Does Lance Armstrong represent a modern day cultural religion?

Infamous cycling champion and high profile cancer survivor Lance Armstrong is a self-professed atheist.  Raised by his church deacon step-father, a violent and overbearing man, Armstrong rejected conventional religion in his early life. Yet throughout much of his suffering and cycling career, Armstrong has openly worn a silver cross. New research in the  Journal of Contemporary Religion  explores his journey through defeating cancer, sporting triumph and drugs scandal, and asks must spirituality go hand-in hand with religion? Lance Armstrong believes not.

The cross: an icon synonymous with religious faith, though not always. Goths and punks wear them as fashion statements and Armstrong wears his to cross boundaries between religious and secular realms to express his own version of spirituality. Despite his scepticism, his autobiographies reveal a fascination for religious imagery and make reference to salvation, God, angels and heaven. Armstrong himself openly acknowledges his contradictions, attributing them to his ‘survivorship’ and ‘spirituality of suffering’. Having faced death, he did not pray but ‘hoped hard’, and began earnest activism for ‘comrades in chemo’, via his foundation which yielded huge financial and medical care to cancer sufferers worldwide. His personal suffering and altruism led to an epiphany and a state of non-religious spirituality. He quotes “I do believe, just not necessarily the same way they do. I’m a spiritual person who lacks a vocabulary for it”.

Armstrong’s cross was a present from his mother, who also gave one to his friend and fellow cancer sufferer. They pledged to wear them as a bond between them and when his friend died, he constantly wore his as promised. So here stands Armstrong, a professed believer in all things solely material, physical and scientific, but also the purveyor of a powerful religious icon. To make sense of this atheist/spiritual paradox, should we accept that in contemporary culture religion is not always religious in the sacred sense? Instead we are seeing a ‘cultural religion’ where the secular and religious collide to form a new postmodern spirituality. 

The question that begs to be asked of Lance Armstrong now, of course, is how his spiritual beliefs can help him in returning from his doping cheat shame. Many will believe he has to pedal harder now to reach ‘the God of mercy and compassion’ traditionally symbolised by the cross he chooses to wear.

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* Read the full article online: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13537903.2015.986981

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About Taylor & Francis Group

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Taylor & Francis Group partners with researchers, scholarly societies, universities and libraries worldwide to bring knowledge to life.  As one of the world’s leading publishers of scholarly journals, books, ebooks and reference works our content spans all areas of Humanities, Social Sciences, Behavioural Sciences, Science, and Technology and Medicine.

From our network of offices in Oxford, New York, Philadelphia, Boca Raton, Boston, Melbourne, Singapore, Beijing, Tokyo, Stockholm, New Delhi and Johannesburg, Taylor & Francis staff provide local expertise and support to our editors, societies and authors and tailored, efficient customer service to our library colleagues.

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Taylor & Francis Group partners with researchers, scholarly societies, universities and libraries worldwide to bring knowledge to life. As one of the world’s leading publishers of scholarly journals, books, ebooks and reference works our content spans all areas of Humanities, Social Sciences, Behavioral Sciences, Science, and Technology and Medicine. From our network of offices in Oxford, New York, Philadelphia, Boca Raton, Boston, Melbourne, Singapore, Beijing, Tokyo, Stockholm, New Delhi and Johannesburg, Taylor & Francis staff provide local expertise and support to our editors, societies and authors and tailored, efficient customer service to our library colleagues.

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