by Morgan Dean Gallatin
Revised:11/07/13 © 2013
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MY PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE ON THE INTIMATE INSEPARABLE CONNECTIVITY OF CHRISTIANITY & ART:
The creative process, making, and other possibly related ideas
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I think it is absolutely necessary to address the human body in a Christian discussion on visual art not only because the human figure is used so frequently as the subject in art but more importantly because as a Christian we profess to believe that it was important for Christ to come as a human with a physical body. It is after all God's intent to resurrect and redeem the whole person including the physical body. Unfortunately, in my opinion, many Christians see the “nude” in some way as sinful. Since my own so-called-Christian-worldview does not hold this belief I find it very difficult to understand the seemingly blanket ban on nudity in art by some so-called-Christian-worldviews. And, because I have never been presented with a well-reasoned argument in support of such a ban, I can only present my arguments against such a blanket censorship based on my own assumptions of the apposing opinion. In other words my reasons for supporting the study of the nude and allowing its presentation in artwork may in no way address the apposing view's reasons for banning the study and presentation of the nude.
The first point that I will make is that an art object is simply that, an “object”. Objects have neither the capacity to sin nor to be saved—objects are amoral. So, when I hear someone say, when encountering a nude, “that is sinful,” or something on that order, and that is all they are willing to say about the encounter then I must immediately dismiss this statement as irrational because the object cannot sin. If however they mean something else, such as: The artist has sinned because he created a nude; or the model has sinned because they have posed nude for the artist to create the object, or even that they—the viewer—has sinned because they have look at the nude, then I believe there can be, at the very least, a discussion about these ideas.
As I have stated earlier, I believe that the physicality of the body—the flesh and bone—is not by nature evil and does not even have the capacity to live—let alone do evil—without the direct affect of the human mind, and it is the mind that I believe has been infected with sin—not the physical form of the body. So, when we read in Genesis 1 about the creation, we discover that God saw all that he had made, and it was very good, (Genesis 1:31, NIV) this statement is applied to the human body. I find no indication in scripture that the physical appearance of the human body changed after the fall of man—only that it is now affected by sin and that affect is specifically physical death, which I understand in the broadest sense as the aging process (thought I have not the intelligence to understand how sin causes aging and certainly there are any number of other causes, seemingly unrelated to aging, which bring what appears to be premature death to countless individuals). Regardless, I must argue that sin’s affect on the physical body did not change the body’s general appearance or Christ’s physical human body would not have been recognizable as human to the individuals around Him. I say this because we know Christ to be without sin. How is it then that His human body died? This is a miracle often overlooked, God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, [so that Christ’s human body would die,] so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21, NIV) It also seems reasonable to assume that the speed at which Christ died on the cross is directly related to the fact that He became sin, not just for one individual, but for all individuals—the compounded concentrated sin of the whole world—instant or near-instant death for one human body. And so, I must believe that sin kills the body but I cannot believe that the body—the nude—its self is sin.
In my thinking, to say that the nude body—is sin—is to also say that God created sin; and in fact, God would have sinned when He creating Adam and Eve and looked at them while they were nude and side, this is good!
This is good? I personally don’t know any Christians who are willing to say that God has sinned and I certainly do not hold that belief. Sin originates in the mind, in the thoughts of the individual. If I look at someone and think about what I would like to do to—or with that individual sexually—dwelling on those thoughts—and using that individual for my own sexual pleasure—that I believe, is sin—even if I do not act upon my thoughts, and that according to Jesus. "You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.'—(Exodus 20:14) But here is what I tell you. Do not even look at a woman in the wrong way. Anyone who does has already committed adultery with her in his heart. In this passage, nothing at all is said about nudity. In fact, a man can commit adultery in his “heart” [mind] with a fully clothed individual. So in fact, Looking at an art object—say a painting or sculpture of any individual, clothed or nude—and again thinking about what I would like to do sexually to that abstracted individual (real or imaginary) represented in the art object—using that abstracted individual (real or imaginary) for my own sexual pleasure—that too I believe is sin! One’s personal motive must always be considered by the individual—for one’s self—but motive can never be adequately assessed or assigned to another individual. Only God clearly sees an individual’s motive.
Many argue that after the fall God clothed Adam and Eve and therefor nudity was deemed sinful at that point in time. I would argue that too much has been read into the text that simply is not there. Yes, Adam and Eve felt naked and they were naked before God but this, in my opinion, has nothing to do with their physical appearance—their spirit was gone—dead—they were for the first time spiritually naked before God. They knew this but had no idea how to fix it.
Fig leaves are not sufficient to cover spiritual nakedness. Adam and Eve had not yet understood the severity of their actions—the consequences for themselves, let alone for the rest of creation. Blood sacrifice is the only covering permissible by God for spiritual nakedness. I do not believe that the animal skins that God made for Adam and Eve were for the purpose of simply covering their physical nakedness—clothing. The skins were also shockingly poignant reminders to Adam and Eve of what they had done. These skins did not come from just any animal. I believe these skins were from specific individual animals recognizable (likely by name) to Adam and Eve.
Adam and Eve had likely never ever seen a dead animal. Let alone one that they had probably seen and interacted with on a regular bases. And now they had to wear that animal’s skin—I think more as a bitter reminder of the consequences of their own actions and as a vivid image of death, reflecting their currently dead spiritual condition and foreshadowing their own physical death.
In my opinion clothes though they cover the physical body and are far more significant as reminders of our fallen state—our spiritual nakedness. It is not a wonder that clothes have become so significant in human culture—used to signify position and reflect wealth—camouflage for our uniformly dead spiritual condition. Both in and out of the church the true significance of clothing has been nullified. Some would go so far as to prohibit the use of animal skins for clothing and therefore completely separate clothes from the blood sacrifice that was deemed necessary by God.
Of course as a Christian I believe that Christ was the ultimate sacrifice and no others will ever be needed. In Galatians 3:27 the writer says: "for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." (NIV) The physical body did not change with the fall. The spiritual covering died. Clothing is a less than satisfactory way of covering the body and should be a reminder of our spiritual condition not so much our physical condition. I am not advocating for the abandonment of clothing for Christians, on the contrary clothing should be a tremendous reminder of our need for Christ our spiritual cover. But in the same way, I do not believe it is a sin to be nude or to represent the nude in art as a condition of the human race. Every single one of us will stand naked before our creator.
So frequently, so called, Christians behave as if they are not in need of a savior—by banning a selected “sin” from society and pretending that all will be well. If that were true we would not be in need of a savior. The Law—any law—would have worked but the Law cannot bring us back from depravity and death, and restore to us our physical and spiritual life—only Christ has this power through his death and resurrection. Those Christians who adamantly appose nudity in art frequently quote: Job 31:1, 1 Corinthians 6:18 or 2 Timothy 2:22 (among others).
I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman. (Job 31:1 NIV)
Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. (1 Corinthians 6:18 NIV)
Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. (2 Timothy 2:22 NIV)
My concern in general when people us these passages is this; making a covenant and or fleeing something is a very different action then banning something. Making a covenant and or fleeing are actions made by a person taking responsibility for ones’ self. Banning something generally implies taking action and responsibility for controlling and or manipulating the actions of others. God, Christ, nor the Holy Spirit is in the practice or habit of controlling or manipulating individuals and neither should it be the practice of those who claim to follow after Christ and His teaching.
My second concern is with the assumptions implied and made about the artist and the model by those quoting these verses. The automatic implications are that the artist is lusting after the model and that the nude model is sexually immoral and the artist, the model and even the viewer are all pursuing some “evil desire”. I can agree that this is a possibility but it is likely not true in most cases.
Let us pretend that you are sick and need medical attention. Will you go to see a veterinarian? I think not. You will go to a medical doctor, someone who has studied the human body. So, why then would you expect an artist who has never studied the nude body to recreate that form accurately in a drawing or painting or sculpture? They cannot. An artist cannot recreate accurately something they have never seen. Well you might ask; why must the body be nude? Let me ask you this; would you want a doctor to set your broken arm bone if he had no idea what your body looked like on the inside (in other words, how the bone looked before it was broken)? Again, I think not.
Our 21st century society, with its rapid advancement of the camera and the digital age, has quickly forgotten that it was in large measure the artists of the Renaissance such as Leonardo da Vinci, Donatello, Michelangelo, and Raphael who helped to advance medical science and anatomy by dissecting and studying the dissection of human corpses and carefully recording what they observed. The intent was not to advance medical science; the intent was to improve the skill of the artist, making it more feasible to recreate the human body as accurately and as exactingly as possible—a convincing reproduction or illusion of the human form. The careful study of the human body is not born out of lust, immorality or evil desire; it is born out of a desire to be a skilled artist capable of rendering in great detail the human form, as created by God.
Interestingly, during the pagan periods of the Roman Empire human dissection was outlawed due to their veneration of the human body. Some say that Christianity’s view of the body as flesh and flesh as evil made allowances for human dissection during the Renaissance. Thus, they go on to say that Christianity was a major player in the advancement of modern medicine.
I am fine with this premise, in that Christianity may have played a major factor in the advancement of modern medicine. However, I must reiterate that I do not hold to the idea (even as a Christian) that the physical body in its visual form is innately evil, nor that the visual form of the body, nude or otherwise, automatically leads to—or implies—evil. Is the Human race prone to lust and sexual immorality as defined by the Bible? Yes—absolutely without question—humans are prone to all kinds of inappropriate thoughts and actions—that is why we need Jesus and the renewing of our minds that He brings.
Certainly we can operate under the law and blame others and objects for our weakness and bane those objects that we have deemed offensive and inappropriate but that will not renew our minds. Nor will it acquaint us with the one individual who truly can renew our minds and rescue us form our thoughts of immorality and evil—Christ.
It is my opinion, when an individual intends to ban or prohibit the nude in art for everyone, that individual has in fact conformed to the pattern of this world. That pattern is to assume for ones’ self the roll of God and then to incorrectly interpret that roll (God’s roll) as the controller of every other individual’s actions and elevating ones’ self to a place of authority over others. God’s pleasing and perfect will is and has always been to given each and every individual of the human race the option to choose Him or to reject Him. This is what I believe Paul is talking about when he says: Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. (Romans 12:2-3 NIV)
It would seem that most individuals like to quote the first and second verses as prof of their correctness: Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2 NIV) However, for whatever reason these individuals leave off the third verse in which Paul says: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. (Romans 12:3 NIV)
I certainly do not intend to say that for every individual on the planet looking at a nude art object is appropriate. This would completely nullify my current argument. If an individual cannot look at a nude art object without lusting in his mind, then he should not, as a Christian, commit that sin. He is therefore responsible for himself and his actions and he will need to avoid places where he might see such images. It is however inappropriate and even un-God-like to prohibit artists who do not have this difficulty with the nude from making such works or banning others who are unaffected by the nude from seeing the nude figure in appropriate works of art.
I would agree that pornography is rampant in our current culture and readily available to virtually everyone via the Internet. But say we cannot agree on the definition of pornography, or whether we agree that this specific image or that specific image is pornography, it is likely irrelevant to the fact that no culture has ever successfully wiped out pornography. The spiritually dead condition of the human race makes that impossible. Change, only comes in the spiritually dead condition of the individual when that individual chooses to believe the good news that Jesus, the Son of God died for them as an individual in their spiritually dead condition and is the only power that can and will transform their life by integrating His spiritual life with their physical body.
This spiritual integration is the teaching of Christ. In Galatians 2:20, Paul writes: I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (NIV) This is what the church claims to believe but in my experience it is not generally lived out in the community of believers. It is almost always voiced but I would argue that it is seldom understood. It appears to be interpreted by most Christians as something that they can participate in, something in fact that they feel they personally can aide Christ in doing. I personally cannot see where this idea comes from. Paul clearly says that…the life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God. The only action here taken by Paul is the action of faith. He gives no list of activates that must be taken by an individual desiring to have this “life in the body.” Christ, through the Holy Spirit indwells (lives inside) our human body—it is not the other way around—Christ fully integrates with us—not us with Him.
What we so often fail to comprehend is that we, as humans, are already dead—spiritually dead. We are born into this world spiritually dead—but we are deceived by our circumstances—we are certain that we are fully alive and living. Understandably so, we have nothing spiritual—no spiritual context in which to make a comparison of our life. (If you have not experienced sorrow you cannot fully understand joy.) As humans, we are only partly capable of understanding our spiritual deadness after we have been made spiritually alive through faith in Christ. Be certain—we are not alive—not until we personally accept the reality of our dead condition and receive the gift of spiritual life presented to us by Christ through the indwelling Spirit of God, are we fully alive—by faith and not by any other action that man can take.
In direct contrast (and I would say direct conflict) with this teaching and belief that Christ integrates with us, is a practice embraced by many Christian institutions of higher learning today—the so-called implementation and practice of “Integrating Faith with Discipline.” The intent is for faculty members to integrate their faith in Christ with their discipline of study. I suppose it sounds harmless enough but I must argue that this idea, if not actually heretical, is very close.
Christ is the only power capable of true integration—humans do not hold this power; the teaching is that an individual is made alive spiritually, by faith in Christ—by that individuals faith in the integration of Christ’s living Spirit into the human physical body, which is spiritually dead—it is not produced by any action taken by the individual. As humans, we are spiritually dead and completely unable to generate our own faith in Christ. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10 NIV)
It is my belief that these institutions are completely deceived—practicing a form of idolatry, and completely unaware. They in fact are boasting about how their individual faculty members have been able to integrate their personal faith with their discipline. (Where I taught, in one college they actually had a list of ways one could integrate their faith and discipline.) I personally find this practice unsettling—shocking—and believe it to be a truly vivid example of a subtle deception practiced today within the church and her institutions. Men are not able to generate the Christian’s faith, let alone integrate that faith into their area of study. If in fact men could generate their own faith in God and His righteousness, we would not be in need of a savior—and yet we are desperately in need of Christ and the very faith to believe in Him.
A spiritual life lived in faith is exactly that—a spiritual life, which cannot be seen and which can only be accepted on or by faith—a substance, which also, cannot be seen and which this world really knows nothing about. So then, how do you show the integration of faith, which cannot be seen and which is not even of this world and which is maintained by an entity who is spirit (God) and that cannot be seen visually in this physical world—how is it then that an institution claiming association with Christ and His teachings can claim to show physical integration of faith and discipline? I would argue, they simply cannot. If they do, then their faith is proven false; it is not faith—it is a physical action—religiosity—and it is in my opinion a deceptive teaching.
However, if these institutions are willing to ignore the desire or the need to prove what they are doing and simply say: It is by faith that we accept that Christ is integrating His life into the lives of our faculty members and it is by faith that we believe that His integration into our faculty members is also impacting the way that our faculty approach their individual disciplines and leave it at that—then that would be faith practiced as Christ teaches. But that is not what I have experienced. I wish that it were.
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AND WHAT IS FAITH?