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Christian naturism is the practise of naturism or nudism by Christians. This form of naturism is not to be confused with what Durkheim termed "naturism" as an explanation for the origin of religion in which the forces of nature form the origin of religion.[a]
Naturism is the practice of recreational social nudity in a natural environment, such as at a beach, lake, or in a forest or other wilderness area. It is not certain that Christian naturism exists in any formal organisations, there are however informal (mostly online) networks of Christians who practise naturism.
Many Christian naturists have very little disagreement with the core beliefs of long-established churches, and may even be church members. They feel the error of mandatory dress is cultural, rather than anything related to salvation. Nor is such an error unprecedented. For example, in the 20th century, churches largely abandoned any teaching which promoted racial separation and segregation. Likewise, Christian naturists perceive a gap between scripture and Victorian era modesty (which to some extent is still observed today).
Christian naturists view the story of the Garden of Eden as a model for their beliefs. It is also the main scripture where their interpretation disagrees with denominations where clothing is required. When Adam and Eve were created and placed in the garden as a couple by God, they were both naked and "felt no shame". (Genesis 2:25) They see Adam and Eve being in the blameless state that God had intended them to be. God knew that they were naked, as this was how He had created them.
Even before Eve's creation, God had warned Adam "...but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die." (Genesis 2:17) Despite God's warning, first Eve, then Adam, eat the forbidden fruit after being persuaded by the devil in the form of a serpent. (Genesis 3:1-6) Upon doing so, they immediately realize that they are naked, and sew fig leaves together as coverings.
Shortly thereafter, Adam and Eve hear God walking in the garden, which results with them fearfully hiding among the trees. God queries Adam, "Where are you?" In spite of the fig leaves, Adam replies that he is afraid because of his nakedness. God further asks Adam, "Who told you that you were naked?" Only God, Adam, Eve, and the devil are a party to this matter, as there are no other humans on the planet at this time. Therefore, Christian naturists believe it was the devil who told Adam and Eve that they were naked. Their shame was not of God; nor would the fig leaves cover this shame, regardless of their genitals being covered. God was displeased not only by their disobedience of eating the forbidden fruit, but also with Adam and Eve's subsequent attempt to cover up their bodies.
Christian naturists maintain the fig leaves were worn in a futile attempt to hide what the couple had done from God—not each other, noting they were married, and equally guilty of the same original sin. The second sin was to cover parts of the body. The devil had chosen the sexual organs as the area of shame because, unlike God, he has no ability to create life. As the next chapter begins with Adam and Eve engaging in appropriate marital sexual relations, they conclude the couple would have seen each other naked subsequent to the fall of mankind.
There are other references to nudity in the Bible, such as:
1 Samuel 19:24 He (Saul) stripped off his robes and also prophesied in Samuel's presence. He lay that way all that day and night. This is why people say, "Is Saul also among the prophets?"
2 Samuel 6:20-23 As the Ark of the Covenant finally arrives in Jerusalem, King David dances nude within sight of slave girls. For this he is strongly denounced by his wife, Michal. David replies "I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more humble than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor." The Scripture immediately following adds: "And Michal (daughter of Saul) had no children to the day of her death." (For a woman in the ancient Near East to be barren was considered one of the worst curses possible.)
Matthew 6:25 and Luke 12:22-23 Then Jesus said to his disciples: "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 important than food, and the body more important than clothes?"
Mark 14:51-52 "A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind."
John 19:23-24 "When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, ... "Let's not tear [the undergarment]," they said to one another. "Let's decide by lot who will get it...." Many paintings and films depict Christ's crucifixion with Him wearing a loin cloth, but this is consistent neither with scripture nor with the normal method of a Roman crucifixion.
Gospel of Thomas Although no major Christian group accepts this book as canonical or authoritative (its translation was unavailable until the 20th century), it relates a conversation between Jesus and his disciples:
His disciples asked, "When will you become revealed to us and when shall we see you?" Jesus answered, "When you disrobe without being ashamed and take up your garments and place them under your feet like little children and tread on them, then will you see the son of the Living One, and you will not be afraid."
Despite the aforementioned beliefs, there are three areas in which Christian naturists may feel nudity is condemned by the Bible:
In addition, there are certain requirements in the Old Testament where those performing priestly duties were made to wear linen undergarments (Exodus 28:42-43). For most Christians, this ritual, and many others were superseded by the New Testament. However, some denominations of the Latter Day Saint movement wear a temple garment. (This is not necessarily limited to temple worship, but may include all or most activities during the day.) Regarding the Jewish faith, the Temple in Jerusalem has not been rebuilt since its destruction by the Romans during the siege in 70 AD.
If parents forbid children to ever be seen nude outside of their own family, generally such a prohibition begins within the months or years leading up to the age of reason or accountability. The exact age and circumstances may vary by denomination and culture. Quite the opposite of what Christian naturists believe, non-naturists (whether Christian or not), may feel that if children were to see others nude and be seen nude themselves, that is precisely what would cost them their innocence. See also the article: Nudity and children.
In the U.S., a few resorts have chapels (permanent or makeshift) on their grounds for the purpose of providing worship services:
While not actually a position of the Religious Society of Friends (or Quakers), naturism was the accepted norm for a time in one of their camps for children and teens. The camps started in 1939 and sometime in the 1950s naturism among the coed campers was the norm for such activities as swimming, sauna and other appropriate activities. This practice was abandoned in the mid-2000s due to concerns about maintaining a safe and comfortable environment for the campers.
A study of comparative cultures leads to the suspicion that it could be, that our culture is wrong in this regard; that the evil that has falsely imputed to nudism is in fact an evil in our own minds. It has cut us off from a health-given, wholesome and joyous practice in which children thrive and adults may find an honesty and straight forwardness, and even a spiritual surety and strength that we grievously lack at present. This “piece of work” that is man, how are we to become convinced of its wonder if by the fetish of hiding the body we deny and destroy some of the health and most of its godlike beauty?
Some individual members of the Latter Day Saint movement practice naturism or nudism. Like Christian Naturists, LDS Naturists believe it is acceptable to remove their clothing and enjoy wholesome recreation without experiencing God's judgment. However, the doctrine of the church as outlined in official church literature clearly states that church members should always dress modestly to show respect for God and themselves, and that revealing attire or appearance in public is always inappropriate.
Latter-day Saints do not believe in the concept of original sin, i.e., that human nature is inherently sinful because of the fall of Adam. However, LDS scriptures confirm the understanding found in Genesis that it was God himself who properly and fully clothed Adam and Eve when the fig leaves were found to be lacking in Eden.
One of the Thirteen Articles of Faith instructs members to obey the law: "We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law." Thus, where the law does not prohibit nudity, some LDS may participate in naturism. While LDS church leaders have condemned displays of pornography  and have cited the law in Denmark allowing nudity on public beaches as an example of the removal of moral barriers, there appears to be no official stance or doctrine concerning social nudism or naturism.
By far, the most frequent biblical argument against Christian naturism is that if God approved of people being nude, he would not have clothed Adam and Eve after they sinned, thus making it a reminder to man that we had, in fact, sinned. The counter-argument is Adam and Eve had already clothed themselves upon sinning, and God merely replaced the fig leaves with animal skins in granting them free will.
Due to cultural tendencies to equate nudity with sex, many Christian denominations and groups are not supportive of naturism and nudism. Such groups may feel that the temptation of lust is too difficult. Christian naturists counter that the notion of Christians being unable to avoid lust where non-sexualized nudity is present has no scriptural basis whatsoever. Furthermore, they believe Christ has given mankind the power to avoid sin.
Christian naturists have been criticized for being nude around non-Christians (in the sense that some contact between Christians and non-believers takes place), given that they might have no inhibitions against lust and other carnal sin. The best way to avoid such lust, naturists believe, is to live nude and be accustomed to bodies of various shapes, ages, and ethnicities in a non-sexualized setting. Furthermore, virtually all sexual abuse of minors, and rape among adults is initiated while both offender and victim are dressed. Other believers contend that nowhere does Scripture state the need to practice nudism to prevent lust. Naturists counter Scripture never speaks of both lust and the need for clothing in proximity to one another, either.
In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul speaks of the need for women to wear a head covering. However, it only applies to prayer and prophecy, and says nothing about covering the rest of the human body. Conversely, according to the passage, men must not have their heads covered. This due to man being the image and glory of God, and should not cover his head, as that would be figuratively covering the glory of God. The woman covers her head as she is the glory of man, and the glory of man ought to be covered when in the presence of God. Today, many Western churches which are non-naturist do not require women to cover their heads in church.
In 1 Timothy 2:9, Paul urged the women in the Christian church to dress modestly, with "decency and propriety". Critics contend it is in contrast to the beliefs of Christian naturism that the apostle urges them to dress at all. Christian Naturists counter that Paul was disallowing outlandish and/or expensive clothing (which is prohibited in Christian Naturism as well), and not referring to those who choose not to dress.
Other criticism, while it may not oppose naturism per se, is concerned that it will hinder witnessing, divide spouses, promote secrecy to prevent embarrassment, excommunication, etc. As a result, some Christian naturists are isolated from other Christians and their churches. In their effort to find fellowship, many have formed local fellowships, while others are still accepted by their own church groups even though they are known as naturists.
Several well-known organizations which specialize in new religious movements, including the Watchman Fellowship, Bob Larson Ministries, and the (John) Ankerberg Theological Research Institute have, to date, taken no official position on the beliefs of Christian naturism.
Originally, Jewish mikvahs, and later, early Christian baptisms were performed with individual naked. This included mass baptisms involving men, women, and children. They signified the participant's restoration to man's original sinless condition, having their sins blotted out. Others claim that children were baptized first, then men, then women, all separately.
Public bathing was the common practice through the time of Jesus and still occurs today in a few cultures, including the Turkish bath or hammam, the Finnish sauna, Japanese onsen or Sentō, and the Korean Jjimjilbang. With the exception of the family-focused Finnish sauna, most public baths are gender-segregated today. Entire families took part in the public bath—including Christians. Jesus even preached at the public baths in Jerusalem.
Some historic religious sects, both Christian and syncretist, have made nudism a general practice. Probably the best-known of these were the Adamites, though some of their beliefs were contrary to orthodox Christianity. The post-resurrection belief of the unclothed body being evil or sinful may originate in Platonic asceticism (founded largely on the works of ancient Greek philosopher Plato) which was adopted and passed down by "Christian" Platonists in early church history. Platonism is a dualistic theology which proposes a realm of forms to include, on the one hand, "pure ideas", which are good; and, on the other hand, "matter", which is evil. When applied to humans, the soul is necessarily good, and the body is necessarily evil. Therefore, according to this philosophy, our "evil" bodies must be covered by clothing. Christian naturists reject such notions as unbiblical.
Plotinus (c. 204 – 270 AD) was a major philosopher of the ancient world who is widely considered the founder of Neo-Platonism (along with his teacher Ammonius Saccas). His metaphysical writings have inspired centuries of Pagan, Christian, Jewish, Islamic and Gnostic metaphysicians and mystics. About 150 years later, Saint Augustine (354-430 AD) was heavily influenced by the teaching of Plotinus. As one of the most important figures in the development of Western Christianity, St. Augustine strongly endorsed asceticism, which meant self-denial of worldly pleasure and total sexual abstinence. Eventually, this reached its peak in monasticism. Those pursuing a monastic life are usually called monks or brethren (brothers) if male, and nuns or sisters if female. While similar activities existed previously in pre-Christian times, early Christian monasticism attracted a large number of followers due to its enormous prestige and high social status in the period where the Roman Empire was near collapse. St. Augustine is one of the very few saints considered important not only by the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox religions, but by many Protestants as well (including Martin Luther and John Calvin). Christian Naturists do not believe that monasticism, along with its clothing requirements and isolation, is how Jesus taught us to live. If asceticism is practiced, it begins by living nude.
By the middle of the 19th century, Queen Victoria had come to power in the United Kingdom. The queen's influence was legendary, even spreading to other areas of Europe and America, which were outside of the British Empire. (Her ancestors were mainly German.) Due to previous sexual and other scandals of her predecessors in the House of Hanover, Queen Victoria placed a strong emphasis on her idea of morality and family values. For the first time, burgeoning middle classes could begin to identify with the reigning king or queen. At this point, it became quite unacceptable to be seen nude in public for whatever reason. Missionaries even brought clothing to various indigenous peoples who lived nude in humid, tropical climates. After her death in 1901, naturism and nudism began to emerge in northern Germany, and gradually spread elsewhere.
In the United States, the Christian naturism movement (which was the first naturism movement of any sort in the U.S.) began in the late 1920s. This occurred at nearly the same time as the start of the Great Depression, under the leadership of New Jersey Dutch Reformed minister Ilsley Boone. Initially, he was vice president of the American League for Physical Culture. By October 1931, Boone had taken over as president, and renamed the club as the "American Sunbathing Association" (ASA). Soon, naturism began expanding nationwide.
In Rome, Pope Pius XI strongly condemned the naturism movement throughout the early 1930s, calling it "paganly immodest". This prompted the head of the New York Legion of Decency, former New York Catholic Governor and presidential candidate Alfred E. Smith, to try to outlaw all nudism. A recent court ruling had declared private social nudity to be legal per current law. Eventually, their efforts failed in the state legislature. After Boone's passing in the late 1960s, the ASA became more secular, along with American society in general. In 1995, the ASA was renamed as the American Association for Nude Recreation (AANR), which currently has its headquarters in Florida.
Until the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) converted to co-ed facilities in the early 1960s, men and boys, including the swimming instructors, swam in a state of complete nakedness. Nylon was a relatively new invention at that time, and allowing cotton or wool swimsuits in the pool would increase the clogging of the filtration system. The word gymnasium means to train in the nude. This is derived from the standard practice of athletes who used to train and compete without any clothing (though it originates from pre-Christian Greece).
Pope John Paul II began his papacy in 1978, becoming the first non-Italian pope in four and a half centuries. His views on naturism differed substantially from that of his predecessors. Authoring the book Love and Responsibility (1981), he wrote: Nakedness itself is not immodest... 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.
With the beginning of the modern internet in the mid-1990s, Christian Naturism became much more organized in the U.S. than ever before. The website Naturist-Christians.org founded in 1999 is the largest website devoted exclusively to Christian naturism. Annual Christian Nudist Convocations began early in the decade of the 2000s.
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