Thursday, July 12, 2007

Nudity, Innocence, and Christian Distopia


This is my contribution to today's SynchroBlog on Utopia. It is also part of an ongoing development on the subject of Christian Sexuality.

As early as the second century, while Christianity was still in its infancy, an obscure sect arose called the Adamites. They believed in returning to the innocence of the Garden of Eden, and this included "holy nudity" - social nudity including in the place and time of worship. Their gatherings were named "Paradise," and as might have been expected they were considered outside the realm of orthodoxy.

Among the early church fathers there is some question as to the Adamites actual practices. Some Church Fathers have asserted that they lived in unabashed licentiousness practicing polyamory, and mystic sensuality. Others believed that they were simply misguided ascetics attempting to rid themselves of sin through a return to Edenic innocence.

Through church history the connection between Edenic perfection, and social nudity in worship and in fellowship would rise and fall through seasons of renewed interest followed by persecutiuon.

In the 13th century, some antagonists of The Brethren of the Free Spirit accused them of gross sexual immorality, while others accused them of a waywardly strict acseticism. Social nudity appears to have been a practice of this group. In the 15th century the Taborites in Bohemia claimed the milennium had arrived, and that the time of return to the innocence of the Garden was upon them. The Taborites apparently were religious zealots who believed in slaying all heretics, and broke the tradition of Edenic perfection and passifism.

In 1641 a group calling themselves the Adamites surfaced in London. Meeting in homes they appear to have gathered for Bible studies and fellowship in the nude to rid themselves of the restraints of society's false modesty, and regain the innocence of the Garden. They are not likely to have survived beyond 1660.

In the US, Baptist Minister Ilsley Boone founded the organization which would later become the AANR (American Association for Nude Recreation), and began publishing the first Nudist magazine in 1933. The early days of social nudism in the states was marked by strict codes of sexual moral behavior. Even such activities as holding hands was often prohibited for fear of inspiring public outcry of immorality.

The YMCA (Young Men's Christian Association) typically swam in the nude (both the young boys and the leaders) until it became co-ed organization in the 1960s. This rule was due to clogging of filters in pools, but it shows a change in attitudes on social nudism.

Nudism as a social practice with religious affiliation crosses the boundaries of denomination, and religious groups today. Such divergent Christian groups, and Non-Christian Religious Movements as Pagans, Mormons, Baptists, Quakers, and Catholics are defenders of this lifestyle. Insistence on nudism as a mark of Edenic perfection and innocence is less a mark of today's Christian nudist proponents, but physical, psychological and social health benefits are sited as reasons for social nudism by its practitioners. Even sanctification benefits have been addressed by more than one source. I have met men who assert that their deliverance from addiction to pornography has been affected by the practice of innocent social nudity.

With the growth of social nudism as an indusrty, religious affiliation has become less important in recent years. In the last couple decades there has arisen sharp controversy in the nudist community. Many nudist retreats, and recreation areas have retained a family-focused priority, but newer facilities and vacation sites have catered to a growing sexually promiscuous clientele. Even among Christian naturists (another term for nudist) polyamorous, and Christian Swinger groups are randomly occurring. This is the kind of activity addressed and denounced with judgment in the letter to the church at Pergamos. (Revelation 2:14)

This brief history of nudism in Christianity does not attempt to prove, or disprove any point of doctrine, or morality about the issue of nudity and social behavior. I do not assume the innocence or licentiousness of any individual apart from the obvious practices of sexual immorality, and infidelity. But, I do believe the history of nudism in Christianity reasserts a basic lesson of the Christian life: Though physical activities may at times benefit individuals in their personal health and their walk of faith, there is no specific behavior or community practice which will institute Utopian, or Edenic perfection. We live in a world of sin, and our best efforts to achieve Heaven now will always fall short. Communities seeking to create Utopia now will always sway in one of two directions: that of strict legalism to maintain the status, or approval of Hellish actions as acceptable behaviors of Heaven. Earthly Utopia is a temporary glimpse of Heaven. Any attempt to maintain it by human effort becomes a hellish Distopia.

Clothes on or clothes off the way to Eden is still blocked until the return of Christ.

Dozens of links could have been provided on the history, and doctrine of Christian social nudism. I have purposely refrained from providing them on this post.

24 comments:

David said...

Ahhh Phil, always the trouble maker.
You know if a woman shows her ankles..nothing but rampant orgies will follow.

;-)

Good post. I like the way you provoke thought.

hylander said...

lol, funny david!

Thanks for the article phil, very interesting! There is something about this article that reminds me of my child hood feeling of "shame". Methinks it comes from the original garden scene and has transcended to all generations. Even as an adult I sometimes feel that same child hood feeling of shame and the need to cover up. As a married man, however, the only time I think I do not feel this shame is when I am with my wife intimately. And, this I believe is God's wonderful and beautiful grace bestowed upon us to give us a glimpse of what it was like in the original garden before sin. Further, I like to think that God is also giving us a glimpse of what it will be like when we are in his presence one day in our heavenly bodies.

On another matter, Sorry I have not been around too much. I have been pretty busy with working on the house after work and tending to some family matters. Glad to see the great response from your post on the Ooze. I lurk there alot too! I also try to stay out of trouble, but sometimes I just can't help myself. :)

Blessing to you sir.

mike said...

sorry, i just kept thinking of the 77's and Pray Naked.

Pastor Phil said...

Mike - funny!

Pray Naked

no matter who you are
no matter what you do
there's only one thing
i ask of you
and that's if you pray
then when you pray
be naked prey
pray naked

Pastor Phil said...

David,

That was a difficult piece to write actually, and yeah I guess I stir up some pots don't I?

Pastor Phil said...

Hyland Will,

The issue of shame in correlation to the body, and how that speaks to the issue of sin and redemption is a potentially interesting topic. Not so much because of some need to work out our salvation in overcoming the shame response (I think that is where the Adamites went too far), but because the inate response found in adolescents and adults speaks of the very problem of sin itself, and perhaps becomes a type of natural prophecy to each human.

Maalie said...

I am curious about your study of neo-paganism. I think I might be one, but i never new what it is called. Do you have more info about that please? Thank you in advance.

Pastor Phil said...

Maalie,

I will be in North Wales at the National Eisteddfod - somewhere between Mold and Wrexham in a few weeks. If you have some time, and the distance isn't too far, we should hook up.

You can find a few things I've written on the subject if you go to the church website at: www.salemgathering.com and you'll find a link to some writings on Neo-Paganism from the front page. Also there is a Pagan/Christian dialogue we host, and you could sign up for that as well.

Peace.

ded said...

One day I was mowing grass and thinking something like...

Adam walked and talked with God in the garden during the evening.

cut grass, cut grass

Sin ended this communing with God. (sigh)

turn and cut the other way

The finished work of Jesus on the cross restored communing with God between human and God.

thick clump of grass hit too fast shuts down mower

Cranking mower

I am a human who has trusted in Jesus and communing with God is restored to me.

STOP. Mower running at idle while I digest the thought.

Out loud: "I am living in Eden in my soul!"

Pushing mower again...

Who cares if I have to cut grass since I get to commune with God while I do it!

ded said...

Oh, my comment came in response to your statement that Eden was blocked until the return of Christ.

True enough, but talking with God is pretty close to my own personal Utopia!

Pastor Phil said...

Hey ded,

I am in total agreemetn with the thought there is a Edenic connection at the heart level. My thoughts in the post have to do with the attempt of humanity to establish a corporate Utopian society through outward actions.

In the case of attmepting to discover "innocent social nudity" there may not actually be a better attempt to discover the original Eden in all human attempts which have been tried, but as the history of the story shows - human attempts fall short. So too with our hearts I find, and that is why the corporate Eden can not yet be found on a permanent basis, but only in small snatches of lawn mowing. They do get longer if we practice pursuit of God as Brother Lawrence did.

cerndeosil said...

Hey, Maalie,

I'm in the UK and we've got Pastor Phil visiting us during his sojourn to the UK. I could put you in touch with people roughly in your area if you like as I've a few connections throughout the UK. :)

My website is at http:paganandchristianmoot.co.uk/pcvbforum -you could get in touch by hitting the 'contact us' button and maybe there would even be a way of making it possible for you to meet up with Phil at one of his stop-over points whilst he is over here. :)

BB

Mike

ded said...

I agree with you, Phil. The corporate eludes. The nudity angle was interesting. I had never viewed nudist camps as a means to Utopia before. Nudism always struck me as so confused need for safe voueurism. Being from up north you are probably aware of the history of the Oneida, another attempt for man to create Utopia.

Recently a friend of mine for several years told me of participating in a Christian nudist men's group. The moderators were Christian psychologists who held that the nude state supported being humble and vulnerable to openness. I thought about it and decided I am so good at lying if I want to, that I could hide my heart even in the nude. Your point about the heart is well made.

In my idealism and my yearning for the fullest experience of Jesus on earth, I expect someday to be involved in a small group that knows communing with Him together.
I base this on the idea if one can know His presence, so can two. If two gather in Him and He is in the midst...

Jeremiah said...

Yep. No Eden until Jesus comes. The weird part is that what's left over is said to be better than Eden...

-jeremiah

Pastor Phil said...

ded,

I am fully supportive of small groups as a means of discovering God intimately, but even that sometimes becomes an attempt at some kind of ecclesiastical Eden. They work when we realize that they are work - after all, they are relationships.

Pastor Phil said...

Jere,

Better by far, and I suppose Job's story becomes prophetic of the Church.

ded said...

Such a pragmatist! ;^),

Matt Stone said...

Great post Phil

Pastor Phil said...

hey ded,

...or a serial deconstructionist.

Pastor Phil said...

Stoneman,

I am honored by words of praise, oh great blogificator.

Jim said...

Well, it looks as if this topic has been left behind, however, I have some insights into the "image of God" that have not been mentioned.

I think it is fair to state that satan hates the human body--or anything that reflects the "image of God". Some have brought shame to the body by attaching it to unGodly ideas, others have grossly misinterpreted the Bible by claiming the God Himself is ashamed of the body He created and still others have tried to cover the image so completely that it is not seen at all. All are the work of satan, whose fingerprint is his diversity of tactics.

In contrast, God is consistent and unchanging. He created the body and proclaimed it good. Prior to casting Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, He asked "who told you that you were naked?" He knew that the answer was satan. The first sacrifice of an animal to make "aprons" was to atone for their sin and to protect them from the harsh environment outside the Garden. It was not to obscure the image.

Not all Christian nudists are trying to recreate the innocent times in the Garden of Eden. Some of us just prefer to see the body the way God does--His beautiful creation in all its shapes and forms and not especially stimulating in any sexual way when it is completely exposed.

If you want to experience spiritual growth like you've never known, try spending an entire day praying and fasting completely nude. If you can be in an outside environment part of the time, all the better. Take the challenge!

Pastor Phil said...

Jim,

Thanks for a little more insight into what is a far more complex subject than I could possibly have covered in a short blog post. You are welcome at Square No More any time - or at The Gathering is Salem for that matter.

Anonymous said...

Interesting. You might want to be interested in this group. This Website is for Straight Christian Men who want to enjoy skinny-dipping with other male friends like during the old Y.M.C.A., with out being marked as homosexuals.

http://gasguys.wordpress.com

Anonymous said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QvkJafnhtYM