Thursday, April 28, 2011

Nudity and Christianity - Jim C. Cunningham

Welcome to my blog where I invite posts concerning the topic of nudity and Christianity. The more general theme is the theology of the body (TOB) promoted by Pope John Paul II, but most people who claim allegiance to this TOB seem to omit the body part and dialog about other TOB themes that actually ought to be based on the body itself. By creating this blog I am trying to provide a forum for people who want to back up and begin with the body. For example, just what is the body? Is it a blessing or a curse, a gift or a burden? Is it good or evil, dignified or disgusting, wholesome or obscene? If it is good, is it all good--even those "unmentionable" parts? What about pornography? If you photographed a naked person, would that necessarily be pornography? What is modesty in dress? Is it a matter of covering the body or those "unmentionable" parts? What is immodesty? Is it immodest to swim nude where such is the custom? How about where the custom has not yet been established? Was it immodest for the first person to begin the custom by swimming nude, but not immodest, once many followed his example, for others to swim nude once the custom had been established? What about nudity in art? Should all art containing nudity be condemned? If the famous "The Thinker" ancient Greek sculpture is acceptable, is it unacceptable if you were seen deep in thought in the same pose? If that statue is acceptable, then was it also acceptable for someone to assume that pose naked before artists? A 2-frame cartoon shows an old lady with her gray hair in a bun, wearing old-lady-type clothes, oohing and ahhing in admiration of Michelangelo's famous statue of David outside the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy. The 2nd frame has the same lady, later, on the beach at Ostia, outside Rome, dressed in an old-lady-type, skirted bathing costume, looking at a naked man on the beach who happens to be in the same pose as Michelangelo's David. But here she exclaims how disgusting, indecent and obscene he is. Does this make sense? Should modesty make sense? 100 years ago males were arrested on Coney Island Beach in New York for going "topless." Beachwear once covered almost the entire body of both men and women. Very few today consider a bare-chested man at the beach to be sexually immodest. What's the difference? Is it just that times have changed? Most people today seem to think it immodest for a woman to go "topless" at a beach, and like men at Coney Island Beach, several decades earlier, some topfree women have been arrested for "indecent exposure." But is a woman's breast "indecent"? In some Moslem countries, women must veil even their faces in public. Is this right or wrong? What if the authorities in America required women here to veil their faces in public? What is the difference between requiring the veiling of breasts and faces?

Some say it's because those "unmentionables" are "sex organs." But does that make any sense? If breasts are sex organs, does that make plastic baby bottles obscene toys? How is a real nipple somehow indecent, but a rubber one is okay to display in public?
And if the breast is to be defined as a "sex organ" in order to put it in some kind of category of obscenity, how is it that no one seems to mind if they happen to see your tongue or lips or hands and fingers? Why aren't these also categorized as "sex organs"? These other parts are perhaps more involved in sexual activity than even genitalia themselves, yet no one in America looks at a woman's bare face, hands and fingers and calls her immodest. What is going on? A Catholic pastor in Rhode Island once insisted that mothers not nurse their babies in church, but if they had to, to go to the "cry room" at the back of the church. Was he shielding "obscenity" from his juvenile parishioners when "cry rooms" are usually full of other, weaned children anyway, and can witness the "disgusting" act of breast-feeding, and maybe also even see naked babies having their diapers changed? Suppose the lector was reading Isaiah 66:11 where God's love is compared to something everybody supposedly knows--sucking fully of breast milk from "abundant breasts"? So we could have another 2-frame cartoon. Frame #1 shows the lector and the balloon coming out if her mouth is precisely Isaiah's beautiful image. Frame #2 shows the priest giving a lady in a pew hell for defiling his holy temple by unbuttoning her blouse to give her baby what he wants so they don't even need a cry room since junior is as consoled by his "ninny" as we should be by God's love.

In that same Catholic religion, for the first several hundred years of her existence, not only did mothers nurse their babies openly, but they, their babies, husbands and other children would all be exposing not only their chests, but their entire bodies during the ritual of baptism. Can you imagine this in our churches today? Why not? Have we progressed or regressed? Has Manichaeism distorted the sacramental life of the Church, or is it somehow holier to simply trickle water on foreheads of fully clothed people rather than dunk them naked thrice in the name of the Blessed Trinity?

Should nudity be automatically identified with sex?

And what about sex? That was, after all, what John Paul's TOB was all about--taking a different approach to sexuality. Is there anything "dirty" about conjugal love? If people are reared to regard their bodies as indecent and evil, are they likely to have John Paul's positive view of conjugal love? If all your life you have been told that your genitals are dirty, on your wedding night are you going to be able to flick a switch and all of a sudden see your body as something holy?

What about sex and body education? Might today's plethora of sexual perversions be at least partly due to attitudes that regard sex and the body as dirty? How can a child not regard them as dirty if those responsible for his formation never speak about them, or maybe briefly, once, during that "birds and bees" talk?

If the nudity in culture is always negative--of the "Playboy" variety--and always sexually titillating, how can anyone see the body as something positive and good? Shouldn't our culture have opportunities where bodies can be seen that are not trying to titillate? If society accepted nudity as, well, "natural," wouldn't that accustomization form people to see the body in a new light and not just some kind of lust-bait?

Many girls fear pregnancy--even in marriage--because they dread seeing their bodies "distorted" like that.

But like what? Have they ever seen one pregnant mother unclothed? How can pregnancy be seen as beautiful is it can't be seen? Wouldn't it be "pro-life" to let people see you naked when you are pregnant?

I once showed a birth movie in religion class which I obtained from my diocesan religious education office here in Vermont. It showed a live birth, vaginal view and all. It also showed the mother giving her baby her breast for the first time. Is this something only obstetricians and midwives should see, or should every born person know what he once went through? After all, just what are we celebrating on "birth"-days? At someone's birthday party, what if all the guests watched a video of the actual birth? Why not?

One reply might be because people simply aren't accustomed to seeing even naked bodies, let alone naked bodies with babies coming out of them. But my answer to this, is "Shouldn't they already be accustomed to bodies? Just as we are each accustomed to our own body by showering naked (and sometimes daring a peek in the full-length mirror), and just as in my generation all males  were accustomed to male bodies in locker rooms and YMCAs (where we all even swam nude), shouldn't everyone be accustomed to bodies in general?

Either I was sheltered, or in my childhood sexual perversions hardly existed. In my day all males saw each other naked, and often females also saw one another naked as many school locker rooms back then had gang showers for girls as well as for boys. It seems to me that aberrations such as homosexuality began to prosper at about the same time as those same-sex gang showers began to diminish--beginning in the 70s and dying out completely in the 80s. Nowadays elementary school kids are "coming out" with their publicly stated so-called "sexual preference." Is there a connection or is this just coincidental?

Should children grow up learning about the body openly? They naturally peel the bark off a tree to see what's underneath, and they also are curious about bodies, and before anyone told them it was a sin or naughty, they took turns watching one another use the toilet, possibly because that was the only time a person had an excuse to pull his pants down. Shouldn't John learn what's beneath Mary's "bark" and vice versa? Shouldn't such an innocent thing be accepted as nonchalantly as seeing the same children play in the lawn sprinkler?

And, speaking of which--wouldn't that be a jolly time to let the neighborhood kids get naked an frolic together, seeing each other's bodies while they are playing?

Shouldn't parents supervise such innocent naked frolics? If not, won't children seek opportunities to "peel bark" when Mommy isn't watching, and might this unsupervised nude learning lead to evil just as other unsupervised activities can and do?

I confess that when I was just beginning puberty (but still endeavored in vain to find a whisker of a pubic or underarm hair!), some "more experienced" boys in the neighborhood took me into a room in a basement where we all either got naked or at least exposed our "unmentionables" to each other. Entirely unsupervised, it did not stop at the "show and tell" stage, but some boys explored further and ended up masturbating each other. I wonder whether such boys--or other boys who behaved similarly--eventually grew up and are now homosexuals, bisexuals, transsexuals, and maybe even practice bestiality. Maybe they grew up to prefer doing sexual things with other males because it was easier? More "sexually fulfilling"? True, conjugal love is a far cry from mutual masturbation. It involves not only the coital act, but the whole lives which contextualize that physical love. There are places where homosexuals go where they "have sex" through a hole in the wall. There is no relationship at all. One guy puts his phallus through the hole, and the other "has sex" with "it." "Sex" is either masturbation, fellatio or buggery. And we wonder why so many people have AIDS? Sure, maybe AIDS can be contracted in other ways, but surely such holes in the wall are one way.

I have seen children at nudist parks, from toddlers to young adults. Their body knowledge is always in a family context and always adult supervised. Everyone is seen with his bark off. Everything I have seen is above-board. They play like other kids, the main difference being that while doing so, they are naked, and no one considers it strange or dirty, or anything like that. Instead, they all consider it natural to go au naturel. And isn't it? At least sometimes?

I will end my first blog post here. I simply wanted to establish some threads to get this new blog off and running. Share what you think, what you have experienced, etc. I will not tolerate any obscenity, whether verbal or photographic. You are free to upload photos as well as text. Nude photos are acceptable (as they should be), but anything in the least suggestive will be edited out. Yes, sex is a positive thing, but it belongs between the husband and wife it is intended to join together as one flesh.


  1. Great start, Jim! You raise an entire book's worth of questions. I applaud the discussion of Theology of the Body (TOB), as it is high time we in the Church deal with our bodies instead of repudiating them (which is the very essence of Gnosticism). God doesn't neglect our bodies and will even glorify them at the end of times.

  2. ok, you post a LOT of ideas here... and you are trying to call them christian... but, do you have any actual biblical foundation for any of these? because honestly, the only things I see about such things in the Bible is 1: God making clothes for adam and eve when they became naked... meaning (>.<) cover yourselves up... and 2: Noah cursing ham when he was naked in public, but blessing shem and japheth for covering him... again, because such actions are absolutely shameful (both accounts in genisis, I can get you verses) and the rest of the bible, when dealing with this kind of thing saying "Be MODEST."

    Now, granted, you did deal with the ideals of modesty here. and granted what turns one person on sexually might not be what turns another on sexually... but really? do we REALLY need a definition of what modest means? Fair enough...

    Check out the second of these definitions

    mod·es·ty (md-st)
    1. The state or quality of being modest.
    2. Reserve or propriety in speech, dress, or behavior.
    3. Lack of pretentiousness; simplicity.

    Don't get me wrong, the human body is beautiful, natural, and fine... but to just go showing it off to anyone... That's not biblical at all. I would very much like, if you REALLY feel this is a Godly thing to do... more specifically a Christian thing... show me some verses that back up your claims. I can give you lists for mine... I would very much be honored with at least a couple of yours. Something for me to think on.


    Worried for a friend who is kinda believing all this.

  3. Also... I would say... from Biblical example, that 1: pictures and "art" that depicts nudity is not modest. 2: just because it is culturally acceptable, doesn't mean it's good. (take abortion, you like the pope... what's his thoughts on that socially acceptable practice) Just because everyone is doing it is NOT a basis for Christianity, God Forbid... it's practically the opposite.

    As to the Isaiah passage... REALLY?! fine, talk about nursing all you want... when you, as Isaiah was trying to describe something that only that image could fulfill totally. Someone So helpless without the mother (god) and someone so hungry for the life sustenance God gives... it's a BEAUTIFUL metaphor... but such a practice, EVEN WHEN REFERRING TO GOD, (caps for emphasis, not yelling) is a SACRED, and rather PRIVATE thing... just like nursing should be. it's not saying... "oh by the way... feel free to just wander around naked and looking at nudity. HUGE difference.

    Look at Song of Solomon, the most erotic book in the Bible... EVEN ALL THIS takes place between a husband and a wife... (when the nudity hits). I'm sorry I am rambling... perhaps I should have prayed some to be more coherent... I just cannot believe that this was actually written, and thought of as Godly... I certainly mean no offense, I can be blunt sometimes... so if I offended, I am sorry... but please... let's not just go on "I like this idea" if we're going to call it christian... could we get some solid scriptural examples of such ideals?

  4. and yes, the only difference is the decay of modesty in culture... again, does not mean that it SHOULD be this way... just means that it IS this way. Sorry I know I am talking a lot... just... I keep trying to go back and read it over again to see if there is anything good I missed... and I just... i can't.

  5. sorry lastly... (I promise) I am not gnostic, I believe our bodies are amazing and good... just... not to be shared so openly...

  6. I would like to take a step back from the Christianity question and the advice for Jews to marry their brothers' widow.
    Recently there has been a world-wide legal movement to ban child photography from the internet. In response, I find US Naturists are now claiming to be a religious movement and since purity of mind and body (virginity) are important to ritual leaders then US Naturists are allowed to photograph their children (virgin ritual leaders) under the constitutional protections of freedom of speech and religion (i.e., Internatural Magazine, NJ, USA).
    Your thoughts? Do you abhor pagans or are we pagan to you?

  7. Jim, I also believe that you raise some very intelligent questions. GREAT start on your blog.

    The "phobia" of nudity is NOT Biblical, from what I have read. It is strictly an American phenomenon. There is nudity all through the Bible. David danced naked to praise God. Europeans have topless and nude beaches everywhere. Does that mean that an entire continent is sinning? I don't think so.

    As for modesty, that is also defined by the culture and not the Bible. In fact, a women in a full burqa can be very immodest, yet, I believe that a nude women can be very modest. To me, modesty is an attitude, not by nudity.

    It's kind of like an old Benny Hill routine. Nudists are standing around talking and it's no big deal. No one looks at the other one strangely. It's not until a dressed woman comes by and adjusts her stocking that the men begin to notice. The attitude change was caused by clothing, not an absence of clothing.

    That does not mean that we should let nudity run rampant. This IS an imperfect world. Should people run around EVERYWHERE with nothing on? No. Should people be allowed to sexualize nudity in public? No. There is a time and a place for everything and nudity has it's place.

    Jim, again, great job on raising some significant questions. You have started a GREAT discussion and look forward to getting in on more of it.

  8. Thanks, Dave, for contributing to my blog last November 17, 2011, and I mean this sincerely, even if you are not yet a card-carrying nudist (just kiddin’!).

    My reply is so long, that I made it a new post. See the next post.

  9. Hi Jim. I have referred to your book at my website SkyClad Therapist as I work through a series on naked psychology. I am glad to find your blog site and hope that somehow you will continue to share ideas here in the future with the hope that you will read some of my posts and leave a few comments as well. Thank you for being here and sharing your opus with the world. - Robert

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