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.