Some women have told me that modesty is important to them, not only because it helps men not to stumble, but also because it helps them place a high value on their own sexuality. They have told me that modest apparel affirms the true importance of a woman’s sexual identity, since it proclaims that her body is not a tame, benign, and commonplace thing. Modesty affirms that our bodies in general and our sexuality in particular are special, charged, even enchanted, and too exciting to be put merely to common use. As Kathleen van Schaijik suggested in a 1999 article, “If we revere something, we do not hide it. Neither do we flaunt it in public. We cherish it; we pay it homage; we approach it with dignity; we adorn it with beauty; we take care that it is not misused.” In her book A Return to Modesty, Wendy Shalit argues that modesty is the truly erotic option, since it makes the highest valuation of a woman’s sexual identity, affirming the sacredness of sexuality and displaying a commitment to setting it apart and cherishing it. C. S. Lewis put his finger on the same principle in That Hideous Strength: “when a thing is enclosed, the mind does not willingly regard it as common.” To dress immodestly is ultimately to reduce our sexuality to something commonplace, trivial, and humdrum. Precisely for this reason, a modest woman significantly upgrades the significance of what is happening when she undresses in front of her husband. As Havelock Ellis observed (stumbling upon the truth for one of the few times in his life), “without modesty we could not have, nor rightly value at its true worth, that bold and pure candor which is at once the final revelation of love and the seal of its sincerity.”
“The implicit epistemology of the heroic world is a thoroughgoing realism.” Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue (p. 129).
“Suppose we were wanderers who could not live in blessedness except at home, miserable in our wandering and desiring to end it and to return to our nativecountry. We would need vehicles for land and sea which could be used to help us to reach our homeland, which is to be enjoyed But if the amenities of the journey and the motion of the vehicles itself delighted us, and we were led to enjoy those things which we should use, we should not wish to end our journey quickly, and, entangled in a perverse sweetness, we should be alienated from our country, whose sweetness would make us blessed.” Saint Augustine, On Christian Doctrine
Joseph Cooper, acted by Matthew McConaughey, in the movie Intersteller
In Christopher Nolan’s recent science fiction epic, Interstellar, the character Joseph Cooper is confronted with two tasks that seem, at times, to be in conflict. On the one hand, he must remain true in his role as a father to his motherless daughter Murph. On the other hand, he must also fulfil his role as a human being tasked with the job of saving the human race.
The drama of the film occurs within the space where these two roles (and the goals attached to them) seem to be in tension with one another. Not only does Cooper’s mission involve taking a journey away from earth (and therefore away from his daughter), but he reaches a point of having to weigh the odds between saving only his daughter’s generation vs. saving future generations of humans who do not yet exist.
Elder Joachim Parr has so many good teaching videos on Youtube. On one level his teaching is very simple, but on another level it is incredibly deep and profound. One of the things I like about Elder Parr’s teaching is his insights into the teleological orientation of Biblical ethics. Don’t be scared off by a big word like “teleological” – all I mean by this is that Elder Parr is able to emphasize that Biblical ethics are not arbitrary rules that God happens to require us to live by that might have been otherwise, but the very means by which human beings are able to flourish and realize the ends for which they were created. This is an approach to Christian virtue that is often neglected. The other thing I find helpful about Elder Parr’s teaching is that he is able to connect the dots between Orthodox doctrine and Orthodox living, showing how practical Christian theology actually is. Here is one of Elder Joachim Parr’s excellent videos where he emphasizes some of these themes.
Over the last few years I have published a number of articles about modesty in which I have attempted to situate Christian teaching about modesty within a context of affirmation rather than negation. In some of these articles I have argued that parents should not allow their children to watch movies that include nudity or sexual content, and that even when at the beach or swimming it is important that parents and young people alike should observe standards of modesty regardless of the behaviour of others.
Creation expresses God’s nature; as such, the ordering of reality creates the context in which God’s commands can be seen as normative. Precisely because of this, we shouldn’t think that individuals or cultures without access to God’s explicit commands are completely bereft of ethical consciousness.
Though this may seem like a small point, this has profound ramifications for how we approach apologetics. For example, we should be filled with horror at the way Karl Barth (and many advocates of, so called “presuppositional apologetics” as well) taught that until an unbeliever explicitly presupposes the truth of Scripture that there is no point at which we can, or ought, to try to connect with them philosophically. Barth expressed this erroneous view in The Doctrine of the Word of God, when he declared that “Man’s capacity for God, however it may be with his humanity and personality, has really been lost. We cannot, therefore, see that at this point there comes into view a common basis of discussion for philosophical and theological anthropology, the opportunity for a common exhibition at least of the possibility of raising the question about God.”
Cornelius Van Til
In the later 20th century we saw a similar error in the attack against evidentialist apologetics that became trendy for Reformed theologians following Cornelius Van Til. In its worst forms, the rejection of evidentialism was often proffered on the spurious ground that one must first buy into the whole Christian package in order to make sense of anything. What is missed, or at least not given sufficient attention in this paradigm, is the fact that there are verities which believers and unbelievers share in common by virtue of our shared creation; verities that form a basis for discussion for philosophical and theological anthropology.
If we have a cognitivist anthropology of the human person, then we will see the job of the minister as being first and foremost to educate a person’s mind in correct doctrines. What results is that church begins to have a whole feel about it which is more like attending lecture than ascending into the heavenlies. If we emphasize, even implicitly, that worship is first and foremost about the teaching that is imparted and received, then this is probably because we have unconsciously imbibed an anthropology which assumes that our fundamental identity is cognitive. Such an anthropology cannot help but lead to an unbiblical ecclesiology, a subtle-deemphasizing of the sacraments and an inflated premium on doctrinal categories (it seems that this has happened in much of the Calvinist tradition, despite “officially” keeping Word and Sacrament parallel).
The alternative is to aim deeper than our minds at our heart, by nurturing a vision of the good life that seeps into our very gut. In Desiring the Kingdom, Jamie Smith argues that the way a vision of the good life seeps into our gut is by appealing first to our imaginations and aesthetic sensibilities through the habit forming rituals that are the fulcrum of desire. Many of the rhythms and rituals of the catholic (lowercase c) tradition do just that. Practices like genuflecting, crossing ourselves and kneeling to receive the blessed Eucharist, are more than merely accessories to the really important business of preaching the Word, but are part of a communal expression of what constitutes the good life. These physical practices seek to aim our desires through habit forming rituals involving our body. That is why rituals like this can so deeply inscribe a certain vision of the world in our hearts. Such practices get into our bones and prime us to a certain picture of human flourishing that penetrates deeper than mere cognition.
It’s been over a week since we had daylight savings time, but people are still complaining to me about the effect of the time-change on their sleeping rhythms. The video below explains about the history of daylight savings time and why it might not be such a good idea after all. His explanation about how a single trip through Arizona could necessitate seven time changes had me rolling on the floor in laughter. This is a must-watch.
Salvo 32 (Spring 2015) has gone to press and should be in your mailboxes in the next few days. Those who do not subscribe to this magazine can read a number of the articles online HERE.
This time I have written the feature for the Society section and the feature for the Sex section, but neither of these have been made available online, so I’m afraid you’ll have to subscribe to read these articles. But believe me, you won’t regret it. One of the best things about the magazine is the array of fake adds in every issue.
My feature for the Society section is called ‘ISIS & the Enigma of Modernity’ and looks at the psychology behind the ISIS terrorist movement.
My feature for the Sex section is called ‘The New Couplings: Are Human & Robot Weddings Next?’ and considers the growing move to legalize marriage between humans and robots.
A Protestant leader once told me (he later changed his mind) that although Christians have a legal or judicial (“imputed”) righteousness through the work of Christ, it is false that Christ gives believers any practical, actual, ontological righteousness until we have our new bodies.