by Jeff Rockel
All material copyright 1996, 1998, 2007 by Jeff Rockel
"What spirit is so empty and blind,
that it cannot grasp the fact
that the human foot is more noble than the shoe
and the human skin more beautiful
than the garment with which it is clothed?"
Walk down the street and ask people whether they would consider a nude person to be obscene. Some would say yes with no further consideration. Others would question the situation before answering. Now ask people who profess to be Christians and the overwhelming response will be, "Of course a nude person is obscene." When you ask why, you will likely get a puzzled look. Nude equals lewd is traditionally accepted without question.
But how could the average Christian defend that position. If asked why Jesus is divine, most Christians would have some explanation because they have been taught the reasons why. But nudity falls under the same umbrella as sex. The reasons behind the rules are seldom taught. It is just known to be wrong because no one does it and it is embarrassing to talk about.
Like any other area of our faint, the subject of nudity should be understood to the extent that we can defend our beliefs. The first section of this book looked at what the Bible says about nakedness. Some conclusions were drawn that could affect the spiritual as well as physical lives of believers. While the conclusions may not be accepted, I trust that the reasoning was clear enough that you understand it. You should likewise be able to explain your beliefs on the subject so that someone can clearly understand.
The second section of this book looks at the subject of nudity from a secular perspective. We will look at the testimony of people who have experienced nude recreation and a nude lifestyle in general. We will see what professional researchers have written about the physical, emotional and interpersonal health of nudists compared to the general public. The subject of self esteem and nudity's effect on body image will be investigated. We will also look at the often touchy subject of sexual impropriety related to casual nudity. Finally we will see how casual nudity affects the development of children.
Along the way we will try and understand how we got our traditions regarding nudity. How did the Church influence our lifestyle? Was the reformation a positive or negative influence on body image? Have Churches always refuted the nude lifestyle or nudity in general? I hope that this study will provide an informative insight into today's nudist movement and how we as Christians can respond to it.
Much of what appears below has been taken verbatim out of the references sited. I have added my own comments and connections where appropriate, but having very limited personal experience I felt it best to provide the information as I encountered it. I have tried to condense the wealth of information into the bare essentials so that you need not spend a lot of time getting the basic information on nudity. The few works I site are filled with situations from scores of other works on the subject. So what is presented below is what I consider to be the creme de la creme on the subject.
As we saw in our study of Bible references on nudity, there were many times historically that people were without their basic needs due to famine or war. We see the images on television of nations whose people do not have sufficient food to eat. The fortunate ones cover themselves with rags for clothing to protect themselves from the elements.
As Christians, we are directed by Jesus to care for those in need. While no one person can care for all the world's needy, Jesus clearly calls us to care for the needy who are brought across our paths. We are to care for them as though they are Christ himself.
Throughout history, religious practice has distorted the good and pure things of God. One example of this distortion is the misuse of nudity and sex in worship. In Exo 32, we saw how the people were found naked worshipping the Golden Calf. The first offense was the corruption of worship by substituting the Golden Calf for God. The second offense was the simultaneous offerings to God with the worship of the Golden Calf that Aaron had arranged. In conjunction with the offerings was a feast which resulted in drunkenness. The drunkenness led to nakedness and sex play. The final scene that Moses encountered was a drunken sex orgy around the Golden Calf.
At other times, in other places, people have stripped and abused themselves bodily, in an attempt to please or appease the gods that were created by man. They have sacrificed others, from babies to adults, in the name of their gods. They have defiled their bodies, offering them to temple prostitutes in hopes of future fertility blessings.
The one true God, Jehovah, has never required deeds in order to be heard through prayer. God requires a relationship, simple complete commitment and obedience. The pleasures God has granted us, such as freedom from clothing and the joy of sexual union, are given to us within the bounds of His perfect plan and will. His Holiness is the guideline to our behavior. Any time we go outside of those bounds, we sin against Him.
God gave Adam and Eve the simplicity of a nude life when he created them. God gave them the joy of sexual union as a picture of the intimacy He desires with each of us. God has instructed us to guard sexual intimacy and preserve it for our marriage partner alone.
We have seen no such restriction with simple nudity. When God created Adam and Eve, naked, He commanded them to "Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth" (Gen 1:28). There was no command to be clothed before their first offspring came into the world. There was no warning of the psychological harm that would be done to their children if casual nudity was practiced around the home.
In addition, we see no command to be clothed after the fall of man. Adam and Eve hid themselves from God. When asked why they were hiding, they did not answer truthfully. Their sin was eating of the forbidden fruit. They knew that clearly because they had obtained the knowledge of good and evil. God expected them to be truthful just as He expects us to truthful when confronted about our sin. Adam and Eve needed to admit that God was right and they were wrong.
The first thing that happened was that they realized what they had done was evil. This produced guilt in them and they needed to respond to that guilt. Their response was incorrect and misdirected. Instead of seeking out God and admitting their sin, they focused on each other. Seeing the evil within each other, yet understanding it incompletely, they tried to hide their sin from each other by covering their bodies. They could not hide their spirits, and so they had nothing else to hide but their nakedness.
When God did come looking for them, they responded incorrectly again. God wanted them to admit their sin to Him and be forgiven. Instead, they made up a lie. They said they were hiding because they were naked. Of course, God caught them in the lie and asked who had told them they were naked. Again, God wanted them to admit they sinned and be forgiven. Instead, Adam tried to pass the guilt on to his wife, blaming her for what he had freely done. Eve also missed the boat and tried to pass the guilt on to the serpent ("the Devil made me do it").
In a final attempt to show His beloved creation the grave importance of confronting the truth, God killed animals to clothe his stubborn children. Even after the pain and horror of having their guilt covered by the blood of their animal friends, the record shows no repentance on Adam and Eve's part. They would not allow themselves to be restored into a right relationship with God because they were too proud to admit they were wrong and God was right. Please, do not forfeit the restoration God offers because of the same pride in your life.
There are many historical sources that tell of the rites and rituals of pagan cults in which nudity, violence and sexual activity occur. While these rites and rituals are connected with the practices of groups not connected with a God centered religion, Christian groups have their own rites and rituals that have been passed down through the years. We must always be on guard to be sure the tradition of our predecessors has meaning and value today.
Often first listed among the cults are the Satan worshipers. The rumors of their rites and rituals involving nudity and sexual activities are legendary. Historical accounts tell that these rituals grew out of ancient fertility rites, imploring the gods to provide crops and children in abundance. These rites and rituals, while always pagan and not God focused, have been distorted and perverted by man's mind over the years. Waxing and waning like the phases of the moon, man's depravity has brought these practices to degrading lows while at times they were simple symbolic representations of yieldedness. When symbolic the rites which involved nudity often did not involve sexual activity. At most the sexual aspect was alluded to by dance or pantomime to indulge the gods asking for many strong offspring.
Secular organizations such as fraternities and sororities have abused nudity and sexual activity as well. There are many stories of drunken sex orgies resulting from their parties. But in terms of rites, some of these groups have imposed nudity and sexual acts on their prospective members. Any time nudity or sexual activity is forced on an individual, their rites as human beings is being violated.
Throughout recorded history, there have been accounts of acceptable social nudity. "Anything from complete nakedness to casual body covering was a lifestyle component from prehistoric times through the Greco-Roman civilizations and into part of the Middle Ages."1 Unfortunately, because of the shameful view of nudity by most people, of whom historians are part, the record of casual nudity is often sketchy or lost. From the information that has survived, we can obtain a reasonable picture of what life was like in societies that accepted nudity as a natural part of daily life.
Nudity in Early Egypt
Other than religious accounts of nudity, such as in the Garden of Eden, there is little detailed information about nudity in ancient cultures. The first clear picture of a culture that embraced body acceptance was that of Pharaoh Akhen-Aton. The archeologists who discovered and unraveled the story of this culture did not know how to deal with a society that embraced nudity as a natural and healthy lifestyle.
Pharaoh Akhen-Aton (1385-1353 B.C.) and his exquisitely beautiful queen, Nefertiti, considered the sun, Aton, to be the true wellspring of life and thus justified the practice of nudism for spiritual and physical advancement. As the archeological record reveals, these entrancing figures of Egyptian history enjoyed freedom from clothing to the fullest extent possible. Pharaoh, his wife and their children and court officials went around with few clothes (transparent at that!) or no clothes at all. They practiced nudity in the royal palace, in the royal gardens and swimming pool, they loved physical beauty, valued good food and wine, and led a frankly joyful existence.2 This picture of life in ancient Egypt was frankly more than the archeologists, brought up in an environment of Victorian and puritanical notions, could accept. As a result, Pharaoh Akhen-Aton and Nefertiti were condemned as immoral individuals.
Nudity in Ancient Greece
When examining ancient cultures, the Greeks stand apart as a civilization of culture and advancement. Having over a thousand years of prominence, the history of Greek culture has been well preserved. While many cultures have recognized the contributions of ancient Greece to law, politics, literature, art, and philosophy, not much has been recorded about early Greek advocacy of freedom from clothing when practical and appropriate.3
Historians acknowledge this ancient Greek body-attitude mainly when they write about the athletic training that took place in the Greek gymnasium. The very word gymnasium is based on the root word gymnos (meaning "naked"), the gymnasium being defined, thereby, as a place where one stripped naked to exercise. The Greek gymnasium is rarely presented as a place for general education, which, in fact, it was. It was the whole person that mattered in Greek society: the well-developed mind in the well-developed body working together in perfect balance.4 The records clearly show that the Greeks sought balance in all aspects of their daily lives.
syThe Greek writer Papalas describes a typical day for the Greek student. It began with exercises in the nude. "After several hours of activity and instruction about the body, he bathed and went to his classroom--most often in the nude, for the mild climate of Greece did not require clothing except for some unusually cold days in winter.... Teachers and scholars attempted to establish an equilibrium between mind and body. The student, therefore, was required to devote the same amount of effort to physical progress as to mental."5
This concept of balance between mind and body is so clearly lacking in the technologically advanced society of today. People tend to either devote their time to sedate academic pursuits, or people neglect the mind and pursue the "perfect" body. I'm sure you will agree that the vast majority of people in America fall into the former group. Or they fall into a third group where mind and body are both neglected.
While much has been written about men's involvement in Greek athletics, the status of Greek women is not as well published. The Greek women were denied the high-level education of the gymnasium the men received. Among the gains won by the women of this group was the establishment of female athletic competitions. During these games, women performed comfortably in the nude, as was the practice for men.
The Greek admiration for the human body and the willingness to display it were closely bound up with Greek honesty and intelligence. No one thought it wrong that young Spartan girls should go naked in public dances and processions. The young men who gathered to look upon the events displayed no lust or wantonness. Plutarch (the Greek biographer and historian) wrote that the appearance of these maidens was received with admiration, respect, and shamelessness.6
Along with balance in life, we see here that honesty (openness) and intelligence were bound up tightly in the Greek culture. While the Greeks were not a God worshipping people (until Christianity was introduced in the first century), these attributes are certainly God centered in principle. As Christians we recognize our bodies to be temples of the Holy Spirit. We are taught that the strengthening and training of our bodies and minds are God honoring and aid in our service to God as led by the Holy Spirit. In terms of interpersonal relationships, honesty is held highly as a Godly attribute to be emulated. The Greek lifestyle was certainly one that in principle appears to be beneficial to the life of the believer.
The Greeks are most known for their mastery of athletic competition. Athletes from Sparta are given historical credit for being the first to discard clothing while in training for competition. It's possible this occurred as early as the seventh century B.C. Since these pioneering athletes won an abnormally high proportion of the prizes because their bodies were not restricted by clothing, other Greek athletes began to emulate the nudity of the Spartans. Thereafter nudity was an integral part of the Olympic tradition until 393 A.D., when Roman Emperor Theodosium, Christian ruler of Greece, banned the Olympic Games because he considered them to be pagan ceremonies.7
During this thousand years of Olympic competition, the Greeks succeeded in bringing together city-states which disagreed politically. Both within the national boundaries of Greece and beyond their borders, the Olympic games brought together people of differing beliefs to compete in a friendly way. While this is still the credo of the modern Olympic games, we often see more politics involved in the games than I believe the Greeks would have allowed.
The perfect balance of mind and body followed the ancient Greek belief in meden agan, which means "nothing in excess." And Kalos k'agothos--the "beautiful and good"--was the touchstone and secret of the preeminence of ancient Greece for more than five hundred years. While the focus of these beliefs was apart from the God who created them, the principles were clearly beneficial and rooted in the goodness of God's character. If we as Christians can conduct our lives with the watchwords of "balance and respect", we will be better able to serve our God as He leads us.
Nudity in Ancient India
It is now known that social nudity in ancient Greece was encouraged by the existence of nudity among the holy men of India. For example, when Alexander the Great heard reports of nude ascetics in India, he sent Onesicritus, a Greek philosopher, to investigate the gymnosophists (literally naked philosophers). The findings of Onesicritus must have impressed and intrigued Alexander, for he then traveled to India (in 326 B.C.) to meet with a gymnosophist group, and this meeting then led to other exchanges between the two countries.8
Paul LeValley, in his article "Ancient India," compares the Greeks with the gymnosophists: "The reasons each gave for their naked asceticism or their naked athletes were strikingly similar.... [They spoke] of efficiency.... Every known group of naked Indian ascetics praised the values of the simple life which nudity encouraged..., the lawgiver of Sparta, advocated nudity among his citizens for the same reason... [plus] reasons of health.... The gymnosophists praised nudity as a method of building endurance, as did the Greeks." Another reason given for nudity was that it promoted "independent thought and self-assurance...."9
LeValley further states that "Mahavira scolded the Greeks, who mostly confined their nudity to the gymnasium, for being less assured than Indian ascetics. Mahavira often mentioned nudity as a method of becoming free from bonds... contentment with no clothes...." Indians and Greeks both agreed that nakedness represented a state of purity and honesty.10
Again it must be pointed out that the Indian ascetics were not God centered people. Their religion was as much distorted as the Greeks' was. Yet in looking at the life of these people as mentioned above we see similarities that honor what is advocated by God.
Efficiency or simplicity of lifestyle was taught by Jesus in his model prayer to the Disciples as well as in teachings to other groups. He said to have the attitude expressed by, "give us this day our daily bread". Our daily needs are really much simpler than today's lifestyle would want us to believe. Ask anyone who has been swallowed up by the complexities of life and they will assure you that a simple lifestyle, one with less "things" is beneficial.
A healthy body, while secondary to our spiritual health, is clearly beneficial in maintaining the Holy Spirit's temple. When we are physically healthy, we are also more mentally alert. We are able to study God's word better; we are sharper when confronted by questions from an unbeliever; we can better discern whether a situation is of God or not. We are also better able to serve God whenever called upon to do so. Life does not stop when the sun goes down. Often, spiritual crises occur late at night, or for days on end. If we have the physical stamina to endure these tough times, the spiritual outcome will surely be better.
Independent thought and self assurance are clearly taught in the Bible. Our ability to study God's Word and learn from it is a coupling of our ability to think independently and listen to the teachings of the Holy Spirit. God wants us to serve Him willingly, not as a mindless robot. Self assurance comes from our recognizing that we are valuable in God's sight. God's sacrifice in redeeming us is beyond measure. This imparts great worth on us as individuals.
Freedom from bonds: This is what salvation is all about. By accepting the gift of salvation from God, we are freed from the bonds of sin that restrict us from serving Him freely. Freedom from the bonds of clothing is simply one aspect of this freedom to serve. Christians who have experienced freedom from clothing often speak of a freedom from guilt and shame as well. It appears from personal testimony (to be found later in this book) that freedom from clothing (body acceptance) and freedom from guilt and shame (forgiveness) are closely connected.
Finally, purity and honesty: concepts that the majority of Christians can not tie together with nudity. Yet this is the testimony of the ancient philosophers and the modern nudists alike. There is a purity of interpersonal interaction that accompanies nudity. And this purity reveals itself as honesty in relationships. While this may be hard to accept, the overwhelming evidence states it is true.
Looking again at the historical record of the life in India versus Greece, LeValley also points out areas of difference between the two cultures. The Greek emphasis on the beauty of the human body, is an issue of considerably less importance within the religious philosophy of India. Whereas the gymnosophists of India referred to their nudity as a "step toward attaining oneness with the whole universe, or moksha ('the bliss of enlightenment')," the Greeks considered nudity as a basis for and expression of the wholeness of the individual and society. The Greeks thus placed more emphasis on fun, music, dance, and physical pleasure, while the Indians placed more emphasis on religious attainment and spiritual fulfillment [all non God centered].11
Nudity in the Orient
Until the twentieth century, the Japanese sense of modesty strongly differed from that of Europe or America. Nude communal bathing, for example, was a basic fact of daily life until fairly recently and still exists in rural areas that are distant from Japan's westernized major cities. In Japan, a country blessed with natural volcanic hot springs, nude family and mixed-sex communal bathing were approved by the prevailing religions for over two thousand years. The practice of social bathing in the nude spread throughout Japan and became as much a part of Japanese daily life as the rising of the sun.12
Bathing habits can be used as a measure of how a society accepts itself personally and interpersonally. As will be detailed later, the church has gone through periods where the body, as a physical entity, is seen as inherently evil. As a result, the display of the body, even in private, was seen as evil and was avoided at all costs. Acceptance of one's body and its subsequent care through bathing is linked with societies that are generally seen as peaceful, well balanced and successful.
All societies, God centered or not, display activities that are not God honoring. This is because of the sin that we are all affected by. The Greeks are often remembered for their sexual excesses. The people of India for their many gods, religious rituals and caste system. The Japanese are remembered for their war-lords and physical violence. Yet when examining the God honoring aspects of any society, we can glean principles that can be applied to our lives. Whether nudity is ever integrated into our society, the aspects of balance, openness and honesty we have seen above are certainly to be sought.
Revised July 27, 1997 (added reference to temple veil)
It must be recognized at the outset that Church government and activities have always existed within the envelope of the local society. While many Church groups have tried to break away from the society and culture out of which they were formed, their existence and their differences from other contemporary Church groups was formed out of the culture in which they lived. Even today we see Church groups who try to separate themselves from society by forming independent communities. Other groups try to serve God within the social norms of their local community, sometimes to the extreme of condoning behavior that the Bible clearly teaches as sinful.
We must also keep in mind that all Churches are formed and governed by humans. As a result, the rules under which the Church is run are flawed by the sinful nature of man. As prayerfully as these leaders approach the subject of morality, member care and discipline, there is always the possibility of error due to our human nature. This is why I have stressed looking at the character of God above the culture and tradition of historical Church leaders. Even the Bible must be interpreted in light of God's unchanging character. Certainly that is what caused the change in dietary laws, Sabbath keeping and the banishment of the requirement for circumcision in the New Testament. After Jesus Christ's death and resurrection, mankind could approach God without a covering. Remember how the temple veil was torn, symbolizing our ability to openly approach God. (Mt. 27:51; Mk 15:38; Lk 23:45)
The disputes that exist between Churches and within Churches can be viewed from the aspect of culture and change. Each Church has a unique culture that is formed out of the norms held by its members. These norms represent the set of beliefs, customs and actions that the Church members hold. As people come and go from the church, and as society and culture change in the community outside of the church, the norm within the church is challenged. "Change seriously affects the mission of the church in either Christian growth or in evangelism. A traditional program within the church may force a continual flow of membership out of the church in search of meaning. Or some members may conform so completely to the traditional program of the church or mission that it loses vitality or self-motivation. The church thus drifts from truth to falsehood without even realizing what is happening, 'having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof' (2 Tim. 3:5)."13
If we look at the differences in churches that exist today we will see several distinct areas of separation. Let us narrow our examination to churches that we would consider Orthodox. These all accept the existence of one all-powerful God, the divinity of Jesus and the need for salvation to live with God eternally.
One area of distinction is the form that salvation takes. Is this salvation a gift freely given by God to man, or must we work towards acceptance? Another area of distinction is in the form of government that is exercised. Does it allow for local independence or is there an unquestioned hierarchy? What rites and rituals are to be observed? To what extent must we demonstrate a morally pure life?
Kenneth Scott Latourette writes: "In the first generation of the Church's existence it was torn by dissensions. The Church was divided over who the overseer was to be. There was division among those who professed that Christians must accept the Jewish rite of circumcision. Others denied that Christ had come in the flesh. Still other groups, whose distorted beliefs recurred again and again throughout the centuries held that God's grace completely overshadowed any moral law. Drunkenness and fornication were common among these Christians."14
Churches are continually confronted by change: change from within and change from without. Change pressure from society is often condemned while change from church members is often opposed. Yet the Christian life is supposed to be a life of change. A life of metamorphosis, being "transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Rom. 12:2). Since biblical Christianity is a dynamic process born in a change setting and since it introduces change in the life of individuals and society, it resists being bound by the narrow ethnocentrism and restricting legalisms that often characterize the established church. Thus there arises in each generation a reformation."15
When confronting change, individuals are really dealing with the lived experiences of others. When evaluating these lived experiences, or norms, there are four questions which must be asked concerning the individual or society:
- 1) What is the norm?
- 2) Is the person living in keeping with the norm?
- 3) Does the norm need changing?
- 4) Who is responsible for changing the norm?
The average, well-meaning Christian will ask only questions three and four. Thus, he will find that anything different from his own lived experience needs changing.16 But the person who recognizes that cultures define the norms and that cultures can vary drastically from one society to another, will begin a question one. Our failure to rightly judge often stems from our neglect to start with question one. Thus a person's action may be moral and God honoring within culture A and judged immoral within culture B.
Since our study is of nudity, we will focus on the aspects of Church culture that deal with morality. Implicit in most Church's teachings is that nudity, in and of itself, is immoral. Two reasons stand out for support of this belief. First is the clear teaching that sexual activity outside of marriage is sin. Jesus clearly taught that merely lusting after a woman (not your wife) was as sinful as the physical act of adultery. The argument then continues that viewing a nude body inevitably leads to lust. The second teaching is that the human body, due to sin, is inherently evil. Its display must therefore be suppressed.
With this prevailing view of the nude body, it is interesting to see how baptism, a universally accepted ordinance of the Church, was practiced in the early Church. Latourette writes: "Much of what we know of the early Church came from the writings of Tertullian around the end of the second century. From his writings we learn that baptism was by a thrice-repeated immersion, preferably in water running through the baptistery. The first immersion was preceded by a confession of faith in God the Father, the second by confession of faith in Christ Jesus, the Son of God, and the third by a confession of faith in the Holy Spirit. In at least some churches the candidate was baptized naked, the children first, then the men, and finally the women. No one was to take into the water anything except his body."17
It is interesting that while so many Churches of the first several centuries condemned nudity, such as practiced by the Greeks, some of the Churches of that period required nude baptism. Note also that the "running water" indicates that it was often cold as well. These Church leaders accepted this practice as required for proper admittance into the Church. Keeping in mind that Churches are organized by, led by and attended by imperfect humans, one or more of the "truths" we take for granted today may not have been accepted during the course of Church history.
It would be good to look in more detail at the moral and ethical aspects of the early Church. Again Latourette writes:
"Throughout the first five centuries, as through their successors, the records disclose a marked gulf in Christians and the Christian communities between professed ethical ideals and motivation for moral action on the one hand, and performance on the other, together with continuing efforts to close the gulf either by bringing the ideals down to a level attainable in performance or by inducing performance to conform to the ideals."
"In the New Testament, the motive and basic principle of action is agape, love, love of God, and love of man, inspired by the love of God, especially as seen in His self-giving in Christ and in the death of Christ for rebellious, sinful men on the cross. The Gospel is not a new law, [not] a fresh and higher set of moral standards through obedience to which men are to find salvation and enter into life."
"To be sure, in penetrating fashion Jesus laid bare the springs of action and placed the emphasis upon the governing, inward thought and motive rather than on the outward deed. He declared that the ideal was to act like God, to be 'perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.' Here was a standard so high that it seemed impossible of attainment, and yet in it discerning souls recognized what men must be if they are to realize to the full purpose for which God had created them. Jesus seemed to believe that it was theoretically possible for all to reach the goal, yet he also perceived clearly and frankly the evil in men. [He] held that men must strive (the Greek word is that from which the English word "agonize" is derived) to enter the gate to true life, and [He] declared that only a very few find the gate and pursue the path into which it opens."
"Yet from the outset this conviction about conduct has been confronted by two perils. On the one hand, there has been what is technically know as antinomianism, the assumption that the Christian, by being emancipated from legalism, the meticulous observance of rules, is free from all moral law and can with impunity disregard in. The other, often more subtle and in one form or another much more widely held, is the conviction that the Gospel is a new and higher law, that being a Christian primarily entails obedience to moral maxims, some of them ancient and to be found in the Old Testament and some of them new and seen in the New Testament, and that one's salvation is to be earned by that obedience."18
In the realm of our Christian understanding, we accept that God can not be appeased by morally right behavior. To be sure we are called to live morally right lives and we are called to be doers of the Word and not hearers only. But what pleases God is the aligning of our beliefs and desires with His. Out of this alignment will come morally right actions. But we must not define what is morally right apart from an understanding of Who God is.
God commanded: "Thou shalt not kill." Yet we can read of God's command to utterly destroy nations. We see laws to kill people who disobeyed certain laws by stoning. How do we justify this in light of God's character? While I do not claim to have the definitive answer, I offer this observation. First, God is holy and pure. He can not tolerate anything less than perfection in His presence. This characteristic would result in the obliteration of every human that has ever lived (Jesus Christ excepted). We are also taught in scripture that our bodily existence is secondary to our spiritual existence. (Mt 10:28, Luke 12:4) So we may conclude that in God's perfect, holy judgment, there are times when a human life may justly be ended. But we must look to God to judge when such an action is justified. We are commanded not to kill and within the bounds of our understanding we must obey.
We have seen both extremes of the above arguments within the Church throughout history. Some groups have respected and preserved life to the extent that their Churches were infiltrated and overrun leading to their destruction. In contrast, history has seen periods where witch hunts led to the killing of innocent, Godly people.
In a similar way we have seen nudity and sexuality, which we humans have such a hard time separating, dealt with in the extremes. Most of us can relate to the teaching that nudity, in and of itself, is immoral and leads to lust. We have also seen reported that some Churches promoted Christian liberty to their decadence through orgies. It is the contention of many that neither of these extremes is healthful to the Church.
Of interest is the Church's handling of marriage. One would think that we are on pretty solid ground here doctrinally, yet throughout history there have been many differing teachings in this area.
At least from the time of Paul virginity was esteemed above the married state. Yet, except in some of the minority groups, such as the Marcionites, marriage was not forbidden. In the case of the death of one partner, a second marriage was forbidden by the stricter elements in the Church, but was eventually permitted by the more lenient. A third marriage was regarded as evil. Sexual intercourse outside of marriage was sternly interdicted and within marriage was permitted only for the procreation of children. Divorce was not allowed, except after the violation of the marriage bond by one of its partners. Sexual offenses were by no means unknown among Christians, but they were long held to exclude the offender from the Church. Later, restoration was permitted after due repentance and discipline.19
By the 13th century, marriage was esteemed one of the sacraments. Here the Christian conscience, and the Church faced a difficult and complex problem. Could the strong urge of sex be directed and controlled by the Christian ideal? Could customs of betrothal and marriage, some of them of pre-Christian origin and many of them, even of post-Christian development, with little of the Christian in them, be made to conform to Christian standards? What were Christian standards? Much of marriage was governed by property or power interests, such as the desire for an heir to inherit the estate of the union of two families to strengthen the position of each. A marriage might be arranged with scant regard to the personal wishes of the bride or the groom. Often betrothals were entered into apart from the Church and cohabitation begun, perhaps to see whether the union would be fertile and produce the wished for heir, before the blessing of the priest was asked. Under what circumstances could a marriage be annulled? These were some of the problems which perplexed the canon lawyers.20
Obviously things were not always as simple as many of us see them today. In may cases, divorce and certainly sexual immorality were grounds for expulsion from the Church. In other cases, Old Testament law was applied to forgive, or even condone divorce. Polygamy was allowed by God from time to time in history. And the ordinances of the marriage ceremony have been as varied as the cultures they were performed in.
With all the diversity in teaching and practice within the Church, how can we clearly state that nudity, in and of itself, is evil and must be prohibited. As with many other teachings, we must base our understanding and practice first on the character of God, and then on the limitations of our human understanding. To the extent we are human, I believe we can draw conclusions based on objective observation. We will explore some of these observations later in this work.
One other religious movement, to mentions in passing, which is said to have begun in Perugia in 1259 was that of the Flagellants. "By a kind of mass contagion men, women, and children bewailed their sins and many of them marched through the streets, naked except for loin cloths, crying to God for mercy, and scourging themselves until the blood ran."21 I add this story only to show the reference to nakedness and to show the extremes to which people will go in the name of seeking God. It is well known that certain Islamic rituals of today involve self flagellation.
To aid in understanding the teachings with regard to morality common in Churches today, it is important to look at the prominent Church leaders and revolutionaries of history. The road leading to modern Protestantism is filled with names recognized by may Christians today. Following are excerpts from Latourette's book. Note the many variants on the theme of reformation.
The first recognized leader [of the modern movement] was Thomas Aquinas (b. 1225). Theologically, his work is basic in the study of Roman Catholic theology. "Having dealt extensively with God, Thomas Aquinas proceeded to speak of man. He described his soul and the various powers of the soul. Aquinas was to a certain degree a determinist, although in a somewhat masked form. To be sure, the will, so he held, is moved only by itself and not by its environment. But, he taught, God moves all His creatures, including man, in accordance with their natures. Yet Aquinas was not a determinist in the Moslem Averroist sense of that term. In stressing the competence of human reason he went far towards free will, even though he believed it to be limited."22
The significant of Thomas Aquinas was really to firmly reiterate the historic Christian faith as held by the Catholic Church. His writings would serve as the basis for criticism by many of the Reformers. His view of self determination seemed to allow for the interpretation of certain behavior, although this was not explicitly stated.
Following Thomas Aquinas was a series of leaders. All of these leaders, saw problems within the teachings of the Catholic Church. They chose to break away and form new Churches based on their understanding of what was emphasized in scripture. It is of interest that all of the recognized names that led to the modern Protestant movement rose up in the 1500s. The following accounts come from A History of Christianity by Kenneth Scott Latourette:
"John Calvin was born on July 10, 1509, about sixty miles north-east of Paris. His father was in comfortable circumstances. Although he was never ordained, the young John was designed by his father for the Church and was educated, as was the custom in those lax days, by the income from ecclesiastical benefices the duties of which he did not perform. [An interesting commentary on the double standard of the day within the Church.] As a lad of fourteen he went to the University of Paris. From boyhood he was deeply religious and critical of any laxity in morals. [Perhaps he saw the moral laxity under which he was educated.] When nineteen he left Paris to study law. His interests were those of the current humanism. In his mid-twenties, Calvin had what he regarded as a sudden conversion. It is clear that he had come under the influence of an earnestly religious group in Paris from which issued several Protestants, and it is probable that he had become acquainted, directly or indirectly, with some of the writings of Erasmus and Luther and that they had impressed him."23
"Contemporaneous with Calvin and the churches that were spawned from his teachings, Lutheranism and the Reformed and Presbyterian Churches were established elsewhere in Europe. They were both in many ways a continuation of the Catholic Church in their respective lands."24
"Contemporaneously with Lutheranism and Calvinism there was another kind of Protestantism, much more radical than either. It took many forms and was more remote from a common definition of the Christian faith than were these others. Yet those who adhered to it had much in common. In general they looked to the Scriptures and especially the New Testament as their authority and then proceeded to discard all that they could not find expressly stated in that basic collection of sources. The wished to return to the primitive Christianity of the first century. They thus rejected much more which had come through the Catholic Church than did the Lutherans and the Reformed."
"Rejecting infant baptism as contrary to the Scriptures, they regarded only that baptism valid which was administered to conscious believers. They were therefore nick-named Anabaptists, those who baptized a second time, but to them that designation was false, for they held infant baptism not to be baptism."
"The Anabaptists were bitterly persecuted by other Protestants and Roman Catholics, for to both they seemed to be dangerous revolutionaries, upsetting the established order. They contributed to the emergence or development of movements in Britain, chiefly the Independents, Baptists and Quakers."
Also at this time "around Conrad Grebel (c.1498-1526) there gathered what were known as the Swiss Brethren. They wished a more thoroughgoing reformation of the Church. Grebel wrote Luther, urging him to apply the Scriptures with less compromise than he was doing. In many places in Switzerland and South-west Germany the Scriptural basis for the baptism of infants was being questioned."25
"Mennonites (named from Meno Simons, 1496-1561) were very numerous in the Netherlands. Indeed, before the spread of the Reformed Churches, they probably there constituted the majority of Protestants. They also multiplied in various parts of Germany. They found it difficult to agree in doctrine and various confessions of faith were drawn up. The differences were chiefly over the degree to which members should shun those who had been excommunicated. Mennonites were deeply concerned to maintain a high level of Christian living and to that end employed excommunication of those who were guilty of offenses." 26
"In general, Puritans held to a covenant or federalist theology. This maintained that God had made promises to man but that they were conditioned upon man's obedience to His laws. God's laws, so this conception had it, are seen in the Scriptures. It was to enable men to read the Bible and to know these laws that Tyndale undertook his vast labour of translation. The covenant theory had a long history and went back to the Middle Ages and even earlier. By this theology there were eventually meant two covenants of a somewhat different nature--a covenant of grace between God and His elect and a covenant of works between God and Adam as the representative of all mankind. As developed in the Rhineland the covenant of works stressed man's obligation to God."27
In summary, we see that the road to Reformation, and to the variety of denominations that exist today, was filled with much division through the interpretation of scripture. There appears to be little difference in what happened in the Reformation than what happened in the development of the first century Church. It would therefore be expected that some of the Church groups would embrace nudity in one form or another.
The belief that nudity and Christianity could coexist, and that nudity could even be beneficial "was held by at least five groups in the history of Christianity: the Carpocrations, Adamites, Adamianis, Encratites, and Marcosians."28 This was the observation of Rev. Martin Wadestone, a Christian nudist of today. "These 'in-the-buff' religious groups (2nd century through 15th century) were not exhibitionists, preferring to live in isolated and inaccessible seclusion."29
As times change, culture changes. Society has seen wide swings in what it considers proper, upright and good for the local community. The determination of what was good for the local community was often determined by the local ruler, whose personal interests usually took precedence.
"The early Middle Ages were strictly patriarchal, dominated by priests with repressive attitudes toward nakedness and sex. The later Middle Ages, however, are noted for chivalry, troubadours, admiration of women, and more relaxed attitudes. The Renaissance was an era of greater prestige for women, with its Greco-Roman dress and appreciation for non religious nude paintings, The increased body freedom appears to be related to the flourishing arts movement of the period."
"Then came Calvin and Luther, who brought back patriarchal moral restraints during the Reformation movement. This was again followed by a relaxation of morals in the eighteenth century which, for a short time, restored women's social position. Next there was a deep plunge into the restrictive, patriarchal Victorian period--from which the feminist-oriented twentieth centry has not yet completely emerged."
"John Calvin, a Frenchman who was incensed by the wealth, flamboyance, and moral license of the ruling Catholic Church, became a leader of the Reform movement. Forced to flee his country, Calvin received recognition in Switzerland as the founder of Protestant Presbyterianism. He also gained fame as the founder of the "puritan ethic." Calvin wrote: "The whole man from head to foot is thus, as it were, drenched in a flood of wickedness so that no part has remained without sin and so everything which springs from him is counted as sin."
"Martin Luthor, a German monk, was the "Father of the Reformation." In 1517 he broke with papal authority to form the Protestant Lutheran Church, rebelling against what he saw as the moral laxity and extravagances of the Catholic Church and its aristocracy. Luther brought fundamentalist, no-nonsense religion to a ready and willing middle class. With the advent of Protestantism came biblical interpretations which stressed, as never before, the impurity and sin inherent in the human body." Luthor wrote: "Our weakness lies not in our works but in our nature; our person, nature, and entire being are corrupted through Adam's fall."
"The puritan ethic came to America with the Mayflower. The Protestant pilgrim pioneers' body guilt and shame became the law of the land, and this law was even more extreme in the United States than overseas."30
There is no question that these Christian Reformers were right in dealing with the corruption (including sexual impropriety) that existed within the Catholic Church. What we see is that each Reformer dealt with the change to a different extent. Some were more radical in their desire to change than others. While there were a few groups that were moderate in their view of the inherent sinfulness of the human body, most held to the extreme of an evil body whose inevitable goal was to be sexual.
Jumping to the late twentieth century we can find many Christian groups who continue to hold to the belief that the human body is inherently evil and should remain suppressed. Many other Christian groups allow for complete body freedom within marriage. There are few groups, however, that support the idea that complete body freedom apart from free sexual activity, hence nudity, is allowed within Orthodox Christianity.
On the other hand, many people hold a popular misconception that nudism is in some way a "far out" religious sect. "Sun worshipping" is seriously cited by outsiders as part of the nudist "creed." Yet, even a cursory perusal of nudist literature proves the fallacy of such a concept. The earliest nudists, though devoted to body fitness and the value of total exposure to the sun, considered these ideas as simple extensions of the value of maintaining good physical health. Worship services are frequently held in nudist parks, but they have no connection whatever with nudist activity--in fact, they ignore it.31
In a questionnaire, from which 1,388 nudists responded, the question was asked: "Are you a member of a church?" The replies, as published in the book Nudist Society were as follows:32
This response was from our 1964 research (n=1388)
Do not belong
Text Version of Table
No. % No. % No. %
Do belong 593 42.7 371 45.1 222 39.4
Do not belong 765 55.1 438 53.3 327 58.0
No response 17 1.2 8 1.0 7 1.2
Qualified answer 13 1.0 5 0.6 8 1.4
This response was from our 1964 research (n=1388)
"The obvious deduction from the research is that nudists spread their religious allegiances over a wide span, as does the general public. These data have been applicable for some time. A comparison with the study based on the 1948 ASA (American Sunbather's Association) membership showed that no significant changes have taken place in the religious inclinations of the nudist population since that time."33
In early surveys (from 1930 to 1950) about ten times as many nudists claimed some religious affiliation as did not in early surveys. By 1964, a change had begun, 63% indicted a religious affiliation to 37% with none. The shift appears to reflect changes in the American population in general, and is not to be unique to nudists.
"Many people participate actively in both religion and nudism and see no conflict between the two. In addition, a sizable number of ministers and priests are nudists. Religious services are held in many camps by duly ordained ministers who are also nudists."34
It should be no surprise after looking at the history of the Church that there would be Christians who promote nudity today. Just as we see many levels of conviction within Churches today, nudist Christians are not all fully devoted followers of Christ, nor are they all liberal in their doctrinal beliefs. Christian nudists are just that: Christians who hold the belief that nudity is not evil, nor contributes to sinful behavior or thought.
The lack of discussion in the Church over nudity is similar to the lack of discussion over sex. It has been only recently that open discussion of sexual fulfillment in marriage have emerged. As we have seen, the Church has repressed sexuality to where it is considered evil even within marriage. Authors and lecturers have recently come out to set the Biblical record straight. The fact is that God condones, even prizes the sexual relationship within a marriage. However, because of the historical view of this subject, many Christians find the acceptance of sexual enjoyment very difficult.
"When a person comes from a narrow, somewhat rigid, conservative religious background where there are many direct and indirect messages about the sinfulness of sex, God is often excluded from that person's sexual experience. One woman talked about this exclusion of God as something that happened very literally for her: when she walked into the bedroom to make love with her husband she felt she left God outside the door. We have shown that God through the Scripture sends a positive message about human sexuality. Yet many of our fears and inhibitions about sex have been connected with god in order to justify the existence of such negative feelings."1
"One thing we would caution against. Many people use Christian or moral arguments to defend against an activity which is personally troublesome for them. Often their moral arguments, though relatively weak, keep them from dealing with the real issues of emotional conflict. By finding some obscure passage or unique interpretation they avoid working through their own personal reason for the position they hold. While it is sometimes easier to call on an outside authority, this can cause a person to avoid facing the genuine issues that are present and need to be discussed with one's spouse."2
Often we don't even need the obscure passage or unique interpretation to support our view because the Church has defended our position for centuries. Some of you reading this book will hold to the belief that the writers who teach sex is a wonderful, natural thing are as wrong as I am. I will not try to change your belief. That is between you and God. I only wish to point out that what I share on the subject of nudity may be just as relevant as what others have recently taught on the subject of sex within marriage.
I would like to end this look at nudity in the Church with a very brief look at Lewis Sperry Chafer's view of the human body from his Systematic Theology. (Brackets [ ] are part of the original text.)
VARIOUS USES OF THE WORD "BODY" The expression "the body of sin," used by Paul in Romans 6:6 indicates that the body is sinful. However, this does not support the philosophic notion that material substance is by its very nature sinful, for sin began not with the body but in rebellion of the will against God. A Christian's body, though sinful, is nevertheless the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:15, 19). The parts of one's body are to be yielded to God to become instruments of righteousness (Rom. 6:13), that is, means by which His righteous standards are displayed.35
THE TWOFOLD EFFECT OF THE CHRISTIAN'S SIN A Christian's sin affects the Christian himself and God. On himself [among other things there is a] loss of joy. Sin in the life of a Christian results in the loss of joy (1 John 1:4). This joy should be the fruit of the Spirit in the Christian (John 15:11; Gal. 5:22). In David's confession of his sin, he prayed, "Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me" (Ps. 51:12). 36
A tremendous change takes place when an unregenerate person is born again. A new nature is added that corresponds to the nature of God, and the indwelling Holy Spirit makes the body His temple. This introduces a contest between the Spirit and the sinful nature (Gal. 5:17). It is possible, however, for a believer to experience fellowship with the Lord and not fulfill the desires of his sin nature (v. 16).37
We see several broad themes in Chafer's writing. 1) The physical body is not in and of itself sinful. Our rebellion against God is what embodies sin. 2) Sin's effect on the believer results in the loss of joy. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. 3) A person is regenerated when salvation is accepted and this results in the obtaining of a new nature. He need not fulfill the desires of his sinful nature.
Looking briefly at the current nudist movement, there are a number of ministers and priests in the contemporary nudist movement. In fact, the modern nudist movement was largely organized by ordained religious leaders. These religious leaders used as their justification the many parts of the Judaic-Christian Bible which speak of accepting the human body without shame.
Rev. Martin Wadestone, author of "Nudism and Christianity," writes: "Actually, in the light of the Bible, there is no sin in nudity itself; but if a person uses the nudity for lustful or immoral purposes he has misused it, and this constitutes a sin. The Bible does not speak against nudity nor does it teach that the body is shameful. There is reference to shame in nudity, but this shame was produced in the mind of man, not by divine ordination." 38
Through this progression it becomes clear that nudity need not be sinful. If we can show by example and observation that nudity need not lead to sinful thought or behavior, then it can be accepted for its many benefits.
Having looked at the history of the Church with regard to morality and nudity, let's also look at the secular history leading up to the modern nudist movement. Perhaps the greatest influence in today's puritanical morals came out of the Victorian period. It is this historical period that is emphasized by Aileen Goodson, Ph.D. in the book Therapy Nudity & Joy.
"During the Victorian period (1800's in Europe) a middle-class morality was developing that emphasized self-reliance, self-control, and love of work which fit well with the views of religious moralists. Shame regarding sexual desires and activities reached such extremes that a woman in the mid-1800s minimized and hid all body parts except her face. Obliterating the body was not sufficient for the morality of the Victorian period. Sexual words and references to body parts were removed from "proper" language to prevent the stimulation of sinful sexual desires. Legs became "limbs," a chicken leg became "dark meat," and a chicken breast "white meat." Some people took modesty to the extreme of covering such items as piano legs."
"The pride of the Victorian husband in having a "proper" wife was a facade that hid a dark side. There were more prostitutes per capita roaming the streets of London during this time than in any other period of that city's history. A flourishing trade in pornography and a profitable trade in virgins existed."
"Perhaps the most cruel and destructive manifestation of Victorianism was the insensitive treatment of native cultures by religious missionaries and European colonists. With no regard for native pride and dignity, for their religious customs, nor for the practicality of their dress and lifestyle, arrogant Victorianism demanded conformity with European customs. Forcing clothing on those peoples whose cultures had previously permitted them to experience body freedom was not only demeaning and humiliating but an effective and constant reminder of their "inferior" heritage and status."
"Since the natives had never learned to wash or mend clothes, it took them a long time to adapt to European garments, which were at first worn until they fell to pieces. There was a great decline in cleanliness with resulting skin diseases and other infections. The natives ere subjected to the same kind of embarrassment in having to be seen in clothing as we, in a clothed society, would feel upon being forced to abandon ours."39
The history of the Victorian era is a sad commentary on the influence of the Church on society. While the intentions of the religious leaders throughout the Reformation were good, there effects on society were often damaging. May we be wiser in our understanding of God's character so that our society may be changed in a more positive way.
What is nude? Nude is simply the absence of clothing. What is lewd? Lewd is the action by which one person entices another person into improper sexual behavior. Our 20th century society has made these two terms synonymous. Clearly this linking of nude and lewd has been strongly influenced by both the 16th century settling of America by Puritans, Quakers and other fundamental Christian groups and the 19th century Victorian views of society.
The story of a thirty-seven-year-old former Berliner who came to 20th centry America with his family gives a picture of our country's view of nudity. His children swam nude in public facilities in Germany until they were six years old without any offense to others. He said: "In Germany, adults changed their children's clothing on the beach without any disapproval by others. When we visited a public beach in the United States for the first time, we were very amazed because it was forbidden to change children's clothes on the beach. Even small babies had to run around in bathing suits. Because of this our three year old caught a severe case of bronchitis and in spite of doctor's care had a hard time getting rid of it. One year of nudism brought about a complete cure. We all got rid of annoying colds that come from climatic changes.40
Whether the child's bronchitis was the direct result of swimming with a suit on is open to question, but our society's reaction to a nude three year old is sadly accurate. We will see later that much of this restriction against infant nudity relates to our general shame of the human body. The once common display of a bare bottom baby picture, is now often looked on with embarrassment. How can a bare bottom infant be tied together with sexuality?
Society's Connection between Nudity and Sexuality
Many will point (rightly so) to religion as the source of the tie between nudity and sexuality. Many "scholars" have wrongly interpreted religious writings as teaching that nudity and sexuality in general are bad. "Jewish, Christian, and Islamic bibles would have us believe that modesty started with the awareness of male/female genitals and the knowledge of sexuality as sinful -- an association of shame with nudity. By now this morality is thoroughly ingrained in various contemporary religious, social, and political systems."41 This writer (and many others) clearly misunderstand what the Bible teaches. The original sin was the disobedience of God in eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God never said, before or after that sin, that sexuality or nudity were wrong.
As a result of these religious teachings: "The process of acculturation starts from birth. Most babies are immediately diapered and swaddled, restrained from touching 'private parts, and allowed freedom from clothes only for the brief moments while being dressed or bathed. It's not unusual for children to grow into adulthood without seeing a totally undressed person of the opposite sex, and there are innumerable reports of husbands and wives who have never seen each other nude. As Dennis Craig Smith says in his book Growing Up Without Shame, 'The doctrine of original sin causes otherwise logical, sane societies to hold onto their body cover-ups as small children cling to security blankets.' "42
Is this swaddling a result of parental modesty on the infant's behalf? Aileen Goodson writes: "One dictionary definition of modesty is 'observing proprieties of dress and behavior,' these proprieties being dependent on sociological, religious, and psychological interpretations. Standards of 'modesty' thus reflect the weaknesses of a society as well as its strengths, and these standards are often incompatible with the beliefs of particular groups within that society."
In the book "Nudist Society" it says: "Because our culture considers both nudity and sex as things to be experienced in private, the two have blended in the popular mind. Strong legal and moral overtones accompany the exposure of those parts of the human body that clearly identify an individual as a sexual being. A nude woman is considered to be seductive, even if she is hanging clothes in her back yard or swimming in a pool. An nude male is assumed to be 'displaying' himself in a sexually aggressive manner. Ask the average man on the street if he believes that nudists indulge in sexual acts at their 'colonies,' and he is most apt to respond with a 'yes.' His belief is rooted in tradition. He is convinced that any overt sexual behavior by practicing nudists would be much more interesting, newsworthy, and enlivening as social conversation than comparable sex behavior by nonnudists."43
Bernard Rudofsky, in The Unfashionable Human Body, comments: "Modesty is complex. Put together with any number of ill-fitting parts, it reveals itself in more or less irrational taboos that differ not only with every civilization, but often within a civilization itself. Like most taboos, they defy logic. Moreover, they are highly unstable; a principle rigidly upheld today, tomorrow is abandoned and forgotten...."44
Modesty in the extreme is an expression of body shame. We will later see that nudists display a form of modesty. But any modesty that causes harm must be examined with respect to the Biblical teaching that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.
Aileen Goodson writes: "An extreme example of body-shame modesty was reported in an article by Herbert Freed, M.D. that appeared in the journal Sexual Behavior. Regarding an anthropological study of a small island community named Inis Beag, off the coast of Ireland, Freed says: "These Irish islanders abhor nudity, so that only the infant has his entire body sponged, while all others wash only their faces, necks, and lower arms and legs, and only on Saturday night.... Their aversion to the sexual symbolism of nudity has cost the lives of Irish seamen who have drowned, carried to their deaths by their heavy clothes, and of sick men who are unwilling to face a nurse because it might mean baring their bodies. Secrecy surrounds elimination to the extent that infants are discouraged in evacuating before siblings. Even breast feeding is rare because of its secular connotation, as is fondling or kissing."45
But the evidence indicates very strongly that people who participate in social nudism are not lewd. Their behavior does not promote sexual impropriety. In an interview with California Magazine, Diann Polchinski--former flight attendant, wife of a pilot, mother of three, and the 1984 Ms. Nude International winner--gave her reasons for entering the contest: "I'm very glad I have the Ms. Nude International title. Now I'm going to straighten some things out. I want to go on the Phil Donahue Show. I want to lecture. I want to be a spokesperson for nudism. I'm tired of the sexual connotation attached to nudism. I'm tired of people being horrified when I say I take my children to nudist places. There's nothing sexual about it. [emphasis mine] I've seen a lot more going on at a public beach than you'll see at any nudist camp. And I'll tell you one thing--when some business people in the U.S. find out there's big money in nudism, then you're going to have big-time nudism in this country. You'll be swamped by European tourists. That'll be a good thing. It will relax the whole country." 46
A young man said, "I came because of all the sexual stories I had heard, but it's not a sexual experience at all. I was surprised to find out that nudity alone is not sexually exciting.... It's disappointing to find that out, but it's the truth."47
"We bring our son to a nude beach because being around naked people having fun on the sand has taught him what society may eventually learn: that nakedness (being totally without clothes in a non sexual situation) is no more stimulating or sexually arousing than being dressed in a non sexual context."48
"There is in truth nothing shocking, embarrassing, or sexual about social nudity.... The nudists in their writings always point out, correctly enough, that nudism and sex have no necessary correlation. Most nudists seem to be as emotionally uncomfortable about sex as the average citizen."49
Nudists have always pointed out that there is no difference between a group of clothed people and a group of nude people in terms of the mental sexual arousal that will occur. In fact, it is often pointed out that more mental sexual stimulation occurs due to imagination of what is not seen (behind clothing) than what is seen (through nudity). Consider a day on the beach. Seeing women in swim suits definitely provokes curiosity, fantasy and arousal in men. The extent to which that occurs varies from man to man. But should we conclude that behavior of women on a swimming beach is lewd? Should good Christian men refuse to go to beaches for fear of lusting? The fact is there is less mental sexual stimulation on a nude swimming beach than on a textile beach.
Writing in The Encyclopedia of Sexual Behavior, the psychiatrist Hirning points out: "Desexualization, or playing down of genital sex has been from the beginning one of the major aims of nudism. Nudists never tire of pointing out that the complete and unabashed practice of nudism has this effect. The standard of sex decorum in nudist camps is extremely high."50
Does this mean that nudists are desensitized sexually because of the constant casual acceptance of the naked body? No. Research shows that the frequency of sexual relations remains unchanged as a result of nudism.51 When asked How has nudism affected your sexual happiness?, half the sample group stated there had been no material change. However, better than one-third of both males and females indicate that nudism had contributed positively to their sexual happiness in life.52
Is this a contradiction? How can nudists be desensitized to sexual nudity on the one hand and have a more active sex life on the other. The answer is simple. Sexual activity between marriage partners is affected more by the emotional health of the individuals than by any visual influence. Nudists, as we will see later, are generally more relaxed and emotionally healthy than their clothed counterparts.
Our society views many sexually related activities as offensive or harmful. Problems with prostitution and pornography are rampant in many American cities. Men often indicate that when sexual curiosity is satisfied in a nudist setting, their interest in pornography is eliminated. Viewing of the nude female in a natural social setting eliminates much sex pressure that was formerly relieved through masturbation or prostitution.
It would seem on the surface that some, if not much, of America's problems with sexual activities can be alleviated by a healthy acceptance of nudist activity. Certainly a further study of the details of nudity's affect on individuals is warranted.
In the Media and Advertising
Have you watched TV or seen a movie lately? Have you opened a magazine, read a newspaper or listened to the radio? If so, I need not tell you that sexuality has pervaded the media and advertising. The public airways, once a haven from nudity, are now becoming filled with shows that display male and female nudity, most often in a sexual setting.
Advertising executives discovered long ago that the way to a man's wallet was through his mind. And the best way into his mind is to play with his sexual fantasies. While often very subtle, but sometimes blatant, the advertiser pulls the fantasy strings of the viewer, building the association between a sexual conquest and the latest product available.
Women are not immune either. They are encouraged to entice the man of their dreams through the use of beautifying agents and apparel. The reality of these fantasies are no more solid than those aimed at the men, but they are just as effective.
I need not spend more time discussing the link between the media and sex. But I will point out that society's link between nudity and sexuality has been reinforced by advertising's daily bombardment.
The Psychology of Clothing
As was shown in the chapter, The Significance of Clothing, the Bible often uses clothing in the same symbolic way that nakedness is used. Outside of Biblical references, history is full of commentary on clothing. The excerpts that follow summarize some of the observations that have been made over the years.
[Adam and Eve's recognition that they were naked illustrates] the first time that humans suffered guilt and shame, the sort of emotions that today would make them candidates for psychotherapy. "Fig leaves" have become even more important to contemporary man and woman, with our long history of using them not just as protective body coverings but also as sexual, psychological, and social masks. We use clothes to define ourselves to the world. Through them we send signals of who we are, who we think we are, or who we want to be. We send gender signals and create images--seductive or staid, businesslike or casual, colorful or somber. By our clothes we project status and express our inner feelings. By our clothes we hide from ourselves and from others.53
It is known that inhabitants of temperate zones (such as Egypt, Greece, Rome, and India) draped fabric around their bodies in casual fashion to form robes, skirts, or belted tunics (the Greek chitan, Roman toga, and East Indian sari). Desert dwellers, on the other hand, dressed in layers of draped fabric to protect against heat, cold, and sandstorms. In colder climates, tighter and more elaborate costumes evolved, with fitted arms, sleeves, and pant legs.54
By the thirteenth century in Europe, the concept of clothing we accept today was established: tailoring with ornamentation and emphasis on certain body parts.55
Occasionally, the pendulum of fashion swung back, influenced by the memory of graceful Grecian drapery. This happened in the early Renaissance and in the neoclassic period of the late eighteenth century, when women's "Directoire" gowns revealed their breasts and some men wore togas.56
About three hundred years ago another change in fashion occurred, this time linked to religious and sociopolitical developments associated with the Protestant teachings of John Calvin and Martin Luther. Men's clothes gradually changed from flamboyant to functional drab; the peacock lost his colorful feathers. Puritan clothes, a utilitarian covering of the body, were considered a sign of victory over "base frivolity."57
Bernard Rudofsky expressed, "It seems that man's and animals' clothes serve much the same purpose--sexual selection. Only the roles of the sexes are reversed. In the animal kingdom it is the male who infatuates the female with his gorgeous garb... In human society, on the other hand, the burden is on the woman... Being devoid of anything comparable to the extraordinary antennae and giant legs that serve animals for prehending a partner, she exerts her powers by way of artificial plumage. To prevent the male from escaping, she has to keep him perpetually excited by changing her shape and colors by every means, fair and foul. In the traditional battle of the sexes, dress and its accessory arts are her offensive weapons."58
The loin cloth on an otherwise naked body does call direct attention to the covered area, and it would therefore very likely create titillation by its removal in a sexual situation. Observations of daily life among naked tribes indicate that the sight of genitalia in a nude society is not in itself erotic. In fact, members of these tribes dress themselves with specific clothing, jewelry, and decorative body painting during ceremonies and dances when sexual arousal is desired.59
In modern societies, similar meanings are introduced into clothing design. Women often wear teasingly low necklines and sheer blouses, while men sometimes don seductively cut open-necked shirts to produce a sexually attractive image. To radiate sexual signals, both genders may dress in clinging, body-contoured T-shirts with tight-fitting jeans outlining the movement of buttocks, crotch, and legs. Women's cinched waistlines emphasize breasts and buttocks, while their high-heeled shoes and mini-skirts accentuate their shapely legs. Most obvious, of course, is the skimpy bathing suit that targets sexuality by directly drawing attention to the genital areas.60
We are all affected by the way people around us dress, by the signals their appearance projects. In return, our clothing sends its own messages, even when we are not attempting to appear attractive or seductive. By its very essence, clothing is a cover-up that is a reminder of the naked body underneath. 61
Art historian Anne Hollander has conjectured about this. She says, "Nakedness, of course, has its own fierce effect on desire; but clothing with nakedness underneath has another, and it is apparently even more potent.... Clothing that envelops, swallows up, and seems to replace the body also enhances its importance, differently but no less powerfully.... For six centuries fashion has perpetually recreated an integrated vision of clothes and body together. There is a strong eroticism in this method, since it plays on the dialectic of dress and body while constantly changing the rules.62
The mating instinct in almost all mammals is periodic and related to ovulation. it is curious that humans are the outstanding exception. James Laver, author of Modesty In Dress, believed, "If complete nudity were common, we should probably become seasonal in our impulses, like the animals. Our characteristic permanent eroticism is kept alive by clothes."63
In his book The Importance of Wearing Clothes, Lawrence Langner remarks that when the missionaries tried to inhibit the sexual activities of naked tribes by forcing them to wear clothes, the result was just the opposite of what was intended. The clothes drew attention to the parts that were covered for the first time. And, as also testified to by Arthur Grimble, research commissioner of the Gilber and Ellice islands in the South Pacific, "[clothing] contributed to the natives' moral decadence by stimulating a nasty curiosity which never before existed" 64
The Reverend La Rue Watson also commented about the corrosive effect of western civilization on native cultures when he noted that, with many tribes, it was as much the desire of the naves "to imitate the supposedly superior race, that put clothes on them," as was the missionaries' religious pressure or the merchants' desire to sell cloth, "with the result that they died like flies from respiratory and other diseases."65
Perhaps there is no sexier message than that projected by a woman in a sheer blouse or a shirt with low-cut décolletage, tight jeans, high heels, and dangling earrings. C. Willett Cunnington writes in The Way Women Wear Clothes: "Prudery, it seems, provides mankind with endless aphrodisiacs; hence, no doubt, the reluctance to abandon it."66
In the Victorian era and in other times when women's apparel was dictated by the demands of men, women suffered in the clothing they were required to wear. In some cases the clothing was physically restrictive resulting in fainting, miscarriages and damage to internal organs. In some cases the basic skeletal system was distorted.
Other apparel requirements resulted in injury to men and women alike. At times, modesty in the name of fashion required men and women to wear layers of neck to ankle tight fitting clothing. This clothing was required regardless of the activity or time of year. In the heat of the summer, exhaustion and heat stroke resulted.
At various times in history, there were brief periods of female rebellion. In the early 1900s, for example, a few defiant women began demanding equality in comfortable clothing. Dancer Isadora Duncan discarded her corset for diaphanous gowns and appealed to all women to do likewise. Amelia Bloomer and a group of New England society friends suffered several years of media and social ridicule by wearing billowing "bloomer" trousers under a dress reading to the calves in an unsuccessful attempt to popularize divided skirts. It was also during this period that the establishment of Germany's first naturalist camp resulted in the total abandonment of clothing on the part of some men and women. This was certainly a demonstration of equality of the sexes in matters of dress and offered an opportunity, at least during club outings, for enjoyment of body freedom.67
The attitude on the part of today's women [toward clothing] is well described by Carolyn Symonds in a poem titled "Masquerade":68
Clothes, I discover, mold my personality.
Business suit, tailored blouse, and I become cool, competent.
Skirt and sweater, tight enough to reveal my sex and I'm calculating, subtly seductive.
Soft flowing silks with sandals and I become a Grecian goddess.
Starched summery cottons make me mischievous and gay like a school girl.
Tight evening dress, cut low, and I am frankly sexy, openly seductive.
What am I underneath these many faces?
They have been with me so long that even I don't know.
Is it surprising that society rejects the concept of nudity? With clothing as such a powerful tool for the manipulation of others, the removal of clothing from a society removes this power from the individuals. What we need to ask is whether the use of clothing to manipulate is a proper use of this tool. Certainly the use of clothing in theater is essential to setting the mood of the act. Clothing can aid or hinder ones climb up the business ladder. Clothing can set an emotional tone in a Church worship service.
When we accept nudity, we release our hold on this familiar tool. Dr. Magnus Hirshfeld of the Berlin Institute for Sexual Science said, "...a nude body is not undressed, rather he is not dressed."69 Hence the tool of clothing is not used when one is nude. As Christians we must first accept that manipulation of others to our benefit is wrong. If we use clothing to do this, we are in violation of the "Love Others" commandment.
Frederick Geib, who performed the first sociological study of the nudist phenomenon, points out that class differences are erased through the practice of nudism. He suggests that as a result of removing clothing, which is a primary social status symbol in our culture, interaction patterns may be altered.70 Although clothing is not specifically a determinant, it is frequently an indicator of one's class position. In the 1960', dress was still a determinant of social class, though a bit less than it had been in the past.71 It is my observation that clothing is as strong of a class determinant in many circles as it has ever been. I am sure that you would not be well received wearing jeans and a T-shirt to a corporate board meeting in today's America. Likewise, if you dress up or down too much your motives or character may be questioned in a typical church.
In a nude environment, men and women from all social strata find less conflict when choosing to relax. Nudists can more easily step out of their work-related role and act as they please, because removing clothes does away with role identification. A number of nudists have pointed this out as a positive aspect of their lifestyle. They are able to interact with others without the role expectations or deference to roles that exist in the larger American culture.72 When there is no concern for how I will be perceived, I need not guard any boundaries. The freedom to be ones self is sorely lacking in America. When the expectations of others is eliminated, the ability to relax and release tension is greatly enhanced.
Limits in Recreation
The last time you were swimming, did you notice the warm, soothing feeling that your wet, clinging swim suit provided? No?!? You say it was cold and clammy? Then why wear it? That is the logic used to support nude recreation. There are certain activities that are better enjoyed clothing free. Swimming and sun bathing are the most obvious, but many people claim that most outdoor activities are best enjoyed clothing free.
Most countries of the world allow for the designation of public beaches as clothing optional. Europe and Australia are notable examples of recreation liberty. Sadly, the United States is very restrictive. Most legislators will fail to allow the classification of recreation areas as clothing optional. Yet research indicates that most Americans would accept such legislation.
The Naturist Society sponsored a survey by The Gallup Organization to research attitudes on nude sunbathing. To the question, "Should people be free to enjoy nude sunbathing without interference by officials as long as they do so at beaches that have found acceptance for that purpose?" there was a startling 72% "yes" answer. With such large numbers of U.S. citizens feeling they have a right to be unclothed in specially designed recreation areas, one would expect accommodating response from the authorities. But that is slow in coming.73
Many people with good intentions wish to protect others from the "evils" of nudity. It is these special interest groups that have the most impact on the legislative process. In the "land of the free", where we have the constitutional right of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness", it is sad that so much difficulty exists to designate certain public lands as clothing optional. At least we still have the freedom (in most states) to recreate clothing free on private land.
Edgar Rice Burroughs, well known American author and writer of the famous Tarzan series, in his book Beyond the Farthest Star (1941) describes life on a world galaxies away. He describes the main character's arrival on this world. While he somehow transported physically to this earth-like world, Tangor's clothing did not make it. He was discovered by a woman, Balzo Maro, who was shocked at his appearance and immediately called authorities. While assimilating into this new society, he is befriended by Balzo Maro and her family. This nation is at war with another continent and had been for a century. The clothing was functional, durable and color coded to identify the social position of the wearer. Tangor was accused of "annoying" Balzo Maro by appearing naked in the city of Orvis.
Burroughs writes in chapter two:
After they had gone through the preliminaries, they questioned her about me. "He wore no clothes?" asked one of the judges.
"None," said Balzo Maro.
"Did he attempt to -- ah -- annoy you in any way?"
"No," said Balzo Maro.
"You know, don't you," asked one of the judges, "that for willfully annoying a woman, an alien can be sentenced to destruction?"
"Yes," said Balzo Maro; "but he did not annoy me. I watched him because I thought he might be a dangerous character, perhaps a Kapar spy; but I am convinced that he is what he claims to be."
Later in the story, during a picnic outing with twelve others, Tangor is surprised when his friends, male and female alike, strip nude to swim.
Burroughs writes in chapter four:
Someone suggested that we swim before we eat. "I'd like nothing better," I said, "but I didn't bring any swimming things."
"What do you mean?" asked Yamoda.
"Why, I mean clothes to swim in -- a swimming-suit."
That made them all laugh. "You have your swimming-suit on," said Hardas Don, "you were born in it."...
The water was cold and refreshing and we came out with enormous appetites. After we had eaten we lay around on the grass and they sang the songs that they liked.
Seeing as they did not have swimming-suits, they likely didn't have towels either. By implication, they also ate and relaxed in the nude while drying off.
In chapter five, Tangor meets up with Balzo Maro again. Tangor has just been inducted into the flying service of the country's military. Burroughs writes:
"You look very different from the first time I saw you," said Balzo Maro, with a smile; and I certainly did, for I was wearing the blue sequins, the blue boots, and the blue helmet of the fighting service.
"I have learned a number of things since I came to Poloda," I told her, "and after having enjoyed a swimming party with a number of young men and women, I cannot understand why you were so shocked at my appearance that day."
Balzo Maro laughed. "There is quite a difference between swimming and running around the city of Orvis that way." she said, "but really it was not that which shocked me. It was your brown skin and your black hair. I didn't know what sort of wild creature you might be."
Burroughs, in 1941, only 10 years after the start of the American nudist movement. This story could have easily stood without the introduction of nudity into it. And certainly there was no reason to include the swimming incident. Clearly the subject of sexual assault was dealt with covertly, seeing that Balzo Maro was asked if Tangor attempted to "annoy" her. But Burroughs seems to be making a statement that clothing, or the lack thereof, is secondary to the enjoyment of life.
Indeed, Burroughs uses this story as a statement of social fashion as well. The clothing worn by this war torn nation was skin-tight, durable and functional. Clothing was color coded to identify the position, status or duty of the wearer in the war society. Blue for the soldiers, gold for unmarried women, red for the civil police, gray for government officials. There was no freedom for independent expression. After all, "It is war." No one questioned the mold they were placed into. They were segregated by position and duty. Yet Burroughs shows that the segregation can be broken down by "stripping off" the identifying tags. During and after their nude swim, they were able to relate as equals. No masks, no duty, no war. For a short time they experience complete escape from the oppression of their society.
Where else but in America would the feeding of an infant by its mother be considered lewd and indecent? This is the case in most states in America. The exposure of the breast, even for the purpose of feeding an infant, is considered a crime. Most pediatric books extol the health benefits of breast feeding for both the baby and the mother. Include this brief section only to point out the absurdity of many obscenity laws in America.
Beyond the simplicity of feeding an infant from the breast, I would like to point out the benefit of skin contact between the mother and infant. Sometimes a baby will fail to suckle when put to nurse at its mother's breast. "This usually occurs when the baby is wrapped in a towel or some other material. When it is removed and the baby's skin is allowed to come in contact with the mother's skin, the baby will usually begin to suckle."74 Beyond this, it has been shown repeatedly that direct skin contact has an emotional and psychological effect that is of great benefit to mother and child alike, right from the moment of birth.
The footnotes listed in the text above have not yet been included in this file due to the large amount of work involve.
A bibliography of all my sources is provided below for your reference.
Burroughs, Edgar Rice, Beyond the Farthest Star, Ace Books, New York, 1964.
Chafer, Lewis Sperry, Systematic Theology, Abridged Edition, Victor Books, 1988, ISBN: 0-89693-567-1
Hartman, Ph.D., William E., Marilyn Fithian and Donald Johnson, Nudist Society, Revised and Updated by Iris Bancroft, Elysium Growth Press, Los Angeles, (c) 1970 and 1991, ISBN 1-55599-041-X
Hirschmann, Jane R. and Carol H. Munter, Overcoming Overeating, Fawcett Columbine, (c)1988, ISBN: 0-449-90407-5
Goodson, Ph.D., Aileen, Therapy Nudity & Joy, Elysium Growth Press, Los Angeles, 1991, ISBN: 1-55599-028-2
Latourette, Kenneth Scott, A History of Christianity, Harper & Row 1975, ISBN 0-06-06452-6.
Mayers, Marvin K., Christianity Confronts Culture, (A Strategy for Cross-Cultural Evangelism) by Zondervan Publishing House, 1974, ISBN 0-310-28891-6
Penner, Clifford and Joyce, The Gift of Sex, Word Publishing, Dallas, 1981, ISBN: 0-8499-2893-1.
Last revised July 27, 1997 by Jeff Rockel