Faith and reason

Paul Campion, of Waitati, sees spiritual benefits in ''naturism''.

Every person has the right to manifest that person's religion or belief in worship, observance, practice, or teaching, either individually or in community with others, and either in public or in private.''

Section 15 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

The practice of naturism can be an expression of a person's spirituality and belief system and as such is covered by this legislation.

Throughout most of human existence the concept of naturism would have been difficult to explain as everybody was a naturist and even now there are societies of people who live lives where there is nothing between their bodies and the untamed environment that surrounds and sustains them.

There are people who believe in unseen entities like the ghosts of dead ancestors, or hold pagan beliefs in a multitude of deities and many who believe in an all-powerful single god but there are also those people, like myself, who don't believe in gods or ghosts or any special divinely ordained place for mankind.

They find meaning in the life that is lived now, the only life they will ever live.

Daniel Dennett, professor of philosophy at Tufts University, has described elements of secular spirituality as being ''... transported with awe and joy and sense of peace and wonder''.

Feeling closer to the natural world around us is an important part of finding meaning and joy.

Shedding the textile trappings of modern living is to become vulnerable but free, free to experience life more as our not-so-distant ancestors did, free to connect back through time with those ancestors, free with our understanding of evolution to recognise the connection to all living creatures on the planet and ultimately free to embrace this all in our spiritual journey.

Of course we are dependent on technology, but it is important to feel, to taste even for a short while raw sensations; the heat of the sun, the cold of a sudden gust of wind, perhaps to climb naked up a bush-covered hill feeling the moistness of the leaf litter, to be touched and rasped by leaves and fronds, to brush past the varied textures of tree bark and finding a mossy patch in the sun to rest and soak in the experience.

Walking completely naked along the magnificent kilometres-long crescent that is the isolated beach at Mason Bay on Stewart Island is a spiritual experience to rank with any pilgrimage to a crowded religious shrine.

Being nude can be a catalyst to clearing your thoughts of endless ruminations about life's responsibilities, ambitions and conflicts.

With this peace comes an increasing mindfulness of the immediate surroundings experienced through all the senses.

Being alive is wonderful, and as with other positive paths to spiritual development this joy carries through into all aspects of one's life.

A commonality of experience can help people develop spiritually so being naked in a social context is an opportunity to share, to be patient and tolerant and especially to be welcoming of others in all their diversity.

In New Zealand we can be proud of our easy acceptance of the different forms of people's expression of culture and spirituality. Naturist lifestyles are fortunately quite well tolerated.

Those who desire to wear no clothes at all may do so freely; just as those women whose cultural practices and religious beliefs require them to veil their faces may do so freely.

What if children unused to social nudity see naked people?

Say a curious child sees an Easter Parade of penitents dragging a large wooden cross through the streets (which in some countries around the world might include flagellation and the wearing of crowns of thorns) and asks what is going on?

It can be explained to the child that the people are recreating a pivotal scene from Christian mythology and that by doing so they hope to experience some of the passion of their Christ and thus to feel a closer connection.

Children who are allowed to ask questions and who have not been strongly indoctrinated with negative beliefs about bodies will readily accept a non-judgemental matter-of-fact explanation when seeing people unclothed in public, an explanation that simply states that it is a matter of personal choice to experience the world in that way.

Many naturists are Christians or have other theistic faiths, many believe in unseen spirits and many practise their naturism safely in private groups.

Most naturists will talk about its health and social benefits but for some of us there is a significant spiritual dimension to being naked at large.

We are prepared to be laughed at and to have our lifestyle questioned but as this is a very gentle, peaceful expression of spirituality and we rejoice at our freedom under New Zealand law to do so in public spaces without impediment.

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