenth century. These are the classical model, evangelical model,
the YMCA model, and the Olympic model. The promulgation of sport and
physical pursuits in English Public Schools such as Rugby, Eton, and
Uppingham, was arguably the most significant socio-cultural
development to evolve from "classical" Muscular Christianity.

[19] During the late 1850s, the tenets of Muscular Christianity became
an integral part of the public school educational system. The primary
reason was to encourage Christian morality and help develop the
character of the future captains of industry and political leaders,
and in turn strengthen the British Empire (Wilkinson). Edward Thring
(1821-1887), headmaster of Uppingham between 1853-1857, sums this up
when he states, "the whole efforts of a school ought to be directed to
making boys, manly, earnest and true" (Rawnsley: 12). The main impetus
for the integration of the muscular Christian ethic into Public
Schools was Thomas Hughes' book[2]<2> Tom Brown's School Days (1857),
a story of a boy whose character was shaped playing sport at Rugby
School. Hughes had been heavily influenced by Rev. Dr. Thomas Arnold,
his headmaster at Rugby during the 1830s, who instilled in him ". . .
a strong religious faith and loyalty to Christ" (Brown: x). Although,
it is Arnold that is most frequently cited in the literature as the
driving force behind sports in public schools, the Rev. George Cotton
had masterminded the sports program at Rugby School under Arnold.
Cotton was perhaps the prototype of what Mangan called "a novel kind
of school master - the athletic pedagogue" (23).

[20] The Muscular Christianity movement within public schools relied
heavily upon the notion of Kingsleyan manliness. The sport of rugby
was particularly popular as it gave plenty of opportunity to "take
hard knocks without malice" (Mason 1981), a desirable trait in
possible future leaders of industry and the military. Rugby, Dobbs
suggests, was almost the perfect game for the promotion of Muscular
Christianity, and if it had not already existed leaders of the
movement would have invented it:

If the Muscular Christians and their disciples in the public schools,
given sufficient wit, had been asked to invent a game that exhausted
boys before they could fall victims to vice and idleness, which at the
same time instilled the manly virtues of absorbing and inflicting pain
in about equal proportions, which elevated the team above the
individual, which bred courage, loyalty and discipline, which as yet
had no taint of professionalism and which, as an added bonus, occupied
30 boys at a time instead of a mere twenty-two, it is probably
something like rugby that they would have devised (89).

[21] Dobbs' reference to rugby as an activity that would distract boys
from vice and idleness was closely associated to the two
unmentionables of the Victorian period: masturbation and homosexuality
(Dobre-Laza). It was hoped that "games and religious worship . . ."
would ". . . offer the Muscular Christian substitute gratifications
for sexual desire . . ." which may otherwise be expressed in the
perceived vice of masturbation (Harrington: 50). Homosexuality was
also a major concern of public school masters. Holt has commented that
". . . at precisely the moment when the new norms of maleness were
coming into force, the incarnation of the opposite of `manliness' was
defined in the form of homosexuality, which for the first time was
generally designated a crime in 1885" (90). Thus, Kingsleyan
masculinity acted as the antithesis of homosexuality and aesthetics
during the Victorian age (Dobre-Laza).[3]<3>

[22] A number of modern sports historians are skeptical about the
motivations behind the original muscular Christians and the
implementation of these ideas in nineteenth century public schools.
For example, Baker (2000) argues that the ideologies behind the
promotion of sport in Victorian Schools were primarily related to
class, the Protestant work ethic, and the idea of manliness that was
pedaled as an antidote to the feminization of the Church. As Grace has
argued, Baker presents a purely functionalist thesis, which has some
merit but is a rather narrow and simplistic analysis of a movement
that has offered much to our understanding of sport and Christian
values. In summary, the birth of Muscular Christianity in nineteenth
century public schools has been one of the most significant factors in
the development of sport and physical training in our modern
educational systems (Mechikoff and Estes).

[23] A form of Muscular Christianity was also adopted as an
evangelical tool by a number of individuals and groups during the
Victorian period. C.T. Studd (1860-1931), a world-renowned cricketer
and leader of the so called Cambridge Seven, and the American lay
evangelist Dwight L. Moody (1837-1899), both recognized the
compatibility of sport and Christianity. However, their philosophy was
not directly in line with "classical" Kingsleyan Muscular
Christianity, which was largely a liberal and high Church phenomenon.
As evangelicals, they emphasized that sport, although a valid
recreational activity, was unimportant compared to gospel ministry.
The story of Scotsman Eric Liddell, Olympic athlete, international
rugby player, and Christian missionary in the early 1920s, powerfully
depicted in the Academy award winning film Chariots of Fire (1981),
closely resonates with the type of Muscular Christianity advocated by
Studd and Moody. Liddell's decision not to race on a Sunday, due to
his Christian faith (Exodus 20: 8), so missing the 100 meter final of
the 1924 Olympics and his decision to give up a distinguished
athletics career to become a missionary in China (Liddell),
demonstrates many of the virtues of the muscular Christian ethic.
Vance highlights that Liddell was a popular speaker at evangelical
rallies and in universities where students were keen to listen to the
testimony and ideas of the "flying Scotsman," and that Liddell has
"carried the neo-evangelical version of what was essentially Victorian
Christian manliness into the middle of the twentieth century" (172).

[24] Muscular Christianity also influenced the founding of the British
Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) in London in 1844 by George
Williams. However, at its inception the YMCA emphasized ". . .
bible-study, prayer and education" and had frowned upon sport and
athletic activities as an unwanted distraction from evangelism. But
they found it increasingly difficult to retain members due to
competition with these secular attractions (Vance: 168). Over the next
twenty to thirty years more liberal views crept into the philosophy of
the YMCA, which had previously been characterized by evangelical
piety. Towards the end of the nineteenth century Kingsleyan manliness
became a pervasive theme in evangelical literature and rhetoric, and
the concept of Muscular Christianity was thoroughly institutionalized
into Victorian culture and the YMCA (Rosen). The result was the
proliferation of gymnasia and health and fitness programs within the
YMCA on both sides of the Atlantic.[4]<4>

[25] The main impetus for the founding of the YMCA in Britain had been
the unhealthy social conditions arising from the industrial
revolution. Young men, who had previously worked in a rural setting,
worked ten to twelve hours a day, six days a week, in factories with
generally appalling conditions. Shortly after the founding of the YMCA
in Britain, a number of American Protestant ministers from various
denominations, along with Captain Thomas Sullivan, formed a YMCA in
Boston in 1851. This was based upon the British model and in time led
to the development of the YMCA in numerous major American cities. Two
hundred and five were established across the states by 1860 (Putney).
The lay evangelists Dwight L. Moody and John Mott (1865-1955) were
heavily involved with the American YMCA during the latter half of the
nineteenth century. Many young men were sent abroad as missionary-like
YMCA secretaries and war workers. This was a major dimension of the
significant missionary outreach by Christian Churches around the turn
of the century (YMCA).

[26] In terms of promoting Muscular Christianity, Dr Luther H. Gulick
(1865-1918), an instructor in the YMCA Training School in Springfield,
MA, was perhaps the most influential figure within the YMCA (Putney).
Gulick created the distinctive triangular emblem of the YMCA that
conceptualized fitness as an integration of mind, body and spirit, and
in turn emphasized their muscular Christian ethos. Putney suggests
that Gulick campaigned to ". . . Christianize the gym" (Putney: 71)
and in turn reinforced the growing relationship between sport and
Christianity. The founding of the Boys' Brigade by Sir William
Alexander Smith (1854-1914) in Glasgow in 1883 further strengthened
the synthesis of sport and Christianity during the Victorian era.
Sport and other activities were used in addition to drills as a means
of building Christian manly character. Smith identified the use of
outdoor adventure in building character and manliness, and was
intrigued by the scouting methods used by soldiers in the Boer war.
This led to Smith asking Sir S.S. Baden Powell (1857-1941), a hero of
the war, to re-write his Aids to Scouting for the Boys Brigade.
Eventually, this resulted in the publication of Scouting for Boys
(1907) and the formation of the Boy Scouts in Britain in 1897, an
independent organization, which unlike the Boys Brigade evolved into a
mainly secular organization (Vance). The Americans soon followed suit
with a number of YMCA staff members playing a key role in establishing
the Boy Scouts of America in 1910 (YMCA).

[27] Commenting on the significance of the YMCA and the movement of
Muscular Christianity in which it is embedded, the prominent American
psychologist G. Stanley Hall stated with great insight that "among all
the marvelous advances of Christianity either within this organization
[the YMCA] or without it . . . the future historian of the Church will
place this movement of carrying the gospel to the body as one of the
most epoch making" (377). Over the last one hundred and fifty years
the YMCA has evolved into a worldwide organization and respected
Christian institution that has made a significant contribution to the
promotion of sport and physical training in a Christian context.

[28] The development of the Modern Olympic Games in 1896 by Baron
Pierre de Coubertin (1863-1937) also had strong links with the
ideology of Muscular Christianity. Notably, early in his life de
Coubertin had contemplated entering the priesthood, having been
brought up in the Roman Catholic tradition and attending a Jesuit
school. However, he could not accept the dogma of the Church and
advocated what has been termed "the religion of humanity"[5]<5> (Baker
2001: 15). Nevertheless, "Coubertin wrote in his memoirs that for him
`. . . sport is religion with Church, dogma, cult . . . but especially
with religious feeling', thus Coubertin . . . clearly had a religious
understanding of Olympism" (Kortzfleisch: 231-36). Widund has also
noted the similarities between de Coubertin's understanding of the
Olympic ethos and St. Paul's writings, which encourage us to run the
"good race" (1 Corinthians 9:24-25). Addressing the members of the
International Olympic Committee at a banquet in London, de Coubertin
said "the importance of these Olympiads is not so much to win as to
take part . . . The important thing in life is not the triumph but the
struggle. The essential thing is not to have won but to have fought
well" (Widund: 11). This became the core message of the modern Olympic
movement and was borne in part from de Coubertin's engagement with the
Muscular Christian ideal.

[29] After reading a French translation of Thomas Hughes' Tom Brown's
Schooldays and consequently visiting Rugby School, de Coubertin saw
the athletic traditions of the English public schools system as a
vehicle for rebuilding the character of France after the
Franco-Prussian war (Vance) and as a perfect model for the rebirth of
the Ancient Olympics (776 B.C.). In his own words, the philosophy of
the games was "to unite ancient spirit and modern form" (Lammer: 107).
He viewed the sports arena as ". . . a laboratory for manliness . . .
an incomparable pedagogical tool . . . and it was all the invention of
the Reverend Thomas Arnold. The Rugby School experiment, he said
[inaccurately!], gave birth to `muscular Christianity' . . . a Greek
formula perfected by Anglo-Saxon Civilization" (cited in Lucas: 51).
In his Pedagogie Sportive (1934) de Coubertin credits Kingsley and
Arnold as totally altering the direction and definition of
non-professional sport (Lucas). This is certainly true and our next
task is to briefly outline how Muscular Christianity has impacted upon
the modern world where ". . . the invocation of God and Christ in the
world of sports has reached epidemic proportions" (Crepeau: 2).

The Legacy of Muscular Christianity in the Modern World

[30] Sport in the modern world has become what Pope John Paul II
states is a ". . . paradigm of mass psychology" that permeates all
levels of contemporary society (in Feeney: 80). The Pope himself
enjoyed swimming, skiing, and mountain climbing during his younger
years, and is a strong advocate of the philosophy of Muscular
Christianity (Feeney). In an address to the National Olympic Committee
in Rome in 1979 he commented, "the Church has always been interested
in . . . sport, because she prizes everything that contributes
constructively to the harmonious and complete development of man, body
and soul" (in Feeney: 60). Just prior to the 2004 Athens Olympics, the
Vatican recognized the importance of promoting ethics in sports and
formed an office for "Church and Sport" within the pontifical Council
for the laity. The Council's statement states that the new office will
strive to foster "a culture of sport" that is "an instrument of peace
and brotherhood among peoples" (Glatz: 12).

[31] In line with this, many Catholic colleges and universities, such
as the University of Notre Dame, have emphasized the importance of a
holistic education that includes sport and athletic activities.
Notably, Lawrence Dallaglio, the English rugby union ex-captain who is
often venerated for his leadership qualities and who epitomizes
"manliness," is a former pupil of Ampleforth College, an English
Catholic boarding school. Following the tradition of the nineteenth
century public schools, the college is renowned for its sporting
prowess, especially its twelve rugby teams. Their mission statement is
imbued with the ideals of Victorian Muscular Christianity:

To share with parents in the spiritual, moral and intellectual
formation of their children . . . to work for excellence in all our
endeavours, academic, sporting and cultural . . . to help Ampleforth
boys and girls grow up mature and honourable, inspired by high ideals
and capable of leadership, so that they may serve others generously.

[32] The use of sports and outdoor pursuits as a method of instilling
character in leaders has not been restricted to academic institutions.
A Devon based Bible College, the Riverside Christian Centre, has
recently incorporated "extreme sports" into its curriculum. Sports
such as rafting, potholing, abseiling, white-water canoeing and
surfing are used as ". . . part of the development of Christian
leaders of the future" (Saunders 2003a). This is further evidence of
the resurgence of the original muscular Christian ethic adopted by
nineteenth century public school headmasters. In part, this has
contributed to the establishment of academic research centers, such as
The Centre for the Study of Sport and Spirituality at York St. John
College, England. Other institutions have developed sports ministry
centers that offer undergraduate and postgraduate courses in sport and

[33] In the United States, the University of Notre Dame and Neumann
College formed a sports ministry partnership ". . . with the goal of
bringing a faith-based approach to Catholic youth sports programmes in
parishes across the country . . . a renewal of Catholic youth sport
organizations . . . in the 1920s and 1930s" (The Mendelson Centre and
Neumann College). A key part of this venture has been the
establishment of the Centre for Sport, Spirituality and Character
Development at Neumann College and the Mendelson Centre for Sports,
Character and Community at the Notre Dame campus. Dr. Edward Hastings
and Len DiPaul, co-directors of the Centre for Sport Spirituality and
Character Development, have ". . . a vision of sports as an
educational enterprise which promotes the inescapable spiritual and
ethical dimension that exists within athletics." The center offered
one undergraduate and two undergraduate modules, titled Sport and
Spirituality, The Soul of Athletics and The Spiritual, and Moral
Dimensions of Athletics respectively.

[34] Similarly, the British Protestant Evangelical organization
Christians in Sport (CIS) has recently established a one-year course
at All Nations Christian College, called Sports and Intercultural
Leadership Studies, which is validated by the Open University as a
Certificate of Higher Education. Modules offered on the course are
Theology of Sport, Sports Mission, and Sports Leadership. Graham
Daniels, General Director of CIS, suggests the course will allow
graduates to view the world of sport as a mission field. With around
twenty-five million people participating in sport in England during
April 2003, Daniels sees it as imperative not to ". . . take
Christians out of this mission field!" (Saunders 2003b:7).

[35] As sport is a major socializing agent in the western world,
evangelical groups such as CIS, have been quick to pick up the mantle
of the original muscular Christians. Many Protestant evangelical
organizations have been founded in the United States. The Fellowship
of Christian Athletes (FCA), Athletes in Action (AIA), and Pro
Athletes Outreach (PAO) are three of the largest, and are active in
nearly all intercollegiate athletic programs (Crepeau) - an approach
wholeheartedly sponsored by the famed evangelist Billy Graham.
Graham's regular use of famous sports people in his crusades became a
significant mode of evangelical Muscular Christianity from the 1940s
until the 1990s (Ladd and Mathisen). Organizations such as the CIS,
FIA, and others are active worldwide, sending "Sports Ministers" to
third world countries such as Africa, Latin America, and south-east
Asia, to deliver the gospel message.

[36] Literature in this area is limited; however, recent publications
such as Sports Outreach: Principles and Practice for Successful Sports
Ministry (Connor) and Into the Stadium: An Active Guide to Sport
Ministry in the Local Church (Mason 1982) acknowledge a growing
interest. Many well-known sportsmen and women have used their status
and popularity as a means of witnessing for their Christian faith.
Examples are Olympic triple-jump champion Jonathan Edwards, European
golfer Bernhard Langer, and ex-track athlete Kriss Akabusi, who have
all been actively involved with CIS and have published autobiographies
or biographies describing their lives as Christians in elite sport.

[37] Triple jumper, Jonathan Edwards is perhaps the most well known
Christian sports person in Britain and has often been portrayed as a
modern-day Eric Liddell (Folley). As the British trials for the 1988
Seoul Olympics were on a Sunday, Edwards bravely decided to follow in
the footsteps of Liddell and not compete. The media created a furor,
much to Edwards' surprise, but some writers clearly saw virtue in
Edwards' actions:

A religious athlete is a contradiction in terms in our psyched up,
hyped up, drugged up days of sport. Eric Liddell, of Chariots of Fire,
was already an anachronism when he refused to compete on a Sunday in
the Paris Olympic games. But that was 1924 when there were still a few
Christians left in Britain. They have become an endangered species who
surprise the rest of us with their eccentric belief in God and the
soul and other such things you can't buy with a credit card. Jonathan
Edwards might as well be a time traveller, hundreds of Years old,
who's come along in his personal Tardis to shake things up a bit
(cited in Folley: 56-57).

[38] Edwards clearly saw his Christian beliefs as more important than
sport and money, I am sure to the delight of many evangelicals! He
admitted at the time that his decision had not been directly
influenced by the story of Liddell and that he was flattered at the
comparisons that had been made to the great Scot. He had much respect
for Liddell, ". . . an exceptional man . . . who won Olympic gold, but
we remember him as a man of faith . . . He committed himself to serve
God and, though he could have used success by staying in Scotland and
sharing the gospel, he bravely went as a missionary to China" (Folley:
61). Nevertheless, in time Edwards reconsidered and decided to compete
on what he had previously viewed as the one true holy day in the week.
Using Romans 14:15, which states that "one man considers one day more
sacred than the other; another man considers every day alike" he
argued that modern-day Christians are not under any requirement to
observe the Old Testament law of the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8). This
decision provoked a mixed response from family, friends, media, and
the sporting world.

[39] Aside from the question of competing on Sunday, there is no doubt
that Edwards has had a tremendously positive influence on the world of
sport and wider culture. Having recently retired from professional
athletics, Edwards continues to use the platform his fame and
popularity have provided to promote the gospel if not always through
explicit evangelism. Like Liddell, he has often spoken at evangelical
conferences, and on Easter Sunday 2003 presented the well-known BBC
program Songs of Praise. Recently, Edwards has also become a member of
a board that oversees standards of taste and decency on television and
radio (Buckeridge). To a much lesser degree, this is reminiscent of
the work of Kingsley and Hughes, who also strove to reinforce
Christian ideals and implement social reform within Victorian culture.

[40] Through the example of his life in sport and beyond, Edwards and
other Christian athletes provide a welcome response to the ". . .
egotism, cynicism, nihilism . . . obsessive focus on money, and win at
all costs mentality" (Spencer: 143) that is so pervasive in modern
sport. Paradoxically, recent scandals surrounding athletes at the
explicitly Christian Baylor University, ". . . who have been pursuing
a very public quest to become America's Protestant Notre Dame"
(Armstrong: 1), emphasize the disparity between the muscular Christian
ideal and today's dominant sports ethic, especially in the United
States. Revelations of under-the-table scholarships and drug use have
caused much embarrassment. In America it is common place for ". . .
coaches and players to make the sign of the cross and spew references
to their faiths during post-game jubilation . . . and from their
celebrity pulpits . . . encourage their followers to subscribe to
their faiths" (Elliott: 1-2). However, it is legitimate to ask how
much of this outward witness is demonstrated in athletes' personal
lives. Although a high percentage of Americans assert a belief in God,
this is not reflected in ". . . ethical conduct inasmuch as many sense
that the nation is in moral discord" (Spencer: 145). Writing in
Christianity Today, Armstrong suggests a need for a twenty-first
century Thomas Arnold to resurrect the genuine Muscular Christian
message in American sport and education:

. . . the darker side of the "athletic ethic" [in the United States] .
. . has little to do with an excess of evangelistic zeal, and
everything to do with the usual muck of life in a country too rich and
self-indulgent for its own good. Perhaps the memory of the original
ideals will spark some modern reformer to usher school athletics, as a
prodigal son, back to the father (4).

[41] The decline in ethical and moral standards within professional
sport has predictably been absorbed into the Olympic Games. Modern day
Olympics have been polluted with drug-taking, political boycotts and
cheating. Volkwein attributes this primarily to professionalization
and commercialization of top-level sport, which has distorted the
notion of fair play and the true spirit of sport advocated by de
Coubertin at the end of the nineteenth century. Following the rising
tide of world terrorism, fuelled by religious fundamentalism, there
were serious concerns raised over the safety of athletes and
spectators at the 2004 Olympics in Athens (e.g., Bone and McGrory).
Fortunately, no such terrorist atrocities occurred. Predictably, there
were a number of high profile drug scandals that tainted the games.
Embarrassingly for the hosts, it was the controversy surrounding the
Greek sprinters, Kostas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou, which received
the most media attention (e.g., Bose). Despite these depressing facts,
the bond between Christianity and the modern Olympics has certainly
not been severed. The Olympic Charter includes a reference to freedom
of religious worship, which has led the Church and evangelical sports
organizations to recognize the opportunity for witness and service at
major sporting events (Weir).

[42] Explicit Christian ministry at major sporting events started at
the 1972 Munich Olympics, with chaplains providing an "unofficial"
service to athletes. However, major events ministry did not begin
until 1988, at the summer Olympics in Seoul and the Winter Olympics in
Calgary, Canada. The International Bible Society produced an
evangelistic booklet in the form of a souvenir program for the 1988
games, which proved to be a major success and a significant
development in the history of sports ministry. From this, the use of
"non-crass" evangelical literature was a key strategy at the 2000
Sydney Olympics. Christian publishers also created many other
resources for the 2000 games, such as CDs, websites, and Sports New
Testaments. More than one million Christian sports resources were
distributed during the period leading up to the Sydney games and
perhaps most notably two-hundred and twenty-five thousand Sports New
Testaments were sold. Christian outreach also played a major role with
approximately forty-five denominations and para-Church ministry groups
and seven hundred Churches involved in service and witness across
Australia. A conservative estimate suggests that there were
two-thousand, two-hundred and twenty-five commitments of faith during
the Sydney Olympics (Weir, 2004). Predictably, this success has
resulted in the evolution of sports ministry into a worldwide

[43] It was estimated that sport ministry, in some form, occurred
in-between one-hundred and two-hundred countries throughout the period
of the 2004 Athens Olympics. In Athens, the Church of England's
Greater Athens Chaplaincy and the local Greek Evangelical Church
corroborated to form a group of forty Protestant Chaplains to minister
to Olympic athletes for the games in August and the Paralympics in
September. In addition, many evangelical sport organizations sent
representatives to Athens for the 2004 Olympics. At the 2000 Olympics
in Sydney, AIA sent seventy volunteers ". . . to promote the good will
of sport and help in a variety of ways" (AIA: 1). Unfortunately,
Coffman may be right in suggesting that although the ethic of Muscular
Christianity is still alive in ". . . fit and fresh faced Christians"
who ". . . make the best ambassadors for faith . . . you just won't
hear about it at the Olympics" (3).

Concluding Remarks

[44] The aim of this essay was to examine the historical and
theological development of Muscular Christianity and how this has
impacted upon the relationship between sport and Christianity in the
late twentieth and twenty-first century. It can be argued that
Muscular Christianity and its rebirth in the form of Sports Ministry,
has provided the basis for much of the research and scholarship on
Christianity and sport today. During the last thirty years and
especially in the last decade, there has been a significant increase
in literature exploring the relationship between sport and religion
(Novak 1976; Hoffman), the use of Christian prayer in sport (Czech et
al; Kreider), spirituality in sport (Hastings; Götz) and sport
psychology (Watson and Nesti), and the relationship between
Judaeo-Christian ethics and sport (Grace; Spencer; Stevenson).
Hopefully, this will provide a much needed corrective to the negative
influences so pervasive in modern sport.

[45] There is vast potential for research and scholarship on the
relationship between Christianity and sport. Professor Michael Novak,
renowned social theorist and author of the seminal text The Joy of
Sports (1976), recently noted that ". . . research into the multiple
dimensions of sports (religious, psychological, anthropological,
philosophical) continues to go deeper . . . sports have an
intellectual and moral depth that has been too neglected in academic
life" (Novak 2003). The revitalization of the Muscular Christian ethic
could be a useful means of combating the obesity pandemic that has
engulfed the Western world. Alongside the promotion of sport and
exercise, the Christian doctrine of gluttony could be used as a valid
method, amongst others, in combating this growing health and social
problem. Other areas that are worthy of further investigation include:
the effectiveness of sports ministry and evangelism in the modern
world; the ethical, sociological and political issues that may
surround sports evangelism; the use of sports and outdoor activities
in modern educational systems and in training Christian ministers and
youth workers; and the spiritual and religious dimensions of the
Olympic movement.

Acknowledgement: The authors would like to express their gratitude to
Ms. Kate Hutchings for her invaluable help with proof-reading.



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