A recent news article caught my attention: “Christians strip down at a South Texas nudist community”. It describes evangelical Christians who take it all off. Nudity is shameful, according to Focus on the Family. “From Genesis 3 onward Scripture seems to make it clear that, except in the case of sexual activity, it’s a shameful thing to ‘uncover one’s nakedness’”. I see just the opposite. Most people see nakedness as shameful because of sexual activity. “At Nature’s Resort, public nudity is not sexual,” the owner says. “The initial conception is that this is a sexual thing. People think we’re all out on the front lawn having sex with each other, swapping partners. In fact, if there is any overt sexuality, you see that gate open real fast and somebody is ushered out.”
“I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” God, it seems, intended for humans to live in the nude. That it didn’t bother Adam before the Fall; it would seem that his fear arose more out of the new-found exposure to vulnerability rather than embarrassment.
Nudity was a taboo in the ancient Israelite society. Beginning with Adam’s sin, the Bible frequently associates nakedness with humiliation and dishonor. Noah’s drunkenness, Lot’s daughters – “uncovering nakedness” connotes inappropriate sexual activity. But there are other passages where nakedness has nothing to do with that. Jesus hung naked on the Tree. And we have St. John matter-of-factly reporting that Simon Peter put clothes on when he jumped into the water. In the pre-mechanized world, there were occupations where nakedness was (no pun intended) best suited – those predating physical contact with whirling industrial machinery. Juxtaposed with Jewish morality is a Biblical ambivalence to nakedness where sexuality is not at issue.
Not making a big deal about seeing someone naked is a difficult question for us, in which there is a tension between the modesty of Christians, and the hyper-sexualized, X-rated society in which we live. That said, I point to C.S. Lewis in saying there is no absolute Christian edit concerning the unclothed human form. One would never think of banning C.S. Lewis as a smut author. But in Perelandra, he casually describes how clothes are unnecessary on inter-planetary visits. Indeed, in Heaven we are clothed with garments of salvation and arrayed in a robe of his righteousness. (Isaiah 61).
In Mere Christianity, Lewis opines that: “The Christian rule of chastity must not be confused with the social rule of ‘modesty‘”… While the rule of chastity is the same for all Christians at all times, the rules of propriety change. Even Pope John Paul II remarked that “nakedness itself is not immodest”. Context matters. I think of native tribes who lived naked for eons, until missionaries came to inform them it was evil. Or, my elementary school experience, where we third grade boys didn’t think anything wrong in having to swim naked during pool time.
A stay at a German hotel might shock American tourists, with a sign at the indoor pool saying “No Bathing Suits Allowed”. Whenever I visited friends in Helsinki, we men would nonchalantly head into the sauna –sans clothes, of course. I was too Puritan-minded to chance a mixed-gender sauna, also a common Finnish practice. In explaining how freeing the experience was, it was incomprehensible to American friends , who asked me whether/why I went to a gay bathhouse! Somehow, Finnish bathing culture escaped our remnants of Victorian prudery.
What person has never dreamed of bathing naked? I’ve done it! I was swimming at a sparsely-occupied beach on the Adriatic. What a sense of non-conformant liberty it brought. Or, at least partially. I kept my trunks on until in the ocean, and tied them tightly around my ankle – in constant fear of the knot becoming untied. And yes, I did pee in the Ocean!
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart,” says Job. Maybe there exists a “naked and without shame” setting in-between where God wouldn’t get mad if you did the same. You don’t stop being a Christian just because you happen not to be wearing any clothes.
I condone a group of naked Christians, who aren’t gathered for an orgy. Those who patronize a naturist retreat on Saturday, and sit in the front pew on Sunday. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. But looking in the mirror, I see almost seven decades of beauty-robbing decrepitude. Believe me, there’s nothing there there. I probably would not accept an invitation, especially since I wouldn’t go unless my wife came with. And that, my friends, would never happen!!