Clothe Yourself in Righteousness

Nov 29, 2010 • Faith, Feature, Music, Nudity

Let’s play a theology game. I’ll make an argument, and then give you words to substitute into the argument. It’ll be fun!

The case for Biblical vegetarianism is found in Eden, the paradise of God’s original creation, where God created people as vegetarians (1:29). God only changed things after the situation went horribly wrong and as a condescension to the new reality of sin (9:3). As holy people we should be like those in Eden, which is like Heaven. Therefore, we should be vegetarian.

Now substitute in the following: nakedness, naked 2:25, 3:21. (Told you it would be fun.)

Nakedness is a powerful symbol, and one that God used through the prophets (e.g. Isaiah 20). In our own day, we are even seeing nakedness used as a sign-act against the TSA scanners. The naked body confronts the viewer with their own social assumptions and restrictions: here is the human form, which God created and declared Good — what are you doing with it? Why are you so shocked to see it?

At the same time, it is a profound expression of our utter helplessness, our utter dependency upon God to care for us: we are born naked, and we can’t bring our clothes with us when we die. Jesus was crucified naked while the soldiers gambled over his clothes, and left his clothes behind in the tomb when he rose from the grave. So if Christians are to be like the crucified and risen Jesus, what have we to do with clothes?

The Bible backs up this point: we are at our most holy only when we are clothed in God’s clothing — in righteousness — for anything else is vanity or distraction (5:10). Associations between nudity and sanctity are found in Islam, Hinduism, Jainism, and Taoism. In fourth century Christianity, there was even a movement called Adamism that saw these connections — but suffice it to say that Adamism wasn’t popular with the dominant church. The Christian tradition has tended to shove this connection firmly under the rug.

But you can’t keep such a power constrained forever. In 17th century England, a new group of Christians — called Quakers — seized upon the inner light and followed that light instead of the Christian tradition. The result was a shocking reinterpretation of what it means to follow God, and that lead some particular prophets of the 1650s and 1660s into “Going Naked as a Signe”. Through their nudity, they shocked and challenged the artificial sense of propriety and the domineering social structures and they seized dignity in their own form.

Quakerism still holds many members today (including your humble author), although the history of going naked as a sign doesn’t get a lot of play even among them. Jon Watts, a Quaker musician, is out to change that: he’s working on an album called Clothe Yourself in Righteousness about early Quakers and nakedness as a witness, based on a paper composed for the Earlham School of Religion. The album just reached its crowd-funding goal, and we’re looking forward to it!