Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Innocency, Part Two (Modesty)

Aren't I cute?
I went to college at an institution that may charitably be called "conservative."  The biggest perennial controversy involved the extensive rules.  Of particular discussion were the rules regulating dress.  For the guys, we had a number of dress categories: formal, Sunday, morning class, afternoon class, and casual.  For any infraction, the violator could expect demerits.  Even Sunday attire at a formal event could cause difficulties.  Sunday dress applied to both Sunday services and all Sunday meals, Wednesday night, and all evening meals.  Casual only applied in the dorms or going to the beach.

As challenging as dress was for males, it was doubly difficult for females.  I never really understood the requirements, nor did I ever endeavor to acquaint myself with their verities.  Add to this volatile mix the regular diverse interpretation of the rules applied by their respective enforcement officials, and you can readily understand why friction often ensued.

What was the point?  Certainly, there was an element of personal prejudice and taste involved, but the stated reason was appropriate.  The administration wanted its student body to reflect modesty.

Modesty always creates controversy.  I remember a short lesson given by Dr. Derek Thomas to First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, MS, called "Flip-flops in the House of God."  In it, he discusses the regularity of inappropriate attire he saw in the attendance at church.  He took especial aim as immodestly attired females.  I thought he would be immediately lynched, but he wasn't.  I guess you can get away with saying anything if you say it to an American audience with a Welsh accent.

The church has traditionally advocated modesty in moral and ethical terms, and rightly so.  God tells us we ought reflect modesty in our adornments. (I Peter 3:3-4)  It prevents fornication and protects the eyes of opposite gender. (Matthew 5:27-30)  I have heard preachers proclaim from the pulpit that it is the responsibility of women to protect the eyes of men.  Isn't it also the responsibility of men not to set any evil thing before their eyes? (Psalm 101:3)

Like it or not, generally speaking, dress and adornments are engineered to draw the attention of others and especially the opposite gender.  The struggle with modesty then combines the desire to attract and the competing command to protect.  The stronger the desire to attract, modesty becomes less important.  Christian society shows that attraction wins across the board.  Modesty is constantly redefined for more and greater license.  This descent must stop.

Modesty and innocency are correlative concepts.  As there is a desire for innocency, there also is a desire for modesty.  This does not mean, for example, that women solely desire to be modest, but that men also find modesty attractive.  You might immediately object to my assertion as wholly without evidence and the product of an overly optimistic view of the world.  Those who know me will find this unlikely.  The only reason the assertion lacks evidence is that the survey is taken of the wrong test group.  We certainly see men panting after immodest women.  Are those the men anyone would want to attract?  Does any woman want to marry that kind of man?  The Bible tells us that the eye is never satisfied and that kind of man will never settle down without supernatural intervention.

Besides which, that man has not learned to appreciate true beauty.  Immodesty reigns, because the world has deceived itself that immodesty equals beauty.  To the contrary, the beautiful woman is the modest woman.  Resort to immodesty to gain attraction is a cheat.  The attraction gained is fleeting and recapturing it leads to greater immodesty.  Attraction gained through the beauty of modesty lasts.

Now, whenever a man starts speaking of modesty, the world chooses to hear him as advocating the return of Puritan habits or the burkah.  These, I reject.  Defining modesty in terms of skirt length, neckline, or cut leads to misery, hypocrisy, Pharisaism, and guilt.  Rather, the beauty of modesty comes in an attitude that views dress and adornments as part of that good creation that God gave to enhance the beauty of His greatest work.

The journey out of the psychological mess the world has wrought in both sexes begins in understanding the connection between beauty and modesty.  Until Christians see that modesty leads to beauty, we will continue to follow five years behind the lead of our culture.  In a world headed for destruction, do we want to walk the same road?

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