Gen Z gym bros resurrecting Christianity as religion makes godlike gains on social media – ABC News

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Gen Z gym bros resurrecting Christianity as religion makes godlike gains on social media
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Donning speed dealer sunnies and a T-shirt depicting a muscled Jesus, Hugo Byrnes is a larger-than-life character in his Alice Springs community.
The 19-year-old is the self-described "founding father" of the lift-wear brand Sunday Mass, and represents a growing countercultural movement of generation Z Christian bodybuilders.
"Everyone's like, 'Oh, you gotta be all like, edgy and progressive'," he says.
"We're like, nah, I want to go back."
Mr Byrnes was not raised in a Catholic household; in fact, his father rejected Catholicism at school.
"He went to a Christian boys school in Sydney and was forced into this stuff while he was a teenager listening to metal and didn't really want to take it," he said.
Meanwhile, Mr Byrnes describes his mother as spiritual, someone who keeps rocks and crystals around the house.
But his new-found faith was not inspired by either of his parents.
It all started at high school in Alice Springs, when a few mates started sharing bodybuilding memes they found on social media.
The niche memes would show famous bodybuilders with quotes from the Bible, gradually exposing Mr Byrnes and his friends to Catholic teachings.
"You start paying more attention to it because it's funny, it's cool pictures," he said.
The Catholic imagery proved to be the divine inspiration for his boutique clothing brand, which promotes "gains" with slogans like, "On the seventh day he lifted" and "The Last Supplement".
Not everyone is a fan of Bible puns.
"A couple of people on TikTok have said, 'This is blasphemous, you're going to hell'," he said.
But Mr Byrnes  said it was all done in the spirit of sincere faith.
"I'm not doing it to be blasphemous, it's in good taste," he said..
"I'm showing Jesus's strength and whatnot through muscles."
Mr Byrnes describes the identity of his brand and its consumers as working towards the ideal of the traditional man, as depicted in the Bible.
"For me and my mates, we want to get big so we can, you know, be big and strong because you see all the old stories of the guys carrying cows up hills until they're the size of mountains," he said.
Mr Byrnes's story is emblematic of a more expansive trend explored in the ABC Everyday podcast Schmeitgeist.
Known only by his online alias, God-lover Kyle is the co-creator of the Instagram meme account I Need God In Every Moment Of My Life.
Jump down an internet rabbit hole and subscribe to Schmeitgeist on the ABC listen app.
"Basically, it started as a group chat between four people," he said.
"We would just send each other God stuff, and we thought, 'You know what? This is a huge trend'.
"God is trending."
God-lover Kyle has noticed that Catholicism, and Christianity more generally, are attracting interest from the unlikeliest of places.
He believes the pattern is partly a reaction against the stigma toward religion in older generations, with gen Z now able to customise their belief systems in online spaces.
"For people who identify differently or who feel like they wouldn't belong normally, it's cool to see space carved out," he said.
"There's still a kind of yearning and a kind of hopefulness that we can remake institutions, or remake traditions that suit who we are now in time. So yeah, a reclamation."
Radio National's Religion and Ethics specialist Rohan Salmond told Schmeitgeist there were three main strands within the online Christian trend: the dabblers, the weird Christians, and the rad trads.
The dabblers include online accounts engaging with Catholicism on a mostly superficial level, by loosely signalling an association to it using visual or linguistic references.
"[These are] people for whom these aesthetics are just sort of visually interesting, or the ideas are sort of weird and good to make jokes with," Mr Salmond said.
Weird Christians, on the other hand, tend to have a deeper engagement with Christian theology, but might use esoteric humour to express it.
"You've got big discussions on 'would you baptise baby Yoda?' Which is such a weird thing to say," Mr Salmond said.
"But actually it opens up all of these different ideas about like 'are aliens saved by the blood of Jesus?'"
Finally, the rad trads, short for radical traditionalists, represent a reaction against so-called woke culture and a commitment to a particular branch of far-right ideology.
"These are people who are engaging with this European Catholic aesthetic because they believe it is the pinnacle of Western Civilisation," Mr Salmond said.
Back in Alice Springs, Mr Byrnes does not believe he fits neatly into any of these categories, although he does see himself as a conservative.
"Me and my whole mate group were the outliers in school," he said.
"We all believe in that sort of conservative view."
Mr Salmond said it was rarely clear cut, with blurred borders between the different strands of Christianity online.
"God-lover Kyle and Hugo Byrnes probably don't have much in common, but they both find plenty to draw from Catholic aesthetics," he said.
"It goes to show how these symbols have become up-for-grabs, in a sense.
"It's not always easy to tell where someone stands."
If the online denizens of the resurrected Christian church have anything in common, it's their ambiguity.
God-lover Kyle makes a point of keeping his meme page "unambiguously ambiguous", much to the frustration of many internet users who stumble across it.
"I think those things relate to religion and spirituality … like things that are unanswerable questions and the mystery of life itself, you know?"
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Written by: Christianity Today

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