Lessons From Bowflex

They are in our houses, lying under our beds, tucked away in our closets. They are in our lofts, or covered up with boxes in our garages and storage rooms. Being the born-and-bred packrats some of us are, we take them with us, laboriously moving them from house to house as we relocate through the years. We had a number of opportunities to sell them at garage sales, but we never did. We keep telling ourselves that we’ll get around to using them again one day, like that short month-and-a-half period just after we bought them, right before we quit using them and tossed them into that “I’m already bored as hell with this” pile of virtual paperweights we own. I’m talking about Bowflex machines and their knock-off competitors sold on TV from those annoying infomercials that perhaps caught us off guard one night, resulting in our making a bad investment [At this point in the article, Joe lowers his head in shame!]. What did we invest in? A piece of crap, that’s what…one that does nothing but remain unused and take up space in our houses.

When it comes to buying trinket-y, worthless gadgets, I am as guilty as a career woman in a shoe store on payday. I buy things, usually smaller items I can talk myself into buying on the spurt of the moment. I’ve got needless computer keyboards, pens, pencils, desktop items, flashlights, and office supplies all over my place, why? Because that tactile part of me, like a small red devil above my left shoulder, convinces me that making these senseless purchases will somehow make me feel more satisfied in accomplishing whatever purpose I bought the item for.

No pattern is more predictable than the cycles of satisfaction (or should I say, dissatisfaction); we want an item, then we want it really badly, so much so that it overcomes any doubts about whether or not we need it or can afford it. So we buy it, have brief fun with it, quickly get tired of it, and then think back on how wanting it was better than actually having it. In the end, we wish we hadn’t bought it at all! However long any satisfaction might have lasted us, it wasn’t long enough, all things considered.

It’s funny how something so vainglorious like Bowflex can teach us big-league lessons about life, religion, and human nature; you have those who seriously want to get in shape, and then you have those who are just toying with the idea. The small irony of it is, those who are no-nonsense about maintaining their bodies will likely not be interested in something as piddly as Bowflex. They would veritably have – lo and behold – a gym membership! But more germane to our subject, those who buy into the claims of Bowflex infomercials parallel those who buy into the assertions of religion, though not in every way.

For instance, you have those who buy into religion, and many of them remain satisfied with it, but with Bowflex, I don’t think I’ve known anyone who remained satisfied with it for long! Most of us buy it and then hate it. You have those like me, for instance, who buy the damn machine and soon get tired of it (those of us who were once religious and became disenchanted with it). Then you have those who never got duped into buying the blasted thing in the first place (those who were never taken in by the charm of religious appeal), and you have those who bought the piece of junk and got tired of it, more or less (those who have been religious and then grew weary of all organized and fundamentalist forms of religion, rejecting them for much more liberal and science-friendly versions). They too have seen for themselves how disappointing faith systems are when the elaborate euphoria of ecclesiasticism wears off, when the harm done by “born again” believers becomes apparent, when the false-alarm-sounding mentality of evangelicals comes to light.

Those who have experienced the flaws of faith are not impressed with hollow religious promises for quick fixes or miracle cures for society’s ills, nor are they ready to buy into dubious claims on how to make a better tomorrow—anymore than a smart consumer watching a Bowflex infomercial will be inclined to buy it because of those nicely tanned, washboard-abdominal-muscled models who are paid to show off the product. Not a one of those finely tuned human specimens got their illustrious bodies from using that machine, but the company wants you to think they did.

The smart shopper realizes that not only are these claims the products of deceitful advertising, but the machine will not feel as satisfying in its use as it appears it will from the view of the couch, watching TV. The device might be too cheaply made, perhaps, or not big enough, not sturdy enough, or just not as fun to work out on as it seems it will be (I have found this to be the case with every “as seen on TV” piece of garbage I ever purchased!). This is in contrast to the believer who looks with elation at Christianity and sees a system of belief that will be the perfect cure-all for a world longing for happiness and answers; stop AIDS by not being homosexual; stop rape and adultery by outlawing pornography and immodest dress; stop terrorist attacks like those of 911 by making abortion illegal so that God will be moved to providentially protect us again; stop school shootings by bringing prayer and the ten commandments back into classrooms; it all sounds so simple and effective to the pious mind, to those living in the black-and-white world of theism.

The wise consumer knows that if he really wants to get in shape, it won’t be through knickknack-y exercise machines, and cute, jazzy-looking equipment. It will be through hard work and the embracing of a healthy lifestyle—eating right and exercising regularly. It’s about life changes, not nifty products. When it comes to considering a smart, pragmatic view of life, healthy amounts of skepticism and cynicism are more than called for. A pious life of folded hands and bent knees is not the only way to go, I don’t care what some preacher or priest tells you.

Equivocally, adopting religious systems to live by will not solve the world’s major problems; they will not bring peace, will not answer questions, and will not improve the quality of life. Religions will not somehow Utopian-ize society as some expect it to. If it could, the world would have been a mostly peaceful and wonderful place since before recorded history, and still would be.

“When a man's ways please the LORD, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.” (Proverbs 16:7)

“But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.” (Psalm 37:11)

Uh…not quite! The Holy Land and surrounding areas – that area on Earth with the highest population of “righteous” men in any one place – is far from peaceful and leaves much to be desired, as any remotely westernized thinker must admit. Just look at Islam verses the different sects of Islam, Islam verses Judaism, Islam verses the west and Christianity, and we would be fatuous not to mention the feuding Irish Catholic and Protestant groups throughout the world who relish murdering one another on an incredibly wide scale. Incidentally, the Bible writers seemed to have quite a learning disability when it came to identifying peace. It was prophesied that Josiah would die “in peace,” and yet he died by a pagan king’s arrow in an unnecessary confrontation (2 Kings 22:20; 2 Kings 23:29-30; 2 Chronicles 35:23-24). A similar fate befell Zedekiah who was also promised by God through Jeremiah that he would die in peace, though it certainly did not happen (Jeremiah 34:4-5; 52:10-11). Well, if these are biblically “peaceful” ways to die, I don’t want to even try and think of violent ones!

Like many other well done paid advertisements, a strongly promoted product becomes a sensation where a less promoted product loses out. The biggest and most successful businesses advertise heavily, from Apple Computers to Yahoo. Advertisers target one of two things—need or want (sometimes both). By doing a great job reminding their viewers that a nice, hot, muscular body is the best kind to have (with the proper lighting, stage presentation, camera work, and tanned, pumped-up, oiled-up bodies), Bowflex fosters the want behind the sale and is thus able to move these machines by the thousands each year.

Proponents of Christianity play up the need angle; man is a sinner, depraved and wicked to the core, and he is spiritually stupid too, unable to use his natural mind to appropriately and humanely conduct himself, and life is such that it’s hard to find happiness amidst all the depression anyway. So what is the cure? Religion, of course—always each particular preacher’s own version of it. Mankind needs help from the next world. Mankind needs the gospel. But like the wise consumer, the astute freethinker sees through all such lies. He realizes man is fully capable of producing goodness, dignity, and happiness all by himself. In the case of religion, people are being convinced that they have a need for an invisible product; Christianity comes along, says mankind has a “sin problem” (one we would not know exists except for Christianity telling us about it), and then gives the solution to it. As Dan Barker put it, “Would you be thankful to a person who cut you with a knife in order to sell you a bandage?”

Scam artists are kept alive and in business by bad consumers who make bad financial decisions. The world needs smarter consumers, but it also needs a smarter populace, one that won’t so easily buy into the claims of creationists, pseudo-scientists, and religious idealists, like hatemonger preachers and fascist religionist politicians. But the road to improvement is a long one to travel, and it doesn’t look as though many want to arrive at that destination.