SOCIAL NUDISM

(This article resulted from the exchange of correspondence reproduced at the beginning.)

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I'm a christian from Cleveland, OH, and I saw your name on the Web. Gotta question for you: What do you personally teach about social nudism, and what is your biblical basis for it?

Jim Owens

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Jim,

You raise a fascinating question. I do not have a ready answer, altho I recently read an essay by G. K. Chesterton on the topic. I would be willing attempt a reply on my home page with your permission. Let me know.

Fr Phil Bloom

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Yes, by all means. Jim Owens

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Dear Jim,

Let me admit right off the bat the Bible has very little to say about social nudism. You could say that after Adam and Eve, people in the Bible kept their clothes on. When they didn't, like Bathsheba, it usually resulted in trouble. Susanna's nakedness provoked the two elders, but they were pretty creepy guys to start with. Of course Bathsheba and Susanna are hardly examples of social nudism.

We can garner a bit more from the history of the Church. There frequently appear groups called "Adamites," men and women who went naked to try to reclaim a lost innocence. While they attracted a lot of attention, they never received much popular support. G. K. Chesterton summed up the conventional wisdom. He saw it as an unjustified optimism about human nature. He is quick to add that the problem is not so much that there is something wrong with our bodies, but our souls.

Nevertheless, a facile rejection of social nudism contains a certain danger. I am not referring to the Puritanism which considers sex a forbidden topic and nudity "dirty." It is a little more subtle than that. What I refer to is what John Paul II calls the "New Manichaeism." He sees the ancient dualistic heresy being revived in a new form.

St. Augustine emerged from Manichaeism into a full Christian faith. He documents his journey in his Confessions. When he became a Catholic, he left behind a religion that attempted to explain evil by positing an evil god parallel to the good one. The former was responsible for the material world which entraps spirits in flesh. Some of the devotees of that religion were celibates who totally renounced sex as evil because it led to more spirits being enslaved by matter. Along with the elite group was a much larger number who expressed their disdain for the flesh by engaging in orgies, even committing incest. After all, they were "enlightened" spirits who lived on a superior level. It did not matter what they did with their bodies. The fact they could do things ordinary people would consider vile just went to prove their own spiritual superiority.

When the pope speaks of a new Manichaeism**, he refers to certain elements of this philosophy influencing folks today. I have met people myself who consider themselves to be so advanced spiritually they feel they can use their bodies (and other peoples) any way they please. Not just in "New Age" groups, but also among Christians. Evidently there were some in the earliest Christian communities who had that idea as well. St Paul had to ask: "Donít you know your body belongs to Christ? How then can you join yourself to a prostitute? Do you not know the two become one flesh?" (I Cor 6:15) He may be referring to some sliding back into the pagan rites which involved "temple prostitution." Or it could be the kind found in every large city right up to today. The point is the same for us as Christians. Our bodies belong to Christ. They are joined to him by baptism and the other sacraments.

In light of the theology of the body found in the letters of St. Paul, some principles would have to be kept in mind by a Christian considering social nudism. One is that the body is temple of the Holy Spirit and is to be viewed with reverence. In everyday life partial or complete nudity causes men to look at women with desire. Along with poor Jimmy Carter, I will admit I have committed adultery in my heart. However, I also learned something from my seven years in Peru in that regard. It was normal there for women to nurse their babies and do their breast hygiene quite openly. Here it might be considered provocative. There it was not. In fact their society is a lot healthier than ours in that aspect.

A second principle relates to the language of the body. Our bodies are our primary vehicles of communication, not just the words we form with our mouths. That language of the body is above all in the sexual act which involves the complete self-donation only possible in the committed relationship we call marriage. And with an openness to children. Modesty has always been seen as an important way of safeguarding that language. Is it lessened by social nudism? The question would involve whether there is greater virginity till marriage, higher rate of marital fidelity and so on.

Anyway, Jim, those are some of my thoughts. I would like to hear yours. Maybe you or someone else can enlighten me and others about the question I pose in the preceding paragraph. God bless.

Fr Phil Bloom
November 29, 1996

**This "new Manichaeism" with its disdain for the human body could be tied to other current moral issues. For instance, one might ask why are people so reluctant to look at the physical results of abortion? Is part of limited appeal of Natural Family Planning connected with an idea that our natural bodily processes are somehow distasteful?

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