When I was in college way back in the Jurassic, the Campus Crusade for Christ* would bring around a Power Team-like traveling freakshow of bodybuilders** who would rip phone books in half and such for Jesus. It wasn’t particularly effective, ministry-wise — this was early in the Grunge Era, when it was “lame” to be able to bench press anything heavier than a Mother Love Bone CD — but as American history was actually taught back then, I recognized it as a late, weird manifestation of a fun Gilded Age social trend, “muscular Christianity.”
Christianity has always had, for lack of a better term, a pussy problem. Hellenistic thinkers like Celsus derided it as a religion for women and slaves, an opinion that continued at least down to, and found its most virulent expression in, Friedrich Nietzsche. In America, laments that the churches have all been taken over by meddling women are as old as Puritanism, and after the Civil War your Henry Ward Beechers made a good living feminizing popular Christianity (Beecher was very popular with his female congregants, if you get my drift). Nagging busybodies like the Women’s Christian Temperance Union didn’t help.
Worse yet, modern life itself seemed to be sapping young men of their vitality– Gen. Jack D. Ripper’s concerns about our precious bodily fluids were a joke, but late Victorians took things like spermatorrhea very seriously, as part of the widespread degeneration, neurasthenia, and decadence brought about by industrialization. In response, young evangelicals pushed the idea of “muscular Christianity,” emphasizing Jesus’s strong carpenter-y muscles, the scourging of moneylenders from the temple, that kind of thing. Your ideal muscular Christian spent his young manhood working out at the Y, getting pumped up to bring the Gospel and civilization (the two were basically the same) to the wogs somewhere out East of Suez or in darkest Africa, or to the Papist Irish in the benighted slums of New York and London.
And now this. I’ve already said that getting religion is the next logical step for both SJWs and the “neomasculine” movement, and for the same reason — as purely negative philosophies, their neverending quest for external validation leads very quickly to quietism or nihilism. Muscular Christianity splits the difference — one can remain endlessly, obsessively fixated on the external trappings of one’s pwecious widdle self, but without secularism’s crippling self-doubt. And if the “Jesus” part of ‘roiding up for Jesus gets dropped about three sets into your bitchin’ biceps routine, brah, well, at least you’ll be shredded.
*note that even they’ve gone PC, changing their name to “Cru” so as not to offend the sensibilities of folks who behead Christians in sandy lands. And you wonder why nobody listens anymore.
**It may actually have been the Power Team; if so, I personally witnessed a funky footnote to the last great explosion of televangelism — it’s worth a few sentences in my memoirs, anyway.
***yeah, it’s satire, but it’s true.