|The Individual & Naturism||
This report is brought to you by Jim Dodge.
================================================================= This article originally appeared in 'N' (Nude & Natural) Magazine, Issue 16.1, page 17. 'N' magazine is published by The Naturists, Inc. of P.O. Box 132, Oshkosh, WI 54902. Jim Dodge kindly granted permission to reproduce it here. ================================================================= Where Are We From? Why Are We Here? Where Are We Going? THE INDIVIDUAL & NATURISM By James G. Dodge These three questions are as old as the philosophical thinking of human beings and have to be asked today also in the entire context of Naturism. By these questions we may also improve our understanding of what Naturism means. Some of us also want to explore why we are Naturists in the Christian context of intellectual convictions and moral standards. I have been involved in one way or another with Naturism for more than 65 years. During that time, I have observed with great interest the evolution and spread of the ideas and practices of nudism and Naturism. Some of the practices I have welcomed and responded to in a positive way; others, I rejected. But perhaps we should concentrate on the positive and mention the negative only in passing. In the Long View For generations we have been seeking to cover up the so- called primitive peoples of the world with our Western styles of clothing, whether they were appropriate to the climate and conditions of those peoples or not. Today, we have this change in thinking on the part of some of us that perhaps those "primitive peoples" were wiser than we. Let's be honest. The "movement" of nudism/Naturism involves a truly minuscule number of people in our society (albeit a growing number, across virtually all segments of the population). Worse, we are considered by some to be some sort of "cult." But in this regard it is highly revealing in many meaning of the term that whereas less than 30 years ago there were officially 25,000 nudists in the United States and 50,000 in Germany, the number of the officially and unofficially involved today, if we include the occasional skinny-dippers, runs well into the millions. Mere nudity begins to cease to be either a matter of exaggerated concern or abnormal interest to the majority of the public. And while the number of "official" members of organized nudism remains small, the effect has been like the leaven in the loaf; for the workings are far greater and vastly more extensive than the small numbers would warrant. Small as our numbers may be in relation to the entire population, each one of us has to reflect and develop some clear ideas about what nudism and Naturism means in our individual live and in our relationship with others. What are the values available to me from being nude, naked, bare of all clothing in the company of others of all ages and both sexes -- and what benefit might derive from these practices? Are there negative aspects, too? I read with interest the various proposals for changing the name of the American Sunbathing Association --doing away with "sunbathing" and stating the nudist purpose directly. Sunbathing seems to me, as it clearly did to others, a bit of a misnomer; yes, we enjoy the sun on our total bodies, we enjoy the fluidity and motion of the human body in the light of the sun; yet we know nudism and Naturism are more than that. Let's look for a moment at terminology. Naked, nude, nudism and Naturism. According to my dictionary, naked and nude are largely interchangeable. On the other hand, I believe a distinction can be made between the nudist -- one who joins with others on occasion in mixed company in a state of nakedness -- and the Naturist, who is seeking to live in a state of nudity at all appropriate times and as much as possible in a close relationship with the natural surroundings, alone or with others of all ages and both sexes. These descriptions are certainly subject to correction and revision. It is Naturism that I seek to practice in my own life. In neither description have I said anything about "values", but I like to think that the Naturist is more positive-value oriented, whereas among nudists there is considerably greater latitude in the values tolerated. I shall use these terms interchangeably, though with the above definitions understood. In virtually all the literature, in many of the letters one reads from new "converts" to nudism or from those who have been active in the lifestyle for a long time, one often finds the comment that practitioners enjoy being nude "because it feels good." Quite aside from all the other physical and psychological reactions, I suppose that this feeling of freedom from the confinement of restrictive clothing is one of the first things many of us experience. At the same time, however, among the beneficial and enjoyable effects or feeling of freedom is the ability of our bodies to function as intended: These bodies can breathe, adjust to variations in temperature, cleanse themselves through the pores, lungs and the whole circulatory system. One very negative commentator writes: "The alleged improvement in health, physical or mental, is founded on no evident fact but is simply a gratuitous supposition, or at most is based on far fetched analogies with life among certain primitive people." Fortunately there is ample evidence based not on suppositions but on valid empirical studies confirming that under proper conditions nudity is a desirable aid to good mental and physical health. In contrast, here in the U.S., body image confusion, sexual overstimulation and commercialization of nudity has reached an absolute height. For years, the health insurance organization of Sweden has sent patients to Dalmatia, prescribing nude sunbathing and relaxation in the mild waters of the Adriatic for skin and other illnesses. We are often aware of the effort of practicing nudists to care for their bodily health. We know that we find every possible body type and form and we are no longer under the dangerous illusion that everyone can conform to the nude examples of 'Playboy' and 'Playgirl'. Seeing the great variety of bodily characteristics, we no longer worry so much about "positive" or "negative" attributes of our bodies, and we learn to accept both our own image and the images others present. We see those with scars of injuries and surgeries and other disabilities and "imperfections" who participate in nudist activities without any self-consciousness. I might also add here what I profoundly believe to be one of the greatest benefits of Naturism: The positive effect it has on the mental and physical health of our children. For almost 20 years I took groups of children to a beautiful nudist center in Istria, Croatia, on the Adriatic. These children, even the so- called "difficult" ones, were a joy to be with. Despite an occasional sunburn, the general health of these children and, especially, their later attitudes toward the bodies of both men and women were markedly improved. Today many go to the camp with their own children. Freeing the Spirit Certainly there are a number of physical benefits, and each of us can make his or her own list when considering the personal benefits. For me, the psychic benefits are really far more important. For too long in the western world, we have suffered from infancy with a perverse kind of aversion to and rejection of the human body, while at the same time exploiting it with every kind of revealing and exaggerated dress, especially in our advertising, media and entertainment industries. Children especially are continually bombarded with material that serves to exploit human sexuality in every form. While not the focus of my present comments, it is an area in which the prudent use of and exposure to nudism or Naturism can be of very considerable benefit in reducing the natural curiosity of young children and adolescents so they can develop into well-balanced adults. We read often of the difficulties that teens have as they reach puberty. Girls seem somehow ashamed of their developing breasts -- an incredible fetish in this country, unfortunately -- and boys seem terrified of getting an erection, and both sexes are anxious about their general growth and development. The moralist whom I mentioned earlier stated: "The desirability and fittingness of clothing are recognized by the overwhelming majority of mankind. From a moral point of view, nudism disregards the problem of concupiscence [sexual appetite], and therefore rests on unrealistic premises." On the contrary. It is precisely here that nudism rests its defense on very realistic premises and on considerable experiential knowledge. Anyone who has had a minimal experience of nudism is aware that with very few abnormal exceptions nudism has virtually nothing to do with sexual desire or lust. I know of nothing that has a more beneficial effect on tempering curiosity and desire than a protracted experience of nudism. This does not mean nudists are devoid of lust and sexual desire, nor that in practice of nudism there are not those who grossly misuse it for their own sexual practices, to the scandal of and very great harm to the whole. In our arrogance we have assimilated cultural nudity to "primitive" peoples. In that same arrogance we fail to notice that these naked peoples are very often far more modest, considerate of others, and respectful toward their own and others' bodies than many in our overheated, oversexed, scandalously clothed western society. It seems quite clear that the accusations of some religious groups to the effect that nudity per se and the practice of nudism in particular is in its essence degenerated and causes all kinds of aberration can in no way be substantiated. If I am not seriously mistaken, the predominant objections of this type come not so much from the mainline churches in this country, but from the fundamentalist groups on the far right, who seem to feel that they have a special mandate from on high to save the country and the world. I am assuming that many nudists and Naturists consider themselves descendants of one of the Abrahamic faiths; that is, Christian, Jewish or Muslim. But there is a phenomenon here in this country that is practically unique in the world -- the growth of the televangelist, the radio evangelist, the revival preacher. Nowhere in Christendom have there been so many and varied groups seeking to proclaim the one and only way to eternal salvation. The Bible has been used as a weapon, as a final and irrefutable source of all truth and authority, arbiter of every imaginable question or problem in matters of faith, art, science, history and even geography! Christianity & Naturism I personally am a convinced Christian who accepts the Bible as the "Word of God." But I cannot bring myself to use the scriptures to beat others over the head, nor to seek to misuse them to demonstrate things for which they were never intended. Furthermore, I have never heard of any definitive decisions on the part of any of the so-called established churches with regard to the active practice of nudism. Thus, in the spirit of charity and love spoken of by St. Paul, I find that it is increasingly possible for us as believing, practicing Christians of all denominations, to join together in the practice of nudism for the physical, psychological, moral and spiritual benefit of us all. The discussion of the Bible and nudism is especially interesting today, with the cleaning and renovation work being completed at the Sistine Chapel. After centuries of shamefulness, in which the papacy ordered Michelangelo's nudes to be covered with garments and robes, Pope John Paul II has given permission to the restorers to return all of the 40 or so figures to their original state of nudity. Thus we shall have before long the greatest display of full frontal nudity in one of the great churches of the world! If you are a believer in eternal life, how do you think you are going to appear in that physical state? How are you going to meet Jesus Christ, his Mother, and all the saints? Obviously you are going to be nude, in the glory of your first creation, and so shall all the others about you be bare of any adornment, no longer needed for any reason. Jesus, his Mother, the saints all nude! Shocking, scandalous, blasphemy! I mention this to make the point that nudity and the human body are not to be rejected as something evil and disorderly. We have made of clothing an absolute fetish, not merely a need of covering and protection of the body under certain circumstances. No one can reasonably object to the necessity for body covering at certain times and places. Even clothing as decoration perhaps has a place, for it does appear in all social structures that humans wish to decorate their bodies, whether clothed or naked. Unfortunately, we are today faced with serious and dangerous excesses on the right and the left. It often seems that the excesses of the one tend to animate and foster the excesses of the other. But there is, to my knowledge, no organized libertarian group that is a true threat to the valid rights and honest liberties of the broad middle. On the right, however, are a number of organizations -- powerful, influential, and financially strong -- that for whatever motivation, seek to impose their beliefs, convictions, and objectively erroneous interpretations on all others. This is not to say we should be tolerant of every conceivable conduct, especially those harmful to us, our children, and our honestly acquired property. But we have seen, in the very recent past, how some of these self-proclaimed authorities have fallen far from the state of perfection in which they had placed themselves, and in their preaching they have duped many good people into contributing to their personal and very questionable way of life. Does it not seem strange that here in the United States, a nation to which millions have fled to escape all kinds of tyrannies, we have now apparently come full circle, and we find a tyranny that threatens us, a group seeking to dominate the vast majority who only wish to be left in peace to practice ways of life that do not harm others? ====================== JAMES G. DODGE, a Catholic priest for over 45 years, was once an associate of Thomas Merton at the Trappist monastery in Golgotha, Kentucky. Devoting many years to the development of SOS Childrens Villages in Austria, Dodge brought disadvantaged youth to the naturist summer camps on the Istria Croatian coast and found it worked wonders. Dodge is now based in Pennsylvania, whence he travels in his beloved Airstream to naturist occasions. His last appearance In 'N' magazine was a review of H.P. Duerr's study of shame and nudity (N 9.4 p. 114). Keynoting the '94 Heartland Gathering (N 14.3 p.81), he returned to these concerns at the '96 Winter Naturist Gathering. Note: During a discussion Jim stated that "there is no "Golgotha, KY" but there is a Gethsemani--same city, different locations and connotations!" ===================================================
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