Converting the Savages

Ok. Just kidding. I didn’t think non-Christians were savages. Well, maybe some, but none that I knew personally. But I did really hope I could convert some people to Christianity. That was the point, after all. Unless Christianity is really more about you, which may be the most popular version, it is about bringing more people into the tradition. It might be explained differently. “It all about loving your neighbor”…so that they convert. Or “It’s about showing them Jesus”…so that they convert. Or “It’s about meeting someone’s needs” so they appreciate it and inquire after it and see the love that you have and ask where it came from…so that they convert. And why should they convert? Well, I noted the personal benefits yesterday, but once those are gained (eternity, happiness), they convert so they can convert others. It is what Jesus commanded in the Great Commission, and once completed, the end of history will be ushered in, something like in the book of Revelation (and I read Left Behind—we’re all dispensational premillennialists when the Rapture comes, right?). It’s not laid out this explicitly, but it’s the evangelical Gospel mandate. “Make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19).

There is a logic to this disciple-making. Most of us have had the experience of being amped up on something and wanting to tell everyone about it. I was like that with Crossfit when I first started a little over two years ago. I didn’t exactly tell everyone about it, but when someone asked, I gave them the whole spiel. And when someone asked, it was usually because they noticed that I looked different, so they already knew it was effective, at least for me. I told them how it reduces you to a sweaty pile gasping for air after twenty minutes of exertion because you punctuated five rounds of thirty pullups that left your hands torn from gripping the bar too tightly with 400 meter sprints. Or something like that. It wasn’t much of a sales pitch.

It’s not saying much to say that Crossfit is a lot like church in some ways, since it highlights the commonalities of many lasting institutions. With that said, I particularly enjoyed this comparison between church and Crossfit when I found it a few months ago. My favorite point of comparison: “We spot each other on the heavy stuff.” Turns out there are many people jumping on the comparo-bandwagon. Just google it. If I wanted to milk the analogy for all its worth, I would say that Crossfit started as a bunch of back-to-basics fundamentalists, but then their message got popular and now they’re liberal evangelicals who want to save everybody. The fundamentalists are complaining because they’ve watered down the message, but more people are hearing it. People are really upset about it, but it seems to me just part of the institutional cycle.

Back to my point. As time went on, I was still into it, but I didn’t feel the same urge to evangelize. It became part of my routine, and it’s still a good part. Now it’s just like my morning coffee instead of the best steak I ever had. As Freud said, “You can only have a hard-on for something for so long.” Ok…that’s actually a paraphrase. He said, “What we call happiness in the strictest sense comes from the (preferably sudden) satisfaction of needs…and it is from its nature only possible as an episodic phenomenon. When any situation that is desired by the pleasure principle is prolonged, it only produces a feeling of mild contentment.” It’s like that overwhelming, all-consuming feeling of passion you feel for someone at an early stage in the relationship that, if managed correctly, can become a lifetime of satisfaction. Much time is spent trying to rekindle initial fervor, but a cycle of recurrent satiation can be just as powerful—just not as sexy.

I was always impressed by talking to new Christians, because whatever they didn’t actually know about history or dogma they made up for with verve. They were on fire…and I was comparatively the wet blanket. I thought, “Wait till they’ve been in it a while, like I have. Then they’ll settle down.” Some don’t. Some go until they crash, which is in a particular way quite admirable. But most do. They settle down, surrounding themselves with people like them so the rent is low. I did it for years, and only stumbled outside on accident. I’d converted when I was eight or so and had been in a Christian household before then, so I had no frame of reference. I remember thinking when I was a kid hearing some crazy story at a youth camp about turning from sex, drugs, and alcohol to Jesus how I wished I could have had that story too. Not quite enough to try it, but a little bit.

What I noted yesterday about institutions was that they are self-contained, and that to sustain themselves, the benefits must roughly equate with the costs. High costs indicate better benefits, and lower costs lower ones. For the institution, the revenue is about the same. Today I added detail on the other method of self-perpetuation and growth: conversion. A steady stream of converts ensures that the inflow will more than offset the outflow. What increasingly bothered me, and what must bother some others, is that even when costs are low, the rules don’t officially change. In other words, although no one was really going to judge me based on my conversion rate, the written expectations were that you were to try and convert. I knew the rules were there, and it bothered me.

One of the things that gets discussed in Crossfit is ROM (range-of-motion). Since we measure everything in order to chart improvement, a standardized range-of-motion is key. Coaches will remind you of maintaining that full range at first, but as time goes on, you’re increasingly called to police yourself. No one is going to kick you out for cheating the motion. But you know. I tell myself that even those who don’t think they know, know.

In the next couple days, I’ll talk about my one conversion and a theoretical problem with the mandate to share the Gospel, one that has occupied my mind post-Christianity.

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