Indecent Exposure

In which I demand atheists defend the wearing of pants.

I might just be depressed, or maybe I’m a dark-minded and morbid Catholic, but I can’t help but agree with Robert Browning: “There may be a heaven; there must be a hell.” I can enter into some solidarity with today’s atheist, that it’s difficult to know if there’s some absolute good in the universe, but we part ways totally when he claims that there’s no absolute evil. We may or may not be destined for great heights, but it’s painfully obvious that we’re fallen.

Why this confidence? It arises primarily from the fact that I am covered in various mixtures of cotton, polyester, and wool, and I have absolutely no secular excuse for it. This ‘being clothed’ business is largely ignored as an inexplicable phenomenon, accepted with a blind and blissful faith. There’s some good reason for wearing clothes, we just can’t think of it at the moment.

If I were to approach a lady on the street and ask her, as sternly as I could manage, “Ma’am, why are you wearing clothes?” there are only a few answers that she could give. One is that it’s cold outside. This, really, is the best answer to avoid the tricky business of being a fallen race. Clothes are merely a physical answer to a physical need. But all the many civilizations that live near the equator, in temperatures too hot or just right, have their own garb to sweat in. In fact, the natives of San Diego seem to spend more on clothes than anyone else. And the fact remains that, even if the weather were just perfect, the lady on the street – bless her heart – would probably not revert to nudism.  So why the clothes?

One could then turn to culture, to society, and say it is inappropriate to go around naked. But all an appeal to culture achieves is to make the appealer a representative of her culture. The claim “humanity has always done it and teaches everyone else to do it” simply puts the personal question – why are you wearing clothes? – on a larger scale – why is everyone wearing clothes? Culture, society and humanity are not answers to questions. They are an assumption of the voices of everyone who does what you do. So the sensible would drop that argument, shake me warmly by the hand, convert to Catholicism and live happily ever after, while the particularly tenacious might take an entirely new route, and deny that everyone wears clothes.

They’ll pull out their National Geographic magazines, point at a few bare-breasted women and turn on me, triumphant. Now while I sympathize that the fact of bare-breasted women often leads men to feelings of triumph, I must point out that the nakedness shown there is one of degree, and not of rule. One culture might bare their breasts, another may not, but both gird their loins. One culture might say it is fine to be naked during certain dances, another when you are a small child, another when bathing, another when swimming, another when ill, but all agree that these are exceptions, not rules. There is no culture that takes the opposite tack, as far as I am aware — we should always be naked, but it is fine to wear clothes when going to the shop. There are nudist colonies, to be sure, but these are artificial cultures. They do not develop naturally, but in reaction to the surrounding culture. They bond and come together over common ideology, as did the Adamite heretics, not over the simple fact of being human. Thus they are no more a natural culture than Republicans are. The nudist chooses not to wear clothes, and thus he is called a nudist, for he is defined by his choice. The man who wears clothes is not a clothesist, he’s simply a man, and his development was not intentional.

Eventually it would come up, that the lack of clothes would be embarrassing in public. If anyone denies this, invite them earnestly to take their clothes off and go about their day. They will not.  We are ashamed of our bodies, or rather, we are fearful of other’s glances at our bodies. We are ashamed, and this shame is evident across every culture. It is a common human condition.

But what stupidity is this? What animal is sheepish about his genitals? Darwin is useless here, because — and as an attendant of a public school dances, I can say it with scientific confidence — clothes inhibit sex. And lest we forget our fearful dreams of going to school naked, this shame isn’t exactly sexually charged. It wouldn’t explain the situation away, to say that we wear clothes because we fear rape and lust and objectification. Indeed, it would be grasping at straws, because our previous lady’s fear of being naked on the street is not just that others will find her attractive, it is that others will find her ridiculous. And this shame is illogical, in sharp incongruity with the natural world. What animal fears its own self?

The only answer, though there are many more objections that might be brought up and equally refuted, is that human beings are inherently aware of being imperfect. There is a perfection — nakedness without shame — and we do not live it. We are fallen.

Say what you will about the Bible. Let be an old, contradictory, oppressive text. But its claim that the first response to the Fall of Man is the Clothing of Man is — at the very least — remarkably perceptive. If there was a Fall, and that which was Perfect was soiled, than a Great Clothing would make sense.

But here’s my real point: If the atheist is going to deny that there exists an Ultimate Perfection which every one of us strives for, what the Christian might call Heaven, then he must deny that there is imperfection. For imperfection only makes sense in relation to perfection — It is the lack of perfection. If there is no perfected state of man, no Heaven and no glorification, why on earth are we so aware of man being imperfect, to the point of wearing clothes?

In the end, this is can only be so depressing, because if we are fallen, it only means there was something to fall from. And it is my belief that Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God, became man so that we might be lifted back up to, and even higher than our long lost state of glory. The real question goes out to the atheist, the materialist (are there any left?), and the agnostic: Why are you wearing pants? If you have no adequate answer, is it possible that there is more to human beings than animal tendencies, darwinian drives, and big brains?

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  • egosumbarb

    Only because you asked us to challenge fellow bloggers in a previous post…and because my inner Catholic science geek is curious to see how you will eloquently refute this:Yes, clothes provides a physical barrier that inhibits sex. However, what if Darwin were to suggest that clothes can be used to accentuate/exaggerate certain features and increase the likelihood for sexual attraction? For example, jeans that lift a female's tuckus and shape the waist in a manner that suggests fertility to the subconscious male mind? This could make the female appear more "attractive" and increase likelihood of copulation…Well, assuming that the extra male attention is welcomed and that clothing is eventually removed at some point?

    • Darwin was a plagarist

      Jeans are not more sexually attractive than a pair of bare buttocks. C’mon, you’re grasping at straws. You could ask 100,000 heterosexual men and they will all tell you the same thing.

  • Marc

    I think that clothes that accenuate sexual features are either too modern to have a bearing on it all, or an exception.In the case of the former, for the large part of human history it seems we've been donning robes, togas and tilmas, rather shapeless lumps. So clearly the ORIGIN of clothes hasn't been to increase sexual desire, even if we now have jeans and mini-skirts. And sexually revealing clothes, historically, (not to be confused with culturally revealing clothes, as in cultures where its normal for women to be topless) have only really been worn by the prostitutes of society, so there's your exception.

  • egosumbarb

    That response, sir, makes you worthy of a "Cool Catholic" award.

  • Marc

    hey thanks!

  • Brian

    I wish I could have had your wisdom when I was 18. Hell, I wish I could have it presently at age 44! Thanks for the laugh.

  • Neverlackwhimsy

    Umm . . . no one pointed out that it is more sanitary to wear clothes?

    • John C. Wright

      Do you put on cloths more often or less often than you wash your hands and brush your teeth?

      Again, given a choice between wearing unsanitary clothing and going naked about your daily business, which would the average person select?

      Again, if offered clothing made of medically sterile see-through plastic, as opposed to clothing made of wool or cotton which might pick up dirt or lice, which would a person select?

  • Fish

    I am wearing pants because I have been conditioned to for my whole life. When I was young I didn’t care about pants, but as a toddler I was forced to wear them. Past a certain age if I didn’t wear them in public I would get strange looks. Now if I don’t wear pants I will be kicked out of jobs and even arrested. This and protection against weather is the reason that I wear pants. You dismiss culture so readily, but that really is the reason. My culture has conditioned me over my whole life to wear pants.

    Now you may ask why our culture insists on clothing in public, but that’s a different question (yes it is), and I actually think religion is part of the answer. Two thousand years of Christianity has certainly left its mark.

    “There is no culture that takes the opposite tack, as far as I am aware, that we should always be naked, but it is fine to wear clothes when going to the shop.” Plenty of nudist groups believe and practice this.

    I also reject your assumption that we are inherently ashamed of our bodies. Children certainly are not, it is only after a lifetime of indoctrination that we become modest. Not only that but I think there is a large difference between being ashamed of our bodies and wearing clothes in public. Most people do not refuse to look at themselves in the mirror out of shame. Most people don’t mind getting naked to shower. It is only when we are in public that nudity becomes an issue, and this supports the claim that culture IS a reason.

    • Aaron

      You say “my” culture has conditioned you to believe that your loins should be covered in public, implying that this is different than other cultures. But really, EVERY culture possesses this way of thinking, except, as Marc points out, in in certain, varying circumstances. (Even “our” culture has its exceptions, such as for medical reasons or procedures.)

      And you refer to nudists as a culture that does embrace life without clothing. But nudists are not a culture per se. Rather (again, as stated succinctly above), nudists are a fraction of humanity that have developed a way of life in reaction to the majority of the world’s populations’ beliefs. How many pre-20th century, let alone pre-Christian, cultures can you name that practiced complete nudism as a natural way of life?

    • ET

      If you ever study ancient civilizations, which were around thousands of years before Christianity, you would find that they all wore some form of clothing. That is the question posted in this blog — Why this universal need to clothe ourselves when the rest of nature does not?


    Is an atheist willing to be an “Adamite”? :-) See the description at this link:

  • Teachermrsg

    When we are naked, it’s more difficult to run AND we don’t have any pockets to carry things. ;-)

    • T

      in a perfect world, a world that isn’t fallen… there is no need for ‘things’.

  • someone

    Cultural and genetic inheritances happen for all sorts of reasons, most of which just have to do with what memes or genes happen to survive and replicate. Why do men have nipples? Why do human beings have appendixes? While they are all interesting questions, there is absolutely no evidence that either offer proof for the Biblical creation story.

    • dan

      Just some quick questions: do you think the point of this post was to argue that earth is 6000 years old? or are you saying that Genesis is NOT a modernly scientifically plausible philosophical exploration of the creation (so, rather than a truth of historical fact, it is a “universal type” truth and the question would be is it a universal type truth?)?

      (just to say i am really struggling to understand the words i have just written, many apologies)