A Runner’s Orthodoxy - A Post-Mystical Alternative to Established Religion (Proposal)
I’m working on a rough thesis, here, with only the most preliminary of research behind it. At this point it’s mostly observational and reflective on my own experience with running and losing my faith. Eventually I’d like to expand it with research and anecdotes from fellow skeptics and athletes.
I don’t like the phrase “losing my faith.” It has a far too theistic of a slant, and far too negative a connotation. It implies a greater loss, rather than a greater gain. If anything, the experience has left me a more reflective individual, more spiritual, though less reliant on non verifiable desire-based experiences. That story though, my journey from faith to skepticism is not the story here. Suffice it to say that it happened on a run while listening to Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion, an imperfect text though one that offers a healthy challenge.
What I’m working on here is an alternative to mystical, and oppressively dogmatic theologies. A belief structure based on a celebration of the evolutionary trait that made us superior to other species, regardless of other shortcomings. A belief structure built on the spiritual euphoria endurance. A religion whose only exclusion is laziness.
Athleticism as a pseudo religion is very well-documented. Jeffrey Fry paints a beautiful picture of running as faith in his essay “Running Religiously” in the book Running and Philosophy: A Marathon for the Mind, a book I would highly recommend, and will probably be drawing from heavily when I do get around to writing. For any runner, trying to explain the need for running, that daily rededication of faith in 3, 5, 10 miles, to a non runner is akin to the experience of an evangelical trying to sell their faith to a hardened skeptic. The worshipful state of the runner’s high is something that has to be experienced to be believed. That gilded edge it gives to the world is diminished in its explanation. The flagellation of knees and shins and feet to the nonbeliever is an unexplainable torture.
Running too, has been posited and well documented as the evolutionary leg up that humans had on competing species. A google search of “distance running evolution” turns up nearly 3 million results (most probably crap) on human endurance being the key to our early evolutionary success. I propose then that running now, and distance running especially is a celebration much akin to worshipping a creator deity. An acknowledgment of our origins and prowess, and an affirmation of our dedication to continuing the process.
Some of my initial resources will be Michael Shermer’s The Believer’s Brain, a book that provides (at least in its earlier parts) an interesting examination of the neurochemistry and psychology of belief and building belief, and worship (later on he gets a little dogmatic and contradictory in his drum beating of libertarianism). Particularly his discussion on the “sensed-presence effect” I think might provide a certain scalable discussion on the experience of “god” many religious runners profess. Also I’m working with Dan Dennett’s explanation of the memetic evolution of religion as a sort of linear ancestor to running as faith. His book Breaking The Spell I think should provide a healthy amount of information there.
The celebration that is running, and the physical and psychological effects of it I think provide a healthy base from which one can build a systematic philosophy on life. I hope to be able to build an orthodoxy that is attainable and desirable that promotes self-reflection and healthy living. A worship of miles and blisters and sore muscles. More to come.