Does the story of Noah and Ham justify racism and slavery? Many used to think it did. Does it support the prudish view that you are not to see another person naked? Many today think it does. Upon closer examination, however, it does neither.
It comes down, like so many other objections, to simple Hebrew euphemisms. Watch the short video to see the explanation:
A perspective of Michael Heiser’s that I would agree with comes from his “The Naked Bible Podcast” (I love the name, and it’s not even a naturist podcast!) Here is a downloadable transcript. This great episode about this oft misunderstood passage rehashes the scholarly work of Bergsma and Hahn found here.
What IS clear is that there is something way beyond simple nudity at play here. And yet, this remains one of the most common objections of all against the practice of non-sexual social nudity. There’s not much else to say about this that is not covered already by the video or the podcast link.
One other resource that would be beneficial to anyone who brings this story up against Christian naturists would be “Who Said You Were Naked?” by David L. Hatton. While it does not bring up this story, it is a clarion call to those who have had those knee-jerk reactions like this of body shame and porno/prudery in their theological framework to think more deeply and be more body friendly like the God who created us is.
On page 192 he says:
When Gnostic prudery’s enchantment is broken, a mental veil is lifted. The blind legalism of deceptively “opened” eyes is replaced by a human-friendly vision of our incarnate nature. Body shame insulated us from a proper perception of ourselves. Body acceptance mentally restores not only a human-friendly attitude about our embodiment, but a Creator-honoring perspective on His handiwork.
A variety of resources and evidences confirms this awareness. One is a careful, thoughtful review of Scripture itself, but only when done with the culture-tinted spectacles of prudery removed. Then we will see that, unlike today, those in Bible times were familiar with routines that made occasional nudity a normal part of life. A human-friendly rereading of the Bible can also show us how God uses our physical sexuality to symbolize His divine plan for human salvation and how our bodies visually reflect certain divine attributes or convey divine message about Himself.
I agree with Hatton, not only on these points, but also the conviction he has written about– that once you know the truth, you must speak the truth as a way of making restitution for the wrong and harmful interpretations the church has historically baptized as gospel.
See all posts and videos in the “Objections” series here.
Today’s post comes thanks to the interaction with a reader of the blog. Having written us via our contact page, we corresponded back and forth a bit, and then he sent me some memes he had created on the topic of lust.
This interesting debate on Fig Leaf Forum between the editor and a pastor further revealed to me how big of a problem lustful thinking is. For those who have been conditioned to believe that lust is the only “natural” reaction to seeing a naked body, it is almost incomprehensible that this notion is not true. However, we know from experience that there is another response, and it is the more natural response. It is simply to see the other person as a whole person and do so with honor and respect. It’s actually really easy! The pastor in this “debate” (if you can really call it that) is so hung up on the issue of lust throughout the whole exchange (most likely revealing his own personal struggle). The editor tries repeatedly to get him to debate the actual texts in Scripture and points out over and over that we are in agreement over the damaging affects of lust. They should not be debating that issue at all. It’s a classic case of an apples and oranges logical fallacy. I encourage you to read each section of the debate, and you’ll see my point clearly. This pastor is not alone in his beliefs. These attitudes are pervasive in the church. David L. Hatton in Meeting at the River drops this insight, “Widespread religious support for a demonic lie cannot alter its falsehood.”
The following memes are meant to shine a light at the misconceptions of lust, modesty, and purity that are rampant among these churchgoers, well-meaning people intent on following Christ. (I have to keep reminding myself that I went most of my life thinking the same way as they do!)
You’re not going to change my mind on this one, because it has been renewed (See our Renewed Minds blog post). Romans 14:5 states that everyone should be fully convinced in their own minds concerning matters of opinion. I am fully convinced on this issue. For years I tried the body taboo mentality for purity’s sake, but it only ever produced a fetish-like behavior. Strict adherence to arbitrary rules of “morality” brought on a constant struggle to maintain purity of thought at all times– and this in a very sexualized world that does not abide by the same rules. Every man’s battle and bouncing my eyes (popular thinking in Christian circles) would result in some victories and many defeats, and a whole lot of guilt and shame. This is not selling the idea that body taboo works very well!
This is why. Our culture, society, and frankly Christian teaching on the matter has all contributed to us being conditioned to believe that nudity is always linked to sex. Practically the only times people are nude is to shower or to have sex. Folks are even compulsive about wearing clothes to sleep in when God gave us the best pajamas we could ever need (our skin)! With the exception of the occasional doctor visits, there really isn’t much instance for nudity outside of sexual situations. This is where the church goes wrong, thinking that the way to be pure is to limit the visibility of human flesh as much as possible. This completely disregards the incredible nature of the mind to retain and ruminate on images once seen. It negates the face that we have endless limits to our imaginations. It also sets us up for a train wreck of epic proportions when the very thing that it tries to eliminate is being delivered onto the same track of mind. If our minds are perverted, regardless of any man-made effort to the contrary, they will stay that way, UNLESS we renew our thinking.
The problem is that both purity culture and big porn agree on the subject of body taboos. Purity tries to avoid the body as much as it can, calling it dirty, while porn exploits it and makes it obscene. The church and pornographers should not be in agreement, but they are! Again, David L. Hatton explains:
The pornographic view of the body has a twin called “a prudish view.” They come from the same womb. They are two sides of the same coin, and when that coin is spent, whether it’s heads or tails, the purchase is a distorted portrait of our bodies. This is because both views promote an unholy, God-dishonoring treatment of the human body based on exactly the same vain imagination. Prudery hides the body, calling the Creator’s design a lustful indecency. Pornography flaunts it, using prudery’s definition to turn the beauty of God’s handiwork into a stimulus for impure sexual thoughts. Both these ways of treating the body are an unnatural, unrealistic abuse. Though they seem to be opposite, they are conceptually identical. Both are ungodly, and both are based on a dysfunctional view of humanity’s physical embodiment. Wherever a wholesome, godly view of the naked human body is rejected and a shameful, obscene view is embraced, the resultant religious zeal of prudery inevitably plunges a society into the hellish depravity of pornography.
I love this meme, because I’ve lived it out. The averting your eyes “trick”, buddy system accountability, and everything else that is taught to help maintain purity is just plain weak. It doesn’t get to the root of the issue. It’s like putting a small band-aid on a festering wound. I can’t help but think about the Duggars. The reality TV family has shared publicly that if they are out for a walk and the ladies see someone that doesn’t meet their standards of modesty the will use a code word and discreetly say “Nike!” so their men will look down at their shoes and not be tempted to sin. It’s an effort to “protect” the men, but it’s ridiculous! That’s no way to live. It’s also quite prideful to think that your conservative dress code can stop someone from sinning. That’s kind of trying to take the place of Jesus, isn’t it? Was Jesus’ sacrifice not powerful enough to transform men’s lives? I guess in every area except when it comes to lust! In Michelle Duggar’s own words, “By keeping those private areas covered, there’s not any ‘defrauding’ going on. My kids are taught the definition of defrauding as stirring up desires that cannot be righteously fulfilled. We don’t believe in defrauding others by the way we dress.” Defrauding is just a very weird term to me. I sincerely hope Josh Duggar is doing well and no longer struggling, but having grown up with this teaching, it did not save him from any scandal. Only the new purity tactic of seeing everyBODY as made in the image of God is fool-proof.
Our friend took this image from our memes page and added these words over the top. If it were true that false solutions to lust were effective, those who live with the most strict of dress codes would be the purest among us. That is simply not the case! And it’s typically oppressing the women and repressing the men. I’ve met several Christian naturists that come from mennonite and even amish backgrounds. They are so much happier and free as naturists, and they attest that in the strict conservative setting lewd behavior is quite prevalent and always in secret. Sad, but true.
Raise your hand if you conquered lust because women covered up. [insert crickets sound] I’m happy to say that I HAVE conquered lust. I could never make that claim before, but I can now. Trust me, it wasn’t because women were covering up. I had the ability lust, objectify, and dehumanize any woman in my mind no matter what she was or wasn’t wearing! I’m certainly not proud of that, but that’s how it was for me. I did NOT conquer lust because of my own great effort. Honestly, I was surprised into freedom! It was a work of God that he did without my help. I changed the way I thought of the body. I renewed my mind and began to see others as made in the image of God, deserving the honor and respect that they are due as fellow image bearers. I broke the hellish agreements I had made that kept me in bondage. I rejected the lies that say we are wired to respond sexually to visual stimuli. It’s so wonderful to be free from that vicious cycle of lust and shame. If you’ve never read “The Chain” on mychainsaregone.org, do it now!
This one brings up a good point about lust, modesty, and purity. I think that what’s perverted is to see Bathsheba as the guilty one! As Chad W. Thompson writes in “That Famous Fig Leaf:”
The story of David and Bathsheba is often referenced as a biblical admonition of nudity, as if Bathsheba was tempting David by bathing in the courtyard. Yet every other woman in Jerusalem did the same thing. Whether male or female, rich or poor, outdoor bathing was universal to the ancient cultures of both Egypt and Israel. The second chapter of Exodus even recounts Pharaoh’s daughter bathing in the open river while Jewish commoners walk about. Women participating in the culturally natural phenomenon of open bathing was not anything King David wasn’t used to seeing on a daily basis. What led him to rape his neighbor’s wife was not her public bath, but the evil in his own heart. Furthermore, if Bathsheba had committed any sin by exposing her body in public, it would seem odd that Nathan made her the “innocent lamb” in his story. (2 Samuel 12:1-4)
We tend to take Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:27-30 literally, concluding that anyone who looks lustfully at a woman has committed adultery in his heart. We make others cover up to safeguard ourselves from falling into this adultery of the heart. We take the easy route and blame others for forcing us to think impure thoughts. That’s insane. What we have failed to do, is work on our own hearts, and not look upon others with lustful intent. We interpret this passage as not looking at all, but all of a sudden this very taboo creates a powerful allure and temptation. This is all because of a literal interpretation that ignores the fact that you can see another human unclothed without falling into lust. To interpret the very next verse literally would mean we would all have to gouge out our eyes. We’re quick to point out Jesus’ hyperbole here. Can we be consistent? He didn’t say if your right eye causes you to stumble, force women to cover up so that you aren’t tempted, and if you are tempted, get onto them for not being modest enough. He simply said not to look lustfully at other women, and if you can’t then it’d be better to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown in hell. No amount of covering is going to purify your mind for you and stop you from objectifying women! It’s better to ask God to help you see others as a work of art, the pinnacle of His amazing creation. I don’t respond sexually to a beautiful sunset. No, I praise God for it. Human beings as the crowning glory of His creation deserve the same respect and admiration, do they not?
This one is a bit strange, but it sort of summarizes what I’ve been saying throughout this post. I guess it’s pointing out which is the most strategic position. If we would embrace the created value, beauty, and goodness of the whole human, things would be a lot better. Think of the whole world adopting this view. Gone would be the porn industry, human trafficking, pedophilia, etc. That’s not going to happen, but it can one by one, on an individual basis as has been the case with me.
If you stumbled onto this page not knowing what to expect and these thoughts have surprised you in any way, I want you to know that there IS a better way. It’s only better because it’s the way God intended us to be from the very start. Sin has so marred a world and twisted and perverted all that He made good. In fact, he called the first man and woman who were naked and unashamed “very good.” Did God change his mind? Or did we?
We often quote and make references to David L. Hatton on this blog. His writings have helped and challenged us both in many ways.
Today, we will feature a wonderful poem of his with added visual elements. I have produced this video with David’s permission with the hopes that it blesses those who see it and would agree with its powerful message, and challenge those who may be startled by its assertions.
To that end, if you would want to share this video with others, please do so! Copy and paste this link where you would like:
A printable PDF file of “Christians and Nakedness” is available here via David L. Hatton.
CHRISTIANS AND NAKEDNESS
Today we are not used to the body when it’s bare, The skin beyond our face and arms beneath the clothes we wear. Untaught to see its beauty, we’ve learned to label “lewd” The “birthday suit” we started with, which God created nude.
It’s true we make exceptions for toddlers full of glee Who run around in pure delight, stark naked, clothing-free. But those who rediscover this liberty so clean Are called, when they come back to it, “perverted and obscene.”
Yet artists, who observe it in models posed unclad, Acknowledge how the human form is beautiful! Not bad! When health-care workers view it, no decency is gone. A patient’s dignity remains when seen with nothing on.
It’s found by missionaries, to naked peoples sent, That “porn” invades a culture’s land to which “our clothing” went. It’s known by skinny-dippers who bathe in sea and sun That recreation in the buff is simply healthy fun.
The church has failed her duty to guard and to proclaim That God’s own image in our flesh is free from body-shame. Instead, the naked body is marketed for lust, Relinquished into sordid hands by pulpits breaking trust.
Are human bodies “sinful” without their textile wraps? Must children have to look for them in pornographic traps? Can’t we who praise our Maker sustain our hungry youth Whose natural curiosity God meant to feast on truth?
False modesty is shameful! It sends the lovely breast Into a realm of carnal thoughts when mothers nurse undressed. It bans the Sistine Chapel, where nudes are plainly shown, And censures Michelangelo for sculpting them in stone.
We’ve grown quite unaccustomed to normal nudity. We even hide ourselves at home from friends and family. Some people hate their bodies, despising God’s design, Embarrassed if they must disrobe and let His glory shine.
Yet most of our ancestors all bathed in open air. They lived and dressed in one-room homes and saw each other bare. We trim for sports and work-outs. Greek athletes did so stripped! And Christians went to Roman baths with just their towels equipped!
The ancients often labored like Peter, in the nude. When prophets preached without a stitch, nobody called it “Rude!” The early church’s converts were naked when baptized. Though Bible scholars know these facts, they’re never advertized!
Have we made better progress in our morality By pushing man-contrived taboos on human nudity? Did God create His likeness to foster sinful lust? Do we confirm the Serpent’s scheme for souls God sheathed in dust?
If we could just recapture the ancient attitude That saw no scandal in a field of gardeners working nude, If we more often witnessed God’s image on display, We might regain a wholesome view of nakedness today.
First of all, you have a very difficult and often thankless job, so I want to thank you for your dedication and ministry. I know what it’s like and I can attest to the fact that it’s not easy, but it’s an important responsibility we have. To best serve those under our care as undershepherds, we need to be spiritually fed and above reproach ourselves.
You don’t need any statistics to know that pornography is a huge problem and not just outside the church. Within our congregations are many men (and some women as well) who seek out pornography to try to fill a void in their life. Knowing it’s not God-honoring, and trying to quit, they are trapped by the allure and subject to it’s bondage. Many also are addicted and feel they will never find freedom. Even church leaders are not immune. Because of their position they are scared to be open and honest about it. I know because this once described me.
Our attempts at curbing this issue while noble are weak at best. Especially if we ourselves are also struggling, how do we expect to help anyone else? Calling it “every man’s battle” is simply admitting defeat! Conventional Christian wisdom on the matter places the burden of the task on the powerlessness of man-made tactics. They perpetuate guilt and shame rather than providing a way forward to a new form of thinking which brings sustained and perpetual freedom from bondage. This is God’s work, which is done without our help or cooperation.
No amount of confession, accountability or software will cause a man to not look lustfully at a woman if he is intent on doing so. There are always ways to get around it. You can always fake it.
No amount of promises made at an inspiring conference will stop a man from his own evil desires and impure motives.
No amount of pancake breakfasts will help him resist the constant struggle of objectifying other people.
No amount of self-imposed modesty will help a man change his thought life. It’s prideful to think that way, as if Jesus’ work on the cross was not enough to save a man’s soul. This is the practical application of this thinking: Since Jesus isn’t powerful enough to change your animalistic behavior, we need to set an arbitrary length of skirt or “proper” coverage of shoulders or chest to help you out!
The church tries to address this issue but fails as its methods are ineffective. They are like treating a virus with a band aid and do nothing to address the root issue of the problem. In fact, one of the factors for my interest in pornography came from how youth groups talked about it. Instead of preventing me from seeking it out, it got me curious about it.
My point, coming from my own experience and that of many others, is that the heart and the mind of the individual need to change (be renewed) for a lasting transformation to occur.
It angered me so much the other day to see a program being offered to pastors with porn problems for $199. The true and lasting solution should be and IS free! It doesn’t cost the price of internet filters and accountability software (that can always be circumvented anyway). It is not a man-made attempt to work harder or do better through will power. It does not thrive on guilt and shame. It is not confession-based to another human. It is solely a work of God, and he does it without my help.
This vice does not need to be every man’s battle. Nor do we need to bounce our eyes at the sight of anything that can become a trigger for actions that dishonor God and others. Temptation is all around us, but it doesn’t have to be temptation. James 1:14 (KJV) is quick to point out that, “every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.” Temptation isn’t the fault of who you lust after. You and your heart are the only one to blame.
The goal of a recovering alcoholic should be to be able to go to the grocery store and walk down the liquor aisle without a single urge or desire to indulge. Likewise, someone who has been conditioned to respond in lustful ways needs to change his/her mind, with God’s help in order to have lasting freedom from bondage.
Should we hide and cover the cupcakes so as not to cause someone with a gluttony problem to sin? Do we need to ban money or close banks for those overcome by greed? Lust seems to be one of the few sins we practically label as hopeless to overcome in a fallen world. With everything else, it is assumed that we can grow, mature spiritually, and conquer with God’s help.
Let’s take this concept to an extreme. Imagine you and your wife (if you are married) are having a dinner party with your best friends. Then all of a sudden everyone’s clothes disappear and everyone is completely naked (inexplicably). Aside from the initial shock and possible embarrassment, would you be able to control yourself around your friend’s wife? Or would the animalistic urges kick in and it becomes an all out orgy? I’m thinking that after a few minutes of awkwardness, everyone may carry on as normal and no one would cross any moral lines. Why? Because you have a healthy respect for one another and a love and deep friendship. It would be wrong to act on any impure thoughts in this non-sexual setting. Why is it any different with a stranger in a picture or a video online? When it’s a person on a screen, where we don’t have that relationship built or a mutual friendship, and we act out sexually, we excuse it as a natural urge. See the problem?
Jesus said in Matthew 5 that anyone who looks lustfully at another woman had already committed adultery in his heart. He did not say seeing a woman was sin, otherwise men would be sinning all the time. This would be cruel on God’s part! He said looking with lustful (coveting) intent is the sin.
This is desiring that person in a way that isn’t rightfully your place to enjoy. God meant for sexual expression to be in context of a married relationship. Looking lustfully is equating a person who is not your spouse as a piece of meat, a collection of body parts that you are objectifying, selfishly for your own gratification. This can occur with full nudity, partial nudity, or a fully dressed person! You are making a fantasy relationship or escapade with your impure thoughts, as if they were true.
Pope John Paul II is one of the few theologians in history to address the evident gap in our theology with his “theology of the body.” He has posed many great truths and one of my favorite quotes of his is this: “Immodesty is present only when nakedness plays a negative role with regard to the value of the person, when its aim is to arouse concupiscence, as a result of which the person is put in the position of an object for enjoyment.” (John Paul II [Karol Wojtyla]. Love and Responsibility. Rev. ed. Trans. H.T. Willetts. New York: Farrar, 1981.)
This can be illustrated with David and Bathsheba. Bathsheba was bathing on the rooftop like many people did in those days. It was commonplace. David, with the highest point in the city could see many people bathing, but with this one, he had to have her in a sexual conquest, even committing murder to cover it up. David was the guilty man according to the prophet Nathan. Bathsheba was the innocent lamb. So why do we place the blame on the ladies, saying they should not tempt men with how they dress? It’s not logical or right.
Jesus also said in Mark 7 that nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them. He continues saying for it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, adultery, lewdness, envy and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.
This also indicates that the mere sight of someone is not the sin, but rather thinking improperly about that person, is the sin. We need to worry less about what visual stimuli we receive and more about how we think about it!
I write passionately about this because of my own story of failure after failure. I won’t go into all of it suffice to say that I battled the ongoing mystique and pull of pornography for over two decades. I tried everything with varying degrees of success, but never finding full freedom and a clear conscience before God and my wife. I thought I’d never grow out of it and it would always be a constant struggle.
“That’s someone’s daughter” which you often hear as advice against this type of behavior didn’t ever stop me even though I have a daughter of my own. My mind was messed up and not renewed. My view of the body was skewed and distorted, as it is with so many today. As Titus 1:15 says, “To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.” This was me, WAS, being the operative word.
There needed to be a renewal of the mind in terms of how I viewed the body (Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 4:22-24). For too long, I allowed the way the world views people and their bodies to influence my own view. The worldly view is not God-honoring or holy. It agrees with the pornographers in its shallow view of what is and isn’t attractive and how sexualized we are today. The religious notion is to agree with pornographers (yes, you read that right) that “nude is lewd” and react to the opposite extreme of puritanical prudery. This body=bad, spirit=good is a dualism that the Bible does not teach. Rather it is gnostic heresy, and it damages our cause to maintain purity. As Colossians 2:23 (ESV) points out, “These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” Pornography and prudery feed off each other in a vicious cycle, giving the other what it is missing- a godly view that honors, both the body and the someBODY who dwells in it.
Our enemy, the ancient serpent, has been crafty since the beginning. He hates the image of God (Imago Dei) reflected in humankind as much as he hates the God they represent. He adamantly attacks this whole concept and seems to be winning! What God crafted as his most precious masterpiece, Satan has twisted and distorted to the point that it no longer is seen in the same way. Like a priceless work of art, crumbled up, it needs to be rediscovered for its natural and pure beauty. It can, however, be restored as Jesus’ wounds heal our wounds and he makes all things new again (Isaiah 53:5; Revelation 21:5).
The enemy is deceiving the whole world as he has from the beginning. We’ve been conditioned in many ways by society and by evil itself. For me, I agreed with several lies:
When I see a woman I find attractive (nude, scantily clad, or fully clothed), because I’m wired as a visual person, I can’t help myself but respond with a sort of sexual fantasy and lustful thoughts. (Like Pavlov’s dogs or something!)
This is bad, but it’s the way everyone is and there’s nothing I can really do about it. I’ll never be free.
I’m sure there were many more agreements made, but the point is the lies took precedent over the truth. I lived as though the lies were true. Jesus said in John 8:32, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
True repentance according to the meaning of the greek word refers to a changing of the mind. I changed my mind about all of this, which seemed counterintuitive at the time, because I was so depraved in my thinking (Romans 1:18-32). I started to see humankind as the pinnacle of God’s creation, made in His own image. I saw the body, not as lewd, dirty or obscene, but as beautiful and holy, worthy of respect and honor. I also saw other people for who they are, all fearfully and wonderfully made. I appreciated the diversity of God’s design of people as the crowning glory of his awesome creation, more grand than the most magnificent sunset. I no longer “worshipped” created things rather than the Creator as does an idolater (Romans 1:25; Ephesians 5:5). I focused on the whole person, not just certain parts (that in our society get extra attention). Arousal took its rightful place as belonging only to my wife based on our deep relationship.
Once I made the switch in my mind, it was smooth sailing. I was amazed. What I never thought possible was not only possible, but easy. As stated, I rejected the lies, and God did the rest. This constant issue of 20 years simply vanished. I felt different. It wasn’t like moments of “victory” before where there was still a struggle and then I inevitably would fall off the wagon with a binge. This is true freedom, and it’s incredible! I then came across the “My Chains are Gone” website which confirmed everything I had experienced. If you have tried everything and nothing works to rid yourself of these thoughts and habits, read through www.mychainsaregone.org.
This nagging, but ever-present problem was affecting me in many ways. Without it, I’m a better minister, but more importantly a better husband. And being the father of sons, I’m no longer impotent to help them with these issues. The cycle is broken, praise God!
What am I asking of you? First of all, if you yourself are struggling, take another hard look at my testimony and ask yourself if you are believing some of the same lies. Where are you missing God’s truth that’s been staring us in the face ever since the beginning? Secondly, maybe you are blessed to not be affected by this vice, but think about how you teach on this subject and what message you are sending, especially to young people? Does it agree with society’s view or worse our true enemy’s view of human beings and their bodies? Are you relying on man-made methods that fall short of true and full redemption as it relates to lustful attitudes and actions?
My hope and prayer is that this blesses you, and you experience the joy and closeness to God and others that I have found since embracing this more healthy, natural, and godly way of thinking.
A co-laborer in the Lord, Phil O.
P.S. For a printable pdf of this letter click here.
Image credit: V0034184 In the Garden of Eden, while the serpent curls around the tr Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images firstname.lastname@example.org://wellcomeimages.org In the Garden of Eden, while the serpent curls around the tree of knowledge, Eve is about to taste the apple. Coloured etching. Published: [n.d.] Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
In my Personal Manifesto of a Christian Naturist, point #19, I stated that, “I believe dualism and Gnostic heresies have crept back into the church and most are unaware of it.” As I wrote the little “manifesto” piece, I remember wanting to throw ideas out there that would cause people to go deeper and explore further rationales. A couple of people have asked for an expansion on what I meant by gnostic heresies. This article is my attempt to answer their questions.
I must admit, I am no expert or scholar when it comes to understanding Gnosticism beyond what one can find in commentaries and reference books. Before embracing naturism, I was one of those church leaders who assumed these wrong ideas had been dealt with by the early church fathers. David L. Hatton and others turned me on to the idea that the heresies had “crept back into the church.” It didn’t take me long to subscribe to that notion and realize that I too had been unknowingly complicit in perpetuating Gnostic heresy myself for many years!
So what does it mean? That is the question! The word Gnosticism comes from the Greek word gnosis, meaning “knowledge.” Gnostics taught that there was a mysterious or special knowledge reserved for those with true or awakened understanding which could save one’s soul. They accepted the Greek idea of a radical dualism between God (spirit) and the world (matter). For our purposes, the Gnostic application would be spirit=good; body=bad. The goal is to free the spirit from it’s embodied prison.
The ethical behavior among the early proponents of this false doctrine varied immensely. On the one hand, you have those that avoid all “evil” matter in order to be seperate and avoid contamination. This even led to ascetic practice and literally beating their bodies into submission. The other end of the spectrum was a sort of libertinism and freedom to participate in any and all indulgences. Since they believed to possess insight regarding their divine nature, it didn’t matter how they lived. Obviously, both of these extremes exhibit grossly flawed thinking.
Both Paul and John countered these heretical teachings (Col. 2:8-23; 1 Tim. 1:4; 2 Tim. 2:16-19; Titus 1:10-16; 1, 2, 3 John). Jesus in Revelation 2, had strong words opposing the Nicolaitans, who many believe to be a Gnostic sect. True to the definition of the word “heresy,” this teaching caused division in the church fellowship. Gnostic texts in the Apocrypha are not recognized as Scripture and were refuted by early church fathers such as Irenaeus, Against Heresies; Hippolytus, Refutations of All Heresies; Epiphanius, Panarion; and Tertullian, Against Marcion.
Chad W. Thompson in the very first chapter of his book, That Famous Fig Leaf, points out the ways Gnosticism led to some interesting conclusions within the church, infecting it with a negative view of sexuality. A church father, Origen, reputedly castrated himself believing both his body and sexuality to be his enemy. Clement of Alexandria taught that Christ didn’t even have a physical body.
After giving a few more examples, Thompson describes an evil and surprising result:
The Gnostics also devalued women, as it was their bodies that tempted men to sin. Ninth-century church father Theodore of Studius forbade monks from having even female animals, insisting that by becoming monks, they had “renounced the female sex altogether . . .” In the eleventh century Pope Gregory VII wrote, “The church cannot escape from the clutches of laity unless priests first escape the clutches of their wives.” Pope Urban II, a contemporary of Pope Gregory, ordered any priest who violated celibacy to be thrown into prison, and his wife and children sold into slavery. To Augustine, one of the most influential extra-biblical writers in Christian history, the body “presseth down the soul.” Augustine became the bishop of Hippo, and believed the penis was evil, semen was cursed, and intercourse was infected by sin even in the context of marriage.
While these ideas seem outlandish today, the dangerous doctrine of Gnostic dualism is still alive and well.
Again, Hatton mentions this throughout most of his writings. I will pull several quotes from this 20 page article on his website. He does not mince words when he confesses the following:
Our scrupulous loyalty to a prudish view of the body wasn’t just poor theology. It was an unwitting—perhaps sometimes even an idolatrous—cultural investment in heretical error.
We’ve been trained by the body taboo of church tradition to guard our speech. But no redemptive good news about our sexual nature ever came from the body shame language formulated by that taboo. Within evangelical hymnody, homily, and humor there is a subtle array of Gnostic attitudes toward the material world in general and toward the human body in particular. We often claim biblical ground for trivializing “this world” as “not our home” and for preaching a Greek dualism that neglects the importance of the body and its inherent sexual character. Pulpits are parodied for skimming over sexual issues with evasive wittiness. Expected laughter from the pew confirms the stereotype. Absence of a substantial and thorough evangelical theology of sexuality—or even a sound theology of our physical embodiment—is telltale evidence that this caricature of our uneasiness with sex is real. But this comical avoidance, and the attitude it betrays, is no joking matter in our present social climate. It’s an inexcusable offense that has surely offended our Creator for a long time. Immersed in this prudish mindset, past Bible teachers, if not lulled into Gnostic thinking themselves, have showed little concern for a creational view of the material world or for an incarnational view of the human body. The legacy of this doctrinal deficit sets an agenda for remedial theological work, starting with a godly, pure-minded attitude toward the body and its sexual physiology. Only divine truth about our sexual embodiment can drive out the false spirit of Gnostic prudery and body shame.
His reference to divine truth is not one that is concealed for those lucky enough to have the secret insight. No, that would sound just like the Gnosticism we are siding against! He’s advocating for the simple truth revealed in God’s word and in the Edenistic ideal. He’s pleading for Christians to look beyond our culturally biased perceptions, and see humanity as God sees us.
Hatton does not trace the origin of this heresy back to the early church, but much earlier, as early as you could go… way back to Genesis and the creation story:
Three relationships simultaneously fell apart when Adam and Eve ignored God’s direct, personal guidance by imbibing that fruit: separation from God, discord with each other, and estrangement from their own bodies. Evangelical teaching on the restorative dimensions of Christ’s redemption focus almost exclusively on those first two categories. We basically ignore the third. But of the three, Adam and Eve’s bodily alienation was recorded as the first and immediate result of their gnosis-based independence in morally determining what was “good and evil.”
So this is not a new problem. It’s been around forever. It rears its ugly head and causes havoc upon all of humanity in its wake. All the ills of society, when you boil them down, are an affront to the image of God (imago dei) stamped both on our bodies and our souls. To ignore the issues of the body, is to surrender this part of ourselves to Satan’s plan and away from God’s design. So we reap what we sow, and living within the world’s system in a hyper-sex crazed culture (again, nothing new), we are forced to try to either frantically avoid all that is deemed as evil or succomb to it’s powerful allure.
Legalism or libertinism ensue. Angelism or animalism become the only apparent choices, neither one being the healthy alternative of a godly view of incarnational truth.
What’s the answer then? If this kind of thinking is so ingrained in us, how can we ever expect for the majority of Christians to experience an improved perspective? There simply are no easy answers. This view of the intertwining of body and soul is not a hidden truth. It’s been there all along! The serpent attacked the first moment he could, and he hit hard. Naturists don’t have secret knowledge. They are simply as body-friendly as God intended us to be. It’s not difficult when you accept the truth, it’s just agonizingly hard for many to see because we are blinded and conditioned by both society and by church teaching through man’s traditions.
You can read the whole of Hatton’s argument here, but I’ll close this article with this quote:
Having their sacred idol of a cultural body taboo prophetically smashed may be the need of some Christians. But the bulk of the church must be led gently, gradually. Habits of chewing legalistic fruit from “the ‘gnosis’ of good and evil” which perpetuates body shame are deep-seated. An iconoclasm of Gnostic attitudes must begin theologically and progress pastorally. What we must not do is to try preserving the status quo in a peaceful religious ghetto. God expects us to “walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” We must work toward banishing Gnostic ideas from the Christian church, along with Gnostic porno-prudery. Both have clearly dishonored our Creator. Both have utterly failed to bring godly change to our sex-obsessed, sexually aberrant culture.
May we do our part to tactfully buck the system that has failed the world practically from the start. May we be advocates for a healthier and holier view of both body and soul.
Let me use this meme from our ever-growing memes page as a springboard for today’s post.
Have you no shame?
Why would I want any?
I absolutely love that attitude and believe it to be the godly response to an ungodly question. What really is a shame is that we as a society ask such questions and think this way. We’ve equated a portion of the image of God in us (the body) with the feeling caused by our wrongdoing. Allow me to try to explain a bit better…
It sounds a whole lot like the scene way back in Genesis with our first ancestors in Adam and Eve. Shame is not of God. However, it shows up on the scene fairly early in the human narrative. Let’s examine this phenomenon.
God utilized the refrain “it is good” after creating something, but after creating both the male and female form in his image, he says “it is very good” in Genesis 1:31. They are the crowning glory of creation and were so in the unclothed state in which we are born and the same state in which we shall depart this life (see Job 1:21).
Genesis 2:25 states that Adam and Eve were naked and without shame. In fact, shame did not exist at this time, neither did the concept of clothing, or the word “naked” when you think about it.
The crafty serpent convinces both Eve and Adam to eat of the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and their eyes were open to a whole new world.
When a child does something strictly forbidden by their parent, what is the first thing they do? They want to hide the evidence, cover up the infraction, bury their face in their hands. Not much has changed.
Adam and Eve miss their regularly scheduled walk with God, so God calls out to them. They are hiding (Gen. 3:8-10). In my “Personal Manifesto of a Christian Naturist” point #11, I maintain that they covered themselves out of fear, not shame. The editor of fig leaf forum argued this point with a critic:
There we have it—right from the mouth of Adam. It wasn’t shame at all. It was fear. They realized that they were vulnerable, open, unprotected—and guilty—so they ‘covered’ themselves and hid. They were attempting to cover and hide themselves from what and whom they feared (Genesis 2.17; Genesis 3.9-10). I believe Scripture categorically states within these passages that fear is what was motivating Adam and Eve after their fall, not shame.
The text could easily have had Adam saying, “I was ashamed because I was naked, so I hid.” Then my critic would have some ground to stand on. But it doesn’t say that. The Hebrew word that is translated “shame” in Genesis 2.25 occurs 114 times in the Old Testament, yet it’s not used again to indicate shame until Judges 3.25! The text says that Adam was “afraid.” The Hebrew word translated “afraid” in Genesis 3.10 occurs 192 more times in the Old Testament. Not once is it ever translated as any word even remotely close to meaning “shame.”
Genesis 3.21 does indeed tell us that God clothed Adam and Eve with “garments of skin.” Again, my critic seems to insinuate that mankind’s shame was the motivation behind this action. If we are to rely strictly upon what is actually revealed by Scripture in our search for understanding, and not on tradition or presumption or speculation, then I must conclude that there is no evidence that Adam and Eve were ever ashamed of their nakedness. Not before the fall. Not after the fall. Rather, they were fearful because they were naked. Are we then to assume that God covered them because He was ashamed of their nakedness? I don’t see how Scripture would support this possibility either. Only two chapters earlier, in Genesis 1.31, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” Scripture says “all”—including the naked man and the naked woman.
Humans are the only creatures that cover up. My dog may hide if he understands that I am displeased with him. My kids? Well, as a parent, I am more pleased by the better response of my kids owning up to their mistakes than hiding or trying to cover it up. There is something about being uncovered and laid bare before the one to whom we must give an account (Hebrews 4:13), because after all, nothing is ever hidden from God’s sight. It’s always better to be open and vulnerable, not just in the outer garments, but also in the inner spirit (which is of great worth in God’s sight – 1 Peter 3:4).
An example is from church history of genuine and complete openness devoid of shame would be in regards to baptism. Dr. Michael Wilson writes: In the first four centuries of the Church many of our Christian forbears found no contradiction whatsoever between nakedness at worship, and holiness. Rather, they found deep theological significance in nakedness at baptismal rites. These were not private occasions. Baptismal candidates found themselves ‘naked in the sight of all, and unashamed,’ as Cyril of Alexandria reminds his flock.1
Our experience at naturist parks and nude beaches is that shame is practically absent. What’s often in its place is an innocent joy. In this regard, it’s really quite different than the public pool or a “textile” beach. This is one of the parts of the lifestyle that I love so much! We can be naked and unashamed and full of joy and life. It’s almost as if it’s the way we were created! In a fallen world, can we restore the innocence of Eden? Jesus says in Revelation 21:5, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
We hold on to that promise, knowing that we too are being made new. The sins we commit in the body are forgiven and removed as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). Jesus bore our guilt and our shame and nailed it to the cross (Colossians 2:14). We can live free in the knowledge and experience of close relationship with the God of Eden, without the need to hide a thing.
Are there verses that equate nakedness with shame? I would say no, but others who only look on the surface, would say yes. However, upon closer examination, taking the verses in context, you will discover that there is always something else at play that is causing the shame other than the simple state of nakedness. (Read this article from nakedandunashamed.org about each of these verses.)
Much can be said on this subject, and semantics do play a part. However, the subtle distinction between fear and shame, hiding from nakedness or because of wrongdoing is an important one. David L. Hatton puts this whole scene from the fall in such beautiful poetic form:
ORIGIN OF BODY SHAME
Dressed up as a serpent in crafty disguise, A demon attempted, by using his lies, To blot out the beautiful image that God Had made of Himself out of hand-woven sod.
As naked as truth from the day of their birth, And destined by God to be rulers of earth, Both Adam and Eve were alive by God’s breath, But Satan used knowledge to put them to death.
The serpentine liar pretended to heal Their blind faith in God for what’s moral and real. His trick by that Gnostic fruit opened their eyes, Remaking their minds independently wise.
“You see for yourself, God left both of you nude! Your unhidden bodies are shamefully lewd!” Our first parents listened to what Satan said, For now their life-bond to the Maker was dead.
The diet of conscience controls how it guides, Which sins it allows, or what goodness it hides. So, God found and asked them, with leaves round their waist, “Who said you were naked? What fruit did you taste?”
Some call it God’s will to keep chewing that fruit, Embracing its scruples in zealous pursuit, Maligning His gift of our wonderful skin By calling the sight of its nudity sin.
But others discover a godlier view, Rejecting this prudery’s body taboo, Resisting the porn that is wedded to shame Passed on from the devil’s original claim.
These temples are sacred, not sordid, unclean. If you would be holy, don’t call them obscene. Our hearts can be dirty, or lustful and bad, But bodies are closest to truth when unclad.
David L. Hatton’s “Meeting at the River” is a sort of parable-like fictional narrative with opportunities to present ideas throughout. I liken it to William P. Young’s The Shack, in that regard, although a completely different subject matter. Here is Hatton’s own description of the book:
“In this semi-autobiographical, fictional tale and intellectual treatise, my divided view of the body is challenged by an encounter with the past. As a bivocational pastor and nurse, I’m shocked when some from a religious crowd in ancient dress disrobe at my favorite swimming hole to be baptized totally naked! Antiquity offers a fatal blow to the old wall in my mind that keeps my experiences of hospital nudity from confronting the taboos of my upbringing. When that wall topples, I gain a new perspective on life in Bible times, a deeper theological appreciation of human embodiment, and a pricked conscience about the root cause of our culture’s obsession with pornography. Join me in unlearning deceptions as old as Eden, in relearning truths as relevant as our children’s future, and in facing the test of my transformed thinking by the further challenge of four skinny-dipping Bible college students.”
With that backdrop, I’d like to share some of my favorite selections from my reading of the book and what it means to me.
“When certain portions of the body are concealed and considered evil to look upon, the normal curiosity of youth about what is hidden leads to temptation.
Then, upon exposure, the sight of those forbidden areas can wound the conscience. Even worse, these conditions empower the wicked to make a show of those hidden parts for truly corrupt purposes, even to enslave young souls in lustful thoughts.”
This is the elder speaking at the river to explain what a healthy and godly view of the body is. His words certainly resonate with me. This was my experience growing up. From the first time I saw “certain portions of the body” at an early age and was taught to avoid it, temptation abounded. I was a young soul enslaved in lustful thoughts, and grew into a man who was equally enslaved. After embracing a renewed view of the body, I was elated that these problems vanished. As Hatton so eloquently put it, “Prudery lays the groundwork for a pornographic mindset.”
“When sermons teach that [Bathsheba’s] beauty caused King David’s lust, they expound not the words of Scripture but the minds of preachers.”
I had been conditioned to only react one way (sexually) to any sight of nudity. This nagging issue stunted my spiritual growth, strained my marriage, and affected how I saw members of the opposite sex (even fully clothed). I hated myself for how I would objectify women and wanted to rid myself of this bondage once for all. But common methods afforded by the church world didn’t work. The problem was never in the dress or undress of women around me or on screens. The problem was my own mind.
“When people teach that the human body is dirty or obscene, it creates fertile ground for pornography. This is why porn addiction is so strong in our society, even among Christians. Our culture is inundated with a sexualized view of the body. I’m sorry to say that the church has been a key player in spreading that idea.”
I’m sorry to say that so have I. But that will be no more. As a Christian leader, I used to think I was a pretty good guy with a bad secret. But now I know that in reality, I’m a pretty bad guy with a great secret. The great secret is that God forgives and renews, and lustful thinking does not have to be a lifelong struggle. I used to think I’d never kick my bad habits. I’d hear older men speak of ongoing issues with their thought life. I didn’t want to be that, and by God’s grace I won’t be.
Then comes the issue of prudery for the sake of modesty. As if there’s not enough guilt and shame going on without adding a bunch on top. Hatton addresses what modesty actually is and should be understood as being:
“Holy humility is the divine modesty humans need. When fully embraced, it brings death to shame. By humbly and gratefully accepting what we really are, we never feel less than we are when naked, nor more than we are when finely dressed. This bathing at the river, where nothing is hidden, quickly unravels the immodesty of pride. At the same time, being accepted in your humble nakedness, by friends and family and others, is healing. It breaks the bondage to ungodly shame over the size or shape or blemishes of the body that God has given you.”
Some of the modern attempts at modesty actually fly in the face of what Paul was instructing Timothy and the church in the New Testament. They are a source of pride, and not humility, which is the point. Simply covering certain body parts may actually incite more lust, drawing attention to it and stimulating the imagination, than if the mystery were revealed and the humble unclad body were seen in its entirety.
It’s sad how much of an effect our culture has on us. Without a renewed mind, we could be tempted to think that anyone who does not look like a model is less beautiful. I reject that notion outright. Body shame is shameful. All humans are God’s image bearers and deserve respect as such.
“Christians will never have a radical reformation in how they view the naked body, until they can distinguish their devotion to culture from their understanding of Scripture.”
The twisted part of Christian thought when it comes to the body is that a girl in a bikini in a suggestive pose is somehow more decent and less obscene than a woman wearing no clothes just going about her day as normal. Which is natural and which is unnatural? The thinking is backwards. I’ve been complicit in both spreading that idea and falling victim to it’s deceitful outcomes. I used to always repent of my secret sin. Now I must repent of having taught the dangerous ideas that once entrapped me and enslave so many today. As Hatton summarizes:
“God cannot bless the deception of body shame. Nor does He ever cease to bless our naked flesh as a sanctuary for His presence. He never calls what is good evil. Nor will He sanction errors about His incarnated image, even if His own children preach them. Such lies are a great stumbling block, leading multitudes to trip and fall into the very pit they warn against. And because church leaders have adopted and spread this as though it were part of the Gospel itself, then it is their duty to repent and make restitution.”