Study Guide

Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt Muscular Christianity

Muscular Christianity

Thee understood what the problems he saw through gendered language. Men, he believed, were naturally strong and moral but under the corrosive influence of modern society, they had become "feminized," losing their natural vigor and morality. (Politically incorrect? Totally. But we're not interested in attacking Thee, just understanding him.) For New York City to go clean, he believed, men needed to rediscover their masculinity.

Thee believed that "muscular Christianity" offered them that chance. Like regular Christians, muscular Christians believed that turning to Jesus Christ offered mankind a path to salvation. But muscular Christians—guys like Dwight Moody and Phillips Brooks—preached that Christ was not just morally pure, but physically fit. Christ didn't just help the poor and preach for a better world. He was a strong, confident man's man, loving work and physical exertion. If mankind wanted to become more like him, they should spend less time worrying about saving their souls and more time worrying about firming up their waistlines.

Thee used his substantial wealth and free time to further the ideals of muscular Christianity. He promoted the YMCA and distributed exercise equipment, donated money to the city's educational and religious institutions, and built a hospital. He even delivered lectures on moral hygiene and manliness at local missions. He didn't stop there though. He tried to put the ideals of muscular Christianity to work in his own life too: he forced his children to exercise, kept them perpetually doing something, and taught them to fight evil and corruption wherever they found it. Thee may have been a part of the Gilded Age elite, but his moral convictions turned him into a very active reformer.blank">Harvard at 18, his classmates found him moralistic and prudish. They could not understand his obsession with religion. He, in turn, found them depraved. They drank, and gambled, and acted in what seemed to him completely selfish ways. T.R. quietly studied his plants and animals and associated only with a couple of other muscular Christian types. He wrote home a lot; he clearly still counted on his father for support. He had few friends, but he didn't mind. With Thee's backing, he felt supremely confident.

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