The Cult of the Body

Michelle Malkin has posted an amusing article at National Review Online about the differing media responses to the physical fitness regimens of George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

“On Christmas Day, the Washington Post delivered a front-page paean to Barack Obama’s workout habits,” Malkin notes in her post, which is called “Buff Bam vs. Weird Dubya.”

According to Malkin, “The 1,233-word ode to O’s physical fitness read more like a Harlequin romance novel than an A-1 news article.”

Contrastingly, Bush’s own devotion to working out has generated much media derision during his presidency.

Writes Malkin, “Former Washington Post writer Jonathan Chait famously attacked Bush three years ago in an opinion piece for the Los Angeles Times headlined ‘The (over)exercise of power.’ Recounting how President Bush ran 3.5 miles a day and preached more cross-training to a federal judge, Chait fumed, ‘Am I the only person who finds this disturbing? ... What I mean is the fact that Bush has an obsession with exercise that borders on the creepy.’

“Chait argued that Bush’s passionate devotion to exercise was a dereliction of duty. ‘Does the leader of the free world need to attain that level of physical achievement?’ he jeered. ‘It’s nice for Bush that he can take an hour or two out of every day to run, bike or pump iron. Unfortunately, most of us have more demanding jobs than he does.’”

Asks Malkin, “Can you imagine any member of the Obamedia mocking the incoming gym rat-in-chief this way?”

The Daily Blog certainly isn’t part of the “Obamedia,” but we won’t be mocking either Bush or Obama for seeking to stay in shape.

But as many Catholics prepare to head to the gym to implement New Year’s resolutions to mend their slothful ways, they might find it useful to make reference to the Church’s position on the matter of keeping physically fit.

“Life and physical health are precious gifts entrusted to us by God,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church states. “We must take reasonable care of them, taking into account the needs of others and the common good” (No. 2288).

In other words, by all means get into better shape if you need to, but don’t make a cult out of your own body and neglect the needs of others in the process.

Or, as the Catechism puts it, “If morality requires respect for the life of the body, it does not make it an absolute value. It rejects a neo-pagan notion that tends to promote the cult of the body, to sacrifice everything for its sake, to idolize physical perfection and success at sports. By its selective preference of the strong over the weak, such a conception can lead to the perversion of human relationships” (No. 2289).

— Tom McFeely