If we are going to deal with why religious nakedness as a spiritual discipline might not be accepted by the mainstream we have to first look at religion and this is actually where things can go a number of different directions. Fact is that some religions actually are very accepting of nakedness in spiritual practice. Eastern religions are as a rule more accepting of this than west. It is interesting that the religions of the world that are the most monotheistic (Islam, Judaism and Christianity) are also the most non accepting of nudity in the context of spiritual disciplines. I can speak toward Christianity with some authority, but some of the main issues with Islam and the equality of women directly stem from the idea of women being both modest and not showing any skin but face and hands. Judaism tends to follow whether or not the Jewish person in question is conservative or liberal. Liberal Jewish women tend to be far more open to nudity in the context of their faith than most. Christianity is much the same but in the United States the conservatives rule the roost for the most part, so nudity in the context of spiritual growth is very rare.
This has not always been the case in Christianity. You only have to look at certain mystical groups in Christian history, certain forms of monasticism through the centuries and Christian art to know than nudity has not always been looked at as a negative force in Christianity. Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel is great example of this with its many naked figures in many different contexts. Simply put the current attitude toward nudity is not something that has always existed in Christianity.
I want to differentiate between faith and religion from my perspective. Faith is something that must be freely embraced. It is to trust and believe in something because you want to, not because you are forced or indoctrinated to do so. In all things, if someone has faith, they have chosen without coercion to believe what they believe.
Religion is by its very nature into persuading people to believe something through fear, manipulation or simply not allowing people to believe something else. Religion is about controlling peoples belief so that there is no variation in belief and everyone thinks and believes the same. In religion there is a great emphasis on ‘discipling’ people when they are young or new to the ‘faith’ so they know the truth. Religion has the tendency to fear new ideas and concepts when it comes to belief and to control this information and they often demonize anyone who believes differently than they do. When a religion considers something they ask only the question of ‘is this dangerous to what we believe?’ It becomes about the control of information and behavior so a person’s ‘faith’ is not upset.
Nudity in modern Christianity has always been problematic, particularly in the United States. Mostly this is because American Christianity has a hard time with new concepts in general and nudity in particular. The main thing this does is your average American Christian cannot make a distinction between nudity and sex. They are taught that to be naked is to invite sex and to be honest this is not going to go away.
When a child grows up in a religious Christian household, they are almost immediate confronted with parents who are working very hard to maintain their reputation as good Christian parents. To this end they quickly teach their children that they must not be naked and their naked body is something sinful before God. Not only does this lead to poor body image by a lot of Christian boys and girls, but it seems to defy the idea that all creations of God are good and that includes the human body. What is dangerously taught here is that to be nude is to be a sinner and so this causes any looking at one’s body to also be sinful. Sex and nudity become intertwined and so both are viewed as evil.
Over time, it becomes very hard for people to break this religious indoctrination. Say something over and over and it becomes true. It simply is believed because authority said so and that to break the word of authority is to sin. My question was always who sets up these authorities? Most of them were set up by themselves for their own sense of power and control over others. It is quite another matter to simply allow others to accept your authority rather than have it forced on you. If you do not agree, you are shunned, excommunicated or simply told you are going to hell now. How people in religion set themselves up in the position of God to make such decisions escapes me but they do.
To someone who wishes to be a Christian and a practitioner of nudity in the context of spiritual disciplines, the main thing that will be faced is fear, fear of discovery. I myself in writing this series realize that some people are going to label me in certain ways and reject me as a person who poses as being a Christian but I am teaching falsehood. By writing this stuff I am risking a lot, not because I believe that what I am saying is wrong, but because Christianity in religious form cannot accept anything different other than what they have been taught for many years. I have already had one person stop following this blog because of the fear they have of being discovered. I understand his fear and respect it because he is right to fear this religious force. It has no mercy or tolerance for variation in belief. It also can be quite harsh in its reaction. The only thing that really shields me is that I am independent and known for being a free thinking Christian. I also have made it very clear that if anyone cares to disagree they are welcome to do so and if they want to debate me they are more than welcome as well. So far, no real takers.
This of course leads me to my current problem in this series. I designed it to bring about dialogue between a lot of different groups: nudists, non-nudists, naturists, spiritual practitioners of all religions and conservative Christians of many sorts. The problem is not who has shown up but who has not. It is the conservative Christian who is absent from the dialogue. Oh, I have had some Christians comment but the ones that have are pretty free-spirited or the one person who left who gave me some Scriptural objections (finally) to what I was saying. I plan on engaging what he was saying later in this series, but I understand his exodus. On Facebook only one Christian friend explained some personal issues with this idea and I concurred that naked spirituality might be something far off for her because of some things she had been through. I have always maintained this is a matter of conscience but still silence from the Christian right for the most part. The nudists, naturalists and more open-minded seeker have been far more active with me on this topic and I am not surprised.
This is the very problem that illustrates perfectly the effect of religion in engaging this topic. The conservative Christian does not want to engage it because they do not want to be stained by the mere engaging of the topic. To them to engage in discussion on nudity in the context of prayer is to pervert prayer. They have always been taught this directly or indirectly so they do not question it. In truth they have not really thought about it because they are a) not allowed to do so or b) not encouraged to do so. Fear is what keeps them from doing so. They do not want to be ‘excommunicated’ in some way simply for even questioning what they have been taught. This is sad but it illustrates the effects quite well when it comes to religion and nudity.
For someone who wishes to add nudity to their disciplines or experience as a Christian I give the same advice I have already given: be very careful. Your going to have to make a decision somewhere along the line of how much this is worth to you and your spiritual growth. Most of you will have to keep this a secret or you could lose your place in your church and community. Reputation is largely cultural so if your reputation is necessary to minister in a community be very careful not to throw it away just so you can meditate in the nude. There are some who do not really care and seek to create their own communities based on naked spirituality. Understand given the current climate of religion in the United States and other places this may very well be a one way street. Once you pass through that door, you may not be able to get back again so choose very carefully.
Oddly enough though, as much as religion is blind to this issue, societal forces are also strong against nudity as well.
Next: Naked Problem #3: Spiritual Nudity vs. Society