REBUILDING A GODLY VIEW OF THE UNCLAD HUMAN BODY
-- Why and How to Stop "Thinking Dirty" about God's Image and Temple --
" . . . our calling is cosmic: none of life is off-limits from needing to be reformed
and conformed to the will of God, and all zones of creaturely life require
office-bearers outfitted with a passionate heart, gentle mind, and strong feet
that bring good tidings of great joy to the world."
-- Calvin Seerveld, "A Cloud of Witnesses and a New Generation"
(Please, don't skip to the LINKS below without understanding the following explanation.)
In the Bible, human nakedness is a rich metaphor, generally overlooked even by Christians. Depending on its context, nudity carries a variety of meanings that range between its wholesome place in creation (Genesis 2:25) to its unfortunate association with poverty (Job 24:7,10) and military defeat (Isaiah 20:2-4). It has both the theological significance of describing how God sees us (Hebrews 4:13), as well as the mundane insignificance of being the only way people in ancient times saw their friends and neighbors bathe (Exodus 2:5; 2 Samuel 11:2) or do dirty, sweaty labor that would soil or ruin their clothing (Exodus 22:26-27; John 13:4; John 21:7, see literal translations). But one thing the Bible does not do, which our culture does infamously well, is to focus exclusively on nudity's relationship to sexual activity and immorality. Through an intense pattern of cultural and religious training, we are blinded from seeing nudity as anything but a lewd sexual display. This blindness insulates us from the fact that, for most of human history, the sight of the naked body was a very common occurrence that did not draw undue attention or automatically create erotic excitement. But modern attention has been so captivated by society's sexualizaton of the body that this obsession has become an earmark of Western civilization. Sadly, most who grow up indoctrinated with such a mental image of the body are blinded from seeing how this view misshapes human thinking. But experience has forced many normal people to acknowledge the devastating influence of this abnormal focus on their minds and lives.
Few areas of our humanity have been more conceptually distorted by Western culture than the natural phenomenon of nakedness. This becomes obvious merely by setting our society's body taboo next to the attitude in cultures where a wholesome body acceptance is the norm. This simple comparison embarrassingly exposes the West's dysfunctional emphasis. Starting in early childhood, we are socially programmed to associate the fully exposed human anatomy with indecency and obscenity, whether it's experienced by actual sight, or by images, or by imagination alone. Defenders of this overwhelmingly sexual response to the body are quick to point out that sexual intercourse usually happens in the nude. But these body-friendly cultures have managed to reproduce themselves quite successfully without our obsessive preoccupation with this one dimension of nudity. When people from those cultures first learn about or come into contact with this erotic fixation of ours, they variously interpret it as a form of childishness or insanity or perversion. Any or all of these interpretations are confirmed by the adamant zeal and emotion with which we attempt to justify our sexualized view of the unclad body. However, some of our inconsistent behaviors implicitly nullify these efforts. Appreciating the nude artwork on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is only one example of these inconsistencies.
While Michelangelo's painting of "the Creation of Adam" affirms biblical faith, it also challenges our society's prudery and pornography. Originally, God created us "naked" and "unashamed" (Genesis 1:27; 2:25), which is how we continue to enter and exit this life (Job 1:21a). Porno-prudish responses to the sight of nudity come neither from divinely built-in reflexes nor from our inborn human nature. They are sown, cultivated and harvested as a fruit of cultural indoctrination. That culturally-propagated fruit is not only unhealthy, but morally toxic. It's still as poisonous to society today as it was "in the beginning."
Satan convinced our first parents to eat forbidden "fruit" that "opened" their minds to a "knowledge of good and evil" that was independent from God's direct leading (Genesis 2:17; 3:4-5). God's second question to Adam ("Who told you that you were naked?") infers that the devil's very next step, after opening their eyes to independent morality, was to introduce them to a new definition of the natural state in which God had made them. And judging from their behavior in response to this diabolical enlightenment, their liberated moral thinking concluded that "naked" bodies were "evil" and hiding the truth about them was "good" (Genesis 3:9-13). Cultural history shows that not all groups of humans accepted such unnatural thinking about the body. On the other hand, whenever and wherever this demonically-inspired thinking was adopted, it has almost always created a cultural taboo that interprets the sight of the unclad body in terms of shame and inappropriate sexual activity. Yet, all the rational, moral or theological arguments that people invent to substantiate this taboo, or validate its sexualized perception of nudity, are easily dispelled by the many actual human experiences that contradict them.
One noticeable contradiction is the acknowledged decency of naked bodies undressed for health care here in America. If the sexual objectification of naked body parts is truly a natural human behavior, then maintaining a "professional" attitude toward nakedness in the hospital or clinic would be an impossibility. But both health care workers and their patients can attest to the fact that such a non-sexual view of nudity is neither unnatural nor inhuman. Another contradictory human experience is the acceptance of beautiful nude statues adorning streets in Europe or the appreciation of nude paintings filling museums around the globe. Our enthusiastic attraction to such artwork, even if the nakedness is depicted with explicitly life-like realism, never seems to excite the erotic frenzy predicted by the body taboo. We also discover this same contradiction whenever we fail to get sexually stimulated by looking at photos of naked natives living in primitive lands which have not yet been corrupted by this Western sexualization of the body. Spiritually sensitive missionaries who begin work among these "naked people" groups must be overjoyed to discover that same failure of the body taboo's predictions. These examples and many others highlight the obvious but irreconcilable conflict between what our culture scrupulously teaches about nakedness and what normal people invariably learn from a frank exposure to it in a non-sexual context. Dirty thinking about the body in its natural state is a learned behavior. It is the logical result of being taught to have either a prudish or a pornographic view of our God-given anatomical design and its gender-specific distinctions. But the divine authority of our Creator stands consistently and unwaveringly behind the naked truth about our bodies. In light of a realistic, creational understanding, the sight of the bare human body offers a healthy rebuke and an amazingly swift correction to Satan's original falsehood in the Garden of Eden. It almost immediately liberates a person from the unnatural absurdity of the body taboo, no matter how long that taboo has possessed the mind and heart.
During my first 25 years of nursing work, I continually witnessed the illogical discrepancy between prudery's precepts and nudity's reality. My routine experiences with nakedness did not jive with the vain imaginations about it that were created by our society. All those years I felt I had to live with this contradiction, seeing it merely as a quirky part of life, an inexplicable inconsistency, a rationally unsolvable paradox. Finally, I learned about the inherent connection between prudery and pornography. These two ideologies not only spring from the same false, ungodly view of the body, but their apparent opposition actually weds them inseparably in a symbiotic relationship. They feed off of one another, constantly fueling each other's fire. My job as a nurse laid a strong foundation for rejecting both those false conceptions about the body. But later, my research into the phenomenon of human nakedness led me to embrace what I now believe is a more sound and God-honoring viewpoint.
Typically, the unanimous social power of the body taboo resists any open-minded investigation of its own validity. It even stirs up hostility to the word "nudity" itself. That closed-minded attitude insulates most people from any kind of honest or intelligent search for the truth. For years it blocked my own mind from discussing nudity calmly, thoughtfully, and realistically. But anyone with enough courage to stand still for a moment against that taboo's stream of opinion can feel how fiercely it flows. Such a momentary mental pause allows a person, perhaps for the first time, to perceive exactly where this current is taking us. The body taboo's porno-prudery sweeps us far away from a godly, creational perception of our natural embodiment as humans. It keeps our minds "in the gutter," until it finally dumps them into a sewer system of "filthy" attitudes about the body and its anatomy. Allowing or promoting this defiling process is an offensive slap in the face to our Creator. These physical bodies of ours are not only "fearfully and wonderfully made" by Him (Psalm 139:14), but He calls them His "image" (Genesis 1:27) and "temple" (1 Corinthians 6:19). The fact that they maintain their divinely ordained status despite the absence of clothing is actually a firm theological "slap in the face" to the body taboo itself!
So, what is my wish in all this? Am I dreaming an impossible dream by trying to restore a wholesome body acceptance for our external anatomy? Am I imagining that someday, before God finally strips away all clothing in death or rapture or judgment, our society can return to a sound, healthy mentality about the naked body? Is it a hopeless hope to believe that we can unlearn our culture's wayward, toxic viewpoint? Can we really readopt attitudes and behaviors that treat our physical human anatomy as a beautiful example of God's creative glory, as Christian theology actually teaches? I have very little confidence that my own insights can win the world to my opinion. It will take more than logic and personal testimony to reverse this widespread porno-prudish mistreatment of the unclad body as an object of obscenity and shame. That's because the trouble is not just an intellectual misunderstanding. It's a moral bondage. It may partially be a problem of the mind's perception, but it is even more a need for the heart's liberation. Despite an absence of faith in my own efforts to change the minds or hearts of individuals, I have complete trust in Christ's promise that knowing the truth can set us free, especially when He personally is involved in the process (John 8:32, 36). So, my prayer is that God's divine, creational truth about the body be made known by the conviction of the Holy Spirit, especially in the mind and heart of the Christian believer, whose physical body is His temple, meant to honor and glorify the God Who fashioned it.
The truth about our bodies is not that complicated. Take a good, long look at yourself in the mirror the next time you take a shower. Half the world has exactly the same anatomical equipment you see. In the other half, even the sexually distinguishing variations are absent at the outset of embryological development. When nakedness is observed realistically, its simplicity is obvious. But when obscured by the man-made morality of "fig leaves" (Genesis 3:7), its wholesome nature can be exploited for immoral duplicity. Although that deceptive abuse of nakedness abounds in our society, people can still discover the simple, realistic truth about the body, and by that discovery, be set free from the deceit. None of us were born believing that the sight of human nudity is an obscene sexual event or an invitational prelude to sexual activity. We have learned to think that way, which means that we can unlearn that way of thinking. Purely logical reasoning, as well as the experiences of masses of people throughout history, expose this sexually lewd interpretation of the unclad body as an aberrant pattern of thought. Given the human heart's propensity for selfishness and depravity (Jeremiah 17:9), such a falsehood has easily self-fulfilled its own prophecies. Its unnatural principles have successfully shaped a cultural mentality where its predicted indecencies could flourish, and they have certainly done so here in America. But this popular, widely accepted falsehood is not only illogical and unnatural---it's God-dishonoring! It must be confronted with the truth. I believe that those who can resist the overwhelming current of worldly opinion long enough to investigate this common aspect of our humanity, will have a transformational shift in their thinking. Rather than letting their minds and bodies stay conformed to this dysfunctional, sexualized view of the body fostered by our culture, they can return to the will and viewpoint of the Creator (Romans 12:1-2).
(The above essay is downloadable as a PDF file:
"Rebuilding a Godly View of the Unclad Human Body")
The rest of this web page is my way of helping those honestly interested in pursuing the kind of investigation I've suggested. Listed below are several categories of links. Some of them are to articles that personally helped lead me to rebuild in my own mind a godly view of the human body. Included are also links to some of my written thoughts on this subject in the form of poetry, articles and even fiction. I make these available not necessarily to convince everyone to adopt my viewpoint. I am simply presenting a window of opportunity for those interested to step outside the totalitarian jurisdiction of the body taboo, even if, after studying the same materials and reviewing my thoughts, they choose to reject my conclusions and re-affirm their allegiance to that taboo as their personal interpretation of reality.
Poems I've Written Inspired by My Research and Renewed Thinking:
The Divine Story of Naked Glory (inspired by a review of Genesis after discarding porno-prudery)
Christians and Nakedness (elements of culture and history that confront our porno-prudery)
God's Naked Lamb (meditations on the fact that Jesus actually died naked on the Cross)
Origin of Body Shame (this poem has a one-page explanatory introduction of its purpose)
Nurses and Nudity (a logical perspective on nudity from my own healthcare experience)
Woman (a prayerful protest against the objectification and exploitation of women's body parts.)
Articles I've Written After Adopting a Godly View of the Body:
A Modern Christian Use of the Nude - An Article on Edward Knippers' use of the nude human figure in his paintings of biblical themes. Published in Dutch and English for ArtWay.eu's Sunday meditation, June 30th, 2013.
"Teaching God's Design for BREASTS - A Crucial Message about 'the Visible Breast' for Christian Leaders" (referred to in my "Breastfeeding Tips" on My L&D Tips webpage)
What About Hospital Nudity? (my "short answer" in My L&D Tips to worries about nakedness during childbirth)
My View on Nakedness (my "long answer" to the above question for those not convinced by my "short" one.)
Will You Undress Before God? (a Gospel appeal with nakedness as a divine metaphor) (PDF file)
The Pornographic View of the Body (an article written for My Chains Are Gone, a website helping to free people from porn addiction)
Addiction to Pornography (another article written for the My Chains Are Gone website)
Christ's Ultimate Identification (Easter sermon on Christ's naked death and resurrection) (listen-MP3)
The Triune God and Social Nudity (The Trinity's creation of a socially nude humanity as a Self-portrait)
Incarnational Truth about Humanity's Sexual Nature (Theological help in doing body-friendly theology that is free from Gnostic prudery) (NOTE: To use this annotated file efficiently, download and open it with Acrobat Reader, making sure the round "<" and ">" buttons are visible on the menu bar by right-clicking on the gray menu bar, going to "More Tools," and under "Page Navigation Toolbar," checking the boxes for "Previous View" and "Next View".)
My Story of Discovering "BODY ACCEPTANCE" and Why I Feeled Called to Preach It (This brief, illustrated description explains my zeal in promoting body acceptance and answers those who question my favorable critique of traditional nudism.)
Websites & Material That Helped Change My Perspective or Affirm It:
007 Breasts (This must be the most "woman-friendly" breastfeeding-friendly site on the entire Web! Its dynamic message was what first forced me to analyze my philosophical position concerning "the visible breast.")
"Nudity and Lust" (a chapter from Dr. James McKeever's book, It's in the Bible, which spurred me on in my research by confirming many of the same insights I was learning from Scripture.)
"Nudity - Questions and Answers" by H. R. Rookmaaker" (excerpts from his lecture series on "Christianity and Culture" given in 1976 at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia)
"Hippolytus on Nude Baptism" (It took reading this detailed prescription for the baptismal ritual in 215 AD to convince me that the modern church's reaction to the unclad body is foreign to early Christianity.)
"Nudity in Ancient and Modern Culture" (historically informative, but to be read with spiritual discernment)
"Good Nudity" (an online article by a Bible teacher who is also a massage therapist and spa-owner)
"The Virtues of Nakedness" (an MD frankly discusses nakedness and its wholesome benefits)
Websites and Material That Emphasize a More Wholesome View of the Body:
"A Christian Perspective on Nudity in Art" (a Christian art teacher discusses sound advice about nudity in art)
"Art Policy On Nude Models" by Gordon College (The Christian institution established by the Baptist preacher A. J. Gordon in 1889)
"Adolf Just's book Return to Nature" (This downloadable book is by a German in the late 1800s writing about his success in treating illnesses and maintaining health by using a natural diet in conjunction with outdoor bathing in sun, air, cold water, and mud, all of which were practiced in naked exposure to those elements. A hard copy can be found on Amazon)
Excerpts from The Centerfold Syndrome (Psychologist Gary Brooks accurately describes and offers solutions to our culture's pattern of intimacy-loss through an oversexualized view of the body and relationships. To supplement the anti-porn-addiction message of "My Chains Are Gone," Dr. Brooks kindly permitted us to use these large sections from his work. I highly recommend that you get and read the whole book.)
Pope John Paul II's THE THEOLOGY OF THE BODY (3 Voices)
(Disclaimer: By promoting these Catholic teachers, I do not endorse all they teach when it comes to some doctrines upon which Catholics and Protestants disagree. But Protestants badly need to hear and heed the Biblical truths being taught by them.)
1. Christopher West
The Theology of the Body (a Catholic website about Pope John Paul II's "body-friendly" Theology of the Body. Christopher West's full series of seminar talks expounding these teachings to a Catholic audience can be heard online, purchased on 10 CDs, or downloaded as MP3 files for free, at this link: "Naked Without Shame". To download his short introductory talk given to a Protestant audience, click on this link: Intro to the TOB (file is 5.7 MB in size). To download his talk given on 2/7/2010 at Skyline Wesleyan, my own denomination's largest West Coast church, click on this link: "Christopher West's Talk at Skyline" (5+ MB).
2. Fr. Thomas J. Loya Fr. Thomas J. Loya's many "Body of Truth" talks on Catholic Radio International cover a variety of contemporary sexual issues from the perspective of the above mentioned "Theology of the Body." One talk, especially pertinent to this rebuilding of a godly, creational view of the body, is on the nude body, especially female breasts (click to download: "At Her Breast, July 21, 2008"). Protestants will greatly benefit from these talks, even if they disagree with some of the Pro-Catholic teaching intrinsic to the site.
3. Fr. Roger J. Landry Another great resource for understanding the message of the TOB is Fr. Roger J. Landry's website on Catholic Preaching. He has 8 short talks that give a quick overview of the entire TOB, as well as some helpful written material that also tries to distill the message of the "Theology of the Body" in a shorter form.
Fiction Inspired by My Research and Further Thinking:
MEETING AT THE RIVER - A Tale of Naked Truth (an annotated autobiographical novelette describing my experiential and intellectual journey that moved me from body shame to body acceptance)
Available from CreateSpace Publishing or from Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle editions