Crossfit, Brown University censorship, Colin Kaepernick, Chinese human rights violations, and David Foster Wallace

Weekly Review

Cult of Crossfit? In 2012, a Pew study made popular the notion of the “rise of the nones.” Nones are those who claim no religious affiliation. Further inquiry has, though, uncovered that nones still need and seek community, often through affiliation with other groups. One such group: fitness classes. According to Casper ter Kuile, a researcher at Harvard Divinity School, fitness classes provide a sense of physical and emotional well-being, and some of the more intense classes (such as CrossFit and SoulCycle) also offer a sense of community and moral superiority. They affirm a sense of commitment and discipline. He’s written a study on the phenomenon, “How We Gather” (co-authored with Angie Thurston). You can read an interview with him here.

Brown University Caves. Brown University researchers released a study saying that gender dysphoria in teens could be an example of a social contagion. In layman’s terms, the study suggests that teens may say they’re transgender because it’s cool, or because their friends are doing it, or because it generates for them positive attention. Transgender activists reacted to the study, and Brown has pulled a press release announcing the study. Specifically, the paper found evidence “rapid-onset gender dysphoria,” can be a “maladaptive coping mechanism.” Increased internet use also seems to be a contributing factor. Brown originally issued a press release touting the study, but later retracted the release. The journal that published the study, PLUS ONE, has not retracted the study, but did post a statement saying it would “seek further expert assessment on the study’s methodology” even though no concerns with the methodology have been raised – only its conclusions, which are supported by the data.

Nike and Christian Colleges. At least one Christian college – College of the Ozarks – has terminated its relationship with Nike over the Colin Kaepernick controversy. Other Christian colleges, including Liberty University, are considering a similar move. Kaepernick, who refused to stand during the national anthem, is now the face of a new Nike ad campaign. The ad says, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” However, the actions of College of the Ozarks notwithstanding, the move seems to have been a good one for Nike, at least from a marketing point of view. The company has seen a surge in on-line sales, and its stock price has moved upward since its announcement of the campaign. Why? The people boycotting Nike are generally not Nike’s best customers anyway. Pamela Danziger said, “For Nike, the company’s best customer prospects are active, high-earning young people, for who else can or will spend more than $100 for a pair of sneakers,” demographics expert Pamela Danziger wrote for Forbes. Further, 62 percent of Americans ages 18 to 34 think Kaepernick is doing the right thing. That compares to just 33 percent of people 45 and older.

Religion Under Fire. Human Rights Watch has issued a new report saying China still commits significant religious liberty atrocities. The secretive Xinjiang province is attempting to eliminate Uighur Muslims, Kazakhs, and other religious and ethnic minorities. The province says it is attempting to “cure ideological diseases.” According to the Human Rights Watch report, the state is using “high-tech mass surveillance systems. Xinjiang authorities conduct compulsory mass collection of biometric data, such as voice samples and DNA, and use artificial intelligence and big data to identify, profile, and track everyone in Xinjiang. The authorities have envisioned these systems as a series of ‘filters,’ picking out people with certain behavior or characteristics that they believe indicate a threat to the Communist Party’s rule in Xinjiang.”

Milestones. Novelist David Foster Wallace died 10 years ago this week, on Sept. 12, 2008. To hear his remarkable commencement address at Kenyon College, “This is Water,” click here, and to read my recent article about his life and influence, click here. Robert Penn Warren died this week in 1989 (Sept. 15). His novel All The King’s Men is widely considered the best political novel ever written. His long poem “Brother To Dragons,” is one of the most profound reflections on the nature of humanity, including the impact of original sin, written in the 20th century. And for all you late bloomers out there: he published the final version of the poem when he was 75 years old.


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