Note: This post contains artistic depictions of nudity.
The purpose of this post is to gain a better understanding of the subject of modesty, and how modesty relates to nudism.
The reason why I’m talking about modesty and nudism is because, as I said in Part 1:
My interest in nudism stems from a desire to reach out to nudists — a group of people whom I feel are treated by pariahs by Catholics, if Catholics know such people exist at all — and tell them “God loves you. He created you, and said you are ‘very good.’” (Genesis 1:31) As a Catholic, I don’t want people to be swept under the rug because Jesus said to go and proclaim his teachings to all people.
Words, from the person who would become Pope John Paul II, about modesty (you can read the whole thing by clicking here):
Dress is always a social question, a function of (healthy or unhealthy) social customs. We must simply stress that although considerations of an aesthetic nature may seem to be decisive here they are not and cannot be the only ones: considerations of an ethical nature exist side by side with them.
There are circumstances in which nakedness is not immodest. If someone takes advantage of such an occasion to treat the person as an object of enjoyment, (even if his action is purely internal) it is only he who is guilty of shamelessness (immodesty of feeling), not the other. Nakedness as such is not to be equated with physical shamelessness. 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. What happens then may be called depersonalization by sexualization.
Although physical immodesty cannot be identified in a simple way with nakedness as such, it none the less requires a real internal effort to refrain from reacting to the naked body in an immodest way. It should however be added that there is a difference between immodesty in feelings on the one hand and reflex sensual reactions to the body and sex as a ‘possible object of enjoyment’ on the other. The human body is not in itself shameful, nor for the same reasons are sensual reactions, and human sensuality in general. Shamelessness (just like shame and modesty) is a function of the interior of a person, and specifically of the will, which too easily accepts the sensual reaction and reduces another person, because of the person’s ‘body and sex’, to the role of an object for enjoyment.
What I took away from those words:
A person’s modesty is not entirely dependent on the clothes they’re wearing.
Dress is always a social question, a function of (healthy or unhealthy) social customs… …although considerations of an aesthetic nature may seem to be decisive here they are not and cannot be the only ones…
Just because a person is naked doesn’t automatically mean they are being immodest: A person’s reason(s) for being naked, and the environment they are naked in, must be taken into account.
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. What happens then may be called depersonalization by sexualization.
Sexual thoughts that happen because of nudity — whether because of being naked, or seeing a person who is naked, or seeing nude art — are not, by themselves, immodest.
Because God gave us (i.e., human beings) the desire to have sex, and said that desire was “very good.” (Genesis 1:31)
Sexual thoughts become immodest when a person keeps thinking them: When a person allows sexual fantasies to keep them from seeing a person as the human being they are, or allows sexual fantasies to keep them seeing a piece of nude art as its creator intended it to be seen.
The human body is not in itself shameful, nor for the same reasons are sensual reactions, and human sensuality in general. Shamelessness (just like shame and modesty) is a function of the interior of a person, and specifically of the will, which too easily accepts the sensual reaction and reduces another person, because of the person’s ‘body and sex’, to the role of an object for enjoyment.
This matches up with what I believe, as a Catholic, to be true:
The forms taken by modesty vary from one culture to another. Everywhere, however, modesty exists as an intuition of the spiritual dignity proper to man. It is born with the awakening consciousness of being a subject. Teaching modesty to children and adolescents means awakening in them respect for the human person. (CCC 2524)
On a related note:
When it comes to the temptation to see a person who is naked as an outlet for sexual thoughts and desires, not as a human being:
A person chooses, of their own free will, to act on their lustful desires.
The “He/She was asking for it” defense doesn’t work. Why? Because, as the Bible says:
“It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.” (Matthew 15:11)
What that verse means, in this case, is: If a person chooses to abuse someone who is naked, it’s not the fault of the person who is naked.
And: No one is ever “asking for it.”
On another related note:
Clothes will not stop the temptation to see a human being as an object, not a person.
As seen here, in this piece of art depicting a Siren: It is not the Siren’s nudity, it is her singing voice and music, that tempts the man:
The man only sees the Siren as what she can give him. The man doesn’t see the Siren as who she is, but as who he wants her to be: The fulfillment of his desire.
To bring up that verse from the Bible again: Sin doesn’t come from the outside — from what a person sees, hears, and/or feels — sin comes from the inside — from what a person thinks, and how that person chooses to act on those thoughts. (Matthew 15:11)
Clothes can, obviously, help a person be seen as a human being, not an object, by their fellow man. But, because we live in an imperfect world, clothes are not enough.
When Adam and Eve put on fig leaf loincloths (Genesis 3:7), the two of them didn’t suddenly return to the Edenic environment that had just been lost by them eating the fruit.
In order to return to the paradise that was lost, Adam and Eve didn’t need new clothes. Adam and Eve needed new hearts.
How is it possible to get a new heart?
This is how:
By Jesus suffering, being stripped naked, shamed for everyone to see, and nailed to a cross to die.
Jesus was stripped naked and shamed to give us the chance to be naked without shame again. Jesus’ sacrifice for us opens the gates of Heaven: It gives us the chance to be, in Heaven, like Adam and Eve were in the Garden.
For further reading: