I’m a Wesleyan pastor who is grateful for the landmark Theology of the Body of Karol Wojtyla (late Pope John Paul II). No theologian ever dealt so comprehensively with God’s purpose for gendered human embodiment. This quote summarizes his theme: “The body, in fact, and only the body, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine. It has been created to transfer into the visible reality of the world the mystery hidden from eternity in God, and thus to be a sign of it.”
As an art lover and amateur artist, I was surprised to read Wojtyla’s ideas somewhat echoed by Robert Henri in his book The Art Spirit: “There is nothing in all the world more beautiful or significant of the laws of the universe than the nude human body. In fact it is not only among artists but among all people that a greater appreciation and respect for the human body should develop. When we respect the nude we will no longer have any shame about it.”
But before ordination or art classes, I was an L&D nurse, and still am. I work routinely and intimately with bare female anatomy. If this raises any brows, I’ve hammered out my own quote that brings Wojtyla’s and Henri’s together: “A Creator-honoring, incarnational view of the naked human body dispels the fantasy-laden, porno-prudish conception religiously taught and pornographically exploited in Western culture.”
For almost 25 years, I put up with the uncomfortable contradiction between my experiential view of hospital nudity and the one taught by my Christian upbringing. Finally, when God opened my eyes to the dysfunctional immaturity of our culture’s reaction to public breastfeeding, I did my homework. Through intense research about the phenomenon of human nakedness biblically, historically, culturally, and psycho-socially, I experienced a radical paradigm shift in my thinking. My studies showed me the American church’s urgent need of repentance, reformation and restitution for having adopted and promoted Victorianism’s “flight from the body.”
The bottom line is this: a prudish view of the body is a pornographic one. (Tweet this!) Religiously placing an obscene or indecent sexual connotation on the sight of gender-distinguishing body parts creates a sexually objectified body. Such legalism, if socially embraced, becomes the conceptual foundation for a pornographic culture, as ours is now. Also, this objectification trivializes the body language of human genitalia, allowing them to be ignored as features of personal gender identity and distinction. Take some time to do the math on this, and it should cause tears.
Theologically, beyond shining a spotlight on the church’s notorious support of Victorian prudery, these personal insights showed me how Gnosticism’s influence on the early church still lingers in popular Christian thinking.
Original publication 9 January, 2014
Posted on NatCorn 19th March 2021
Reference to an article does not infer endorsement of any views expressed.