President Hinckley has spent a lot of energy warning about pornography, calling it worse than the plague. The topic comes up all the time in Stake leadership meetings too. I have heard statistics of the volume of pornography that flows through the BYU network every day. It is a huge, sick problem.
Still, from my limited experience, pornography is not the problem. In fact, it is a symptom of a much deeper problem. In my opinion, when we put porn blockers and filters on our Internet connections, we’re hacking at the branches of evil, but not striking at the root.
My view is that we have created our own cancer. By “we” I don’t refer specifically to the church or to the US, but just generally to the Christian culture in the US, which tends to be somewhat amplified in the church.
What is the cancer? The cancer is mutated views of bodies and sexuality. This has come about from two fronts.
On one side, we have always been a very “Victorian” society. Surprisingly, in some ways this is growing instead of softening. We have been able to become more and more private about our bodies in these big, modern homes with private rooms and baths. Contrast this with the homes our grandparents grew up in, with one common room for all of the kids and a wash basin on the kitchen floor for bathing; “modesty” just wasn’t an option. But now it is. Even “modesty” itself is taking on a life of its own in the church. Its definition has grown from the original sense of propriety in conduct to the narrow definition of ample clothing. As a result, we have it pounded into our heads that bodies are sexual and they have to be covered to preserve purity. The hiding of them, I believe, creates a second problem. We can easily become fixated on what we are not allowed to see.
On the other side, Hollywood is working very hard to sexualize the body. It shows idealized, air-brushed flashes of skin and charges them with sexuality. The irony is that the Christian culture is reinforcing Hollywood’s messaging. Hollywood shows soft cleavage with lights and sounds that scream “sex”, and the Christian churches jump to their feet and agree.
We’re bombarded on both fronts with the same message: bodies are sex. Hollywood tells us to get naked and indulge in sex, while Christian society tells us to cover up and spurn it. And they’re both wrong. Which brings us back to our goal of finding the root of the pornography problem.
The root of the problem, then, is that we have horribly distorted and mutated the innocent view of bodies. This becomes self-evident with a simple question: How does Heavenly Father react to your nude body? The answer, I believe, is that he does not see a nude body. He only sees you — his child — and feels love.
When Heavenly Father looks on us, he sees souls. Sadly, when many men (and a surprising number of women too, I understand) look on the opposite gender, their view is tainted by sexuality. Some are able to deal with that. But others struggle with it. To make matters worse, many have a natural, innocent curiosity about what the other gender looks like, intensified by the fact that bodies are so hidden. The obvious and easiest place to satisfy curiosity about sex and bodies is pornography. This is horribly devastating. As soon as these poor souls start looking at pornography, the sexual view of bodies is burned deeply into their minds. From this moment on, they nearly can’t visualize the other gender nude in a non-sexual way. The other gender ceases to be souls and becomes walking sex objects. Innocence is completely lost.
We make a very sad mistake when we assume that we should cure these people by filtering their Internet connection or installing a porn blocker. That may keep them from seeing porn, but there remain deeply distorted perceptions about bodies and sex.
I started re-reading The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis and loved this passage from the Prologue: “I do not think that all who choose wrong roads perish; but their rescue consists in being put back on the right road. A wrong sum can be put right: but only by going back till you find the error and working it afresh from that point, never by simply going on. Evil can be undone, but it cannot “develop” into good. Time does not heal it. The spell must be unwound, bit by bit …”
We assume that if we can get the porn addict away from the porn that they will be able to move on from it. But this is fundamentally wrong. To really help the porn addict heal, we must “unwind” the problem — go back and correct the thought patterns and perceptions that have been altered and mutated. We have to heal their minds and souls. If we can put their perceptions right, pornography will lose its appeal.
Enter the remedy and relief — nudism. Chaste nudity can be very healing. This seems counter-intuitive, but taking off your clothes in a chaste, innocent environment is a wonderful way to heal distorted body perceptions.
How does nudism heal perceptions? It takes the body — the object that has been charged with so much sexuality — and brings it back into reality. Sexually charged imagery exists in a world of false perceptions and fantasy. When you remove the body from the imagination and expose it in reality, the fantasy and fiction fly away very quickly. Even the most beautiful bodies turn out to be just a lot of pale skin, body hair, blemishes, wrinkles, and odd fat distributions. When this happens, the porn addict is left disillusioned and sexually-charged reactions disappear.
When the sexuality is swept away and just a body is left standing there, a surprising thing happens. We begin to see the person inside of the body. And then our perceptions come closer to Heavenly Father’s. The body starts to slip as the primary focal point and we begin to see a soul instead. Eventually, the body becomes the clothing of the soul, and that is a beautiful reality to arrive at.
The end result is that warped thought patterns and perceptions are healed at the root. From then on, the person views bodies in a healthy way. They are liberated from the sexual overtones that are spread all over pop culture. Victoria’s Secret models now seem ridiculous; it feels sad that they have so little respect for themselves beyond their bodies. As to pornography, it becomes clear that it is a lie, a fiction that has no root in reality.
It is hard for American Christians to come to terms with all of this. They have a profoundly strong belief that nudity must be perverse and sexually deviant. The strange truth is, it can be very innocent and wholesome. I struggle to explain this or reason it out, but anyone who has experienced it can testify to it. In a truly innocent setting, sexuality just drips away.
American Christian society also cannot understand how nudity could be modest. But it happens that taking off a swimming suit can be more modest than keeping it on. Swimming suits both emphasize and hide “private” areas and then leave your mind to fill in the blanks. Your mind will always fill in the blanks much better than reality will. Take off the swimming suit and all of a sudden it’s just a body — surprisingly less attractive than you thought, and without all of Hollywood’s music and lights, the sexual charge disappears.
If one part of the nude body is visually more emphasized than the others, it is only because we aren’t used to seeing it. Once you adjust to the sight of it, the body becomes just one continuous covering — clothing of the soul. Contrast this with current attitudes, where this body is the sum of the “private” areas. It reminds me of Ephesians where the church is described in terms of a body, where no part is superior to any other. That is the way it should be.
In regards to modesty, nudists come to realize that modesty is far more about the way you conduct and carry yourself than what you wear. I have seen girls that were incredibly immodest in the way they walked and flaunted themselves, even though their hemlines met church standards. On the other hand, a girl can carry herself with dignity and purity and no sexual overtones, even if she is unclothed.
But again, American Christians struggle to come to terms with this. Their warped perceptions of the body are, in many ways, just as severe as the porn addict’s, but towards the other end of the spectrum. In my view, these souls need as much healing as the porn addict.
So is there a place for innocent, chaste nudism among Mormons? With the plague of pornography and distorted body views spreading through the church, I do not hesitate to say that there is very much a place for this healing balm.
Fantastic post. I agree with all of it. You really summed up everything I’ve been thinking about lately. It’s too bad that it’s likely that the “cure” will continue to be out of reach for most of society, including Mormonism.
You have a way of formulating ideas coherently into words and presenting them in a way that is instantly clear and precise. Thank you! I think the idea you have presented here are important enough to keep this post at the top of the section “Can Mormons be Nudists?”. I think I may even print this out and give it to a few friends who are simply unable to separate the human body from sex and pornography – with your permission, of course
Thank you taking the time to organize your thoughts, put them to paper, and share them here.
Thanks for the kind words. Of course you can use it — that’s why I spent the time!
I am always trying to distill ideas down to the core elements. So, for whoever cares, here is my entire post reduced to three sentences:
Hollywood, pornography, and even conservative Christians all sensationalize and sexualize the body in different ways. Chaste, innocent nudity normalizes the body and restores pure body attitudes. Because chaste nudity heals body perceptions, it is a good practice and not sexual or immoral.
I agree with you 100%. The way I’ve viewed it is that the cumulative effect of the culture/media/pornography is to actually condition us to associate nudity with sexuality. By hiding chaste nudity behind locked doors, sexualized nudity has full sway in society so it only natural that when we see a naked body we either get horny or turn away in disgust. It’s the same way ringing a mere bell made Pavlov’s dogs salivate.
One of the biggest personal reasons why I wanted to adopt a naturalist lifestyle was to break this social conditioning I’d been subject to my entire life. I wanted to be able to look at a person, regardless of their style of dress, and be able to see them as God sees them; as a human soul and my spiritual sibling, not as a sexual object to lust after.
A very inspiring article on how naturism can heal our mindsets. I only felt closer to Heavenly Father as I read this, and I do not feel that He was in the least bit offended that I read AND learned from it. I think we can all benefit from it, for those who are interested in reading the article. It’s targeted towards women, but the principle applies to either gender. Enjoy!
Also, this is good as well!: