The Real Moral Issue
A Kind of Fasting
by Paul Hazelden


The Real Moral Issue:
Index | Cold Climate | Imposing Beliefs | Living As Christians
| A Kind of Fasting | Squeamish Translating


Introduction

We can understand the practice of naturism as a kind of fasting. It can be seen as an important spiritual discipline to help us maintain a healthy spiritual life in the modern world.

The Bible offers us various perspectives on the practice of naturism. I am not suggesting that this is the only Biblical approach, but I do believe that it is a valid Biblical approach to the subject.

The danger of good things

Christians are often fixated on sin. We are called to avoid sin, to abstain from every form of evil. When we do sin, we are to confess and repent of our sin, and receive forgiveness. This message is repeated in sermon after sermon, with the types of sin and their consequences often spelled out in gory detail.

In contrast, we are less often reminded that we can gratefully receive the good things that God provides for us. We should enjoy and appeciate His many blessings. But we do sometimes thank Him for fun, for food and for friendship when we 'say grace'; and we sometimes sing that "All good gifts around us are sent from Heaven above, so bless the Lord, bless the Lord, for all His love."

So we are often reminded to avoid sin, and sometimes reminded to receive and enjoy God's blessings. But there is a third strand of Biblical teaching which hardly ever gets a mention. We need to remember that the good things God gives us are also a source of danger.

There are at least three different ways in which this danger can manifest itself.

In all these ways, and possibly others, the good can become an enemy of the best. That which God gives us as an expression of His love can, if we are not careful, become a barrier to His love.

This is where fasting comes in. When we fast, we choose to do without something good so that the good will not keep us from the best.

Fasting is a vital spiritual discipline. To begin to explain why, let us briefly look at the subject of addiction.

Addiction

If you are constantly using something, you need to ask the question: are you using it, or is it using you? Who, or what, is actually in control?

We can see this clearly when we look at smoking. In the beginning, you choose to smoke. But after a short time, while you may think you are choosing, the truth is that you cannot not smoke. The tobacco is in control, not you. In this area of your life, you are a slave. That is not the way God wants it to be.

Of course, this process does not just happen with tobacco. People also become addicted to alcohol, to gambling, to a vast range of drugs both legal and illegal. People can become addicted to good things, such as exercise.

Sometimes the problem of addiction is clear, but often it is not. You drink every night, but you say you are not addicted: you could choose to put the drink aside for a night, but you don't want to. You are able to stop at any time. So you say. There is a simple test: do it. Don't drink for a change. The only way you can discover whether or not you are addicted is to take a break, to have a fast from the habit or substance concerned.

The only way to affirm that it is you in control, is to abstain from the things which can, if you are not careful, take over your life.

Freedom

Addiction is not our only danger, but it is a useful starting point. My life can be controlled in all kinds of ways - through habits, through laziness, through social conventions, through unwise commitments, through a fear of disapproval, and in many other ways.

There are many routes to spiritual bondage, but the details of the route do not matter too much. What matters is whether you are free to serve God and be the person he has called you to be, or whether you are enslaved to something which gets in the way and prevents you from fully living and loving and serving.

Paul tells us in Galatians 5:1, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." This is really important.

The only way to discover whether you are free is to try to use that freedom. The only way to affirm that you care about the freedom which Christ died to give you, is to exercise it on a regular basis. As in other areas of life, the principle is clear: use it or lose it.

You may be fortunate enough to get three meals a day. But you don't actually need three meals a day. You don't actually need to eat every day. That is the truth, but the only way to make that truth real in your experience is to fast, to choose to voluntarily avoid eating when you could and would normally eat.

Fasting is a spiritual discipline. It applies to all areas of life, not just to food. Your timetable might revolve around being home for a certain soap opera. You might never say 'no' to a certain person because you need their approval. Every one of us faces different challenges to our freedom in Christ, and each one must work out exactly how we can make our freedom real.

The dominant atitude in society is that we should take what we can - grab everything that is on offer. Fasting is a way to fight this mentality: instead of taking as much as I can, I choose to take as little as possible. Instead of eating every delicious item on offer, I can choose to eat as little as possible. I do not live this way all the time, but I do live this way some of the time - enough of the time to know that eating the way I usually do is a choice, that I am in control and not the food.

Fasting from clothes is not the only form of fasting, and not the only spiritual discipline we should practice, but it is probably one of them.

Instead of keeping myself clothed whenever possible, I can choose to abstain from clothing. It is a discipline which helps to remind me that I do not live by - I am not controlled by - the standards and expectations of my society, but by God.

Normal nudity

The idea of fasting from clothing is not found in the Bible, nor in in most of the Christian literature from the centuries which followed. The simple reason is that there was little need for this discipline in former days. Naturism is a modern idea, because it meets a modern need.

In Biblical days, and for much of human history since then, public nudity was not an issue because it was a normal part of everybody's life. People would bathe, work and exercise naked.

Families would all live and sleep in one room, and nobody had any expectation of the sort of privacy we take for granted today.

People bathed in public and naked in the local river or lake. Swimming costumes were completely unknown, as were bathrooms for everyone other than the very rich.

Only the rich had more than one set of clothes, so people took great care of their clothes. Consequently, they often worked naked - particularly when the work was dirty. A great deal of work in the ancient world was dirty - fishing, farming and gardening are three good examples.

Exercise and sport was undertaken naked. A Gymnasium is a place to be naked. Mark Twain is historically correct in his classic quote: "Not all the Greek runners in the original Olympics were totally naked. Some wore shoes."

In the centuries which followed, people became richer. We gained homes with more rooms. We gained more clothes so that we could wear one set while we wash another. But we still went to the local river or lake to get clean unless we were very rich.

In short, public nudity has been a normal part of life for most people throughout history. It is only in the very recent past that we added a bathroom to our homes, so we could wash in private.

A modern problem

But in the modern world, public nudity is no longer normal.

The Western world has embraced aspects of Victorian morality, and exported it across the globe. Nudity has been pushed from the public realm to the private. People do not get to see the human form in real life, and the wearing of clothes has changed from being a practical necessity to being a neurotic compulsion.

People have a natural desire to know what their own species looks like. This is more than simple curiosity: we need to know how we compare, we need to know if we are 'normal'.

However, if you admit to a desire to see naked people, this is seen as a moral failing - the assumption is that the only reason to look at naked people is for some kind of sexual gratification: that you want to lust over the sight of members of the opposite sex, or maybe (which, strangely, is still worse, even in modern society) members of the same sex.

But people have a natural need and desire to know what people look like. What sort of creature am I, how am I similar to, and how do I differ from others of my kind? These are basic questions of identity and self-knowledge which require a basic familiarity with the naked human form.

A cultural problem

In modern Western society, capitalism rules. Nudity is only allowed in strictly limited circumstances, so that the people who control the rules (or their friends and families) can make money out of it. Nudity has to be prohibited so that a few people can make vast sums of money by controling access to it. If nudity were once again a normal part of life, who would pay to see a naked body?

According to the standards of our society, it is particularly important that children are never allowed to see a naked person. This is not because the sight of naked people would be harmful - every study ever conducted shows that children are happier, healthier and better adjusted if they grow up seeing ordinary naked people - but because it is a commercial necessity.

Our society chooses to link nudity with sex and adult activity, and on that basis prevents children from seeing naked people: it is the only way to make sure that these children will pay to see naked people when they grow up.

This strategy works in at least two ways. If you prevent children from seeing naked people, their natural curiosity will drive them when they are older to find out what people look like, and they will be willing to pay to satisfy this artificially-created need. Also, if you prevent children from seeing naked people because they are children, when they become teenagers they will crave the sight of naked people in order to prove they are no longer children and are able to stake a claim to the desired status of adulthood.

The prohibition of nudity in normal polite society has another consequence. Only the beautiful are allowed to be naked, so the only bodies you ever see are the very few which meet this high standard. This then appears to be normal, and your own body is horribly inadequate in comparison.

In recent years, this problem has become even worse: the only pictures of naked people we are allowed to see are pictures of the most beautiful, carefully made-up, lit and posed models; and these pictures are then air-brushed and enhanced in other ways so that the standard of beauty we are presented with is not only absurdly high, but literally impossible to achieve.

People live with shame that they do not have an acceptable body, and they are afraid to let anyone see them - not only because society says that nudity is unacceptable, but also because they 'know' their body would be a grossly offensive sight.

God's view

This belief that your body is sinful or offensive is a lie. Your body is good - God says it is. The only beauty which counts in God's eyes is a beauty of the soul. If I believe that I cannot allow you to see me because my body is sinful or because I am not beautiful enough, then I am allowing a lie to control my life; I am denying the truth of God's Word.

We have to live according to God's standards. When we allow our lives to be controlled by society's wrong standards, we are harmed spiritually. Even more seriously, we are harming the people around us by reinforcing the lies which dominate and control their lives.

God tells us that the human body is good ('very good') and also that we are to love our enemies. But on children's TV, we repeatedly show people fighting and killing their enemies, we show people being beaten-up, blow-up, shot and harmed in all kinds of ways. By implication, we are teaching that this behaviour is right and normal. It is also the case that on children's TV we are not allowed to show them what their own good body looks like.

In both these ways, we are perverting our children's minds with false standards. We just accept the lies and ignore the harm. We ignore what God says about love and about the human body because we are not prepared to confront the lies our culture insists that we must live by.

Food and clothing

I am writing this article because I started to think about Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. As I tried to understand what He was saying, I came to recognise that His teaching about food and clothing (Matthew 6:25-34) contradicts both our understanding and our practice in some important ways.

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you - you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, "What shall we eat?" or "What shall we drink?" or "What shall we wear?" For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

In this passage, Jesus tells us that God knows we need both food and clothes. Here are just three obvious comments.

In the same way that we don't have a moral obligation to eat (beyond the obvious need to eat in order to sustain life), and we have no need to eat all the time, so we don't have a moral obligation to wear clothes (beyond the obvious need to wear clothing in order to protect life), and we have no need to be clothed all the time.

We need food so that we can eat it when we are hungry; we need clothes so that we can wear them when we need protection from cold or harm. It's really very simple, and very straighforward. That is what the Bible teaches on the subject - clearly and consistently.

God gives us both food and clothing, because he knows we need both.

Food is good and necessary, but it can be misused. Just because you have food, that does not mean you have to eat it. You can eat too much, and you can find yourself compelled to eat when you do not need to - which is probably a mixture of greed and gluttony.

Clothing is good and necessary, but it can be misused. Just because you have clothes, that does not mean you have to wear them. You can have too many clothes, which is a form of greed. You can find yourself feeling compelled to wear clothes when you do not need to, and that can be see as a form of gluttony. It is a modern sin we don't have a proper name for. We could, perhaps, call it the sin of 'clothing-compulsion'.

The problem of gluttony has been recognised for many centuries, and it seems to be mainly people in the church who talk about it. The problem of clothing-compulsion has only become a problem in recent years but, strangely, is is more often recognised as a problem outside the church then it is within.

Consider the lilies

There is more in this passage which is relevant to this discussion. The Authorised Version tells us to "Consider the lilies of the field".

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you - you of little faith?

Let's take a closer look at what Jesus is saying here.

"And why do you worry about clothes?"

This could be the ultimate Biblical comment on naturism. Why do people get so wound up about clothing, or the lack of it? It really does not matter. It certainly does not matter as much as most people think it does.

If you think it is important that people wear clothes, you are free to hold your opinion on the matter, but you should be aware that you are disagreeing with Jesus on this point.

"See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these."

The flowers of the field are beautiful just the way God created them.

You can try working hard to make yourself beautiful, and you can try covering yourself with garments to hide your appearance, but nothing you do can make yourself more beautiful than the beauty that God gave you.

"If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you - you of little faith?"

God clothes the grass of the field by making it beautiful just the way it is - by making it so that it does not need painting over, or given an artificial covering.

If that is the way God sees even the unimportant, short-lived pices of grass outside your door, do you not understand that He sees you the same way? You are far more precious to Him than the grass, so He has even more reason to make you beautiful just the way you are. You do not need to be painted over or given artificial coverings to make you beautiful.

Jesus is telling us in this passage that we have no moral obligation to wear clothing, and we have no aesthetic obligation either. Our Heavenly Father created us just the way He wanted us, and in His eyes we have no need for clothing. We need to learn to see ourselves the way that God sees us.

One final comment on this passage. When Jesus says, "If that is how God clothes the grass of the field ... will he not much more clothe you?" we need to be clear about the meaning of the phrase "much more". Jesus is not saying that God gives clothes to the grass of the field, and will give you many more clothes. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Jesus is saying that we can see God's care for even the grass, in that the grass is absolutely fine without clothes; and if we understand His care for the grass of the field, we can be even more confident of His care for us. His care for the grass of the field is seen in the fact that it needs no clothing: how much more confident can we be of His care for us, and how much more certain can we be that that He would not create us as inadequate creatures in need of clothing?

Following Jesus

If we wish to fully follow Jesus, Christians need to become willing to take a stand against the prevailing standards in our society - to risk criticism in order to stand up for Godly standards and practices. This involves confronting greed and selfishness and materialism, it involves a commitment to love, peace and forgiveness rather than hatred, war and destruction - it involves many things.

One aspect of living a counter-cultural life, a life which seeks to express God's values rather than the lies of the enemy, is to uphold the God-given value and dignity of the body which He created and gave to each one of us. God know what He was doing when He created you, and He did it well. Are you prepared to live as though you believe that this is true, however beautiful you consider yourself to be?

It comes down to one simple question: are we prepared to accept and live by God's Word, or will we take the easy route and live by the standards and expectations of our culture instead?

If we choose to follow Jesus, then fasting is a normal, natural aspect of that path. Society says I must satisfy my physical desires, so I practice the discipline of fasting from food when I can, to help break the power that society has over me, and to make my commitment to God's way real in my life.

God says that I do not need clothes; society says that I do need them. God says that I am acceptable to Him just the way I am; society says that I am not acceptable unless I am hiding my body.

I may claim to believe God's word and reject the lies of the society around me, but faith must be expressed in action. If I live in obedience to the lies of society, and I do not live in a way that expresses the truth of God's word, then what is my claim to believe God's word actually worth? If I believe it, I have to live it or my belief is futile - empty of any value.

Just as I fast from food to to help break the power that society has over me, and to make my commitment to God's way real in my life, so I also need to fast from clothing for exactly the same reason. Jesus put food and clothing together: I have no right to decide that the one is important for my spiritual health, while the other is unimportant.

I do not fast from food all the time, and I will not fast from clothing all the time. There are times when it is right and good to eat food, and there are times when it is right and good to wear clothes.

But the discipline of fasting is an important tool, helping me hold on to the sovereignty of God over His creation and the authority of His word over my life.

I need to have times when I fast from food: times when I choose to not eat, when I would normally eat, and when society says I should eat. So, too, I need to have times when I fast from clothing: times when I choose to be naked, when I would normally wear clothes, and when society says I should wear clothes. It must cost something, or there is no spiritual benefit.

I have to live out what I say I believe. There is much more to the Christian life than fasting: there is love, joy, peace and the power of the Holy Spirit; there is Christian fellowship and service to others, and much, much more. But within that bigger picture, fasting has always been an important part, an important aspect of a healthy and vibrant spirituality.

And this means that, from time to time, I need to fast from clothing just as from time to time I need to fast from food.

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The Real Moral Issue:
Index | Cold Climate | Imposing Beliefs | Living As Christians
| A Kind of Fasting | Squeamish Translating


Copyright © 2014 Paul Hazelden
 
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