I will never understand marathon runners and triathletes. I run only when chased, and, as Rodney Dangerfield said, when I die, I’m donating my body to science fiction.
But it’s indisputable that the mortification of the flesh in which these skinny people engage can have tremendous benefits. It is an arbitrary passion, but for many, an essential one. I know lots of people for whom their happy existence, productive work, fulfilling family lives, sobriety, and more are arranged around the centerpiece of some kind of exertion that I find appalling. Thank God for it.
Arranging our passions is hard work. For most of us, it is the work of a lifetime. What the philosophers of antiquity called the “chest” was the space between our heads and our guts where we put things in the right places. As modern philosopher C.S. Lewis put it, the deconstructed anomie of our world creates “men without chests”—people unable to arrange their passions. Without belief in powers universal and transcendent and the understanding of natural law that such beliefs demand, how shall we choose our priorities?
All people worship. What Blaise Pascal called the “God-shaped void” in all of us is a demand as potent as hunger and thirst. If we deny that truth, we allow our worship to be haphazard and hidden from ourselves. We pretend that our idols are simply correct, scientific, obvious, and necessary. The reason I crisscross the country continually, always talking, always writing, always exhausted isn’t because I’ve made an idol of my vocational success, but because it’s important … right?