Sexuality and individuality are sacred gifts. Although nudity is necessary under certain special circumstances, as when a person is examined by a physician1 or taking a shower in a locker room, indiscriminate nudity is degrading.
Humans were created as image-bearers of God. Although we share many characteristics with the animal world, we have been entrusted with a degree of dignity that surpasses our animal kin.
While it’s true that prolonged exposure to nudity tends to make a culture less sensitive to it, no culture could ever be completely desensitized. Indiscriminate nudity is a misguided attempt to recapture an innocence that, since the Fall ( Genesis 3:6-11,23-24 ), is no longer available.
It would be wonderful if lust and wrongful sexual attention weren’t a problem, but realistically, in our imperfect world, there is a tendency to look upon others merely as objects for personal sexual gratification or control (Matthew 5:28). Westerners also place an inappropriately high value on physical attractiveness, as well as setting unrealistic standards for it. To idolize a temporary, culturally defined standard for beauty is destructive. It bases individual worth on physical attractiveness rather than character, objectifies people, promotes exploitative relationships, empowers the pornographic industry, and is doubtlessly an important factor in the modern epidemic of bulimia and anorexia. Indiscriminate nudity would place an even higher value on anatomical perfection, further degrading our human values and making self-esteem even harder for the average person to attain.2
The Bible doesn’t dictate the norms for the type of clothing to be worn in every society, but it requires modesty.3 First Peter 3:3-6, for example, exhorts women to seek the beauty that comes from within (“the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit”). Peter said that women should place a greater emphasis on spiritual beauty than on mere physical adornment. They shouldn’t dress merely to accentuate their physical beauty, but be concerned as well with the effect their appearance has on others, using beauty as a means of edification.
The Bible also tells us that our bodies are holy, temples of the Holy Spirit:
Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body (1 Corinthians 6:19-21).
It isn’t that the nude human body is “dirty” and needs to be covered. This idea is a perversion of Christian teaching. The body isn’t something of which we should be ashamed. It is a creation of God, and, in spite of human irresponsibility, something that we should celebrate and honor. Nearly everyone in the West, including conservative Christians, agrees that Western art would be impoverished without work of great artists who treat nudity with dignity. Exposed skin isn’t the only issue—otherwise we would be in agreement with the strict Muslim view that modesty requires a woman to cover as much of her body as possible.4 It isn’t that the sight of the nude body is “dirty” but that it is holy—too precious to be shared with strangers. Indiscriminate nudity deprives husbands and wives of the joy of reserving the visual part of physical intimacy for each other alone. In our fallen world, the love between husband and wife is the only place where sexual intercourse still expresses the innocence of Eden. Only in a loving marriage—where genuine intimacy is nurtured by fidelity—is the beauty of each individual partner free to bloom.
Working through our culture, our enemy strives to degrade our perception of sexuality to mere expression of animal instinct and pleasure. Christians need to be on guard against anything that degrades the God-ordained dignity of human sexuality—including indiscriminate nudity.
1. Interestingly, under such circumstances, there are specific required procedures and special legal protections shielding patients from sexual advances by caretakers. These laws not only apply to physicians, but also to counselors who have a privileged access to the secrets and intimate facts of a person’s life. Back To Article
2 . Most people realize that besides wearing clothing to protect ourselves from the elements, we clothe ourselves to enhance our appearance and enable modesty. The testimony of thousands of generations of people in nearly every culture is that the world would be a less attractive place if everyone went around naked. Even the most beautiful people know that clothing enhances their attractiveness. But even more important, appropriate attire serves as a shield against voyeurism at the same time it protects others from an uncomfortable sense of being subtly (or not so subtly) manipulated. Back To Article
3 . The Jews were modest people. Jesus’ disciples probably shed their outer garments when working as fishermen, but they, along with other God-fearing Jews, would have been scandalized by public nakedness that was part and parcel (as in the Hellenistic gymnasium) of a Hellenistic culture whose degeneracy easily surpassed the seediest “tenderloin district” of a modern metropolis. Back To Article
4. Strict Islamic culture requires women to wear long gowns and veils in public. Such cultural requirements place an unfair burden on women, requiring them to be the primary guardians of sexual dignity while depriving them of the opportunity to become fully developed persons and full partners with men. Back To Article