The ancient Olympics lasted more than a millennium before they were stopped by—you guessed it—Christians. It’s true: In AD 390, Emperor Theodosius I criticized the games as pagan and banned them.
Ironically or not, faith also played a role in the beginning of the modern Olympics.
One of the theologies undergirding the resurrection of the Olympics was “muscular Christianity,” a philosophy of “developing leaders with moral integrity and grit while also being physically strong,” said Nicholas Watson, a professor of sport and social justice at York St John University in the United Kingdom.
“[Modern Olympics father] Baron de Coubertin’s vision and philosophy for the Olympics came by welding together ideas from the philosophy of the ancient Olympics in Greece and muscular Christianity that was birthed in the UK,” Watson said.
This week on Quick to Listen, Watson joined associate digital media producer Morgan Lee and editor in chief Mark Galli to discuss Western Christian beliefs about exercise in the 19th century, why world peace was a goal sought by the Olympics’ creators, and the countercultural narrative presented by the Special Olympics.