That was the response of a straight-talking colleague of mine from Christian Aid, after I told him I was writing a blog for threads about Christian naturists. “Glad to hear they exist,” he added, before sharing his thoughts on nude swimming: “Skinny dipping is always good fun; like being back in the womb!”
Of course, not everyone I consulted was quite as enthusiastic about Christian naturism as my progressive colleague. Indeed, the idea of spending an eternity surrounded by ‘nudist vegans’ is some people’s idea of hell, not heaven. But what about here on earth: is there a place for naturism in Christian communities?
I recently returned from an eight-month stay in Sierra Leone and have spent the last couple of weeks house-hunting for a flatshare in London: not an easy task when even the most over-priced, under-sized places seem to get snapped up within mere seconds of being advertised. So imagine my delight last week when I spotted a deal for a double room at below-market rate, in a leafy part of north London. However, when I looked at the advert a little more closely, I discovered there was a catch: “Nudist flatshare in lovely tree-lined location in Highbury and Islington, 85pw.” Ah, that explains it.
I considered it for nano-second – I do love a bargain, after all – but then I swiftly added it to my surprisingly long list of ‘Things I Like To Pretend I’m Okay With But Actually Find A Teensy Bit Strange’. (Let’s be honest – we all have a list like that.)
Depending on the context, nakedness makes most of us a little uncomfortable. And yet, across Britain there’s a contingent of Bible-believing, Christ-fearing people who love God, love their bodies and shun clothing – and want us to do likewise.
Several years ago I had a very memorable exchange with a chap in my church in London. In what turned out to be one of the most unconventional after-service conversations I’ve ever had, he told me he was a closet nudist (although come to think of it, he probably didn’t need a closet, strictly speaking).
As we discussed the ins and outs of Christian naturism, he told me he believed God’s original plan was that we’d be in the buff on a daily basis, since Adam and Eve only felt shame about their nakedness after sin and the serpent entered, stage left. He said that in an ideal (i.e. sin-free) world, we’d all be larking around butt-naked, dangly bits included. So why not try to live out that ideal now?
While I could see his point, (which he later reinforced by emailing me lots of reading material on naturism), I was all too aware that we don’t live in an ideal (i.e. sin-free) world, so wandering around blissfully in our birthday suits could be a tad problematic. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have the levels of maturity needed to concentrate in a nudist church service. Breasts, bums and bibles? Let me check my diary and get back to you.
Of course, just because it’s on my A Teensy Bit Strange list, doesn’t mean you can’t be a Christian and be a nudist. I guess the problem with conversations about naturism is that they often turn, very quickly, to conversations about sex. When I told one Christian friend about the nudist flatshare advert, she suggested it would be a house of vice, sex and filth. But the fact is, many naturists have a much less sexualised view of the body than the rest of us.
Take, for example, the Christian Naturist Fellowship, whose website I stumbled across while researching this piece. Among other things, this interdenominational group aims to “help Christians to study the Bible and reconcile their faith with their naturism”. Their motto is: “If God wanted us to be naked, we’d be born that way.” See what they did there?
CNF are unapologetic about their proclivity for nakedness. They declare: “We have found that being unclothed is totally compatible with our faith and indeed, that it enhances our awareness of God and his creation.” It’s a message they try to share with other naturists: this very weekend, they’ll be holding a worship service and other sessions at the annual British Naturism National Convention in Staffordshire. Someone has to do it!
Regardless of how all this makes us feel, as the good man Job said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I depart.” (Job 1:21). Ultimately, the naked truth is this: if we lived in an ideal world, we’d have no clothes, no shame, no selfishness and not one iota of self-consciousness about our curves and lines and saggy bits.
But let’s face it, we don’t live in an ideal world. So where does that leave us? Is naturism an earthly manifestation of a heavenly future? And does it really matter all that much? Over to you, folks.