"Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. ( Job 1:21)
There is probably nothing more controversial than our nakedness. Even in the most remote cultures, where clothes are unknown, some parts of the human body must be kept hidden from the eyes of others, be that covering no more than a piece of string tied around the legs, or the care it takes to hide the sole of ones foot.
Undoubtedly, our nakedness is our natural state. That is the way we are born. What is more, as we read in the book of Genesis, there was a time when clothes were not necessary to make the human body socially acceptable: The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame. (Gen. 2:25.) And yet, today, we are ashamed of our nakedness. Why is that so? We could say that it was original sin that spoiled our innocent way of life, but I believe, this kind of thinking makes original sin the culprit for our problems without really giving an answer.
The question is complex because we wear clothes not for one but for many reasons. Anywhere on earth, away from the Equator, we need clothes to keep warm. There is also the need to protect our private space, which should not be invaded by others. So we secure our privacy by such barriers as clothes and gestures (barrier signals), and by the spacing we create unconsciously around ourselves in a crowd. We also wear clothes to present an image to the world, in terms of fashion, style, adornment, and status symbol. And again, we may use clothes, such as a uniform, to announce to others that we belong to a special group of people. And then, when we cast off all these external trimmings for whatever practical reasons, we still must remain dressed enough, according to the rules of our culture, to hide the taboo zones of the body: the genitals and the female breasts. As a general rule, these parts of the body should be neither seen, nor touched by others except in moments of sexual intimacy..
I am sure, there are many more entries into this list of roles cloths mean
to us. It is strange that behind most of these diverse uses of body cover lies
the undeniable fact: we are ashamed of our nakedness. If being naked is our
natural and original state, the created gift of God to us, where does this feeling
of shame come from? We read in the book of Genesis: Then the eyes of both of
them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves
together and made coverings for themselves. (Gen. 3:7.) It is revealing that
when we read this passage from Genesis, it is not necessary to explain, which
parts of their bodies our fore bearers had to cover.
At this point I make the hypothesis that the roots of our modesty are cultural. By this I mean that our need to hide certain parts of our bodies does not reside in being human as such, but in being human according to the conditions of a given culture in which we happen to live. This hypothesis is reasonable because, after all, we are born naked, and as children we have absolutely no need to wear clothes for the sake of modesty. The need comes from the process of inculturation as we become children well brought up.
I suspect that our cultural need for modesty in the Western tradition is historically associated with the Judeo-Christian understanding of reproduction in a set of demographic conditions, which have been stable through several millennia. Although, there was no modern medicine available at that time, our survival was assured because we successfully balanced the high death rate by an equally high birthrate. To keep this balance, it was necessary for us to reproduce at our highest possible biological potential through most of our history. In other words, to maximize reproductive success has been for a long time a necessary condition for our survival. But what has this got to do with modesty? Biologists may give us an answer. The following three paragraphs attempt to show that modesty is a powerful means to intensify reproductive success in the framework of traditional moral sense.
Our sexual behavior is quite complex. Wallace Craig found that complex behaviors often consist of a variable appetitive phase, which is followed by a highly stereotyped action, the consummatory act. The appetitive phase is under the influence of many, constantly changing and interacting factors in the internal and external environments. The internal changes can be expressed in terms of motivation and threshold of response. In the sexual situation, these are very much under the influences of the endocrine and the nervous systems. The external environment provides the flow of adequate stimulation for the specific behavior to occur. Sexual stmuli are often in the form of social releasers, where a given behavior is part of a stimulus-response chain. In a society, where reproductive activity is to be maximized, while at the same time, and for good reasons, such activity is judged to be morally acceptable only within the private moments of a stable marriage, all sexual, social releasers must be kept under control in public by a dress code and by appropriately modest behavior. The point of all this is to prevent initiating social releasers which could then easily lead to irresponsible behavior.
The appetitive phase of our sexual behavior originates in internal, physiological states with periodic changes of intensity. As motivation increases, the threshold of response to appropriate stimuli will be lowered. A point may be reached where a response, known as a vacuum activity, may occur in the complete absence of an external stimulus. In our sexual experiences, where rationality is part of the internal control, such spontaneous activity bears the mark of irrationality. The consummatory act is identified as the act of intercourse, which results in an orgasmic release from the heightened sexual tension in both sexes. There may be many other motivating factors, nonetheless, the immediate aim of the sex act is to achieve this pleasurable release. In a culture, where reproductive success is maximized, the orgasmic release of the male, which also happens to produce fertilizing semen, must take place within the female, and there should be nothing to hinder or prevent conception, the natural outcome of the act.
We know also that complex behaviors often show habituation., a term
used in Ethology. Habituation does not mean forming a habit through repeated
positive reinforcements, but it refers to a learning process in which a specific
response, that could be elicited at first quite easily in an indiscriminate
manner by many and rather general stimuli, is now narrowed to a functional few.
Through habituation we become familiar with a given situation, and act accordingly.
It may be a valid observation that modesty in dress and behavior is meaningful
in a maximizing culture. Here, the deliberate hiding of the reproductive parts
of the human body ensures that no habituation will occur. In this way, the sexual
stimulus remains highly effective over a wide range of rather unspecific elements,
and is rendered most powerful in moments of revealing surrenders. Under such
circumstances, the intensity of the unfamiliar but primary stimulus may pass
easily beyond rational control ensuring a most forceful reproductive success.
If the traditional rules of modesty have been working so well, why shouldnt we simply leave them alone? After all, they have been functional for many centuries. There are two major reasons why we should carefully reconsider this matter of modesty. One is demographic, the other is psychological.
In our times, the circumstances, which previously demanded the maximization
of reproductive success, have changed. The most significant demographic change
is the worldwide reduction of death rate achieved through modern medicine. The
change in death rate, without any corresponding adjustment of birthrate, resulted
in a demographic imbalance, and in an exponential population growth. Today,
because there are so many of us, close to six billion, with a population doubling
time of about 40 years, we experience the limits of the earth. Under such circumstances
the traditional principle of maximization of reproductive success has become
not only nonviable but destructive. All the cultural trimmings associated with
this principle are now out of place. Today, for the sake of survival, we have
to stabilize world population by adequate means. We have to control population
growth by minimizing reproductive success on a global scale.
It follows that in a situation where reproductive restraint is the normal way of life, we should favor a process of habituation, and should treat every part of the human body the same way, without shame, hiding none. Under the influence of habituation, intercourse oriented sexual responses would lose much of their hyper-status and become restricted to fewer, functionally specific, and much more controllable circumstances. Traditional moral sense would, of course, immediately condemn such unrestrained freedom as immoral, just as topless bars are condemned as immoral by the same moral sense. Strangely enough, if everyone would go around topless, topless bars would soon lose their attraction on that account.
The psychological implications of clothes are also important. We hide what we are ashamed of and we deny what we hide. Our denial prevents us from accepting ourselves the way we are, and leads us into a world of fantasy, where we tend to identify ourselves with the clothes we wear. We do this in face of the fact that the human body is an extraordinarily beautiful work of God, a created, natural gift to each of us. How can we look with shame on any part of it? After all, everything God has made is good and holy. To accept ourselves the way we are is simply being truthful. And then, we are to respond to the wonderful gifts of God with gratitude and respect, always using them for good, and never for evil.
Then we could rewrite Genesis 3:7: And then their eyes were opened and they
saw the love of God in each other, in the young and the old, in the strong and
the handicapped, in all the many forms of humanity, in women and in men, but
first and above all, they saw the love of God in themselves.
It is unfortunate that cultural changes are often traumatic because they have a tendency to flair up into bitter controversies. The antagonists intend to fight for noble causes, but lacking true insights, the real issues and the rational solutions seem to remain for them out of reach. If vicious controversy followed some of the statements of Galileo and Darwin about theoretical issues, we should expect even more trouble in such practical matters as the cultural transition from one reproductive strategy to another. That is why the changes should really come gradually. Instead of a public battle, the cultural transition implied here should follow the pattern of a healing process, and remain a matter of individual concern.
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