from Experimental Theology
Posted on 9.08.2010
That title made you click, right? You’re saying, “What’s Richard Beck up to now?” Okay, here’s one of those “experimental” posts I do.
For your consideration and mediation. I’ve just finished reading the essay Bare-Naked Lady: My vacation at a nudist camp by Emily Yoffe over at Slate.
Yoffe writes as the “Human Guiana Pig” for Slate and in her essay she recounts her experience spending a day at a nudist camp. As a psychologist the whole essay–from Yoffe’s own reactions to her psychological observations of the nudists to the whole phenomenon of nudism and its attractions–was interesting.
And then I started wondering about nudism from a Christian perspective. Could you be a Christian nudist? In one sense, yes, of course you can. There are agnostic nudists, Jewish nudists, and Christian nudists. Etc. (I wonder if there are Muslim nudists?) So, yes, there are plenty of Christian nudists.
But my question has less to do with religious demographics than with the theology of nudity. And as a first take, I think you could make a fairly decent theological case for nudism.
First, let me be clear that I have no interest in this hobby or lifestyle. I wear shirts at the beach. And Lord knows you don’t want to see me naked. And by the looks of you I don’t want to see you naked. But here are some random theological thoughts: First, you could make a creation theology case for nudism. Clothing, as I’ve written about before, is a product of the Fall. Thus, as the Kingdom of God breaks in wouldn’t nudism be recovered? Of course, we still live in the Fall
And that’s the problem.
As Yoffe’s essay discusses, nudist camps struggle with people seeking out the hobby for erotic purposes. In short, nudism might await at the eschaton but it’s a dicey proposition, morally speaking, this side of heaven.
Second, as Yoffe discusses one of the things nudists prize about the experience is how, when you strip off clothing, you strip away status displays. Clothing and jewelry are primary ways to signal power, wealth, and status. Nude a Fortune 500 CEO and a school janitor look, well, how they look. You couldn’t tell the difference by looking at them. In this, nudism is a highly, radically egalitarian gesture.
At the very least, nudism as a concept makes you wonder about how we use clothing as forms of violence against each other by signalling that I’m higher up the food chain than you are. Maybe this is why clothing is a feature of the Fall and not Eden.
Third, in this world of visual media people are living with very unrealistic ideas about what real people look like. We are constantly exposed to fit, tan, airbrushed and surgically altered people in the media. About, what, .0001% of the people in the world look like Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt? Most of us look like bums. Sagging, spotted, bony, fat, hairy, scarred, pimpled, and wrinkled.
In short, in a world of TV, magazines, movies, and the Internet we are losing touch with what real human beings look like. And this affects not only our self-esteem but also our marriages, about what loving a real human body is actually like.
Nudism, it seems, would be one way of reminding yourself what real people look like.
And this brings me to my fourth point. In an age of pornography nudity is highly eroticized. Much of it, again, because it is connected with fantasy. So I wonder if nudism helps to push against the eroticism of our culture. By exposing yourself to the nudity of real people the allure of looking at naked people in a fit of lust might attenuate. I wonder about that. Does nudism help or hurt with lust? Does it cause a craving for pornography to go up or down?
Because it you read Yoffe’s article you are struck by how the nudists are just “used to” nudity. Nudity has lost, to a large extent, its erotic appeal. And I wonder if that might be a good thing.
To conclude, let me speak to my wife who is reading this: Jana, stay calm, I’m not going to become a nudist. To the rest of you, don’t you think this is an interesting (if alarming to talk about out loud with your loved ones) case study?