Published Book Reviews
Nudity & Christianity
2006, edited by Jim C. Cunningham
Publ. AuthorHouse, Bloomington, Indiana
Soft Cover, 596 pages
Nudity & Christianity is Jim. C. Cunningham's magnum opus. I know the man personally, have had one-on-one talks with him, and can honestly say he is one of the great philosophical thinkers alive today. The fact that that philosophical thinking comes from a Christian-based worldview makes him all the more of a treasure. At a time when philosophers pride themselves on being iconoclasts--gleefully taking pot shots at Christianity--Jim starts with the Bible as his base and argues from there. His mission is, as I see it, to strip away the misconceptions and incorrect thinking regarding nudity extant today in Christian circles and to cause us to look at the body the way God intended. That he does this as an avowed Catholic makes it even more remarkable. Jim is not some freethinking, pseudo-Christian, who takes snippets from Christianity, mixes it with a bit of Eastern mysticism, and throws in some New Age thought for good measure. He makes no bones about his strong, Catholic faith and clearly writes how and why he came to view his Christian-based ideas regarding nudity as eminently logical. This dovetails with the Theology of the Body, introduced by Pope John Paul II.
Along the way, Jim founded Naturist LIFE International, the Mt. Carmel Academy, and the Cunningham Family Retreat. It's a shame Catholics in general don't give their faith the same honest and forthright examination--we'd all be better off for it. Just as the title implies, Nudity and Christianity is not a Catholic handbook on nudity but a handbook all Christians can use, regardless of persuasion. Not all the pieces are by Catholic authors. Nudity and Christianity is a compendium of Christian thinking on the subject of nudity, gleaned from Jim's writings, and the writings of others. The table of contents alone is the size of a small pamphlet. In the back of the book, Jim has provided a Scriptural Index and a Topical Index--great tools in using a book of this size as a handy reference. The text is fully annotated throughout. For a book that appears to be on one subject, the sheer scope of its many treatises is amazing. Of the 105 separate articles, Jim wrote 41 of them himself (and one with another writer)--and they're not cursory musings either. Each article, whether long or short, is a concise distillation of Christian thought bent to the task of showing that simple, human nudity is not the odd, or sinful thing, most Christians think. Jim's sources are eclectic, ranging from lay friends, to the Pope himself (John Paul II).
In a book of this size and scope, it's hard to pick any particular piece (or pieces) as an example but two in particular do it for me: “Dialog of Conscience: Nudism & Scandal” and “Dialog of Conscience: The Cannes Principle” (pgs. 152-165). In the first of these pieces, Jim dialogs with a woman named Tina. They discuss the issues of an innocent practice (i.e. offering wine at a family gathering) leading to someone else's sinning. In discussing this with Tina, Jim introduces the [moral] "principle of double effect," and its four conditions. In the second piece, they discuss the issue of a social practice that was once considered wrong, becoming common practice through a change in social mores (i.e. swimsuit size). Again, the "principle of double effect" with its four conditions is invoked. Good stuff--whether you're talking about nudity, or moral living in general. While the irreverent might think it just so much moral nit-picking, these dialogs are illustrations of how any moral person can come to grips with his faith, and mode of living, and not tie himself into moral knots.
Another piece of must-reading is Paul M. Bowman's “Open Letter to Evangelicals” (pgs. 166-169). It's essentially a letter to a pastor who decried Paul's view of nudity and it pulls no punches. Every Christian should have this piece copied and inserted under the front cover of his Bible.
If you call yourself a Christian and have an open mind, N&C is a must in your library. Buy it, read the articles thoughtfully and carefully (you could incorporate it into your daily quiet time reading--an article at a time each day), and keep it on your reference shelf. It's as indispensable as the dictionary.
I awaited this book with great anticipation and, now that it's out, I'm not disappointed. It will remain one of my essential reference guides, right next to Strong's Concordance and Unger's Bible Handbook.
Note to all pastors (and laypersons), of all denominations: Get a copy of Nudity & Christianity and read it cover to cover. By performing this simple act, you will educate yourself on the theology of the human body, nudity, and how the body is integral to a complete faith. You will also insulate yourself from the urge to grab a picket sign and harass the naturists at the local clothing-optional beach.
For Inter-Naturally magazine
Nudity & Christianity
edited by Jim C. Cunningham
“Sexual modesty cannot then in any simple way be identified with the use of clothing, nor shamelessness with the absence of clothing and total or partial nakedness. There are circumstances in which nakedness is not immodest… nakedness as such is not to be equated with physical shamelessness. 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 of enjoyment. The human body is not in itself shameful... Dress is always a social question, a function of… social customs. In this matter there is no exact similarity in the behavior of particular people, even if they live in the same age and the same society. The principle of what is truly immodest is simple and obvious... If someone takes advantage of such an occasion to treat the person as an object of enjoyment (even if his action is purely internal) it is only he who is guilty of shamelessness… not the other.”
--Karol Wojtyla (later Pope John Paul II), Love and Responsibility, trans. H. T. Willetts (New York: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1981), pp. 176-192.
We don't know if John Paul II went skinny-dipping as a young priest on his hikes in the Polish countryside, but the excerpt quoted above [found on p. 1 of Nudity & Christianity], almost indistinguishable from arguments made by naturist writers, makes one wonder. The Christian justification of naturism is based on several premises: that nudity is an Edenic ideal of innocence (either never lost, or restored by Christ's death on the cross); that while the Bible condemns promiscuity and lust (acts of man) it does not condemn the nude body (God's good creation); that a refusal to honor all physical creation is essentially Manichean heresy; that dress norms are ephemeral and cultural; and that nudity was common and unexceptional in the Biblical and early Christian eras.
Jim C. Cunningham is a devout Roman Catholic who attends Mass daily, and the founder of Naturist Life International. Most of the 509 un-illustrated pages (not including introduction and indices) in this book are Cunningham's own writings, those of his wife, and apparently of fellow nudists. (Unfortunately, many contributors are identified only by name). Quotations from known writers--John Paul II, John Bunyan, Mark Twain, C. S. Lewis, a few early Christian church notables--make up a relatively small portion of the whole volume.
Cunningham is not merely a "recreational" nudist, and eloquently argues for naturism and body acceptance as antidotes both to demeaning pornography and equally to life-denying Puritanism, in accordance with John Paul II's Theology of the Body.
A very useful feature is a 23 page Scriptural Index that allows one to look up chapter and verse often used to condemn nudity, and then to read the various essayists' contrary interpretations.
Several years ago, Paul Bowman published What the Holy Bible Really Says About Nakedness. Bowman's conclusion--buttressed by scriptural citations--was that neither Old nor New Testament condemned nudity, and he offered many examples where nudity was presented in a neutral context, or even showed God's overt blessing and approval. Bowman's shorter work (177 pages) offers a more straightforward, linear approach. Cunningham's covers much of the same ground, with additional scriptural arguments, in a more discursive and often more impassioned style, and it's good to have the quotes from the various saints, clerics, and one "sinner" (Twain) in one volume.
South Florida Free Beaches: http://www.sffb.com
[Bowman's book can be purchased at the above SFFB web site.]
No one in North American naturism has had more to say about nudity than Jim Cunningham. Slightly to the right of the Pope both socially and theologically, Cunningham has for years been an unabashed advocate for what he calls “chaste naturism.” As a writer, publisher, speaker and naked entrepreneur, he has preached the gospel of Christ as declared by St. Jerome so many centuries ago: Nudus nudum Iesum sequi, “Naked I follow the naked Jesus.”
Whether you applaud Cunningham’s efforts to salvage what he sees as the authentic core of true naturism, or have been driven to distraction by what many naked folk believe to be either unfair allegations concerning other naturists or forays into ethical issues tangential to naturism, his new anthology, Nudity and Christianity, is worth a close look.
Cunningham has been writing and speaking on this pair of subjects for years. His work has appeared in N magazine; he’s led discussions for an early TNS Special Interest Group call the All-Together Christians: while in later years he’s focused his energies in his own group and magazine, each by the same name of Naturist Life International. The short, easy-to-read, and intellectually engaging articles in Nudity and Christianity are drawn largely from his own writing originally presented in these sources. Other authors form NLI magazine and elsewhere also appear, alongside voices of the past ranging for Pope John Paul II and Kahlil Gibran, to C.S. Lewis and Mark Twain. Each has something to say about the inherent goodness of the body, body-acceptance, social nudity, or what the Church (Triumphant or otherwise) has said about such things.
Cunningham’s new book is a sizable and engaging mix of anecdote, rhetoric, sustained argument, and biblical exegesis. The topical and scriptural indices will help those pursuing discussion on a particular subject or biblical passage. His “Dialog of Conscious: Nudism & Scandal” remains, to my mind, one of the best presentations of a useful but potentially complex philosophical principle. In response to the concern over the offense some may take at any public nudity, Cunningham masterfully unfolds in dialogue form the Principle of Double Effect, applying it as clearly as any writer I’ve come across on the subject.
Other articles address the use and acceptance of nudity by the early Church, and the ethics of social nudity. More than one essay argues cogently for a “nudification of culture” Nudist clubs and nude beaches are all very well, Cunningham acknowledges, but we must take our fully revealed humanity outside the confines of established sites and “stretch out tent pegs” a bit if we are to see growth in true naturist freedoms. Cunningham never fails to remind us that the struggle for such freedoms entails responsibility. Naturists interested in such responsible expansion of naturist liberty-in Christ or otherwise- will likely enjoy the many dialogues and voices Cunningham has amassed in Nudity & Christianity.
“N” Magazine Autumn 2007
NUDITY & CHRISTIANITY
Edited by Jim C. Cunningham
2006, AuthorHouse, Bloomington IN
6 x 9 paperback, 545 pages
This massive but highly readable collection of writings starts at the beginning -- the Garden of Eden and Adam and Eve, who were created by God in His own image, naked and unashamed (Genesis 2.25) -- and then follows nudity down through history. With the help of early Church Fathers, the author looks at nudity in much the same way that John Paul II did in his Theology of the Body.
Author Jim C. Cunningham, a practicing Catholic, has an academic background that includes study at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Catholic University in Washington, D.C. and the Angelicum in Rome. Now blind, he was assisted by his wife, Linda, to whom the book is dedicated. Together they reared a family in Vermont, where they also operated Mt. Carmel Academy, a private school. A unique feature of this school was that it was clothing optional, just as the Cunningham family lived in their own home. The author has written several other books, including the beautiful Vermont Unveiled, and was the founder and editor of Naturist LIFE International magazine in which some of the articles in this book were first published.
Mr. Cunningham has also lectured on the late pope's Theology of the Body. The thrust of the book is summed up by Catholic, Protestant and even agnostic writers with oft-repeated references to Genesis and other parts of the Bible. Among Biblical authors citing non-sexual nudity are Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Paul. Other writers included are Catholic priests, monks and bishops, all pointing to the fact that Jesus Christ was baptized naked and was crucified naked, and that He obviously arose naked because He left His burial wrappings in the tomb. There are numerous writings of early Church Fathers quoted showing that for at least the duration of the first millennium, baptism was conferred upon new Christians -- men, women, and children -- in the nude.
"Bodies Wonderful!" is the title of the final chapter by the editor/author. He writes: "Wonderful bodies? Whose bodies -- mine?' Yes, yours, and mine. I am not referring to some "perfect 10," idealized form, but what we all see when we step out of the shower and dare to look into the full-length mirror."
This book teaches the revealed truth that our bodies are precious gifts of God, good and holy and beautiful, created as they are in the image and likeness of our all-good, all-holy, all-beautiful Creator.... "There is something beautiful in most of us which passionately wants to believe the message of this book. This is because we are made for higher things -- for ideals -- and we would like to think they could be true. Man finds his highest fulfillment in hope.
Mr. Cunningham holds that clothing actually separates mankind from God. "Go ahead," he concludes. "Leap into the air, click your bare heels and let out your yodel or yahoo!"
From: Fig Leaf Forum, Issue 125
Reviewed by Dean, California
FIG LEAF FORUM
PO BOX 1955 STN MAIN
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