On Naked People In Movies

Should they get naked? Moreover, should you be watching?
on Oct 2, 2013 · 13 comments

censored_boxNaked people, especially in sexual situations in movies: thumbs up, thumbs down? Should they get naked? Moreover, should you be watching?

In his/her Sept. 25 piece at TheChristianPundit.org, Art, Nakedness, and Redemption, writer W. Vando puts two thumbs way, way down. And I would agree. Example:

21st century, Europe and North America have an increasingly pornographic art, film and pop culture. But this is as old as pagan fertility cults, technology added. The new twist comes from the church where some argue that wherever there is a glimmer of created order or common grace, there is potential for finding “redemptive value”. This is rationale for not only engagement, but also participation. People, of course, qualify such a break from Scripture and church history: “these are complex issues, this is the domain of the mature and wise.” They seem to fail to notice, however, that their argument is ironically similar to that of the “adult” billboards along our freeways.

He/she wrangles thoughtfully with the cultural-changing, everything-can-be-redeemed view, not with any hint of legalism, but solely with Biblical objections to visual nudity that ultimately rely on pretending God’s prescriptions for clothing are somehow revoked by Christ’s redemption. Fans of speculative stories — especially the visual ones featuring scandily-clad superheroines, absurdly “attired” battle babes, or nudity and/or sex scenes meant to show how “gritty” real life is — will at least find this fascinating.

E. Stephen Burnett explores fantastical stories for God’s glory as publisher of Lorehaven.com and its weekly Fantastical Truth podcast. He coauthored The Pop Culture Parent and creates other resources for fans and families, serving with his wife, Lacy, in their central Texas church. Stephen's first novel, a science-fiction adventure, launches in 2025 from Enclave Publishing.
  1. Bethany J. says:

    I, too, loved that article (I discovered it through Challies.com) and found it very informative, convicting, and wise. I find most Christians tend to fall into one of two camps – the “All nudity or partial nudity is sexual and erotic! Run far away!” camp, and the “There is sexual nudity and non-sexual nudity, and the latter is just fine for us to look at because it’s innocent and beautiful” camp. There are flaws with both viewpoints, but I wasn’t quite able to figure out what was wrong with the latter. I found that Vando was suggesting another viewpoint entirely – not that all nudity is erotic by nature (clearly some isn’t…naked baby photos, for one example), but that sexuality is not the only reason we clothe ourselves, and clothing ourselves is necessary because of the simple fact that we are sinners in need of covering; to deny our need to cover up is to deny our sinful nature, contrary to God’s word. It was a very good point, and I’ve seen a billion ways to apply that concept to real life since reading the article!

  2. notleia says:

    Oh look, there’s Madonna/whore. She always shows up for modesty discussions, doesn’t she.

    Ideas of modesty/nudity are cultural, people. Reference clobber verses all you want, but I can show up for service in one church in a knee-length, fitted skirt and be a-okay, but the next church down the street might take me aside for a lecture because it isn’t ankle-length, loose denim.
    (But “battle bikinis” on comic and video game women are stupid. I’m with you there.)

    • Bethany J. says:

      I fail to find the mention of Madonna anywhere in the linked-to article, the blog post, or my comment above…what are you referring to, notleia?

      I think “Art, Nakedness, and Redemption” articulates nicely shows the Bible’s basis for why we should clothe ourselves. The details of how *much* we clothe ourselves beyond the basics certainly differs by society, culture, and even church family. And some Christians are legalistic about it, that’s also true. But to say the IDEAS of modesty or nudity are entirely cultural? I fear the Bible has a different message, which the article expresses nicely.

      What is a “clobber verse”, might I ask? Something like 1 Timothy 8: 2-5, which commands women to dress with modesty and self-control? Isn’t this too a part of God’s holy word that we should read with reverence, and a command we should take to heart?

      Bethany J.

      • notleia says:

        Madonna/whore is a (false) dichotomy that is based on the vilification of sexual appetite or behavior of women. Despite the efforts of some to be (rather backhandedly) egalitarian, it’s pretty much always about women. It gets its name from the Freudian complex, but the wider idea has been around for a long, long time and is basically “any hint of female sexuality = slutty evilness.”
        The idea has evolved over time, especially after the various waves of feminism, but even the slightly modernized version of wife/hooker is still bad because it reduces women’s worth to what and how many they’ve put in their you-know-whats.

        As for clobber texts, that’s a more colorful term for proof-texting, and a lot of people find that in the least intellectually dishonest because it tends to remove the individual verses from their context, both textually and culturally. Plus, for as many verses as you have about modesty, you can also come up with an equally robust (if less specific) array of “do not give reverence to appearances” and “seek justice, love mercies.” In addition to that, I’ve read some very good blogs dissecting the meaning of “modesty.” Here’s some links: http://defeatingthedragons.wordpress.com/2013/08/01/objectification-lust-modesty-and-designer-brands/ and another good one: http://defeatingthedragons.wordpress.com/2013/08/07/its-not-the-rules-that-are-the-problem/

    • Oh look, there’s Madonna/whore. She always shows up for modesty discussions, doesn’t she.

      For me the solution may be simple: simply apply the same icons/definitions to men.

      I have no idea why — apart from insipid biases that women are more promiscuous than men — nasty yet descriptive terms such as “whore” can’t apply to either sex.

      Ideas of modesty/nudity are cultural, people.

      The applications certainly are, but the idea is not.

      Either church you go on to describe will at least expect clothing. So will any culture.

      Even the stereotypical tropical climate in which women wear no shirts (perahps because of breastfeeding convenience) would have its own modesty standards.

      The main idea — that human beings wear clothes not to obscure the body, but to show that sin continues to affect the world — remains the same. And once again I note that in the New Heavens and New Earth, God both extols the value of physical bodies by resurrecting His people, and returns the Earth to its Eden-like state — yet clothes representing Christ’s righteousness will continue to be part of the world.

      • notleia says:

        “Ideas” may not have been the best word, but cultural mores are still cultural.
        And your idea of universal modesty seems to me to be looking for zebras instead of horses. One thing that I think is missed is that the most basic reason people wear clothes is for comfort and/or protection, because people live in cold and/or sunburn-inducing places, and nobody wants their sensitive parts roughed up by nature.

        • That’s a secular reason, however. I can’t help but base my rationale first on what Scripture says, and the idea that humans wearing physical clothing (of some sort, and always culturally derived) reflects spiritual reality is a subplot running through God’s Story. I am equally comfortable affirming that truth as I am affirming that clothes-wearing, like anything, can be abused for sinful, legalistic ends. But legalism is not the only possible sin involving clothing.

        • dmdutcher says:

          We’re talking about movies though, and in movies nudity is used the same way violence is; as visual shorthand to make a point or provide cheap content to attract eyeballs. Modesty doesn’t apply here, because the stated goal in probably 95% of nude scenes is to be immodest to make a point or as a device. This is like talking about violence in movies and making a point about the proper use of armed force for a cop.

          • Film violence, however, is very different from film sexual nudity and sex.

            There’s a great difference not only in how these things can be framed in the story, but also in the manufacture of the images. Few are talking about the difference between manufacture — I suspect often out of legalistic fear of looking like a legalist. 🙂

            This discussion about attempted comparisons between redemptive violence and supposedly “redemptive” sex would be far different if movie violence actually showed real people being wounded, exploded, or killed. By contrast, there is no way to show someone being naked or having sex without requiring actual nudity or sexual actions.

            • bainespal says:

              This discussion about attempted comparisons between redemptive violence and supposedly “redemptive” sex would be far different if movie violence actually showed real people being wounded, exploded, or killed. By contrast, there is no way to show someone being naked or having sex without requiring actual nudity or sexual actions.

              I know, and that is troubling. But the question of whether or not movies that show nudity or sex can be redeemed is different from the question of whether we should try to redeem sex scenes.

              Nobody needs to watch film with sex in it for entertainment. The is more than enough “clean” stuff to choose from. But the fact remains that films with sex/nudity in them sometimes say significant things about human nature through objectively well-crafted storytelling.

            • dmdutcher says:

              I think there’s some misunderstanding. My point is to Notleia, who is discussing ideas of modesty. I’m saying that movies use sexuality with a completely different set of criteria than modesty, making the “different mores” argument not something that applies. There’s not many situations where you have to use nudity in a shot; when you do, there’s some effect that you are trying to accomplish as opposed to acting based on mores.I’m not saying nudity is okay.

              I agree with your point, although sex is simulated as much as violence on screen unless its a pornographic work. I’d be careful about downplaying violence; if anything, violence can be pornographic despite it being faked or not causing direct occasions of sin in the actors.

  3. bainespal says:

    In regard to movies, excellent stories have been told that have sex scenes and/or nudity. I would give David Taylor, and the unnamed Christian college professor mentioned in the article, the benefit of the doubt. Even if they incidentally promote licentiousness among some of their students/audience, that’s the problem of the students. Nothing that we see or hear forces us to sin. The man didn’t get addicted to porn and divorce his wife because he went to a bad Christian college, and I think it was unfair of the article to suggest that.

    Finding grace and glory in sinful media is not about personal indulgence or even innocent entertainment. It’s not about playing with lust or accommodating the culture. It’s about denying culture. It’s about proving that God’s hand is in the arts, that the arts are therefore held accountable to Him.

    I think Christians could do a lot of good in this world by analyzing and discussing even many morally degenerate movies and other productions. (Of course, there must be no legalistic pressure for Christians to do so — some Christians know that they personally shouldn’t.) I’ll give an example of something that has sex in that I think Christians should watch later, if I have time to come back.

  4. bainespal says:

    Okay, I don’t really have anything to say about nudity in the arts. I’ll just note that some of the early Protestant painters did nude paintings, too, I’m almost certain. (I’ll research, eventually, if anyone wants to challenge that.) Despite the long tradition of the church criticizing nudity, the church using and coming to accept some forms of nudity is not new, either. That doesn’t mean it’s not bad, or that the church’s rejection of nudity is not even older and more deeply rooted.

    But movies. The vast majority of sex scenes are obviously absurdly bad writing. It’s a bad trope, a lazy shortcut to implicate romance. I think nudity might be used in a similar way. If there’s a nude or near-nude shot of a person, it might be used as an extremely cheap and crude way to escalate sexual/romantic tension, even in serious movies that ought to be above that level.

    But the scary question, for me, is what if there were once a sex scene that actually helped tell a better story? I mean, a legitimately better story, not just a more entertainingly vulgar story. What if a screenwriter understood the connotation of shame inherent in nakedness, and wrote a scene specifically to incite revulsion toward the shame of unconcealed human nature? Scenes like that would be extremely rare, but if they are even possible, it presents a problem to my worldview, or at least to what I have been taught about my worldview.

    Regardless, lots of movies have sex and/or nudity that is both morally and artistically bad, but may still have good stories that deserve discussion and consideration in spite of the bad moments.

    For me, the newer Battlestar Galactica is like that. That’s a show that never fears to put matters of faith in the forefront of the plot. There are groups that may be analogous to real-world Evangelicals, and those groups are not marginalized. The people who mistreat the pseudo-Evangelicals because of their faith are shown to be blindly prejudiced. The show’s theme encompasses the necessity of dying to one’s own self, with memorable scenes depicting the death of the old self and the resurrection of the new. Another recurring theme is that we must take responsibility for our own sins, instead of blaming them on others. A character in a mystical trance says, “Obstinate toy soldiers become pliant,” which I believe is a reference to one of C.S. Lewis’s analogies of salvation in Mere Christianity. At least one character morphs into a compelling Christ-figure; I think there are more Christ-figures. The supernatural is positively affirmed, earning the ire of atheists all over the Internet. Finally, the show ends with a joyful exploration of a something like a “New Earth.”

    Evangelicals should love Battlestar Galactica, but I fear many will avoid it because it has sex in it. At least, I enjoyed the show immensely, and in the spirit of Doctor Who’s Doctrine, I think it deserves discussion and criticism.

What say you?