Saturday, May 17, 2014


Do you tell a child that there are parts of his or her body which are indecent, obscene and unacceptable and he or she must learn to feel shame with regard to them?  Chances are you do although you might not do so in so many words. Throughout our lives, we enforce the belief that there are parts of our bodies which are so obscene and indecent that they cannot be exposed and seen by others.

It is this societal reinforcement since early childhood that there are parts of our bodies which we should be ashamed of that has led to a great deal of needless anxiety and fear and this has been seized by criminals to trap and blackmail adolescents that we see on the news recently. See this BBC report.

But why do we come up with this ridiculous notion that there are parts of our bodies which are obscene in the first place. There can be only one reason - our obsession with sex. People who are dead opposed to any form of nudity are usually sex-crazed and they associate the human body with sex. They probably accept a worldview that looks upon sex generally as wrong and embarrassing.

Religions such as mine have very strong words against any form of sexual conduct that does not conform to its strict rules of permitted sexuality - sex within a monogamous marriage. But this is important - Christianity has absolutely no prohibition on nudity and while St Paul may rail against sexual misconduct, the church in his day conducted Holy Baptism in the nude. I will talk more about this later. The fact is St Paul and the early Christians did not equate nudity with sex. In other words, although St Paul had a lot to say about sex, he was not one with a singular obsession with sex and he was quite unlike many we see in the church today.

For a long time, humankind had no problem with nudity. In ancient Greece and Rome, nudity was not considered such a huge embarrassment. Greek gods are represented in their naked glory and athletes who competed at the foot of Mount Olympus (the origin of our Olympics) were all without exception stark naked. The early church did not view nudity as inappropriate. The early church fathers tell us that the Sacrament of Holy Baptism was conducted entirely in the nude. It was only after a Christian had been baptised that he or she was clothed in new clothes to symbolise a new life in Christ. Today, it’s unthinkable to have anyone naked at baptism. It would most certainly be looked upon as sacrilegious.

Below are pieces of early Christian art depicting nudity during the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.

What caused this change?

The monastic tradition made us look upon the naked body as sinful and evil and ought to be subjugated. In the early church, there were heretics who held precisely that belief. They claimed that Jesus was totally spiritual and divine and only appeared to be in the flesh. They denied the Incarnation of Christ.  They held the view that the human flesh was sinful and evil and Jesus could not have taken on bodily flesh since he was perfect. These heretics, also called Docetists, were condemned by the New Testament writers. St John’s Gospel which clearly spelt out that Christ came in the flesh was meant to put down this belief of Docetism. Docetists looked upon the human body as not just corruptible but totally corrupt and should be repressed and covered and to expose the naked body was to encourage people to commit sinful debauchery.

The monastic tradition of the church somehow harked back to this Docetist view of the body but without altering the Christology. As long as the doctrine of the nature and person of Jesus Christ was not affected, the Church was happy to accept any view that puritanically relegated the human body to the depths of depravity while at all times preserving the doctrine of Christ’s humanity and Incarnation and St John’s teaching that Christ came in the flesh remained intact. So the human flesh was thought of as evil and the naked body as filthy and unacceptable. Monks would carry out the practice of self-flagellation as a means of subjugating the sinful body and there are accounts of monks who whipped themselves to death.

The Dark Ages are over and we no longer whip ourselves but we continue to carry the shame and guilt that we attach to our bodies as evil and sinful. That explains the shame that we feel and there are many of us who would rather give an arm and a leg than have our nude photos posted online by a blackmailer. How warped we are that we view a perfectly fine organ of the body that is necessary for the propagation and continuation of the human species with so much shame, guilt and distaste.

As I have shown, religion does not criminalise nudity. It's our perverted and warped thinking which is motivated and charged purely by our unhealthy obsession with sex that makes us view nudity with so much shame and loathing.  The more negatively you react against nudity, the greater your obsession is with sex.


  1. I have read a lot of articles that almost repeat the same thing, but this is the first I read that went a bit deeper into church history and brought up another group called the Docetist, which I have not heard of in a very long time. This is refreshing and brings to us the current understanding, or should I say, misunderstanding of modern doctrinal beliefs.

    1. Thanks, Boyd Allen. I'm glad you like it.