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Bodybuilding as “Prayer”: On Instagram, Pastor Messenger’s CrossFit Success

His name is Oskar Arngarden in civilian life, and “crossfitpriest” on social media. This 38-year-old Swedish Lutheran pastor has tens of thousands of followers on Instagram who religiously follow his fitness tips laced with spiritual recommendations.

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A chaplain at Uppsala Hospital, north of Stockholm, this married father of two easily describes himself as a “shy guy”.

But on the social network, he gives himself body and soul to reach out to his digital flock.

France Press agency

“In the Bible, we can read that the body is a temple. I think that partly invites us to ask ourselves this question: How do we take care of this temple?” he told AFP, phone in hand, sweat on his forehead, showing videos of his account.

France Press agency

We see him lifting weights and suffering martyrdom to form his most influential muscles.

“I’m talking about faith, but also a lot of health, (…) not only from a physical point of view, but also from an existential point of view, mental health.”

Launched in 2019, his first Instagram account gained massive popularity. Then Oscar swooned.

“It got out of control,” he recalls. “Within a few months I reached 160,000 subscribers and I am no longer so comfortable.”

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After that, there are still many comments about his physique, his tattoos, confirming his resemblance to Australian actor Chris Hemsworth. He gets depressed and closes his account.

France Press agency

In 2020, he finally resumed his activity on the app with a “clearer idea” of the message he wanted to get across, particularly to his Swedish subscribers, in one of the least religious countries in the world.

“History has held us back,” he analyzes, “where the church is in the center, where people come to church.”

“We must now find ways for the church to reach people and go out to meet them. And where are the people? They are on social media.”

France Press agency

Oskar Arngarden now considers his religious practice to be inseparable from the internet and crossfit.

“There is something spiritual about social networks (…) We can interact with the whole world, get information, understand the world,” he pleads.

“God is a part of every aspect of my life. When I do bodybuilding, it’s in a way an interaction, a prayer for God. That part of me, faith, is always with me, whatever I do. I can’t separate it from the rest.”